Tips on Bathing Your Dog

If your dog is dirty, he will need to be bathed. If he is a light-colored or white dog, or one with a predilection toward muddy puddles or other messy stuff, he will need to see the inside of the bathtub or kitchen sink often. During flea and tick season, he may also need frequent insecticidal baths. Longhaired dogs usually need regular baths to get rid of "doggy" odor. Many Terriers and shorthaired dogs only need to be bathed a couple times a year.

Good quality commercially available dog shampoos do not strip the oils from the coat. Where you bathe your dog depends on his size. Small dogs can be bathed in the kitchen or laundry room sink. Large dogs will need to be bathed in a bathtub.

Bath Equipment:

  • Rubber mat or towel (for dog to stand on in tub or sink)
  • Shampoo
  • Sprayer hose (optional, but very useful)
  • Small bucket (large dogs)
  • Sponge
  • Cotton balls
  • Dog brush or comb
  • Big dog towels or dog towel bag
  • Hair/canine dryer

The Process

puppy bath

Before beginning, always brush and comb your dog thoroughly to eliminate dead hair, knots and mats. Have all the necessary products and towels ready before you put your dog in the tub. Clean your dog’s ears if necessary and place a small ball of cotton in the ears to soak up any water accidentally entering the ear canal (a common cause of infection). Wear "dog bath-proof" clothing that won’t suffer if it gets soaked.

Place a rubber mat or towel on the bottom of the sink or bathtub. A hand-held rubber spray attached to your faucet is very helpful for maneuvering the water.

Dogs with thick fur need to be completely wet to the skin before applying shampoo. Some dogs have an oily coating on their fur that makes it waterproof. A good quality dish detergent will eliminate this oily coating and let the shampoo (and conditioner, if used) penetrate. (After bathing, the natural oils will quickly return to the skin and coat, but wait until the following day to let your dog outside if it is raining.)

Large dogs with thick double coats can easily take an hour to bathe. A raised tub makes this process easier. Although it is especially important with large dogs, all dogs should learn to tolerate bathing as puppies. They need to get used to having hands all over their bodies and to remain willingly in the tub until the final rinse is complete.

Express the anal glands before beginning to wash. (To learn how to do this see below.) Unless the dog has fleas, start wetting him down, rear end first and work toward the head. Pay special attention to the anal area. (If your dog has fleas, however, wet and wash the head with a dog insecticidal shampoo first, taking great care to avoid the eyes.) Make sure he is completely soaked before proceeding.

If you are bathing a large dog, have ready the needed quantity of shampoo in a small bucket, diluted with warm water. Use a sponge to apply the shampoo mixture to your dog’s coat. For smaller dogs, apply dabs of shampoo to the back, each leg and under the tail. Work up a good lather down to the skin, proceeding from back to front. Take special care to clean the anal area and paw pads.

Rinse the coat thoroughly and shampoo again. Rinse again. Wash your dog’s face with a washcloth and baby "tearless" shampoo, taking great care to avoid the eyes. Tip the head up to rinse. Rinse, rinse, and rinse every part of your dog’s body until all traces of soap are gone and the water runs perfectly clear. This step is very important because any remaining residue will irritate your dog’s skin and make the coat dull.

At this point, you may add a conditioner. A handful is sufficient for a Golden Retriever sized dog. Work it into the coat and leave on for a minute or two. At this time, any minor knots can be relaxed with a little extra conditioner. Very scrupulously rinse away any remaining traces of conditioner.

Using your hands, squeeze the excess water from the dog, paying particular attention to ears, tail and legs. Run your hands down your dog’s body to "squeegee" water from the rest of the coat. Cover your dog with a towel.

If your dog is short coated, you can rub the coat to absorb excess moisture. However, longhaired dogs should have their coats squeezed, not rubbed, to avoid tangles. Use as many towels as are needed to get your dog to the "damp-dry" stage.


dog hairdrying

Smooth-coated dogs and dogs with corded coats should be towel-dried and then air-dried. On a warm day this is not a problem, but during colder weather, you may want to dry your dog in a small room (bathroom or laundry room) with a space heater. Whatever the coat, make sure your dog does not get chilled and is perfectly dry before you let him outside in cool or cold weather.

Longhaired (like Lhasa Apsos, etc.), curly coated (like Poodles, etc.) and double coated dogs (Collies, etc.) need to be blow-dried. When the dog is towel dried, damp dry, you may begin. Dry the dog with a hand held dryer. If using a human dryer, make sure the heat is set on low and always check the dog’s skin. Better still, use a freestanding canine dryer that leaves your hands free. Make sure the dryer is not too close to your dog and the dryer temperature is not too hot.

Using a slicker brush, brush the coat carefully against the grain while blowing in order to straighten curls and reach all layers of the fur. The object is to have the coat stand away from the body. Continue brushing and blow-drying the whole body, taking special care to completely dry ears, feathering and feet.

Anal Glands

Unless your dog is dragging his rear end on the ground or carpet — a sign that the anal glands may be impacted (your vet or groomer can show you how to express under normal conditions) — the normal anal glands of dogs need to be expressed approximately every eight weeks. The perfect time to do this is in the tub, right before a bath.

The two anal gland sacs lie just below the anus on either side. Unless expressed of their yellowish brown, foul-smelling fluid, they can become painfully impacted.

To express the anal glands, hold the tail up with one hand, cover the anus with a piece of cotton with your other hand. Using thumb and forefinger, squeeze the sides of the anus while pushing your fingers gently but firmly into the dog’s body. The accumulated fluid should squirt out.

  • Published:
  • Updated: 10/9/2018: 8:33:35 PM ET
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