Bathing a dog is not rocket science, that much is true, but it's a little more complex than some pet owners initially expect. Some are even hesitant and would rather spend money on a groomer. If you are unsure about how to bathe a dog at home, this guide is going to help you.
Table of Contents
1. Assess Your Dog
If this is your first time bathing a dog, then I cannot stress enough the importance of this step. The bathing procedure will highly depend on the type of dog you have, their health condition and more. This also applies to grooming different coat types, which is something every dog groomer knows.
For example, if your dog has arthritis in his legs or thyroid issues, you're going to need to be far more careful with bathing. I do not recommend bathing your dog in a bathtub. Instead, bring them to a dog wash station. If you have a dog bath at home, then even better and easier. Alternatively, you can use the hose in your backyard or something similar.
For dogs with arthritis or other similar issues, you can also buy a dog ramp or dog steps, or make them yourself. In my pet grooming studio where I work, we always use dog ramps to help not only senior dogs into the washing stations, but all of them. It's just easier for the dog's joints regardless of their condition.
If your dog does not have any health problems of this type, then your own regular bathtub is fine. Dog owners with small dogs can simply pick them up and plop them right in. Those with bigger dogs are going to have to put their backs into it. My dog is a 50 pound Labrador Retriever and Pit bull mix, so she's a medium sized dog. I will usually wash my Fido in a washtub.
2. Get Your Dog Into a Bathtub
If you have a medium or large sized dog, here's what you do:
- Don't corner your dog to get him into the tub. Instead, ease him into the tub gradually, at your pet's own pace, because you don't want bath time to be a negative experience for your dog.
- Stand facing his middle, and slowly bend a little with your knees, not your back.
- Place one arm underneath his tummy, and the other at the back of his front legs.
- Slowly lift upwards – do not fly up – and lift him into the tub.
- Gently place him down, standing up.
- Do not make your dog sit down, and let him get used to the water.
If your dog looks like mine in the photo above, which is Anastasia, stop what you're doing and let them relax for a minute. Putting stress on your doggo before they can even get into the washtub will ensure that they hate bath time forever. Once this picture was taken, I backed off instantly until I knew that Anastasia was ready to give it another shot.
Once again, if you have an older dog, or a dog with health issues, use a hose, a dog wash station or a dog grooming table. I'm saying this twice because it's extremely important that you do not strain your dog just to get them clean.
3. Make It Rain!
Once your pooch is in the tub, the fun part of bathing your dog begins.
First, ensure that the water is at a medium hot temperature to lukewarm. You don't want the water to be too hot or too cold, just hot enough that your dog will be fairly comfortable.
Normally, I fill the tub up halfway so my dog can still stand up and feel the water on her legs. When I need her to sit down so that I can rinse the soap off her tummy, half the work there is already done.
Never start bathing a dog by getting him wet with a shower.
I've actually spoken to people who, once their dog is in the tub, will turn the shower on to get their animal completely wet. Do not do this. If this is your first time bathing a dog, and your pup is easily frightened, he will no doubt scratch you while trying to latch onto you and get out of the washing tub.
You can see in my picture below how I am wetting the area around my dog's head. I'm using a small cup to slowly pour water with her head tilted, down to her back. Alternatively, you can get a large cup, a juice jug, or even a bucket. Fill it up with the warm bath water and soak your dog.
I'm making sure that I do not dump water on the head of my pooch, and I'm always very cautious of her ears.
In the photo to the right, you can also see me wetting the area underneath her ears.
It's best to just leave the dog's face alone because you don't want to get anything in their eyes, nose and ears while bathing. If you absolutely must rinse your dog's face, then wet your hands and rub around.
Do not apply soap to the dog's face. Always keep water out of their ears.
If you do happen to get water in your dog's face – nose, ears or eyes – clean them out immediately and carefully. I will get to that in a bit.
4. Time to Lather Up
Lathering your dog up is pretty simple, but you must take special care in doing so.
If you've finished working the soap through your dog's fur but you don't see any lather, you're doing it wrong. Would you just rub shampoo over the top of your head and rinse it out? Nope. Look at the photo above, and you will see how the lather should be.
You should also be getting the soap straight down to the skin, not just on the fur.
To do this properly, rake your dog's fur against the grain, as pictured in the below photo, to ensure that you're thoroughly lathering your dog up.
During the whole dog bathing process, ensure that you give your pet some love and tell them how good their behavior is. Pet your pooch and continue to interact with him while you're bathing the dog. Giving him a small treat while he's in the tub is also a good idea.
4. Rinsing Your Dog Off
Rinsing your dog is the simplest step of this whole how to bathe a dog at home guide.
You must ensure that all of the soap is completely off. Soap left behind on your dog's coat will dry and irritate the dog's skin, especially if it's a regular dog shampoo and not a specialty one.
If you use an oatmeal dog shampoo, however, this should not happen, but you should get all of the soap off anyway.
Take note of what I'm doing in the picture above. This is the best way to ensure that all of the soap has been completely washed off.
As you can see, I'm carefully working my hands through Anastasia's skin and fur there, while slightly squeezing, to see if any soap comes up. You should be able to feel the soap either way if there is still some left. If so, continue to rinse. If not, your dog is clean.
5. Dry Your Dog Off and Clean the Ears
This may be uncomfortable for your canine, but unless you have a super absorbent bath mat waiting on the floor, drain the tub before getting your pooch out of it.
While you're doing so, it's a good idea to get your dog excited over how good he was behaving during the whole bathing process. Even if you had to struggle the entire time, show him a bundle of affection.
Once all the water has drained from the tub, quickly give the dog's paws a wipe, and allow him to jump out himself. Letting your dog leave the bathtub on his own gives him a sense that he's in control now, and will let him know that bath time is officially over.
Use an absorbent doggy towel and dry your dog off any way you like. This step does not require any special instructions as long as you're careful around your pup's face and head, so just get him as dry as possible. You can also use a pet dryer as an alternative.
Note: Those of you trying to learn how to bathe a dog at home in spring or summer time, or when it's generally warm outside, can take their dogs on a walk or let them run around in the backyard to fully dry. However, if it's winter, don't even think about doing either. Let your dog air dry in the house.
Before you do anything else though, you're going to need to clean your dog's ears. This is extremely important, especially if you got water in your pet's ears, and can be done while towel drying him. It's a 2-step process.
1. Place your index finger inside the towel, or a hygienic wipe for dogs, and put your finger inside his ear canal.
2. Simply twist your finger around for half a minute, take your finger out, wipe the visible part of his ear off, and repeat with the other ear.
When you move to the next ear, use a clean section of the towel, or a new wipe.
And you're done!
Learning how to bathe a dog at home for the first time is not that hard, but there are important things you must do and instructions to follow during doggy bath time to ensure that the experience is not a terrible one for your pooch so he's not afraid to take another bath when the dreadful time comes again.
6. Tip: How to Make Bathing a Dog Easier
Depending on how fussy your dog is, the bathing process might be either very simple or very difficult. Fortunately, there's a number of very cheap dog supplies you can get to make the dog bathing procedure much simpler and easier for you and more pleasant for the dog. Below are some of my favorite tools I sometimes recommend to my clients.
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