How To Wash Your Dog: Simple Tips and Tricks

A black-and-white freckled dog sits calmly in a deep sink for a bath.

Bathing your dog takes care of more than just bad odors, regular cleanings help keep your dog’s skin and coat in great shape and free from dirt and parasites can help manage allergies (theirs and yours), and is an important part of maintaining your dog’s overall health. So, while your dog would prefer to smell like whatever they’ve rolled in recently, bathing your pup is an important routine. Read on for our method to make bath time less stressful for all parties involved.

A close-up of a gray and white dog with long, wet fur

How Often Should I Bathe My Dog?

It depends! If your dog leads an active lifestyle that includes taking regular dips in lakes, rivers, and puddles, or rolling around in “what the heck is that?!” more frequent bathing is necessary. And if your dog has skin allergies or a minor skin infection, a regular bath can help them avoid antibiotics. But a monthly bath is often enough for most dogs. If nothing else, use the sniff test as the ultimate bathing barometer: when your dog stinks, they need scrubbing, stat.

A man kneeling in the grass showering off his muddy dog

Dog-Washing Essentials

Gather your dog bathing supplies in an easily accessible spot and make sure you can reach them all, including towels:

  • A brush
  • A favorite dog toy and some small treats for positive reinforcement
  • A leash 
  • A cup or bucket if there's no hose or sprayer
  • A washcloth
  • At least three clean towels
  • Dog shampoo—human shampoo contains fragrances and other ingredients that can irritate a dog’s skin
  • A high-value, post-bath reward 

Handy Extras:

  • A detangling comb or slicker brush
  • Cotton balls or gauze pads
  • A tick key
  • Small scissors for dense mats
  • Rubber scrubbing/massaging tool
  • Dog conditioner—this can make post-bath brushing easier on dogs with long coats
  • A hairdryer
A dirty white dog laying on the grass near a stream

Prep Your Dog, Yourself, and the Bath

Whether a game of fetch, a long walk, or even a swim, tire your dog out before the bath.

  • Wear old clothing: it may not be your bath, but you’ll likely get wet in the process.
  • Gently detangle your dog’s coat while it’s still dry and pick apart mats with the comb or slicker brush; use the small scissors to carefully cut out mats you can’t detangle.
  • Check your dog for ticks and use the tick key to remove them.
  • If bathing your dog outside, check the temperature of the water; it may be too chilly for your dog even on a warm day.
  • Block the tub’s drain with a piece of steel wool to keep your dog’s hair from clogging it.
  • Place a towel in the bottom of the sink, tub, or shower to give your dog a stable footing.
  • If you’re using the tub, fill it with three or four inches of lukewarm water, about the same temperature you’d use for a human infant.
  • Gently place a cotton ball inside each ear if your dog will let you. They’ll help keep water out of your dog’s ears, which can help prevent ear infections.
An anxious-looking black and white dog sitting in a bath

How to Bathe a Stinky Dog: Getting Down and Dirty

  • Lure your dog with small treats and a toy to the tub. Be patient and keep calm, building a positive reinforcement that bath time = rewards will help make the process easier in the future.
  • Help your dog into the tub, leaving their collar on to use as a “handle”—just in case you need to maintain control. If you have no hose or sprayer, make sure your cup or bucket is within reach.
  • Wet your dog thoroughly, avoiding their head and face for now. Then begin shampooing and scrubbing at the base of their skull, creating a soapy barrier that will prevent any ticks or fleas from migrating towards your dog’s ears during the bath.
  • Work from front to back, using the rubber massage tool or your own fingers and applying more shampoo as needed. Maintain a calm, reassuring voice and reward your dog with small treats for being cooperative.
  • Finish with their rump, tail, and rear legs and feet.
  • Moisten the washcloth with clean water and gently wipe your dog’s face, cleaning between any wrinkles; do not wash their face with soap or pour water over their head and face.
  • Drain the dirty bath water; the steel wool will catch loose hair and debris.
  • Using the cup or bucket, or sprayer or hose if you have one, begin rinsing, avoiding your dog’s head, face, and ears. Gently hold your dog’s muzzle and tip its head upward, so the water will run down its neck and away from its head and face. Rinse until the water runs clear. This can take some time for a long-haired dog, but it's important: soap left to dry on your dog can be itchy and irritate their skin.
  • Help your dog out of the tub (after a good shake) and pat them down with a towel to get off the first layer of dampness.
  • If your dog doesn’t mind it, use a hair dryer on its lowest heat setting to dry them off more efficiently, if not, thoroughly pat dry with towels, swapping them out as needed.
  • Finish your dog's bath time with a high-value reward and offer the same treat after each bath so you’re always ending on a high note. Slowly building that a positive reinforcement will make bathing your dog a little easier every time.

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