De-Stressing Dog Bathing: Home Design Tips

At our house, giving our dogs a bath used to be a struggle! As an animal-care architect, I now understand that bathing areas can be better designed to reinforce gentle handling and to reduce the stress of bath time. I look forward to sharing some of the ideas that work best in our home and in others.

Walk-in showers work better for big dogs. Many people struggle to coerce their pets into tubs. In contrast, walk-in showers are easier to move in and out of without force, and they help reinforce gentle techniques for acclimating your dogs to bath time. If you are adding a new walk-in shower, design one that is at least three-and-a-half feet wide, so there is room for you and your furry friend. In our home, we have a dedicated dog shower, designed properly for our dog, with all bathing supplies on hand.

If you do not have a walk-in shower, de-stress your tub. Tubs are scary, but you can do these four things to make them less so:

  • Put a non-slip surface in the bottom, such as a safety mat with suction cups on the bottom.
  • Open the curtain to give the space an open feel. You will need plenty of towels to mop up water afterward, but it will be less scary for your pooch.
  • Add a sprayer to your tub faucet – see bullet below.
  • Add a secure tie in your tub – see bullet below.

Large sinks are better for small dogs. If your small dog is used to being held and is more comfortable off the floor, then an oversized sink, such as a laundry sink, will be best for bathing. A large sink is also easier for you to be relaxed in this more ergonomic setup. Keeping a container with treats that can be used for treat distraction within reach will also help make bath time a more positive experience for everyone.

Use a detachable sprayer. A detachable sprayer with hose is better than a fixed overhead sprayer, because it can be controlled more easily. When bathing dogs, set the water temperature to the cooler end of lukewarm, and use the detachable sprayer to gently move water over the dog’s legs and body, taking care not to spray them in the face.

De-stress your bath or mudroom. Create a peaceful bathing area with the following practices:

  • Turn off the bathroom fan.
  • Keep an Adaptil dispenser plugged into your bathroom to release a calming pheromone.
  • Place non-slip rugs up to the bath area, so your pooch is not slipping on the floor.
  • Set yourself up for success by having all your bathing supplies on hand and organized.
  • Keep everything quiet and calm in your house, so you can focus on creating a nicer, calmer experience for your dog.
  • Leave bathing to those who can do it best. My children want to bathe our dog, but they cannot do it as gently as I can. Instead of putting them in charge, I have them assist, quietly and calmly, with soap massage and drying.
  • Have a treat dispenser on hand for positive rewards!

Many dogs do not appreciate bath time, so let’s be as kind and thoughtful as we can with the design of our bathing spaces, to ensure that they work as well as they can in our Fear Free Happy Homes! If you have a dog who exhibits fear or anxiety with bathing, consult with professional Fear Free behavior and training resources to learn how to work with them when it’s time to give a bath.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Heather E. Lewis, AIA, NCARB, is a principal of Animal Arts, an architectural firm that has exclusively designed animal care facilities, including veterinary hospitals and animal shelters, for more than three decades.  She has worked on dozens of projects across the country, both large and small in her 19 years with the firm.  Heather is a member of the Fear Free℠ Advisory Board and assisted in creating the Fear Free facility standards for veterinary hospitals.  Heather is a regular contributor to various veterinary industry magazines.  She has spoken on the design of facilities for the care of animals at dozens of national and regional conferences including Fetch Hospital Design Conferences, the UC Davis Low Stress Animal Handling Conference, and the Humane Society of the United States Animal Care Expo.
Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash