Dog Bathing

Most dogs would rather skip bath time, but bathing plays an important role in the health of your dog’s coat and skin, helping to keep your dog clean and free of dirt and parasites. And of course, there’s the added benefit of making your pooch more pleasant to be around.

How often should I bathe my dog?

While dogs don’t require daily scrub downs like we do, they do need regular baths — but just how regular depends on several factors, such as the dog’s environment and type of coat.

Here are some general guidelines:

  • Bathing once a month works for most dogs.
  • Dogs with an oily coat, like Basset Hounds, may need bathing as frequently as once a week.
  • Many short-haired breeds with smooth coats, such as Beagles and Weimaraners, do just fine with less frequent baths. Short-coated Basenjis are fastidious in their personal hygiene and rarely need a bath.
  • Breeds with water-repellent coats, such as Golden Retrievers and Great Pyrenees, should be bathed less often so as to preserve their natural oils.
  • Dogs with thick, double coats — such as Samoyeds, Malamutes, and other Northern breeds — do best with fewer baths and a lot of extra brushing (which gets rid of loose, dead hair and helps distribute natural oils that keep your dog’s skin and coat healthy).

Of course, if your dog likes to go swimming, is obsessed with mud puddles, or lives in the country and does a lot of rolling in who-knows-what, then you may want to bathe more frequently than if that same dog lived in a condo in the ‘burbs.

That said, avoid bathing more often than truly necessary, or you’ll strip your dog’s coat of its natural oils, making it dry and more prone to dandruff, frizzies, and mats. Some shampoos may dry or irritate the dog’s skin more than others, in which case you should bathe less often or try a different shampoo.

Basically, the best way to gauge when your dog needs a bath is to give her a good sniff. How does she smell to you? Not so good? Start running the water.

Where to wash your dog

Owners of small dogs have an advantage: they can just plop the dog in a sink or laundry tub. But if you can’t fit your dog in a sink, use the bathtub, or get in the shower with her and use a detachable nozzle. A portable doggie tub is also an option. While some tubs are made of heavy plastic, others are collapsible and can easily be used outside or in the laundry room or mudroom. Some grooming or pet supply stores rent out dog tubs and towels.

Using a garden hose is okay if the dog’s truly filthy or the weather’s good, but make it an occasional experience. Dogs don’t like being cold any more than we do, and they definitely don’t like having a hose shot at them.

How to wash your dog

Once you’re prepared to take on the task (with or without your dog’s cooperation), here’s what to do:

  • Brush your dog before a bath. Matted hair holds water, leaving your dog with irritated skin. (If you can’t brush or cut the mats out yourself, take your dog to a professional groomer.) Put a cotton ball in each ear to keep water out; it helps prevent ear infections and irritation.
  • Use lukewarm water. Dog skin is different from ours, and hot water can burn dogs more easily. Bath water should never be hotter than what you’d run for a human baby. Keep it even cooler for large-breed dogs, who can easily overheat.
  • Talk to your pet in a calm and reassuring voice. Some dogs will eventually learn that you’re not torturing them, although others will continue to hide under the kitchen table whenever you get out a towel.
  • Use dog shampoo. It’s less drying to their skin than people shampoo. Work the shampoo into a gentle lather and massage it all over your dog’s body, being careful not to get soap in her eyes.
  • Rinse well. Any soap left in her fur can irritate your dog’s skin once she’s dry. Rinse, rinse, and repeat the rinse.
  • Air-dry. Hot air from a human blow-dryer is too hot for their skin. Either air-dry or use a blow-dryer designed for dogs; its lower temperatures won’t cause itching or dandruff.
  • Reward your dog. Follow up with abundant praise, petting, or play. Many a damp dog loves to vent her frustration over bath time by playing exuberant tug-of-war with the bath towel — or just running away with it–when it’s all over.

When to go with the pros

If the idea of wrestling your dog into a bath tub and expecting her to quietly tolerate being lathered and rinsed makes you laugh hysterically, then do what many opt for: take your dog to someone who makes bathing dogs their business. Groomers will not only bathe your dog but they’ll clip her nails, express anal sacs (upon request), trim near the eyes, and dry her off. Most are priced reasonably.

Professional dog groomers are a must for certain breeds, such as Poodles, Yorkies, Maltese, Springers, and others with hair that grows long. Unlike fur, hair doesn’t shed, and it will keep growing until it gets cut — just like yours.

Even if your dog has fur instead of hair, groomers are helpful if your dog deeply hates baths. They’ve got lots of tried-and-true techniques for making even the most bath-averse canine behave.

Bottom line: Bathing helps keep your dog’s skin and coat clean, healthy, and free of parasites. Some dogs need more frequent baths than others, depending on their coat and how quickly they get grimy.