How to Give Your Dog a Bath: An Expert Guide

Washing dogs isn’t easy. But with these expert tips on how to give your dog a bath, you can create a bubbly, pleasant bathing experience for both of you.

give your dog a bath
Giving your dog a bath? Photo: hfiguiere

Dogs have their own ideas about personal grooming techniques — which may include rolling around on the ground or rubbing their heads or noses in who knows what.

Every dog looks at bath time in a different way. We humans realize that a bath leaves us feeling clean and refreshed, but not all dogs have that same feeling.

Given time, many dogs do learn to tolerate baths.

Part 1: How to Give Your Dog a Bath

While bathing helps keep the coat clean, healthy and shining, some breeds need good scrub more often than others.

Basically, that depends on how quickly they get grimy:

  • Bathing too frequently will take healthy oils away from the coat and skin, causing itching, scratching and irritation.
  • Brushing daily will help keep them clean between baths.

Follow the simple instructions in this article, and you’ll be giving your dog a bath like a seasoned pro.

Instructions: Giving Your Dog a Bath

The following instructions should help create a harmonious relationship between you and your dog during baths:

1. Using warm water (not hot), fill the tub about knee length.

Lift your puppy or dog and gently place them — don’t plop them down — in the water. Provide a treat, speak to your pup in a calming tone and let them smell your grooming tools — the comb, brush, clippers, etc.

2. Give your dog a chance to get used to the water.

Spraying the water gently on the dog’s back and shoulders will allow your pet to adjust to the feel and temperature of the water. Take it slowly, and keep talking in a reassuring voice.

Anything that spooks your pet will only make them more resistant to baths in future.

3. Take care not to spray water directly in the dog’s face.

Instead, tilt the dog’s head so that the water will run down the backside. Use your fingers or a wet washcloth to wipe the areas around eyes, nose and mouth.

Do not clean the inner ears, except with guidance from your veterinarian. According to Dr. Larry Cohen, DVM, getting water in the ears is a top cause of dog ear infections.

4. Wash the top of the head, the neck and chest, and keep working your way down the dog’s back.

Going in the direction of head to tail will help wash away any fleas or other bothersome visitors your pet may have accumulated since the last bath. Don’t forget to offer some more treats along the way. Your dog will really appreciate that gesture at this point.

5. Use a shampoo that is formulated for dogs.

People shampoos do not have the right pH for dogs.

Apply a line of shampoo along the back, massaging the lather down to the skin as you go. Wash each leg and the tummy as you work your way to the tip of the tail. A soft-bristled brush will help you clean around the paw pads.

6. Gently rinse your soaped-up pet, remembering to use warm water.

First, rinse the top of the dog’s head and around the eyes, using one of your hands to shield the soap from his eyes. If some soap accidentally gets in the dog’s eyes, it’s not the end of the world, despite your pet’s squirms. Just flush the eyes out with water and give some extra treats.

Next, rinse the whole body well, until the water runs clear. Kneading the fur with your hand will help remove the suds. Don’t forget those little toes, often neglected, but which need rinsing too.

Don’t skimp on the rinsing — this is where most people often mess up. Leftover suds can lead to dry skin.

7. Gently pat your pet dry with an absorbent towel.

Begin the drying process at the head, as dog aren’t very comfortable when their head is wet.

They’ll probably want to do their part by shaking wildly. That is perfectly fine — just be sure they are completely dry before allowing them the pleasure of post-bath running and rolling. Otherwise, all this bath-time magic will have been in vain.

After giving your dog a bath, offer a lot of praise and a few more treats.

After all, doesn’t a clean, good-smelling pupper deserve the royal treatment?

Other Tips and Tricks

  • Take your puppy for a long walk first.
  • Bath time should begin before your pet eats. This way, the food can serve as a reward afterward.
  • For smaller dogs, you can give the dog a bath in a sink or laundry tub.
  • Invest in a good detachable shower sprayer — it will prove invaluable.
  • Put down a non-slip mat in the tub. This can prevent injury from a slip, and will also shield the tub enamel from scratches.
  • Garden hoses outside can shoot out water that is too cold for your pet, particularly during colder months of the year. Young puppies in particular won’t enjoy having a hose shot at them.
  • To avoid having water roll down into the dog’s ears, place a large cotton ball in each ear.
  • Be patient and do not yell at your pet if they resist grooming; you’ll just make them hate baths if you do this.
give your dog a bath
Every dog looks at bath time in a different way. Photo: ginnerobot

Part 2: Mistakes to Avoid When Bathing Your Dog

Bath time can be a lot of fun for both you and your dog — and yes, we’re being serious.

You get to spend time together, bond and get clean. (Well, at least your dog does. Your bathroom is another story.)

It’s not always easy to bathe dogs, though. Here are 3 things to avoid to make the experience go a little more smoothly:

1. Using the Wrong Shampoo

Like people, dogs have a variety of needs when it comes to bathing.

Some dogs have dry skin, and others have fleas, so what’s the best shampoo to remedy those afflictions? There are a lot of shampoos to choose from, and deciding on one can be a bit of a headache.

Groomer Jet Perreault offers this advice: “If you aren’t sure which one to go with, ask your groomer for advice. She will be glad to help, because frequent washing will make her job easier.”

