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Dog in a bathtub with bath supplies nearby

The essentials

  • Save a buck and bond at the same time — A professional groomer can be pricey. While the idea of bathing your dog on your own may seem intimidating, with proper preparation, most people can make their dog look and feel its best.
  • Preparation is the name of the game — Make sure you have everything set up and ready before you start bathing your dog. Keep the water temperature in mind, too.
  • Lather, rinse, repeat, especially the rinse part — Carefully lather everywhere except for your dog’s face, and make sure to thoroughly rinse after both shampooing and conditioning.
Dog wearing a towel after a bath

Keeping your pooch pristine

As any dog owner knows, your four-legged friends can get into all manner of messes, so regular bathtimes are a must. And even if your pooch isn’t prone to rolling around in the mud, baths are a vital part of any healthy pet grooming routine as well as a chance to check your dog’s skin and coat for any and all concerns. Whether you are prepping your pup for the runway or simply looking to keep dirt and excess fur from floating around your home, you will need to know how to properly bathe your dog.

Generally, most dog owners do not need to bathe their dog more than once a month or maybe even every two months; however, this varies from breed to breed and depends on your dog’s activity level. For instance, double-coated breeds have a wiry outer coat of long hair that’s great at repelling dirt naturally with natural oils and texture, so they are likely to not need baths as frequently as breeds with short coats.

Also, when dogs are going through seasonal shedding episodes, more baths can be the best way to cut down on the mess. Be attentive to your dog’s unique needs and bathe accordingly.

People washing a brown dog

Step-by-step guide to bathing your dog

Basic preparations

Bathing your pooch can be intimidating, but taking the time to get everything ready will help you start this process off on the right paw.

Gather supplies

Once the waterworks start, you’ll want everything easily on hand, so gather up all the washing accessories and place them nearby.

  • Cotton balls. Great for keeping your dog’s ears water-free (3 or 4 should do)
  • Plastic pitcher or cup. For rinsing
  • Handheld sprayer. Shower attachments or hose work well
  • Dog shampoo and conditioner. Make sure to avoid human shampoo.
  • Absorbent towels. Have at least two ready
  • Ear cleaner or wipes
  • Nail trimmers. Get ones specialized for dog nails
  • Brush.
  • Treats. Peanut butter also makes for a nice distraction.

Choose the right spot

Pups come in all shapes and sizes, so where you wash your dog can vary greatly. While you obviously don’t want to try washing your Great Dane in the kitchen sink, a puppy or small dog like a terrier might be right at home there. Outdoor kiddie pools are a great way to clean dogs of all sizes, especially if you anticipate lots of splashing. For colder or rainy days, a bathtub will also work well as an indoor option for larger dogs. Watch out for shedding from that long coat clogging the drain.

Set the right tone

You don’t want to just toss your dog into a tub of ice-cold water. You need to set the stage properly. Lead your dog to wherever you plan on giving the bath with gentle reassurances and treats. Make the bathroom or the kiddie pool something your dog associates with pets and nice snacks. If bathing your dog outdoors, secure them with a leash or grooming loop in case they get skittish.

Dog having a bath

Start with a good brushing 

Use a brush to kick out any visible dirt and debris and to work any matted fur or knots loose from your dog’s fur. If you wait until your pup is wet, this process will be a lot harder. This is a good way to help your dog feel as calm and comforted as possible, too.

Check for bugs and bruises

Keep your eyes open for any skin irritation, discoloration, cuts, or pests as you begin to bathe your dog. This will be your best chance to check on the health of your furry friend’s skin and coat health.

How to bathe a dog

Now you are ready for the wet stuff. Just remember to take things slow and attend to your dog’s needs as you go. Here are a few tips before you start. Avoid pouring water directly over your dog’s head. Also, if you are bathing your dog outside, note that hose water can be surprisingly chilly, so preparing a basin of water beforehand to warm in the sun is a good idea

1. Place cotton in your dog’s ears — Those precious floppy ears can soak up water, and if you’re not careful trapped moisture can cause all sorts of problems like ear infections. A cotton ball placed loosely in each ear can do the trick.

