In my last post I detailed the theory and process of working with a dog who is terrified of being bathed. I gave you the tools and techniques I use and the way I plan out the training. This time I’ll detail the actual process I followed to help Felix overcome his bath time blues.
What I did to overcome Felix’s aversion to bath time
I set a preliminary date for when I wanted to bath Felix. I only did that because I know myself too well – without some sort of loose deadline I’d not do the training – again! So, I set a deadline of one week, with the option of extending it another two weeks, to be reviewed at the end of that period. Open ended deadlines result in me not doing the work…
Step 01: Work through adding the triggers
First, I set up the bathroom with the towels. The towels had anti-slip mats underneath for safety – I didn’t want him leaving the room in a hurry and slipping. Not part of the plan at all!
He took one look at the towels on the floor and said “not on your life!”
Ok. Back to just one towel on the floor then.
We played the “you’re in, you’re out” game. I can’t remember where I saw this so I can’t give credit where it’s due but this is a great game!
Basically, as soon as the dog takes even one tiny move (or even just a look) towards an area you’d like them to be (but they’re not so convinced about) you click and toss the food behind them or away from the area. You’re NOT using a food lure to get them to approach. You’re using the food reward to set them up to repeat the approach again and again. This works wonderfully for crates, cars and a whole host of other ‘in/out’ situations.
Once he was doing that smoothly with just one towel in situ I added another towel, then another. After each new towel addition, we went back to the beginning of the “you’re in, you’re out” game. It took two sessions of less than 5 minutes each to have Felix wandering around the bathroom as relaxed as he’d normally be with no towels down.
I made the mistake of setting it right next to the bath at first. Oops. Once again, he refused to enter the room. So I moved it as far from the bath as I could. Back to that in/out game but this time, once he was happy entering the room again, I added an extra bit – get on the platform.
I cued that the first few times but after a few clicks he was rapidly offering to get on the platform himself. Within minutes he was happily getting on and off the platform and not even thinking about leaving the room. I gradually moved the platform closer and closer to the bath. No problems. He was still happy. “Easy money!” he said!
That was all I did on day one of training. In a few short sessions we went from a dog who refused to enter the bathroom if it had towels or platform to a dog who was happily bouncing up onto the platform right next to the bathtub. So far, so good.
Our next training day started with a review of the platform game, to refresh his memory of just how much fun the bathroom with towels and a platform could be. That went very well so I got out the shampoo and conditioner. He was fine with those on the side of the bath.
However, when I put a bit of shampoo on a tissue and he could smell it…
Yeah, not so keen on that. Back to that in/out game for entering the room. Then the on/off game for the platform. Five minutes later and he wasn’t bothered by the smell any more.
Get in the tub
I’d already set the tub up with rubber mats for safety so now it was time to take the next step.
This is where I had to cheat just a tiny bit. He’d been getting up on the platform for the click, and then getting off for the tossed treat. But I needed him to stay ON the platform and then put himself in the tub. So, I changed the platform game a wee bit: get on, eat treats while ON the platform, cue him off the platform. No treats for getting off this time; the release off was part of the reward for staying there.
I increased the duration of how long he was staying on the platform VERY gradually. He was a bit squirrelly here – very close to the tub and I was asking him to hang out there a bit. Maybe I’d suddenly grab him and toss him in??? Obviously, I wasn’t going to do that but you can understand his lack of enthusiasm for being right next to that scary bath tub!
If he needed to get off the platform he was totally free to do so. He wasn’t cued back up either. It was always his choice to get on (and eat scrummy food) or get off and leave if he wanted to. I did my very best to release him off the platform BEFORE he felt the need to do it himself – I got very quick returns!
Once he’d settled and could once again hop on/off smoothly and happily, even when he’d been asked to stay up there for 20 -30 seconds, I started feeding the treats with him facing the tub, and then leaning slightly over the tub. Again, I took it very slowly.
And then I cheated.
I got ‘fumble fingered’ and started dropping treats into the tub as I was feeding him. Messy trainer! He decided he wanted those treats. I cued him OFF the platform in the other direction. He popped right back on it again. I did it a couple more times.
More messy food delivery…
He tried to reach the dropped treats without putting his feet in. Poor lad couldn’t reach. I cued ‘In you get’ (his get-in-the-car cue). In he got, ate his ‘stolen’ treats and I cued ‘out you pop’ before he had the chance to jump out himself. Yes, I’m sneaky.
We went back to treats on the platform. I went back to fumbling a few. I asked him to hop in and clean up for me, then cued him back out. I left it there for that session.
Then there were two
I rarely bath the dogs on my own. I usually have my husband, Blair, or a friend help me – I wash and they feed. So, having a second person in the bathroom with all the paraphernalia is a big sign that ‘something’s up’.
For this bit I enlisted the help of a friend the dogs know very well. With two people in the bathroom I had to go back to the beginning for a couple of rounds of the in/out game as Felix is not stupid and wasn’t convinced about entering the bathroom when I had an accomplice. However, after so much previous fun practice Felix progressed to getting back in the room and on the platform willingly and quickly.
I revisited the ‘messy trainer’ technique and he surprised me by quickly hopping in to clear up again. I cued him back out before he did it himself. I took a bit of a chance with the next step! I cued him into the bathtub without dropping any food in first.
I wanted to see where he was: confident and comfortable or unwilling to play the game. If he’d said “no” I’d have respected that but he didn’t. He bounced in, tail waving and a big grin! He was SO darn pleased with himself! He was pretty pleased with the resulting treat-fest too. I cued him back out and we all had a bit of a quiet break with the human team taking a well-earned cuppa.
