Hey Harper: My Puppy Is Scared of Baths
How to break a bath down into the smallest unscary steps3 minute read
My pup is absolutely terrified of all things grooming related, but especially baths and having her nails trimmed. She just turned a year old at the beginning of March. She is never aggressive but just so insanely fearful. I don’t want to continue traumatizing my dog, but nothing seems to work and these are necessary things to keep her healthy.
Our vet has already provided us some relaxers to help calm her down to make the task more doable but those don’t work. I’ve tried giving her a favorite treat (peanut butter filled among) and letting her sit in a spot that she’s comfortable with. When it comes to baths I’ve even put on a bathing suit and hopped in the tub with her to help her feel safe but nothing really works.
Are there any remedies you suggest to help me teach my pup that these aren’t such scary things and help her to feel more safe/relaxed?
We haven't created any courses yet for dogs that are especially fearful of baths [Editor's Note: There is a Harper course for introducing a puppy to a bath that moves a little faster than the instructions below. Open "Bath Time" from your iPhone] it in Harper but the protocol is similar to introducing anything new to your pup. The only difference is you're going to break it up into much smaller steps and go much slower.
Here's a strategy for breaking up a bath into small steps. You're basically trying to see if your pup will tolerate each stage. Once your pup will take food from you or play with you at one stage, try moving on to the next one. Don't be afraid to go backwards either. Part of this is about building confidence and the easiest way to build confidence is to do something your dog is already really good at.
- Every time your pup does something you like, say "yes" and give a treat. If your dog will take food from you that's a really good sign.
- Keep the sessions short. No more than 5 minutes. Give a lot of reinforcement (i.e. treats)
- You'll probably learn something new with each step so feel free to adjust this plan accordingly as you go along
- Begin each session with the last stage your pup already mastered. This acts as a warm up and builds your pup's confidence
- Standing outside the bathroom
- Going into the bathroom
- Staying in the bathroom with the door open
- Staying in the bathroom with the door shut
- Looking at the bathtub (yes, even just looking at it.)
- Approaching the bathtub
- Touching the bathtub (if your dog is big enough to reach, try putting a treat on the side of the bathtub)
- Going into the bathtub
- Staying in the bathtub for longer periods of time
- Staying in the bathtub with the water turned on and immediately off (if your dog is scared of the faucet being on, you might start with just a little bit of water in the tub and see if she'll go in)
- Also, in the same fashion, try introducing her to any tools you might use like a cup with water to rinse her down
I'll stop there. I think you get the idea.
Give that a shot and let us know what works for you and what doesn't!
Follow-up from K:
"I just wanted to send a little update that we had a big success today! We’ve been working up to a less stressful bath time and today we were able to get her in the tub, with the water running, and bathe her with very minimal stress!
It was apparent that she was still a little uncomfortable but that was the most successful bath we’ve ever had. We made sure to continually reward her throughout the bath as she sat calmly. Thank you so much for the tips! I feel like things will only get better from here."