In the wild, wolves bathe by licking themselves clean. This doesn’t exactly cut it for family dogs who roll in dog park mud and expect to share the couch with you later that evening. Giving your dog a bath is a necessary aspect of pet ownership—and a daunting one at that. As long as you follow a few simple steps, bath time doesn’t have to be the end of the world. At its most basic, giving a dog a bath takes four steps: Brush their coat, lather their coat with dog shampoo and lukewarm water, rinse with lukewarm water and towel dry. Need additional guidance? Not sure how often to wash your dog? Read on.
Step 1: Wear your dog out during playtime
If at all possible, get in tons of exercise before attempting a bath. A pup who is tuckered out is less likely to make a fuss over bath time.
Step 2: Gather your supplies
Gather everything you need to give your dog a bath in one spot. Ideally, this is within arm’s reach from the tub. Supplies like dog-friendly shampoo, several towels, a brush and treats are pretty much non-negotiable, as outlined by the ASPCA. Make sure you use shampoo (and conditioner, if necessary, for your dog’s coat) that is formulated specifically for canines. Human shampoo can dry out dog skin and cause itchy reactions.
Step 3: Prepare the drain
If your dog has long fur or hair, Banfield Pet Hospital advises putting a sponge or steel wool over the drain to prevent stubborn clogs from forming.
Step 4: Brush your dog
Brush your dog’s fur before bath time to smooth out knots and get rid of any debris hiding in his coat. This can also relax your pup before you start running the water (or may be a way to calm anxious dogs as the water runs).
Step 5: Place your dog in the tub
Small dogs like chihuahuas and Yorkshire terriers may be tiny enough to fit into the kitchen sink or a stationary tub. Larger breeds like greyhounds and labs will need a full bathtub. If possible, use a tub with a handheld shower hose and place a non-stick mat on the bottom.
Step 6: Put cotton balls in your dog’s ears
Some dogs will not stand for this, but if your pup allows, put cotton balls in his ears to prevent water from getting in during bath time. Excess water sitting in a canine ear canal is a great breeding ground for yeast and bacteria, which can lead to ear infections.
Step 7: Hose down your dog with lukewarm water
Using the shower hose or a large plastic cup, soak your dog from neck to tail with lukewarm water. Avoid the ears and eyes! If you need to wet the head and face, use a damp washcloth. If the water is too cold or too hot, it can scare or scald your dog’s skin. This is why it’s frowned upon to bathe a dog with an outdoor hose (too cold!).
Step 8: Lather with doggy shampoo
Starting at your dog’s neck, lather gently down his back to his tail. Massage the shampoo into his coat, legs, neck, and tail. There are tons of doggy shampoo brands available, but DIY dog shampoo is also a thing.
Step 9: Rinse with lukewarm water
Once your pup is nice and sudsy, begin rinsing with the shower hose or plastic cup. Again, use slow, deliberate and gentle movements. Make sure you really rinse that coat well, especially if it’s longer. Use washcloths to keep water from seeping into your dog’s eyes and ears.
Step 10: Massage conditioner into your dog’s coat and rinse (optional)
Not all dog coats require conditioner. If your vet recommends it, massage it over the coat after shampoo. Again, rinse thoroughly and use lukewarm water.
Step 11: Towel dry
Using large, warm, dry towels, gently towel dry your dog. It’s helpful to drape a large towel over your dog’s back as soon as possible to prevent him from a big ol’ shake while he’s soaking wet.
Step 12: Blow dry (optional)
If your dog has exceptionally thick or long fur, it may be helpful to invest in a dog blow dryer. These are different from human blow dryers in that their temperatures are much cooler, their motors are quieter and they come with attachments that make it easier to reach tough spots.
Step 13: Shake it out
You’ve got to let your dog shake it out after his bath! This is how dogs comfortably and instinctively dry themselves.
Step 14: Brush your dog (again)
It might be useful to brush pre-blow dry, but at some point post-bath you’ll want to brush through your dog’s fur again to prevent any knots from forming.
Step 15: Treat time
Give your dog a treat for a job well done! And grab one for yourself, you all-star groomer, you.
Most dogs require a bath once every month or two. Bathing too often can dry out skin and not bathing enough could invite fleas and ticks to set up shop. Post bath is also an excellent time to groom your dog at home. Ask your vet if you’re unsure what routine is best for your dog’s breed, coat, and health. If you’re unsure what products to try for doggy bath time, take a look at our recommendations below.