Also, ask your veterinarian. One of the most important things is to not use shampoo manufactured for humans — unless otherwise directed by your vet. Sometimes, veterinary dermatologists recommend Johnson & Johnson Baby Shampoo for sensitive dogs. But in general, human shampoo is not designed to properly clean your dog and may cause skin irritation.

give your dog a bath
Your dog may grow to like baths if they can associate baths with a calm, pleasant experience. Photo: pheezy

2. Rewarding Too Soon

Training your dog to be on his best behavior can help with bath time tremendously.

As with any training, this should be a positive experience — something that makes your dog actually look forward to bath time.

Many people use treats to entice their dogs into the bathroom, but according to Mario Sturm in his book 100 Mistakes in Dog Training, this is, well, a mistake. “After the procedure, your dog should be exceedingly praised and rewarded with a treat,” Sturm writes, “provided that [your dog] endured it in a well-behaved manner.”

If you have a reluctant bather, reward him only after bath time is over, regardless of how cute he looks in the tub.

3. Getting Frustrated or Yelling

It’s hard not to get peeved when you have an excitable dog in the tub who’s getting soap and water everywhere but on himself.

Just remember: He has no real idea of why he even needs a bath in the first place.

Be calm and assertive when you need to be, but above all else, remain calm.

In Common Sense Dog Training, Steven Adams writes:

“Screaming adds to their excitement, which means their out-of-hand behavior can get even more out of hand. Not to mention, it can scare the hell out of your dog and make him fear training situations…. Stay calm when you get frustrated. Walk away from the situation if you have to and try again another time.”

It’s so easy when they’re puppies, isn’t it? Watch this video:

YouTube player

Sure, walking away from bath time to try again isn’t always a convenient option.

In the long run, though, it will help you and your dog learn how to handle baths like pros.

And one more thing: Never try to bathe your dog when you’re short on time. Even the calmest dog can get excitable at bath time, and when you’re running late, this adds to your frustration — making you more likely to snap.

Make baths fun for you and your dog.

give your dog a bath
No, dogs do not hate baths. Photo: Oleg

Part 3: Common Myths About Dog Baths — Busted!

Many people think baths for dogs are a seasonal occurrence. “Time for his spring bath,” we hear.

But what if he’s been dirty since October? Pig Pen needed a fall bath, a winter bath and now, yes, a spring bath.

Here are 7 myths about dogs and baths:

Myth #1: Dogs don’t need regular baths.

Yes, they do. There is no pat-and-dry answer as to how often you need to bathe your dog. Different breeds, different coats, different lifestyles require varying degrees of canine coiffing.

One answer is clear, however: In cold climates such as New England, if the last time you bathed Maple was in a kiddie pool when it was warm enough, it has been too long.

A rule of thumb is a bath every 1–3 months, depending on the dog. Dogs with skin conditions or allergies require more frequent shampoos. Rolling in dead fish or coming home wearing and smelling of unidentifiable substances requires immediate bath attention.

Myth #2: Dogs get a good bath with a hose.

No they don’t. Cold-hose water is not ideal for rinsing off shampoo.

And freezing-hose baths are appreciated by most dogs only on warm, sunny days.

Myth #3: Dogs can get good baths only at the groomer’s.

A professional bath is wonderful once in a while, but most folks can give a great dog bath at home. See the advice above in Part 1 of this article.

There are exceptions, of course. You may have a huge or uncontrollable dog, have no help, be physically unable, or have no tub or a shower with a handheld shower head.

Get your puppy used to baths from the start. Another hint for the lap pups: Small dogs fit in sinks.

Myth #4: My flea shampoo gets the job done well enough.

How’s that? Flea shampoos have chemicals that are not needed for a general cleansing bath.

Even if your dog has fleas, a flea bath is not sufficient for treating a flea problem effectively.

For a general happy bath, use an all-around pet shampoo.

give your dog a bath
Hose water is not the best option for baths. Photo: Donald Kilgore

Myth #5: The dog has to be dried with a dryer.

In the ideal world, professional drying is nice, but all but the intensely thick-coated pups will dry in a few hours in a warm home.

If your dog could talk, she would tell you how much she hates the cage dryer at the groomer. They are noisy and scary.

Myth #6: When you give your dog a bath, you remove natural oils from the coat.

Actually, this one is both true and not true.

You really have to overdo bathing for this to be a problem. Depending on the dog, frequent bathing (such as once a week) may rid the coat of natural oils. Dog conditioners help restore these oils.

So back to the once-a-month rule to keep a dog clean.

If you have a mudpuppy who is dirty all the time, rinsing with warm water between shampoos should help keep your little rascal presentable.

For allergic dogs or dogs with specific skin conditions, many dermatologists are recommending frequent baths.

Bathing may be one of the safest and most natural ways to keep allergies and conditions such as seborrhea under control. So if your dog has specific skin conditions, consult your veterinarian about the proper medicated shampoos and frequency of bathing.

Myth #7: Dogs hate baths.

They may act like they hate baths, but when my dog talks to me, he tells me he loves how he feels after his tubby time.

The majority of dogs run around, do the rub-a-dub-tub gymnastics routine on your favorite carpet and, if allowed, run right outside to breakdance in the dirt.

Clean puppies feel so good, they’re ready to make a commercial for all their dirty dog friends: Take a bath! You’re worth it.

Don’t let them near the hair care aisle, though. Once Petunia starts highlighting, there’s no stopping her.