7 Tips For How To Bathe a Dog

Does your dog take off and hide whenever he hears the tub running? Does he start freaking out when he hears the dreaded word, “bath”? Or perhaps your dog is like mine, who loves the water.

Dog playing with a water hoseHow to bathe a dog

Either way, it can get a little tricky to bathe a dog without useful bathing accessories and the know how.  

Following these seven tips on bathing your dog can make the whole experience better for both of you!

1.   Choose dog-friendly shampoo

This may come as a surprise to you, but dogs have sensitive skin.  I would have thought with them being related to wolves and the wilderness, they would have tough skin.  But, it turns out that human shampoo and soap can irritate a dog’s skin and cause itchiness and dryness.

Using dog-friendly shampoos helps promote a healthy coat and restore your dog’s naturally occurring oils.  Plus, these shampoos feel more gentle on your dog’s eyes, though you should try to avoid getting it in their eyes in the first place.

2.    Give your dog a grip in the tub

Your dog is out of his element standing in a slick bathtub.  Use a rubber or textured grip to help your dog stand comfortably while getting a bath.  Some people put a towel in the bottom of the tub if they do not have a rubber grip.  This will do just fine if you are in a pinch!

For small dogs and puppies, you may opt to bathe them in the sink instead of the tub, or use a portable tub

Grips for the bottom of your sink are less common than grips for your tub, so a towel is an option in this case too!

3.  Use dog-friendly water temperature

As mentioned in the section about dog-friendly shampoo, your dog’s skin is sensitive.  Some of us like scalding hot showers, but this will not do for your dog.  It is safer to use lukewarm water with your dog.  This is more comfortable than cold water but is not harmful either.

If your dog has a skin condition, there may be an exception to this rule.  Talk to your dog’s veterinarian for recommended a water temperature if your dog has irritated or hypersensitive skin.

4.  Brush your dog's hair before his bath

Many dogs enjoy a good combing of their coats.  All three of my dogs practically fight over who gets a brushing first because it must feel good to them!  Brushing your dog’s coat not only might be a good experience for them, but it helps you bathe them too.

Working out tangles and knots allows shampoo to get through the coat and to the skin more easily.  Also, brushing helps remove any dirt build-up which also makes it easier to wash your dog.

5.  Start bathing your dog at the feet

Starting your dog’s bath by washing his head first can make for an unpleasant experience for your K-9 pal.  If soap gets in his eyes and you still have the rest of the body to go, then he suffers while you finish the bath.

This results in your dog being afraid of getting bathed when the time next comes around.

Also, your dog’s body temperature will thank you if you start at the feet.  Since your dog is not submerged but is standing in the water, he will feel better if he is not standing while dripping and getting cold.

After you lather up his body from the feet up, you rinse in the opposite direction: from head to feet.  This helps close the process quickly and minimizes the time that shampoo is near your dog’s eyes.

6.  Dry your dog with a towel

Drying your dog with a towel is not the simplest task, and you may get a little wet in the process, but this is the most effective method.  Don’t give into the temptation to let your dog outside to air dry.

Dogs are not familiar with a clean shampoo scent, so if you let a freshly bathed and wet dog outside to air dry, he’s going to roll in mud and dirt to absorb new smells. And ruin all your hard work.

Some sources recommend using a hair dryer to dry your dog.  This may be okay, but consider your dog’s personality before doing this. 

Some dogs are afraid of loud noises.  Some dogs think the hair dryer is a threat and try to fight it, which makes it difficult to dry them.  Although, it is cute for a minute.

7.  Reward your dog's time for the bath

I know, you may be thinking that you’re the one who needs a reward for bathing your dog.  But, your dog will cooperate with the process better if it is a rewarding experience. 

Rewarding a dog for certain tasks reinforces good behavior.  If you want your dog to cooperate better with bath time, then try using special treats you only give him before or after the bath.  You can also reward this time with a special toy or bone, or a simple verbal reward and ear rub (this is my dog Rufus' preferred method of reward.)

Keep this reward specific to bath time and do not use it in other situations.  This helps ensure your dog will associate the treat or toy with the only the bath, which helps them get in the tub without fighting you about it.

Shih Tzu in a portable tubHow to bathe a dog - Portable tub

Also, if your dog runs when you start the water or say “bath” then do not chase him.

Chasing him encourages him to run more.  It may start to become a game to him, which rewards the negative behavior of running instead of encouraging the good behavior of getting in the tub!

Final Thoughts on How To Bathe a Dog

People have conflicting opinions on the frequency to bathe your dog.  Some say bathing too often inhibits the production of your dog’s natural oils.  Others say a weekly bath is fine. 

If you are unsure about how often to bathe your dog, you should talk to your dog’s veterinarian.

Long haired show dogs like the Shih Tzu are typically bathed daily.  But if you are not concerned with having your dog win first prize sitting around the house, you don't have to bathe him as often. 

However, a daily brushing to remove dirt and keep matting from formed would be beneficial to your dog.

You can better make an informed decision about how often to bathe your dog by considering the breed, the length of the coat, and the frequency of time he spends time outside.

A short-haired, indoor dog may not need as frequent baths as a long-haired, outdoor dog!

But, in any case, don’t hesitate if your dog smells funny or got himself into a mess.  When this happens, giving your dog a bath can help him feel better.  And, your nose will appreciate a clean pup too!

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