“Can I wash my own dog? It can’t be that hard can it?” These are the words that I hear everyday as I go about my business working at the Pooch Parlor in Northern Idaho. Each time I walk a customer through this process, I find myself wondering why in the world something so simple is so doggone hard to explain. Washing your own dog may seem simple, but – only if you think and speak ‘dog’ – the language of your own dog.
I run a shop for full service and self-service dog grooming and bathing, and I LOVE it! There are dogs, and owners, of every size, every breed, and every temperament that come in to use the self-service doggie wash. Most owners are excited, some are scared, and some are cocky, but no matter who they are, or what they do for a living, there is nothing quite as intimidating for them as washing their own dog in public! The thought of doing this can give even the most confident person, performance anxiety, and for good reason! It is a true test of trust and tolerance and friendship for the person and dog companion. And, on a very basic level, it is an honest mirror for the owner, and how he or she deals with life, and with conflict. The likelihood of a successful experience for both is completely dependent upon the psychological relationship that exists between them, and, to a large extent, the ability of both to comprehend the body language of the other. You may be surprised to know that I have found that dogs are supremely better at reading their humans than their humans are of reading them. It is this relationship between human and canine, that shows itself without modesty during bathtime, and, keeps me coming to work day after day with a smile on my face.
My clients have been giving their dogs baths in my shops for 10+ years now, and, each year is more entertaining than the last when it comes to watching regular people washing their own regular dogs. The average person that comes through our doors is highly successful, which usually means – intelligent – and, because like attracts like, so is their dog. And, so why oh why, they ask me, should this simple task of cleaning their dog be so difficult? I ask them time and again, “Well, how well do you speak dog?” Invariably, their reply is a blank stare. So, this is the time to ask yourself, “How well do YOU speak dog?”
There is a lot to say about the theories of why dogs and humans behave the way they do, but I’m going to get back to the practical things to look for while bathing your own dog. The bottom line to remember is that your dog’s energy and personality traits are a mirror to your own. Take this into consideration when attempting to get him into the tub and have him be happy about it.
1. Deciding when to bathe your dog. Timing and Personality traits: Timing is important. Look at your own needs regarding timing to know how your dog will react. Are you the kind of person that is up for anything anytime? Or do you need to accomplish your day in a scheduled, systematic way? How do you do with new experiences? Do you find them refreshing and fun, or do you feel fearful until comfortable with a new activity? Your dog is going to deal with the bathtime experience in the same way you deal with life experiences. Remember that your dog is going to reflect your own personality traits – not necessarily the traits you show the world, but the traits that are truly inside you.
a. Fun-loving, extroverted, and social humans. If you enjoy regular physical activity, then so will your dog. For this type of person and dog, I suggest you take your dog out for a bout of exercise before the bath. In the city where I work, we are fortunate to have a designated beach on the lake just for dogs and their humans – dogbeach. There is a long path to run or walk on, and there is a large beach area to swim and play in. This is the perfect scenario for pre-bath timing. The dog can choose to get muddy, run, socialize, or just enjoy being outside. In any case, the dog is able to spend big reserves of energy outside in a fun way, just like letting human children play before naptime. If you love exercise, do something like this with your dog before taking him into your own tub or a professional facility for a dog bath. A common fault of the social dog and owner: Just because you are friendly, out-going person does not mean everyone wants to accept your friendly, and out-going gestures. It’s hard to fathom, I know, but it is true. If you have a very social dog (if you are a social person), it is easy to forget that many dogs (like their owners) are not social and do not appreciate the social requirements (like butt-sniffing) of others. Please remember to doghint respect their space when in public or otherwise. Keep your dog restrained and under control, even if your dog has the friendliest intentions.
b. Non-social, active, or inactive humans. If your personality is not conducive to social interaction, then I still suggest that you walk your dog or do something that is comfortable within your life that involves light exercise before bathing your dog. Taking a walk with your dog does wonders to alleviate excess tension or stress for both human and dog. By getting rid of stressful energies during a walk, it does not present itself during bathtime. Getting exercise is especially important for those humans,( I mean dogs), that are highly nervous. I recommend giving your dog Valerian root (liquid form) or Rescue Remedy (liquid or spray) orally 30 minutes before the bath. Both of these products are natural remedies to calming down jittery nerves- and it works great for humans too. If timing is important in your life, take your dog to a self-service bathing facility when the least amount of people are there, usually early or late in the day. A common fault of the non-social dog and owner: they communicate poorly within their own species and with other species. Many people that tend towards isolation, often do this because they never figured out how to communicate effectively in human society. Their dogs typically have the same problem. I have seen it happen many times that owners of aggressive dogs unwittingly encourage their dog’s unwanted behavior, when they think they are doing the opposite. They do this by projecting their worrying thoughts about the ‘what-ifs’ of a social situation. Dogs of this type of owner act out their dog interpretations of their human owners signals. The dogs often pick up the ‘what-if’ fears of the human as the request of their human, actually creating the ‘what-if’ behavior to occur. Without human intervention and boundary setting by the owner (requiring advanced communication skills), it is quite common for this type of dog to exhibit increasingly aggressive behavior. Most owners are dismayed by their dog’s aggressive behavior, but they simply lack the skills required to communicate what behavior they will and won’t allow from their dog. I recommend that if you have a dog that is displaying increasingly aggressive behaviors to consult a professional dog behaviorist or trainer. Just a few simple tricks will convey an accurate message to a dog that is most likely misunderstanding your expectations.