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How to Bathe Your Dog

By: Alex Lieber

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If your dog can announce his presence without barking or even entering the room, it may be time to give him a bath. Many people look forward to this as much as their pets do; that is, not at all. But you both may soon need to take the plunge.

Here are a few tips to make the ritual of the bath more enjoyable, or at least tolerable, for the both of you. With some patience and practice, your dog, rather than you, will get the lion's share of the bath.

To Bathe or Not to Bathe

The first step is to consult your veterinarian about your particular pooch. Different breeds and lifestyles will dictate how often your dog requires bathing and what sort of pet shampoos work best. If your dog spends a lot of time playing outdoors, chances are he'll need a bath more frequently. Some breeds, such as poodles, generally require more bathing than German shepherds. Dogs with smooth coats generally require even fewer baths. Again, it depends on your dog's lifestyle.

Too much bathing (such as once a week) will remove vital oils from your dog's coat, causing his skin to dry out. Unless your dog is especially dirty, regular grooming can reduce the number of bathes. It will also keep him looking and feeling fresh. For more information on grooming, see the related article "Grooming Your Dog."

Getting Ready

Before you tackle your dog, you'll want to go through a pre-bath checklist. Prepare the bathing area out of your dog's presence. (There's no point in warning him ahead of time; he'll only get anxious.) Here are some items you'll want to have on hand:

  • A veterinarian-approved dog shampoo (People products are not recommended because they can cause allergic reactions.)

  • Mineral oil and/or cotton balls

  • Washcloth or sponge

  • Towels (the bigger the dog, the more towels you'll need)

  • A warm, draft-free area

  • A bathing tether if you're bathing him in a tub. (If you're bathing him outside, a tether to a fixed point will do.)

  • Brush and comb for his coat

  • A soft brush for in between his toes and on his nails

  • A rubber tub mat

    Never wash your dog outside if the weather is cold. This is particularly true for puppies, who have trouble regulating their body temperatures. Puppies should be at least four weeks old before they receive their first bath.

    Before bathing, comb and brush out all mats. Otherwise, the water will turn the mats into solid masses, which will require clippers to remove. If your dog's hair is matted with paint, tar or some other sticky material, trim with clippers or soak the area with vegetable or mineral oil for 24 hours. (You may want to speak with a professional groomer if the tangles are difficult.)

    Now it's time to prep your dog. Put a drop of mineral oil in the eyes to protect them from suds. Some people use cotton balls in the ears. If you use cotton balls, make sure they're the right size for your dog's ears; if they're too small, they may slip down the ear canal.

    If you're using a tub, fill the water to the level of your dog's knees. The water should be about his temperature; around 102 degrees Fahrenheit.

    The Bath

    Bring your dog into the tub. If you have a bathing tether, attach one end to his collar and the suction cup to the bathtub. Ladle the warm water over him. If you use a spray, use it on low and hold it gently against his coat so the spraying action doesn't scare him. When he's thoroughly wet, apply the shampoo on his back and work it gently through the coat for about 10 minutes. Be careful not to get soap in his face or mouth. Use the washcloth or sponge to clean and rinse his face, and the soft brush to clean the paws, between toes and on nails.

    When you're ready to rinse, don't forget to drain the tub first. The rinsing cycle, by the way, is very important. You want to do it twice to make sure all the soap is rinsed off. (Leaving soap on the dog can cause an allergic reaction.)

    If you need to, drain the tub again so your dog isn't standing in water while he dries. Now, you'd better back up; your dog has been waiting to shake off the excess water since you began.

    Gently squeeze out excess water (don't forget to remove the cotton from his ears) and finish drying him with the towels. If you use a hair dryer, keep the heat and blow force on low. Remember to dry the ears with cotton balls to prevent infection.

    Keep your dog away from any drafts until his coat is completely dry.

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