Fear of Water/Bathing

A puppy is adopted at 8 weeks old… He is nourished, vaccinated and kept for the most part safely indoors, in a warn, comfy environment. He is taken outdoors to potty several times a day and during the night. When it rains, the puppy owner does as much as he can to keep the puppy dry. Very likaly, he waits for the clouds to disappear or for the rain to become a light drizzle. If it still rains, the puppy owner brings out an umbrella and quickly takes the puppy outdoors to potty. If the puppy is reluctant to go potty under the rain, very likely the puppy owner will try to rush him and gets frustrated in the process. The puppy ultimately learns that rain is something to avoid; indeed, he detects the owner’s negative energy about the rain and discovers the goal is to get out of the rain as soon as possible. He ultimately starts associating the rain with something unpleasant.

  There are many ways to help dogs afraid of water.  

When it stops raining, the puppy is taken out and does his business right away and the owner is happy. This further confirms in the puppy’s mind that rain is bad and lack of rain is good.

Then the big day comes and the the puppy owner tries ta give the puppy a bath. The puppy is frightened but the puppy owner ignores the fear and continues to bathe the puppy. The puppy gets shampoo in his eyes, is scared of all the water poured over him and tries to squirm his way out of the bathtub. Because the bathtub is slippery, this unsure footing makes the puppy insecure and causes him to panic. The puppy owner quickly dries the puppy at this point and lets him go free.

Months later, the puppy is much older. He is never taken out when it rains and is kept safely indoors. If there are puddles, the puppy owner guides the puppy away from them. Then one day, the puppy owner decides it is time again for another bath, but the puppy has grown quite big now and is reluctant to move near the water. The puppy owner tries to force the puppy into the bathtub again but the puppy freezes. The owner tries to lift the puppy but the puppy growls and shows his teeth. The puppy owner gives up and decides to try another day. All the ingredients for a dog afraid of water have been laid out and now the result is a dog terrified of anything related to water including puddles, rain, baths and wet surfaces.

How Dogs Become Scared of Water

In the wild, the dog’s ancestors raised puppies in a den, a hole built underground before whelping. Once the puppy’s eyes were open, puppies were ready to explore their enticing surroundings. The pups and nature became one element. The puppies learned about the wind, thunder, lightning, rain and the feeling of wet grass under their paws. The puppies played in puddles, got mud all over their coats and learned to accept the many intriguing variances Mother Nature featured each day.

  Vintage shot of Einstein and I enjoying the Mediterranean Sea!  

For obvious survival reasons, the dog’s ancestors hunted regardless if it is was raining, snowing or if there was a thunderstorm under way. Rain, snow, wind and thunder were all accepted as normal events of life. Mothers were obviously not there to accompany the puppies with an umbrella or use a hairdryer if they got wet! It is quite obvious why canines in the wild couldn’t care less about getting wet while puppies raised in a domestic setting are prone to becoming water-phobic!

Why Puppies and Dogs Are Scared of Water

Breeders, trainers and many books recommend heavily socializing puppies to people, dogs

and other animals during a brief window of opportunity which closes once the puppy is 12 to 16 weeks old. Puppy classes, puppy play dates, and puppy parties are organized to ensure that puppies learn that people, dogs and other animals are not threatening. But what about rain?

Not many dog owners dedicate enough time to making rain and the sensation of getting wet something fun and enjoyable! While some puppy owners may give the puppy a bath, often they overwhelm the puppy without paying attention to subtle signs of discomfort. Because during the socialization period puppies tend to store good experiences as well as bad ones, should the puppy have an unpleasant experience with raln or water, it may be have quite an effect on his future feelings abouf water. Following are some common reasons why dogs may be scared of water.

Fear of the Unknown

Puppies and dogs raised in areas with dry climates or not exposed to rain during puppyhood become fearful of water simply because it is unfamiliar.

Overwhelming Experiences

Puppies forced to be bathed without much gradual exposure tend to be overwhelmed and frightened, a process known as looding.”

Negative Experiences

Dog owners getting frustrated when it rains or getting mad when their puppy is scared of water often leads to negative experiences in the puppy’s mind.

Water Used as Punishment

Owners squirting their dog with squirt guns only teach the dog to hate water.

Is your puppy or dog scared of water? Not all is lost; some remedial work may help puppies and dogs fearful of water. My dogs were raised in the Arizona desert where rain was quite rare for most of the year. When monsoon season approached, they were scared of rain and the sensation of getting wet. Thanks to a good desensitization and counterconditioning program they now love the water, as you saw earlier in the picture depicting my Rottweiler Einstein enjoying the waves in the Mediterranean Sea!

How to Help Your Dog to Love Water

As mentioned, two behavior modification techniques will be handy for helping your dog overcome his fear of water. Desensitization involves getting the dog gradually used to water and the sensation of getting wet. A good desensitization program requires owners capable of working the dog under the threshold. This means you would have to work under the imaginary line that makes your dog react and get panicky. If you are good in reading your dog when it manifests signs of stress or fear, you want to avoid getting to that point. For instance, if the sight of the water hose makes your dog squirm, you are overwhelming him. This is too much for him and this experience will make the fear of water worse. Therefore, you need to work on keeping your dog at a distance from the water hose from where he appears calm and work from there, sub-threshold. We will go over some easy steps for a a gradual desensitization program in the next section.

