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Dog taking a bath

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.

As any dog owner knows, your four-legged friends can get into all manner of messes, so regular bathtimes are a must. 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

Whether 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.

Preparing for bathtime

Bathing your pooch can be intimidating, but getting everything ready will help you start this process off on the right paw. Below are some helpful tips to help you prepare for bathtime and make the process seamless. 

  • Choose the right spot. Pups come in all shapes and sizes, so where you wash your dog can vary greatly. While you 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. For large dog breeds, outdoor kiddie pools or the bathtub work well — just be sure to remove the hair from the drain afterward.
  • Set the right tone. Lead your dog to wherever you plan on giving the bath with gentle reassurances and treats. Make sure you associate the bathtime location with pets and nice snacks. 
  • 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.
  • Check for bugs and bruises. Watch for any skin irritation, discoloration, cuts, or pests as you bathe your dog. This will be your best chance to check on the health of your furry friend’s skin and coat health.

Supplies needed

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

  • Cotton balls. Use these to keep your dog’s ears free of water.
  • Plastic pitcher or cup. This makes rinsing in hard-to-reach places easier. 
  • Handheld sprayer. Shower attachments or a hose can work well.
  • Dog shampoo and conditioner. Make sure to avoid human shampoo and use products specifically for dogs. 
  • Absorbent towels. Have at least two ready and located near the bath for when Fido is done.
  • Ear cleaner or wipes. Use this post-bath to remove any oil and debris buildup in your dog’s ears. 
  • Nail trimmers. Get ones made special for dog nails to do a nail trimming post-bath when your dog’s nails are softer. 
  • Brush. Use a good de-shedding brush to remove hair and visible dirt before the bath.
  • Treats. Peanut butter can make for a nice distraction for dogs not keen on bath time. Be sure not to use any with xylitol as an ingredient as it’s extremely toxic to dogs.
Dog having a bath with shampoo on fur

8 steps on how to bathe a dog

When bathing a dog, remember to take things slow and attend to your dog’s needs as you go. Every dog is different — for some, bath time might be enjoyable, but for others, it might be more stressful. Follow these steps for a good bath time. 

1. Start with a good brushing 

Before you dive into the wet stuff, take the time to give your pup a good brushing. This will help you remove any large dirt and debris, as well as shedding fur. Brushing your dog regularly is a good practice for a healthy coat, but it also helps make bathtime a bit easier. 

2. Prepare your dog (and the bath)

While you allow the bath to fill up with some lukewarm water, place cotton in your dog’s ears. A dog’s precious floppy ears can soak up water, and if you’re not careful, trapped moisture can cause all sorts of problems like ear infections. Loosely place one or two cotton balls in each ear.

If you are bathing your dog outside, note that hose water can be surprisingly chilly. Preparing a basin of water beforehand to warm in the sun is a good idea.

3. Wet your dog’s coat

Dogs have sensitive skin, so with lukewarm or warm water, gently wet your pup’s coat from the rear forward, slowly working your way up to your dog’s face. 

Be careful to never pour water directly over your dog’s head. Instead, use a wet washcloth or towel to dampen the area around the eyes, ears, and nose. 

4. Add shampoo and lather 

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.

 👉 Always be sure to check the instructions on your dog shampoo. Some brands need to be diluted first or otherwise, you may end up irritating your dog’s skin.

5. Rinse well

Starting with the top of the back of the head and neck, 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 (such as fleas) that may have been trapped in your dog’s coat.

6. Apply dog conditioner & rinse (optional)

While optional, dog conditioner can help prevent mats and tangles and is also great for your dog’s skin. Follow the same steps with the conditioner as you did with the shampoo, avoiding the face.

Double-rinse your dog again to remove the last trace of shampoo and conditioner. Any lingering soap might irritate as it dries, so be very thorough.

7. Remove cotton balls & dry them off

With a few thick towels, dry off all the excessive water, paying close attention to the face, paws, underbelly, and any other skin folds. 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, which is a good idea if you are indoors.

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 the bath has softened them.

8. Brush your dog one more time

To knock free any remaining loose hair, give their coat one more brushing to have your pup looking their best. 

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.

Dog having a bath

Tips for a stress-free bathtime

Some dogs love bath time, while for others, it can be a stressful experience. To help bathtime run smoothly, follow these tips. 

Allow plenty of time Rushing through a bath can make even the calmest dog nervous. Be sure to take your time.  

Going for a good walk first This will help your dog be less bouncy and more patient at bath time.

Choose the right bath size Your dog’s size will dictate how big or small of a bath you need. Small dogs can fit in the sink, but a normal bath is better for larger breeds.

Use a leash or tethers These can come in handy, especially if bathing outside, and can help avoid a slip or messy getaway attempt.

Use dog-specific shampoo and conditioner. Always use shampoo and conditioner products made for dogs, not for humans.

Have absorbent towels within reach Your dog will automatically have a mad shake once out of the bath, so make sure you have plenty of towels to cover them up and absorb that excess water.

Have some help If you have another person handy for bathtime, the extra hands will help keep everything under control, especially with large dogs.

Make bath time fun Offer Fido treats, give lots of praise, and act like you’re enjoying it yourself, even if you’re not.

Why and how often should you 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, like Great Pyrenees, have a wiry outer coat of long hair that repels dirt naturally with natural oils and texture, so they likely don’t need baths as frequently as breeds with short coats.

Also, when dogs go 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.

Bath time is important 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.

Frequently asked questions

How often should dogs be bathed?

Dogs typically need to be bathed once a month, but the needs vary depending on the coat type 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 your vet about possible medication to make the experience as stress-free as possible.

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 and cause ear infections.

How do I make my dog comfortable taking a bath?

Ease your dog into the water, make sure that the 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 if they get too agitated.