How to Bathe a Scared Dog
If your dog has severe anxiety or nervousness around bath time, the best course of action is to contact a local dog trainer. They'll be able to work with you to develop a comprehensive plan specific to your dog's needs.
For dogs with general nervousness and anxiety, the best way to introduce them to bathing is in a step by step process with lots of praise and treats. This allows you to bond with your dog, help them realize that bath time is safe, and get them well on their way to bathing.
Before you turn on the faucet, the first step is to get your dog comfortable with sights, sounds, smells, and touches of bathtime. If you can get your dog in the bathtub for a dry run, that's the best way to start. But don't force it. If your dog doesn't want to get into the bathtub, or even the bathroom, let them get as close as is comfortable for them. From there, start talking to them gently about what you'll be doing during the bath as you pet them, scratch their back, and move your hands as you would when giving them a bath. Let them smell the shampoo and conditioner you'll be using (natural, mild formulas without synthetic ingredients are best) and show them the cup you'll use to rinse them. Give plenty of treats and praise while you're doing this.
Turning on the Water
When it's time to turn on the faucet, the first thing you have to make absolutely sure is that the water temperature is comfortable. Dogs are more sensitive to hot water than we are, so a bit cooler than you think is comfortable would probably be right. Make sure to monitor your dog's comfort level (beyond the anxiety) and adjust as the bath moves along.
For the first time in the bath, you might not even get your dog wet. Or if you do, maybe just spray their paws. Remember, this is all so you can get them used to the feeling of having a bath, like the sound of the faucet and the feel of the water. Remember, offer lots of treats and praise.
A day or two later, work up their legs a little further, but don't force the issue. If your dog wants to get out of the tub, let them do what's most comfortable for them. Again, offer lots of treats and praise.
Finally, a couple days later, work up to their stomach and back. If your dog is tolerating this, you're well on your way to a bath. Go slowly and don’t get tense or upset or you’ll lose all the previous gains you’ve made. If you can be really patient through this process, your dog will end up loving baths in the long run. Just remember that this process is all about praise and being comfortable.
Holistic Anxiety Treatment
Behavioral modification is the best way to bathe a scared dog, but there are holistic anxiety treatments for dogs that can help. Depending on how nervous your dog is, whether they're constantly nervous or just afraid around water and baths, will help you determine what kind of remedies to use.
Hemp & CBD
Hemp and CBD products for dogs have become really popular options for confronting stress & anxiety. CBDs come in either topicals or as supplements, wheareas hemp almost always comes as a supplement. These can be used for acute situations or over longer periods of time based on your pets needs. The great news is these offer a number of health benefits beyonds just stress & anxiety.
Depending on the treatment option, try to use these thirty minutes before bathtime to let your dog settle down and allow the hemp or CBD to begin working.
Herbal supplements are great for handling more chronic stress. Herbs like chamomile, skullcap, and valerian are great for calming dogs, just like for humans. Look for an easy to administer supplement for your dog, whether it's a soft chews or liquid. Use this as part of your dog's daily routine for a couple of days out before trying your behavior modification.
Herbal supplements are non-sedative, so they help to just take the edge off. Make sure to look for any interactions with prescriptions, as those can be an issue for some herbals.
Homeopathics & Flower Essences
Homeopathics and flower essences are great for acute support for slightly nervous dogs. They can be used in conjunction with other remedies and don't have any side effects.
Aromatherapy works great for helping dogs whose anxiety is triggered by an environment. If your dog has a bad memory of the bathtub, you can spray some in there before hand and when your dog comes in as part of your behavior modification process, it will help put them at ease.
Natural Bathing & Grooming
Something else to consider is using natural, mild grooming products for your dog. If the shampoo and conditioner you're using for your dog is causing irritation, it won't matter how calm your dog is, they won't like getting a bath.
If getting your dog comfortable with bathing is taking longer than you anticipated, between bath grooming sprays and spritzes and grooming wipes are a great way to keep your dog fresh and clean while you're working through bath anxiety. Grooming tools will also be very helpful with keeping shedding down and maintaining a well groomed dog.