One weekend, I invited my 6-year-old nephew to help give Louie his first bath. We drove to the neighborhood grooming spot and placed Louie in a self-service tub. Then I carefully stuffed his ears with cotton balls and started lining up bottles of flea shampoo, coat brightener, and conditioner. As I turned on the water, my nephew leaned over the tub and whispered to Louie, “You’re gonna hate this part.”
In spite of my nephew’s warning, Louie and I made it through bath time unscathed. We finished with a brisk towel dry and a spritz of kiwi-scented dog cologne. During the ride home, my nephew’s words stayed with me. When I had my first dog, Lulu, dog grooming was a little more basic. With Louie, there are a lot more than flea and tick shampoos at my disposal. The lineup now includes detangling sprays, leave-in conditioners, and — I kid you not — doggie hair gel. But all those fancy products fail to help many of us overcome one major hurdle: getting dogs to actually embrace bath time.
Lulu used to be a handful. She would run, hide, and wail, leaving me with a house that smelled of wet dog. For examples of similar doggie drama, search “dogs who hate bath time” on YouTube. (I can save you the trouble with my favorite video featuring Elmo, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier–Chihuahua mix.)
Fortunately, it’s never too late to introduce good habits. Professional dog trainer Mario Bardouille has spent the past 18 years specializing in behavior modification. He shares five common mistakes dog owners make during bath time.
Don’t rush through bath time. Dogs respond to your energy and work to please you, so be patient and focus on creating a positive experience. Start with brushing your dog’s coat regularly. Include plenty of praise — as well as treats — for good behavior. Gradually build toward milestones such as entering the bathroom and actually stepping inside the tub. It may take time, but Bardouille says your dog eventually will understand that baths can be a comfortable, happy, and rewarding experience.
Brushing a squirming dog’s teeth can be a pain. That’s why so many people skip dog dental care, which can lead to costly health issues down the road. “Turn grooming, particularly dental care, into a fun experience,” says Bardouille. “Help the dog understand that this isn’t going to be so bad.” He suggests investing in flavored toothpaste specially formulated for dogs. Toothpaste made for people can be toxic to dogs, so shop at pet supply stores for this grooming item. (He’s partial to a beef-flavored version from Petsmile that doesn’t require the use of a brush.) Start slowly, encouraging your dog to approach and sniff the tube or applicator.
“We’re conditioning good behavior,” he says. “Let the dog follow it with his nose, introducing that sensory factor. Then rub it on his lip and actually put it in his mouth. Make the dog want to show interest rather than pulling away. When that happens, they get the reward, which is the toothpaste. Make that behavior a conditioned thing where you do it every morning. Turn that into your morning routine so the dog understands that this is something they do before they get their food or after their morning walk. Before you know it, your dog will be sitting and doing obedience.”
Once dogs return from their daily walk, Bardouille recommends that you wipe paws as well as their private areas with baby wipes or an old washcloth. These regular touch-ups keep the funk at bay between baths and help dogs grow more accustomed to regular grooming.
“French Bulldogs or English Bulldogs — they are a little bit lower — so when they are walking, they splash things up,” he says of short-statured dogs. “Wipe their armpits, stomach, and private areas; that actually makes a big difference in the odor.”
Also, don’t forget to wipe those wrinkles and eye areas, which can accumulate lots of gunk.
“You have to learn how far to go with your dogs,” Bardouille says. “Some dogs’ quicks (nail tips) are a little bit longer. Look at the base underneath the dog’s foot. Even on a dark nail, you can see the excess nail where it kind of hooks.”
Even with great care, accidents do happen. During a routine nail trim, you may go a little too far and cut the dog’s quick, causing bleeding. Bardouille says don’t panic. Keep a container of styptic powder in your doggie first aid kit to stop the bleeding. Then return to the task, taking things slowly and snipping a bit at a time. Let go of the dog’s paw when you notice him getting uncomfortable, and end on a positive note with plenty of praise.
Work on developing good habits, including regular brushing, so that the dog is conditioned to enjoy this bonding time. Before you know it, Bardouille says your dog will be sitting still during bath time.
I’m certainly putting his advice into practice. After that first drama-free bath, my nephew rewarded Louie with treats and plenty of cuddle time to celebrate a job well done. We’re off to a good start.
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About the author: Morieka Johnson lives in metro Atlanta with her husband, two stepdaughters, and Louie, their high-energy puppy. She enjoys writing about dog health, toys, and training. Morieka shares more of their exploits on www.SoulPup.com.