How to Give a Dog a Bath
"A dog's idea of personal grooming is to roll on a dead fish." - James Gorman
Some dogs, such as the Basenji, are fastidious, almost like cats in their grooming rituals. Most dogs prefer to ignore their growing stench and, in fact, are quite proud of it. They revel in any chance in to increase their foul odor molecules. You've seen your dog do it time and again, rubbing his head into something that was once edible weeks ago, and flailing on his back with his feet in the air as he becomes one with what was once a frog.
It's not that our dogs are crass creatures, though they do lack table manners. Dogs find foul odors more pleasant than we do for a few reasons.
A dog's sense of smell is 100 times greater than a human's so they can smell things of great complexity. They can pick up many odors at once, so that when they smell the stench of the trash, they can also pick up the chicken bone at the bottom of it. It is the more important sense used to interpret a dog's environment. It's thought that a dog tries to camouflage his own smell with stinky things but it's also true that dogs use their smells to communicate with other canines. Some say a dog can smell fear or even cancer. But one thing's for sure - without our intervention dogs will smell bad.
So, what have we humans devised to rid our dogs of their smelliness? The bath. But not just a simple bath. Bathing a dog can be very complex these days with the multitude of choices for bathing tools and techniques.
Ask yourself why you are bathing your dog. If your dog doesn't roll in anything smelly but just has the usual doggy smell, it's recommended that you bathe him once a month. If you are bathing him this often, be sure to use a mild shampoo, such as one which contains oatmeal. Use medicated shampoos only every other time. If your dog has come in contact with something stinky, consider the source of the smell before the bath. A run in with a skunk requires a special shampoo such as one put out by Nature's Miracle or perhaps the time-tested tomato juice bath. A roll in something like feces will require several washings.
Next, decide who is going to give your dog a bath. If you're lucky enough to have a teenager who broke curfew, your answer is right there. You, of course, can choose to take your dog to a groomer or you can tackle it yourself. Ideally two people should be on the crew to make it quicker and less traumatic for your dog.
Some dogs are very comfortable getting washed outside. The downside is the water from your hose will likely be frigid. Most dogs will get used to being bathed in a people tub or a dog tub. Introduce him slowly, giving much praise and some treats when he gets in and stays.
If you are going to wash your dog outside, be sure the temperature is as mild as possible. In the winter, wait for a warmer day or consider switching to inside baths for that time. It is best to wash your dog before he's had breakfast or dinner as his food will act as a reward and help him calm down afterward.
Outside Bathing - You will need a hose that reaches all around your dog as you don't want to have to move him once you've started. Buy a hose attachment so that you can control how much water hits your dog.
The Tub - It is perfectly OK to use your tub, but consider getting an attachment to the shower head made specifically for dog bathing. If you have a shower head with low settings, that will work as well. You can also get dog tubs which come in stainless steel, treated fabric (for the portable ones), and rubber. Make sure the tub is big enough for your dog to lie down in.
Bathing Tether - These can be found at large pet stores.
A Ladle - Many things can serve as a ladle such as a plastic container or a rubber pitcher. Do not use glass.
A Few Bath Mats - Scatter these near the tub and around the bathroom.
Shampoo - Use a mild dog shampoo for your dog's bath, only using medicated ones as needed for conditions such as fleas and psoriasis and as recommended by your vet. A shampoo with oatmeal is soothing for the skin, as is one with chamomile or Aloe Vera. For those really stinky dogs, combine one part vinegar with one part water and pour it over your pooch. Let it stand for a few minutes, then wash.
Conditioner - Want your Golden to have tangle-free locks? Then condition! You can either use a regular dog conditioner and let it sit for a few minutes or try one of the leave-in kinds. In addition to flowing fur, your dog's skin will be further moisturized.
Wash Cloth - Choose a size appropriate for your dog's girth. A porous natural sponge will also work.
Towel - Try a super absorbent towel as this will make drying much quicker.
Hair Driers - If your pooch will tolerate it, use a hair drier on the low settings. Remove your dog from the tub first and do a quick towel dry.
The big moment has come and you're ready to begin. Following these instructions will help you bathe your dog quickly and thoroughly and help insure minimal battle shock for your dog.
Gather your tools and tip toe into the bathroom. It's likely your dog will be curious but wait until you're set up to include him in the mix. Put the shampoo and conditioner to the side which will be near your free hand (the other one will be holding your dog). Have the towel up and away from the water. Place treats in an easily accessible place such as your pocket.
Take a moment to breathe and make sure you are in a calm state of mind. Even the best canine bathers can freak out for seemingly no reason. It is important to remember your dog is upset and, though this is a time for commands, it is not the time to lose your temper.
