How to Handle Your Dog's Fear of Water & Bathing

Why Are Some Dogs Afraid of Water?

There are many reasons why dogs may be fearful of water. It could simply be that it's a new experience for them or that the water feels different under their paws or on their fur. Your pet may have also had a traumatic experience with water. Or, maybe they were forced to get wet when they weren't ready. If you're thinking your dog is afraid of water but don't know how to help, the first step is simply helping your dog unlearn any negative water connotations. Then, you can slowly acclimate your pet to the water until they feel safe enough to bathe or swim on their own terms.

How to Bathe a Dog Who Is Afraid of Water

Ideally, you should begin bathing your dog when they're a puppy — first with a washcloth and then eventually in an indoor or outdoor bath. However, if your dog already has a phobia of bathing, you'll need to train them to unlearn some of those fears before you can successfully bathe them. Use these steps to get started:

  1. Get your dog comfortable with being leashed in your home.
  2. Bring your pet into the bathroom for playtime with a closed door.
  3. Once your dog is able to be in the room without fear, encourage them to sit on a non-slip mat in the tub. Don't run the water, but do make sure to reward your pet for their courage!
  4. After doing this a few times, turn on the water in the tub while you're playing with your dog on the floor, so that they get used to the sounds as well.
  5. Finally, lead your pet into a tub filled with only a small amount of water.

These steps may take some time, but it's really about unlearning the fear and gaining confidence before trying again.

How to Get Your Dog Comfortable With Swimming

Here's how to start training your dog to play in deeper waters:

  1. Start small, and never throw them into the water.
  2. Walk with your pet along the shore to get their feet wet.
  3. Then, slowly head in a little deeper, but stay in shallow water.
  4. Reward your pet with healthy treats.
  5. When you feel your pet is comfortable, head out just slightly deeper so that instead of walking, your dog will need to swim a short distance to reach you.

Take each of these steps slowly and over time you'll have a confident swimmer. And remember, just like with bathing your dog, this is not a one-day training activity. You'll need to plenty or safe, comfortable practice time to get your pet swimming confidently.