Bathing the dog has always been a job best suited for children. They tend to view this task with the enthusiasm of the inexperienced. It looks like a fun and sloppy game, which is exactly why the adults want nothing to do with it. Like it or not, though, the dog will need to be washed from time to time, and children might be in short supply.
Try to teach your dog about baths when she is young. Puppy owners often wash their new charges way too frequently, however, so don’t overdo it. Frequent shampooing tends to dry the skin and make it more flaky. The key is to make several fun trips to the tub with your youngster, so that the structure itself is familiar and the sound of running water isn’t frightening. This will pay off immensely over time, especially if you have a large-breed dog. A tub or shower stall with some sort of barrier is best, because your pet will want to shake out her coat from time to time. Flinging water from the skin is an irresistible urge for dogs that can be delayed but not ultimately denied. Like sneezing in church.
Early trips to the bath should feature lots of treats and praise. Don’t run that noisy faucet in front of your client until you’ve tried several bouts with a half-inch of lukewarm standing water that’s been prepared before the guest of honor enters the room. Skipping the shampoo will allow you plenty of practice runs without irritating her skin.
Don’t use human hair products on the dog, because her skin has a different pH than ours. Read the instructions carefully, because canine shampoos often need to be shaken up before they’re used. Many of them are really thick and difficult to spread evenly; it’s often helpful to stir a teaspoon or so into a large plastic cup of warm water before applying to the skin. Some require an extended contact time (especially the medicated variety), so be prepared with something to entertain the customer during her soak. The time will fly for her if you think like a pro and apply a thin layer of peanut butter directly on the side of the tub.
Getting your larger dog into the bath will be challenging, so make sure you have two people on hand if it’s a two-man job. Many journeys to the ER have begun in a wet bathroom, and the presence of a large, exuberant dog shifts the odds against you. Position a non-slip mat in the bottom of the tub and several towels on the floor to help everyone maintain their footing. Purchase a drain catch from the dollar store for these occasions, because large quantities of hair are going to be dislodged. Your plumbing will thank you for taking this precaution.
If you invest your time and patience, and just a bit of peanut butter, into teaching your dog that baths aren’t a hilarious game, you’ll likely end up with a polished, pooch-pampering routine that even an adult can manage.
Dr. M. S. Regan