  Bathing can be fun!  

To make a good desensitization program work, you can make it even more powerful by adding counterconditioning. This means changing your dog’s emotional response to water. From getting panicky, you want your dog to shift to looking forward to a bath. Sounds unrealistic† Not at all, you can do wonderful things to your dog’s emotional state if you put in the effort.


Following are some examples on how to desensitize a dog to water, but keep an eye on your dog for signs of discomfort. Go too fast and you set your dog up for failure. If you are going too fast, take a step back and take a more gradual approach. The secret is to avoid overwhelming your dog in the process. Dry your dog after each exercise. Avoid using hairdryers; most dogs are scared of them if they’re not introduced properly. Use a towel instead.

Get a sponge, wet it with water and casually pass it lightly on your dog’s back one day right before putting his food bowl down. Repeat for three days. Dry your dog with a cloth right after he finishes the meal.

Get the same sponge and casually pass it tightly on your dog’s chest one day right before putting his food bowl down. Repeat for three days. Dry your dog with a cloth right after he finishes the meal.

In the next three days, pass the sponge on your dog’s back and chest before putting his food bowl down. Repeat for three days. Dry your dog with a doth right after he finishes the meal. As he gets good at this, increase the amount of body parts sponged.

When it rains Iigh5y, get the ball or your favorite fetch toy and get your dog really engaged in a game of fetch in the rain. Dry your dog with a cloth upon coming back in and become boring.

When it rains lightly, put the food bowl out and have your dog eat his meal under the rain.

Get a water hose and start squirting the water in different directions away from the dog. Sing silly songs as you squirt the water and make it look like a fun game. If your dog comes close, try to get him to chase the water squirts.

As you squirt the water, toss a handful of tasty treats from the sky and make them rain onto the ground. Make it look as if the water hose is shooting treats out along with the water.

Slightly spritz your dog with some water making it look like a game. Give him a treat right after the water spritz. It should be like this: Spritz, treat, spritz, treat, spritz, treat,

At some point, if you get your dog really engaged, he will be drenched. This is a good time to rub in some tearless shampoo and work it in. Sing a song as you massage your dog happily. Continue the spritz-treat game until your dog is shampoo-free. Then have fun rubbing and drying your dog. Water has never been so fun!

Make sure your dog associates the water with good things. Play and treats must abrupdy end the moment you shut off the water. Water ends, fun ends! Make it clear!

Tips to Make Water Fun

These tips will aid you in ensuring water becomes a fun and rewarding experience. Never force your dog to be bathed if he is not ready. Go slowly and gradually and you may end up

with a pal that will likely be pleading you to open that water hose! Many dogs have a blast trying to catch that water coming out of the hose!

Useateadessshampoo,alyouneedisabad expeñenceofburningshampooin your dog’s eyes to ruin all the progress you’ve made!

Invest in a non-slip mat. If you are using a bathtub, many dogs are scared of slippery surfaces. A non-slip mat may do wonders.

Start outdoors with a great game with the hose and then as your dog starts liking the water, gradually work your way inside, exposing your dog to indoor sources of water such as the shower.

If you dog is scared of the bathtub, try outdoors with a hose instead or a light shower. Some dogs have a hard time getting over negative experiences happening in the bathtub.

Some dog owners take showers with their dogs to keep it fun and rewarding. Sing silly songs as you play with the water.

Start desensitizing your dog to getting wet by walking in a puddle. Reward your dog lavishly for getting near the puddle, looking at the puddle and then putting a paw in the puddle. Clicked training with a puddle as a target area works great for those enamored with the training technique.

Note: For more on how Targeting works, see h}_jg_jZagg.

Encourage your puppy or dog to follow you into a small stream of water. Don’t force it if he panics. Most puppies and dogs are so eager to be near their owners they will walk into the stream, with a bit of hesitance at first, but once in, make sure you make a big deal of it with praise and treats.

Start with low water pressure in the hose. Same with puddles, start with very shallow puddles or streams. Many dogs dislike being lifted into the bathtub. Portable steps may be helpful.

If your dog does not take treats, try to skip his meal one time. Feeling hungry, your dog will take them more readily. If your dog still does not take treats, you may be asking too much at once, take a step back and work under the threshold.

Have a helper deliver treats as you give your dog a bath to keep it fun. Always work under the threshold.

Invest in some great water games for dogs. One of my favorites is the Bobbing for Treats game from the Brain Training for Dogs course!

if you don’t give up and your puppy starts enjoying baths, something great will happen: The dath itself will become a big reward and you will

no longer need to give your Oog treats!Disclaimer: Please consult with a dog behaviorist if your dog is displaying aggressive behaviors when you attempt to bathe him. Only a dog behaviorist may see and assess behaviors and offer the most appropriate behavior modification program tailored specially for your dog. Use extreme caution and make safety your top priority. By reading this article you accept this disclaimer and assume full responsibility for any of your actions.

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