The youngest of my two retrievers is Heather, a dog so keen for swimming that she vibrates and whines at the sight of water when we drive over bridges. The older one, Benjamin, is only a tad less enthusiastic. Both will race pell-mell down a soggy bank and hurl themselves powerfully skyward, hitting the water with feet churning and hearts full of joy.
They are water dogs, happiest when wet -- unless there's soap in the water. When "water" means "bath," they're suddenly not interested. In this, they're not alone.
While bathing dogs is no one's idea of fun, it doesn't have to be miserable for you both if you know what you're doing and keep your attitude positive.
First, set yourself up with the proper equipment: soap, a bath mat for sure footing and a spray nozzle for thorough rinsing. Shampoo is a matter of personal preference, and with so many great products on the market, choosing just one is a chore. Don't use a human shampoo -- the pH is wrong for your pet -- and don't bother with a flea-control product. Any shampoo will wash fleas down the drain. (If you're fighting fleas, talk to your veterinarian about the latest generation of highly effective products.)
When you've got all your equipment in place -- don't forget towels! -- turn on the tap, but do it with the door closed. Dogs have a keen sense of hearing, too, and some are upset by the sound of bath water running; they know what it means. After the tub is full of warm water, let the water sit while you prepare the dog for the big plunge. It's important to comb or cut out tangles or mats before the bath, since water only makes them worse. Put a pinch of cotton just inside your dog's ears and a drop of mineral oil in each eye to help keep out the soap.
In working with dogs, I've found a good attitude can go a long way, but a bad one can make things worse. If your dog knows how much you hate bath time, how will he get a positive or at least tolerable opinion of the process? Keep it light and don't let up on the praise, even as you're gritting your teeth and dragging your pet into the tub.
Wet your dog thoroughly, then start shampooing by working a complete ring of lather around the neck, cutting off the escape route of any fleas. Work back from there, and don't forget to work some lather in between your dog's toes. Do the face and ears gently, taking care not to get any suds into your dog's eyes. Rinse, and follow with a conditioner if your dog has a long or silky coat: It'll make combing out easier and give the fur a nice sheen.
Rinse again, then lift the dog out and put a towel over yourself while he shakes. Your dog can get off more water by shaking than you can by toweling, so let him have at it, and use those towels to clean up the mess.
Keep your dog inside while he dries; you can use a blow-dryer to speed up the process, if you like. A clean dog is a joy to be with -- enjoy it while you can.
Regular brushing and combing will stretch the period between baths, but don't let it go too long. The old myth that dogs shouldn't be bathed more than twice a year must have come from folks with outside dogs -- who'd want such a dirty beastie on the bed? Bathe your pet as needed, and you'll both be happier for it.
Pets on the Web: OK, so horses aren't pets in the classical "sleeps on the bed" kind of way, but like many city-dwellers I've always loved and admired them. With the heightened interest in racing's Triple Crown this year, now seems a good time to visit the Thoroughbred Times Web site on this race series (http://188.8.131.52/thoroughbredtimes/tc98/default.asp). The best part of the well-designed site is the history area, with stories and pictures of each Triple Crown winner from Sir Barton to Affirmed. Great stuff.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies" and "Cats for Dummies," and is the editorial director of the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or e-mail to Giori(at)aol.com.
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