Dogs love water, right? Perhaps, but some dogs absolutely abhor the idea of taking a bath—even if they were just rolling in a mud puddle! Even if your dog does seem to enjoy taking a bath, there are many questions regarding bathing our canine companions.
How often should you bathe your dog? Do dogs enjoy taking a bath? What can pet parents do to make bath time more enjoyable for dogs? What type of shampoo should you use? All of these are valid and important questions when getting Fido clean.
First, let’s talk about the frequency of bathing the dog. Unlike humans, dogs should not bathe every day or even weekly! Dogs produce natural oils that frequent washing can strip away. This can mean disaster for your dog’s coat and skin conditions! Your dog’s skin will dry out with too-frequent bathing, and her hair can become brittle—which is why it’s also important to know how to moisturize dry skin on dogs.
Bathing your dog should always take place if Fido has been outdoors playing in the mud or dirt; however, regular bathing means is once a month as the general rule of thumb, no matter the dog’s breed. If your dog gets more frequent bathing, like an extra bath or two between the monthly bathing ritual, this is acceptable. You won’t be stripping your dog’s natural skin oils away, and she will be glad you didn’t allow that dust or mud to dry on your pet’s skin.
During the summer, dogs with a double coat may benefit from a cool bath (without soap unless he’s really dirty) just to cool off.
Keep in mind that a great way to keep your dog clean between baths is to provide weekly brushing of her coat. This will loosen any dirt from the coat, and it will help to spread those natural oils through her coat. Most importantly, it is important to remember that the best schedule for bathing is once a month, but one or two extra baths, especially if Fido gets dirty, are completely acceptable.
Getting Your Dog Ready for a Bath
You’ll want to give Fido a pre-bath brushing before you ever get into the tub. This loosens that excess dirt, removes loose hair, and stops dogs from shedding excessively—which means easier clean-up for you, too! It is perfectly fine to use a slicker brush or one with soft bristles to brush your dog before a bath. Speaking of the tub, you might want to put a mat in the tub to prevent your dog from slipping down during the bath.
It is highly important that you bathe dogs in lukewarm water. Dogs react to bathwater differently than we humans do; water that is hot will raise your dog’s body temperature, and cold water will have Fido shivering instead of relaxing.
You might also want to consider using a removable shower head while bathing Fido. This will allow you to rinse her evenly, without getting water in her eyes. In the absence of a removable shower head, you can use a plastic cup to pour rinse water over your dog. Always be cautious around her eyes and mouth when using this method to rinse your pup.
Before you begin the actual bath, make sure you have everything you need from the shampoo to the towel to any other bathing tools with you at the tub so that you don’t have to leave Fido to go pick up something.
Choosing a Healthy Shampoo
This is perhaps one of the most important parts of bathing your dog. Not all dog shampoos are made alike, and some are downright harmful to your dog! Some pet parents believe baby shampoo is acceptable and safe for a dog. However, let’s take a look at the ingredients in most baby shampoos:
- decyl glusoide, lauryl glocoside
- sodium methyl cocoyl taurate
- sodium cocoyl isethionate
- cocamidopropyl betaine
- PEG-80 sorbitan laurate
Did you notice that all of those ingredients have chemical names or at least look like chemicals? Now, to be transparent, these ingredients are completely chemical—most of them are “derived” from natural sources such as vegetable oil, palm oil, coconut oil, etc. That means the manufacturer can say that the product is natural, but the product may also contain chemicals or include synthetic ingredients. As you might guess, these ingredients can actually be harmful to your dog, especially if you accidentally get soap in her eyes.
The ingredients above are listed on a baby shampoo, so you can imagine what you might find in dog shampoo. You might be surprised to find that dog shampoo isn’t as regulated as human products, so pet parents have to be diligent when choosing a proper shampoo.
First, read the label. If you see ingredients like those listed above, put the bottle down and move on to one that has more natural ingredients. Next, take off the top and look at the consistency of the shampoo. Truly natural dog shampoo will be thin and have the consistency of water. This means that there are no chemicals added to make the shampoo thicken. (Pro tip: Don’t be surprised when using a truly natural shampoo if it doesn’t lather much. Those suds are caused by chemicals added to make the shampoo suds up. You don’t need suds to clean Fido.)
