For most of us, the bath is a place of escape – something we look forward to after a long, stressful day. But for dogs? Well that’s a different story…

Giving your dog a bath usually involves A LOT of energy. Sometimes it can even be daunting. The main thing to remember: your dog needs to sense that you are calm in order to settle down. If there’s too much going on around him, your pet will feed on that energy. Dogs can feel stressed out and anxious just like us. To keep your pal calm, there are a few tricks you can try before you get him to the tub!

Here are our top tips for preparing a relaxing bath time for your pup. You’ll be able to get your dog squeaky clean and hopefully keep yourself from getting soaked!

1. Make Comfort a Priority

Your dog needs to feel safe in order to be calm and happy. Keep in mind that an anxious dog will react instinctively to his feelings. To keep him calm, try petting your dog to create comfort and show that you’re there for him.

You can also make the bathroom a comfortable space for your pet. Try these simple steps to make bathing easier:

  • Dogs don’t have great traction in the tub so make sure to have a non-slip mat for them to stand on.
  • If you can, make it possible for the dog to enter the tub on his own by using a small step or stool. He’ll be less anxious than if he’s lifted into it.
  • Have the tub ready with a few inches of lukewarm water, then lead your dog to it. This allows him to follow someone he trusts but still get there on his own.
Dog ready for walk before bath

2. Exercise!

Dogs are extremely active animals. The best way to settle your dog down is to make sure he’s getting tons of mental and physical exercise. If you’re bathing your dog in the evening, take him for a long walk or do some exercises to tire him out beforehand. This will expel any extra energy he has before getting to the tub.

If your dog likes to fetch and run freely, try taking him to an off-leash dog park. This allows him to burn off energy by playing his favourite games. And he might even make a new friend while you’re there!

Another great way to expel energy is to train your dog. Training not only exercises the dog’s body, but also his mind! Ask any trainer and they’ll tell you: a lab will fetch all day without breaking a sweat, but will be snoring after an hour of intense training. If you really want a calm dog, ditch the “play” and make them “work”!

Pro Tip: After exercising (especially if that exercise is a game of fetch or a visit to the park), plan some extra time for your dog to calm down before you get him into the tub. You don’t want him splashing around if he’s too excited!

Here are a few exercise ideas to try in order to keep your dog active:

  • “Watch me” games – work on getting your dog’s attention and encouraging eye contact.
  • “Heeling” walks – go for a long walk but work on your dog’s “heel” throughout the walk. This will be a structured walk where the dog is required to focus on you and not every tree, squirrel, etc. Remember, high value rewards are key!
  • Agility exercises – these offer the best of both worlds. Agility is a wonderfully active sport that also forces dogs to use their brains and follow your directions. Jumps, tunnels, weave poles, tires, etc. are fun and tiring!
  • Rally Obedience – this is a dog sport that brings the fun of agility to the structure of obedience. In Rally-O, your dog will improve his basic obedience to commands, all while having fun.
  • Nose Works – teach your dog to recognize a specific scent, and make him hunt that scent in exchange for treats or play. Teaching a dog to “search” is pretty easy, and allows him to use his natural instincts while expelling some mental and physical energy.

3. Create a Calming Ambience

When we think of baths, we think of calming smells, candles, and maybe even some essential oils. You might want to skip the candles when grooming your dog, but there are a few things you can do to make the bathroom a calming place.

Since dogs have a profound sense of smell, try using calming scents to comfort them (just make sure your dog likes these smells first). Try placing a lavender or vanilla oil diffuser in your bathroom before you get started. There are also CD’s with calming sounds for dogs which can help bring stress levels down.

Remember: your voice will be the most soothing sound to your dog, so focus on talking to him throughout the bath.

Lavender vanilla for calm dog during bath

4. Use Simple Commands

Training your dog basic obedience will help you in any situation, and especially when giving him a bath. Make sure your dog responds to simple commands like “Sit”, “Stand” and “Stay”. Coaching your dog through his bath by using standard obedience commands he knows well will help him understand that bath time is not play time. It will also help reduce stress, because you’ll be telling him exactly what you need him to do (even if that’s just “stay”!).

Training your dog to obey basic commands can be time consuming, but it’s a must for keeping your dog safe. Try a few commands before you start the bath to make sure he’s ready to work. If your dog focuses and is ready to work for you, you’re good to go!

5. Don’t Cause Stress!

Dogs are intuitive when it comes to your emotions, so it’s important to stay calm prior to grooming your pet. Think about when you are upset or angry – your dog changes his attitude to match yours.

Before getting him in the tub, it’s important that YOU are fully relaxed. Demonstrate this by speaking quietly and petting your dog as usual. When you relax, it’s easier to stay in control of your emotions and tone of voice. Your dog will sense if you’re silently freaking out!

Chocolate lab puppy after bath and groom

6. Use Positive Reinforcement

By using things that your dog loves, you can get him to associate bath time with rewards. Whether it’s a favourite food or a toy, you can encourage good behaviour by giving your pet something to look forward to. This allows you to train your pup to behave before, during, and after a bath, making the wash a lot easier for both of you!

Be ready with something your dog loves before getting him in the tub. To encourage good behaviour, use treats as rewards during the prep and grooming process.

A QC Staff Tip: Rewarding your dog can and should be done as often as possible – if a dog doesn’t like the tub, try doing this daily. Train him to hop into an empty tub for his favorite treat or toy, then let him leave immediately.
Next week, do the same exercise but have him stay in the tub for a few minutes. Work up to him being not only tolerant of the tub, but excited to jump in!

7. Create a Bath Time Ritual

Dogs need routines as much as we do – they wake up, eat, exercise, and sleep at the same time each day. Why should grooming be any different? By making a bath time ritual, your dog will sense that it’s normal and he’ll know what’s coming next.

Find the best bath routine for your dog and stick to it! Depending on his needs, you can make a simple checklist to follow. For example, your dog might want to spend a few minutes sniffing out the bath, or he’ll need rewards to get through parts he doesn’t enjoy. Be sure to follow the same routine each time.

Small signs that it’s almost bath time can also prepare your dog by creating habits. If you brush your dog beforehand, spend an extra few minutes carefully grooming his fur to relax him. He’ll learn that this is the first step of his bath time ritual.

Most importantly, bath time is a chance for you and your pet to spend time together. Keeping your dog clean and healthy helps him feel safe with you. Think about what makes you feel relaxed; chances are, there are certain things that calm your dog down as well. Once you tune into what your pup needs, you’ll be able to create a peaceful place for your pal to unwind!

Have you found a successful trick to keep your dog calm during a bath? Leave a comment below to share some wisdom!

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Casey Bechard of Off The Leash Pet Grooming is a QC Pet Studies graduate. Read all about her favorite breeds and pet haircuts as a certified groomer!

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