how to bathe your dog (and actually make it fun!)

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Chow Chow dog in bath | How to bathe your dog the easy way
Posted by fetch! blog editors on Mar 18 2016
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Updated February 21, 2019

Whether it’s to freshen up fur or ditch the dirt, there are times your best friend needs a bath. Some pets take to water like rubber duckies, but for others bath time is a real soap opera. To make a splash your furry friends will find fun while achieving a squeaky clean, follow these tips:

How often should you bathe your dog?

There’s a balance between keeping clean and preserving natural oils to keep your dog’s skin healthy. A good guideline is once a month, but it depends on skin and coat type. Dogs with water-resistant coats should be bathed less often, while those with greasy skin or who need a prescription shampoo should be bathed more often.

Choosing the best dog shampoo

Pick a shampoo that is specially formulated for pets; human shampoos are the wrong pH and can be too harsh for an animal’s skin. And as much as you want Rover to smell like a rose, avoid products with artificial fragrances, which can irritate a pet’s sensitive skin.

For pets with smooth, glossy fur, try a mild or oatmeal-based product that is soothing and gentle. Dry, dull or harsh coats call for moisturizing shampoo. Aloe-based products will provide extra moisture. If you have a pet with a dense or wiry coat, use a finishing spritz of coat conditioner after the main event.

Recommended supplies

You should never leave your pet unattended in a tub, so prepare these pampering essentials in advance — and make sure the room temperature is nice and warm!

  • • Cotton wool
  • • Clean face cloth
  • • Comb and brush
  • • Warm water in a bowl
  • • Shampoo
  • • Large jug or pitcher
  • • Non-slip mat
  • • Tub or shower
  • • Warm, dry towels
  • • A hairdryer with a cool setting

Before getting started…

Look for reddened or scaly skin, grease, scabs or sore patches on your pet that could indicate a skin infection.

Run your hands over his body to search for new lumps, or check the size of those you know about. If you find anything out of the ordinary, call your vet (and don’t bathe your pet, as it will wash away the evidence). Remember - pet insurance gives you the peace of mind to always have your pet's health concerns checked out, so don't delay!

If your pet’s skin is healthy, it’s time to get started!

How to bathe your dog

Step 1. Nix knots while your dog’s fur is still dry. To do this, grasp the tangle above the skin and work the hairs apart, then comb out. Take extreme care with scissors, and if the mat is very close to the skin it’s best to get a groomer to clip it out. Also trim the fur between his toes.

Step 2. Clip nails, but be careful not to cut too much! If you aren’t confident about nail clipping, it’s best to leave this to someone who is.

Step 3. Check all those delicate private places where dirt and bacteria can hide. Use damp cotton wool to clean the crevices and wipe them dry. Remember: darkly-stained skin, greasiness or a discharge is not normal — so tell your vet if you see any of these signs.

Step 4: Wipe your pet’s face using a bowl of warm water and damp face cloth.

Step 5: Check inside his ears; any smell, wax, redness, or discharge is not normal and requires veterinary attention. To clean ears, use a product designed for this purpose, and once you’re done, plug his ears with cotton wool.

Step 6: Prefill the tub well below the pet’s elbows, and place a non-slip mat or towel at the bottom. Use warm water, never hot – shampooing a pet is like bathing a newborn baby.

Step 7: Lower your pet into the water, speaking softly, and wet the coat down to the skin. Place a coin-sized amount of shampoo in your palm, spread it from head to tail and lather well. Use your fingertips to massage your pet deeply.

Step 8: Rinse until the water runs clear, using a jug or pitcher, to avoid leaving irritant soap suds on his skin. Use your hands to squeegee the excess water from his coat, lift your pet out of the tub and towel dry.

Drying your soggy doggy

For short-coated dogs, towel drying is sufficient. Be sure to dry between the toes and those private places!

For long-haired pets, towel them off while using a hair dryer on the cool setting (anything hotter could hurt sensitive skin). Hold the blower at a distance and keep it moving to avoid burns. Of course, if your pet is not comfortable with the dryer, stop immediately. Once your best bud is dry, don’t forget to take the cotton wool out of his ears!

How to choose a groomer

If a home spa isn’t for you, ask your vet or a trusted friend for a recommendation for a groomer. Visit the groomer to check that the facilities are clean and ask how they cope with stressed animals. Perhaps introduce your pet and see if they have a rapport — after all, animals are an excellent judge of character!