French bulldog laying on a couch

2. Wet their coat — Dogs have sensitive skin, so with lukewarm or warm water, start gently wetting your pup’s coat from the rear forward, slowly working your way up to your dog’s face. Do not pour water directly over your dog’s head, though. Use a wet washcloth or towel to dampen the area around the eyes, ears, and nose. If you are.

Toy poodle puppy in a bathtub

3. Apply dog shampoo and lather — Start by checking the instructions on your dog shampoo. Some brands need to be diluted first or, otherwise, you may end up irritating your dog’s skin. Start with the paws and work up the body, lathering the shampoo deep into the coat with your fingers. Avoid shampooing the face directly. Instead, use wipes or a wet cloth to clean those areas to avoid eye and ear irritation. Pay special attention to areas prone to more grime like the feet, groin, and rear end, of course.

Man washing a dog in a wash basin outside

4. Rinse well — Starting with the face, carefully and thoroughly rinse all traces of shampoo from your dog’s coat and then rinse one more time. Check the water for discoloration or any signs of pests that may have been trapped in your dog’s coat.

Dog rinsing off with hosepipe

5. Apply dog conditioner and massage (optional) — While optional, dog conditioner can help prevent mats and tangles, and it’s also great for your dog’s skin. While you have everything together, take the extra step to make the bath even better. Follow the same steps with conditioner as you did with the shampoo, taking care to avoid the face..

6. Rinse one more time — Double rinse your dog again to ensure that every last trace of shampoo and conditioner is gone. Any lingering soap might cause irritation as it dries, so be very thorough.

7. Remove the cotton balls — Carefully remove the cotton balls from your dog’s ears. If you have ear wipes, now is a great time to clean out those cute ears. If you’re feeling confident and you’ve noticed your dog’s paws clicking around the house, go ahead and trim those nails now that they’ve been softened by the bath.

8. Dry them off — With a few thick towels, dry off all the excessive water, paying close attention to the face, paws, and underbelly. Once they’re not dripping wet, you can let them air out on their own, but be prepared for the classic dog shake to dry off. If your dog is comfortable with the noise, you can use a hair dryer on the cool setting to remove even more water, a good idea if you are indoors.

Drying a wet dog with a hairdryer

9. Reward their good behavior — Your good boy or girl just went through a lot, so give them a nice treat and lots of love and affection.

10. Brush them one more time — To knock free any remaining loose hair and whatnot, give that shiny, clean coat one more brushing to have your pup looking its best.

Congrats! You now have a fresh and sparkling clean pup who is bound to be feeling great as well. You have taken an important step in helping your dog maintain a healthy coat and skin. If you’re lucky, you might be able to go another month until the next bath is necessary or at least until a tempting mud puddle calls your dog’s name.

Woman and dog high five

Frequently asked questions

How often should dogs be bathed?

Dogs typically need to be bathed once a month, but the needs vary depending on type of coat or whether or not your dog is shedding at the time. Regular baths are a good idea for all breeds.

How do I give my dog a bath at home?

Preparation is key. Take time to gather necessary supplies and make sure to reassure your dog with praise and treats. Another family member or friend can also be enormously helpful. If you have a dog that is simply too stressed out about bathing, consult with your vet about possible medication to make the experience as stress-free as you can.

What should you avoid when bathing your dog?

A good dog parent should be wary of getting soap and water near their dog’s face. Shampoo can cause eye irritation and water in the ear can be uncomfortable as well as a cause of ear infections.

How do I make my dog comfortable taking a bath?

Ease your dog into the water, make sure that water is lukewarm, and comfort your dog with treats and soothing praise. You might also use a leash or grooming loop to keep your dog in place in case they get too agitated.