Get Your Dog
Using treats and an encouraging voice, lure your pup into the bathroom. If he shies away, pause and try again. You can use a lead if it's done gently and you also use commands he knows such as "Come!"
Ladle warm water over your dog making sure to get the legs and belly. He should be thoroughly wet. When you come to his head, cover his eyes and let the water roll gently down his head and snout. Next place some shampoo in your hands and get a little water, rubbing it into a lather. Begin with his shoulders, gently massaging soap down his back. Continue to replenish your hands with shampoo. Work out to the the tip of his tail, then his back legs, then his tummy, then his front legs and chest. Finish by lightly soaping his head. Immediately rinse his head, covering his eyes, and then continue to rinse, starting with his shoulders again. It is imperative that you get all the soap off as residue can cause an allergic reaction. Condition and rinse if desired.
Always start with your dog's head as it is uncomfortable for them to have it wet. Towel dry completely or just quickly if you're going to use a hair dryer. Get your dog used to the hair dryer slowly by increasing the amount of time it's on.
Just as breeders and some dog folk claim that there are hypoallergenic dogs, some claim that there are breeds that don't have that doggy smell. While breeds such as the Poodle and the Wheaten Terrier do shed less, there is no guarantee that you won't still have allergies. Likewise, a dog without a doggy smell is nigh impossible. Even Basenjis have bad days. If, after bathing, your dog is still pungent, consider one of the many doggy perfumes and odor controllers on the market. While dogs don't need deodorant, they can stand a little sprucing up now and then.
Related Advice from Other Dog Owners
A Tip for Dry Skin
I had a Cocker with very dry skin, and I picked up this tip from her vet:
Fill an old cotton sock about 1/3 with raw (dry) oatmeal; tie it to the faucet (bath or kitchen sink) and let warm water run through it, onto the muttley. Raw oatmeal is a fabulous natural treatment for dry skin. You may use this as a rinse if you like; please remember that commercial shampoos are laced with additives that often exacerbate the dry-skin condition.
~Jan R., owner of many dogs
Tips From a Professional Groomer at the The Groom Room and Dog S'Paw
This is a good article, but a few more tips are needed:
1. Before - Yes, BEFORE you begin bathing, brush and comb your dog's entire coat. If you don't, any matting will tighten right up to the skin and be even harder to get out.
2. THE most important part of bathing is rinsing. Once you think you have all the shampoo out - rinse again.
3. If using a dog shampoo, virtually all are tearless. It is not the EYES you need to cover - it is the NOSE. A dog can actually drown if water is directed right into the nose. Be sure the nose is pointed down when doing the face.
4. Ears are very important too. Do not direct water into the ear. If its ears are long enough, hold the bottom of the ears against the head with your thumb on the left ear, fingers on the right ear, under the dog's chin. However, don't forget to clean both inside and outer ear well - food tends to collect on hairy or long ears. Use a damp washcloth for inside the ears.
5. A good tip - wet, and shampoo, your dog's head LAST. Dogs are much more prone to shake when their head is wet - you could save yourself from being soaked!
6. Very important that you remember to wash your dogs 'armpits', anus, genitals and feet.
7. It's easy to do your dog's nails after a bath when the nails are softened by the water.
8. Be sure to use a rubber bathing mat in the tub to give your dog secure footing.
9. Be sure to use a drain trap!!! You will have a very large plumbing bill if you do not...your drain doesn't like to be full of dog hair!
Of course, you can save yourself all this trouble and take 'em to a professional like me...and avoid a huge mess to clean up after the bath - LOL!
~Karen T., owner of a dog
Pick Shampoos that Don't Contain Detergent
There are several shampoos available that have no detergents or soaps. They contain coconut-based cleaners (derived from the plant). The shampoos are also available with oatmeal. I have three Yorkies, two Maltese dogs and a Toy Poodle. I bathe them once a week. Using the above shampoos and great conditioners, my pups have beautiful hair/fur and no dry skin problems.
~Deb T., owner of several breeds
Save the Best for Last
When giving a dog a bath, make it a point to wash your dog's head last. In my experience, it's only once a dog's head gets wet that they start to shake.
~Jessica, owner of a Lhasa Apso
A Word on Rinsing
When rinsing the shampoo out of your dog's coat, always start at the head and work backward. Make sure you rinse the "point" of the belly and ribcage AND the inside of the legs and also, between toes! Soap residue in these extremely sensitive areas can cause severe itching and in the worst case, sores!
~Larry and Dee B., owner of Black Lab