Why Bathe a Dog?

Some may ask why bathe a dog at all? After all, he or she may smell OK overall and appear to be fine. Often, owners think that dogs “bathe themselves,” but does this really get them clean? Many experts agree that dogs do need baths on occasion. If a full bath isn’t possible, a deep brushing can often help most breeds until a bath can be completed.

While some dogs rarely need a bath, some do more often. Dogs, unlike people, don’t have sweat glands on their skin and have a different pH composition, which makes their bathing needs much different from a human’s bathing needs. This may mean the dog could only need a bath when he or she is excessively dirty or that he or she needs one once per week along with frequent grooming. Because there are such a wide variety of breeds, what works for one dog doesn’t always work for another.

What is known, however, is that grooming and bathing on a regular basis with an appropriate dog shampoo will help prevent “doggy” odor in the house and keep the dog’s coat shiny and healthy.

Man bathing a dog

Preparing the Dog for a Bath

Some dogs like a good scrubbing, while others just don’t like being near water except to take a drink. For the latter, this can make bathing difficult. In some cases, owners just aren’t sure how to bathe a dog.

The owner should assemble the supplies ahead of time. Make sure to have what is needed to ensure that the process is as smooth as possible, especially if the dog is expected to put up a bit of a fuss about grooming or bathing.

Planning includes setting up the location, such as the tub or container in which the dog will be bathed, as well as making sure the water source is the appropriate lukewarm temperature. While it may seem OK to wash the dog in cold water from the hose outside in the summer, it may be uncomfortable for the dog and trigger a reaction that makes the dog dislike bathing in general.

There are several bathing items to have on hand:

  • Dog brush appropriate to the breed
  • Suitable dog shampoo
  • Large towel

Choosing a Dog Brush

Pet brushes on the table

Different breeds have different requirements for the type of brush required, but all dogs should be brushed to remove any loose fur before a bath. This will help the bathing process by keeping the water cleaner, making less of a mess during and after shampooing and while drying the dog. There are several types of dog brush:

  • Dog rakes are a type of dog brush meant for thick, heavy coats. They help remove the undercoat on breeds such as German shepherds, malamutes and chows. The coat underneath is often dead and needs to be removed to leave the outside shiny and healthy. The rake brush “pins” should match (as closely as possible) the thickness of your dog’s coat to properly remove the undercoat.
  • Slicker brushes are flat surfaces with wires that are meant to remove mats from longer-haired breeds such as St. Bernards, Yorkshire terriers, golden retrievers and cocker spaniels. The wires come in different lengths to accommodate different coats just like a dog rake, so an owner can choose appropriately.
  • Bristle brushes are just as they sound: thick bristles on a hard backing. They are mostly used for short-haired dogs that frequently shed such as Jack Russell terriers, Boston terriers, greyhounds and pugs.
  • Pin brushes are often mentioned as a dog brush and resemble hair brushes used by people. They have little knobs on the end of each bristle but aren’t really useful, except to an already well-groomed dog. They offer little benefit and should be avoided.

Choosing a Dog Shampoo

Puppy taking a bath

Selecting a dog shampoo is much like choosing a shampoo for a person. It can be confusing but doesn’t need to be. Just like choosing a brush, select a shampoo that meets the needs of the dog.

One important fact is to never use a human shampoo on a dog. Human shampoo is often too harsh for animals and contains chemicals and preservatives that are not meant for their systems. Stick with dog-formulated shampoos only.

Check the dog for fleas or ticks. There are shampoos that not only treat these conditions but can also help prevent these issues, at least temporarily. Don’t rely on flea and tick shampoo as the only flea and tick preventative measure, however. Discuss flea and tick prevention with a veterinarian.

Examine the dog’s skin. How does it look? Does it seem dry, flaky or irritated? Most veterinarians recommend moisturizing shampoos that can help with these issues and avoiding perfumes or scents that might irritate the skin. If the skin remains red or irritated despite using a perfume-free shampoo, see a veterinarian to discuss possible allergies or other concerns.

Does the dog have long, tangled fur? There are detangling shampoos on the market today to help with these problems, and they can really save the day for a frustrated owner and an impatient dog.

Just as with brushes, buy for the dog’s breed. A conditioning or detangling solution isn’t necessary on a greyhound or Great Dane, but probably would be on a Lhasa apso or long-haired dachshund with their long fur that requires a great deal of brushing and patience.

There are dozens of dog shampoos on the market today. Be sure to select one that doesn’t have excess scents, is appropriate to the skin of the dog and meets the needs of the fur or hair of the dog. This will help bath time go smoothly.

Where To Bathe the Dog?

Dog taking a bath

Many dogs are small enough to bathe in the bathtub or laundry tub, which is handy in the winter in many climates. Some, like Great Danes, Newfoundlands and other large or giant breeds, merely need to be bathed in the bathtub if they fit, outside or at other venues.

Some cities have dog grooming cafes where owners can rent space to bathe their dogs and socialize while they do so. This way, the owner keeps his or her home clean and has fun while he or she takes care of the dog. This gives a large or giant breed owner the ability to bathe his or her dog in the colder months.

Water Sources and Temperatures

After figuring out an appropriate bathing container, the water source is the next obvious concern. In a bathtub or laundry tub, a handheld shower can be purchased if not already available, which makes bathing the dog very easy. The recommended temperature for bathing water is lukewarm to maintain the dog’s body temperature and not burn the dog or cause hypothermia.

One rule of thumb when bathing a dog: rinse, rinse and when you think the dog is rinsed enough, rinse again. Shampoo, whether meant for dogs or not, can be a cause for skin issues if left on the skin, even in trace amounts. Dog skin is very thin compared to human skin and much more sensitive to irritants left behind by chemicals.

What If the Dog Doesn’t Want To Be Bathed?

Brown long coated dog

It’s easy if the dog likes water, as many Labrador retrievers do. But if the owner has a diva dog on his or her hands, then the problem can be quite serious for the owner who wants to remove that “doggy” odor from his or her home.

Here are a few tips to get Fido ready for bath time:

  1. Play with him or her for a while first. A hot, exhausted dog will enjoy cooling off in a bath as much as a human does. Plus, they will have less energy to resist!
  2. Be patient and understanding that the dog will require a great deal of time. Don’t pick a time that needs rushing to get the job completed.
  3. Be positive. If bathing hasn’t been a joy in the past, bring in a new attitude. Introduce toys to bath time to make it fun and turn it into playtime with the dog.
  4. Make the bathwater a comfortable temperature for the dog. He or she may prefer a warmer or cooler temperature. Find out what works best.
  5. Begin bath time young and make it fun. Don’t let the dog stand there and shake in fear without addressing it immediately with a positive attitude.
  6. Start small. Just get his or her feet wet the first time. Then try the dog’s legs and work up from there.
  7. If necessary, bring treats into the tub. Otherwise, save them as a reward for after the bath is over.

Bath Time Equals Fun Time

Man bathing a brown long coated dog in a bathtub

All in all, bath time should equal fun time for the owner and his or her dog. While not every dog will appreciate bath time all the time, no dog should quiver in fear. If an owner works hard at these suggestions, bath time soon will be easier, less messy and a positive experience for both parties.