Consider the color of the shampoo. Many dog shampoos are tinted (you read that correctly) pink or blue. These additives can wreak havoc on Fido’s skin! A truly natural shampoo will be a dull, yellow color. Finally, take a good whiff of the shampoo. You want a shampoo that has very little fragrance to it. Again, the fragrance is the product of chemicals; a strong fragrance means the manufacturer has added to the product. Only use medicated shampoo for certain skin conditions and skin allergies if prescribed by your vet.
Do you need a conditioner? If you are only bathing Fido once a month, probably not. However, do keep a truly all-natural conditioner handy if you have to bathe Fido more frequently than the monthly standard. Following these will give Fido a healthy skin.
What is the proper procedure for bathing my dog?
Some groomers advise getting Fido to enjoy the bath more by putting him in the tub then offering a treat. (Pro tip: Have plenty of treats handy for after the bath as well.) Remember to check the temperature of the water so that it is ONLY lukewarm.
Most experts state that, for the monthly bath, you should shampoo and rinse Fido twice. The first shampooing will loosen the dirt and any old hair from the body. The second shampoo actually washes the skin and rids any excess hair. Be sure to rinse between shampooing.
When shampooing a dog, it is important to bathe him all over. Yep, that means the armpits, bellies, the pads of the feet, and the tail. Scrub, but try to massage the dog rather than bearing down hard to remove dirt and debris from the coat. Talk to her in soothing tones and do your best to make it an enjoyable experience for her.
When you have rinsed the dog, place conditioner evenly over the dog’s body. Let the conditioner stand for a few minutes before rinsing thoroughly.
It is extremely important to rinse all products—both the shampoo and conditioner—from the dog’s body, head, and feet. Any product that is left on the skin can actually cause irritation that will make your dog miserable; it might even cause her to chew these dry, irritated spots.
How do I wash my dog’s face?
This is perhaps the most difficult part of the dog bathing process. It is imperative that you don’t get soap in the dog’s ears, eyes, and nose when you wash a dog’s face. It is also important that there is no excess rinse water left in the dog’s ears as this can cause infections.
If you can, simply use a wet bath cloth to clean your dog’s face. Make sure that the bath cloth is wet with water only, not dipped into the soapy bathwater. That way, if your dog resists (and even the happiest dog may shy away from a bath cloth on her face), you have better control and won’t get soap into her eyes or ears.
Always make sure any soap on top of the dog’s head or around her neck is free of soap and that the soap does not get into your dog’s eyes and ears.
In the event that you do mistakenly get soap into the dog’s eyes, keep an eyewash on hand and thoroughly remove the soap from your dog’s eyes.
What if my dog hates water?
The best way to handle bathing a dog that does not like water at all is to work toward making it a more positive experience . Give him treats before you begin bathing him, and always speak in soothing tones as you give the bath. When your dog does well with the bath, then provide treats and praise as well.
Be patient! It may take a few rounds of positive reinforcement to get your dog to even remotely enjoy what is going on.
What about drying my dog?
Personally, some dogs never mind the blow dryer, but my experience is that hair dryers can get really hot. You’ll run the risk of burning your dog’s skin unless you put it in a cooler setting. However, when bathing your dog during the winter, or if you don’t want Fido to get on your furniture while he’s still damp, then the blow dryer is an option. Just make sure that the settings are at a cool temperature.
Towel drying a dog with a short coat will rid most of the dampness from the bath. You may have to use two towels in order to get rid of all the excess water, or you can use the hairdryer on a low setting for just a minute or two.
Keep in mind that you may want to get your dog used to the sound of a hairdryer before you ever use it. Some dogs are frightened by the high pitch noise of the blow dryer, so choose a time when you’re not bathing to get out the hairdryer and turn it on a low setting.
1. How frequently should dogs be bathed?
Dogs should not be bathed more than once a month. However, concessions can be made when a dog has been out in the dirt and mud. Try not to bathe your dog weekly, or you risk stripping the dog’s coat of the natural oils he needs to keep his coat healthy and soft.
2. Do dogs really need baths?
Yes, whether a dog lives indoors or out, a bath is always a good idea. Dogs that stay outside may get in mud or dust and dirt. This builds up in the fur and it can become uncomfortable for the dog. You should also brush the dog weekly to encourage the build-up of dead hair and dirt.
3. Do dogs feel better after a bath?
Most of the time, yes, they do. If your dog seems to hate a bath, make a point to give treats and try to make it a good experience.