I spent a few more sessions over the next couple of days just building up the time he’d stay in the tub, eating treats and being handled; ‘fake shampooing’ if you like. Sometimes it was just me, sometimes it was me and a helper.
Just add water
Felix was doing great so, once I was convinced he was totally relaxed having a dry, fake bath, it was time to add some wet stuff. I started by running the water before I asked him to hop in the tub. I always get the temperature correct before I get the dog in the tub to avoid the possibility of accidently boiling or freezing the poor guy!
Felix had no problem with this at all and just hopped right on in. He got his treats and was then cued to hop out again. The shower head remained on its cradle – the water never even touched his toes. I repeated this a few times and then moved on to holding the shower head in my hand.
Got a bit of whale eye for that! So, I repeated the scenario a few times before leaving the session there. Felix didn’t even get damp and by the last few reps he wasn’t remotely bothered by me waving the shower head around (aimed away from him).
The last few sessions had me and other person in the bathroom again. We did the whole ‘wave the shower head around’ thing without any reaction from Felix at all. No whale eye, no backing off, no taking treats harder than normal, no freezing or ducking his head. Up until this point he’d not got more than the bottom of his feet wet.
All the time I was doing weird stuff with the wet stuff, he was eating treats from my helper, then being cued to hop out of the bath. He’d have as long as he needed before being asked if he wanted to get back in. How did I know he was ready? He’d get back up on the platform!
Time for the wet stuff on him.
Felix is fine having his feet washed off in a fish bin using a cloth. He’s not so keen on the hose so I didn’t want to rush this last step – it has ‘hose like’ qualities. I got my helper to slow the treat delivery for food and during the food pause I sprayed the water over his front feet, marked “yes” and then had my helper deliver a few treats. I then cued him back out the tub. Then back in, repeat.
At each rep I was watching him very carefully for signs of stress or distress. There weren’t any so I gradually moved from wetting just his feet to his legs, then flicking the water over his back. I was careful not to make it more and more intrusive – most reps just got his feet wet but then I’d ‘accidentally’ go a bit higher with the water before quickly going back to his feet. He was marked and rewarded each time the water ‘wandered’ somewhere new but gradually I reduced the frequency of my ‘out you get’ cues.
The whole ‘introducing the wet stuff’ session lasted maybe 10 minutes and he was free to leave whenever he wanted – but he never did! Every time I cued him out he wanted back in!
By the end of it he was calmly standing still while I wetted his feet, legs, back and tail. I wasn’t getting his coat saturated but wet enough that he could feel the water on him.
This was about as far as I could go without actually bathing him. I decided he was as ready as he was ever going to be. It’d taken four days with a few 5-minute sessions two or three times a day. It really was that quick.
The Big Day
For the main event I had a plan and a back up plan. I was going to use the release from the tub as part of the reward for staying in there while I washed him. This could go one of two ways: he’d do as he had been doing and hop right back in when asked or he’d say “no thanks” and refuse. If he refused and he was soapy I was just going to take him outside and rinse him off with a bucket and sponge. I didn’t want to risk undoing all my hard work of the last few days!
My punt paid off! I asked him to hop in the tub, he did. I wetted him down (while hubby fed him top notch treats) and then cued him out. When he was out we played ‘wrap the dog in a towel’, a game he loves.
I cued him back in, not that I really needed to, he was all ready to go LOL. Wetted him down again and shampoo’d then rinsed. He continued to happily munch treats. Cued him back out for more ‘dog wrapping’ games. Back in for the conditioner cycle and rinse. He was a little less impressed by that one, maybe getting a bit over the game. More dog wrapping.
At this point I’d technically finished but I asked him to get in one more time just so I could have him eat more treats WITHOUT being shampoo’d or conditioned etc. and then cue him out for a bit more wrapping and silliness. And then we were done.
Not finished even tho’ we’re finished
Well, actually, we weren’t. After the bathroom had been mopped (there was water everywhere – even in the cabinet drawers!) I replaced all the sodden towels with fresh ones and left the bathroom set up as if we were going to do it all again.
For the next few days I allowed Felix to accompany me to the bathroom and if he showed any interest in either the platform or the bath, he got treats again. I couldn’t get him out! For the next two days he was in that tub at every opportunity – and he got paid every time. And his feet rinsed a few times just for good measure.
Here’s a video of the first ‘refresher’ session I did after Felix’s real bath. As you’ll see, I did my very best to replicate all the steps of the initial training. Felix had other ideas but hopefully this video will give you some idea of what I did, and the steps I took to change Felix’s mind about baths.
Why did I do that?
If you can repeat the fun training steps after a potentially unpleasant event has occurred it seems to lessen the impact of the actual stressful event. I didn’t kid myself that Felix enjoyed his bath. He tolerated it very well and was unbelievably accommodating but he wouldn’t choose to be covered in suds and then slimy stuff that smells yucky to him.
So, by quickly going back to the easy stuff I (apparently) prevented those ‘bath-time’ triggers becoming aversive to him again. I’ll continue to randomly cue him into the bath for cookies and soggy toes to maintain the association that this situation is both fun and rewarding. I want the majority of his experiences in that room to be great ones, and if that means we have towels and platforms set up more than they need to be, well, it’s worth the inconvenience. I’d rather walk around a platform every now and then than have to wrestle a distressed dog into the bath!
Sarah and the Gang
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