Bathing your dog: a step-by-step guide

Bathing your dog: a step-by-step guide
Illustrations by Mike Carless.

When giving your dog a bath, follow these 9 steps for a smooth and stress-free experience.

Bathing your dog isn’t rocket science. But it’s a good idea to follow a consistent process to make things easier and minimize stress. From setup to cleanup, this guide will simplify the bathing process for both you and your canine companion.

Step 1: Brush him

Many pet parents opt to skip this step, but trust us… it’s important! Giving your dog a thorough brushing before his bath will make the whole process easier for both of you. Use a basic slicker brush to comb through any knotted fur, and a de-shedding tool to thin out his undercoat and prevent loose hair from clogging the drain.

Step 2: Set the stage

Setting up the bathing area beforehand will help ensure a smooth and stress-free process. First, gather all the necessary supplies (see sidebar below). Once everything is within arms’ reach, line the tub or sink with a non-slip rubber mat. This will make your dog feel more secure, and prevent any accidents once the water gets flowing.

Step 3:  Call your dog

Using a healthy treat (small pieces of chicken or cheese work well), invite your dog to join you in the bathing area. Gentle coaxing is fine — just be sure not to force him. If you’re dealing with a stubborn subject, attach his leash to his collar so he knows it’s time to listen.

To lift your dog into the basin or tub, place one hand beneath his chest, and the other behind his hind legs. If he’s large, lift with your knees rather than your back. Know your limits, and recruit a family member or friend for help if your dog is too heavy for you to lift by yourself.

Secure your dog’s leash to prevent him from bolting mid-bath. If he’s a high flight risk, rub some all-natural peanut butter on the edge of the tub to keep him occupied.

Step 4: Get him wet

Wet your dog from the base of his skull down to the tip of his tail, first making very sure that the water isn’t too hot or too cold. Be sure to pay close attention to hard-to-reach areas such as his legs, chest and groin area. Because dogs’ coats repel water, consider keeping a bucket of lukewarm water and a sponge nearby to keep him wet during step four. You can also use the sponge to wet his head, as it’s less invasive than spraying.

Step 5: Add the shampoo

Fill your palm with an all-natural shampoo formulated for dogs. Avoid human shampoo and dish soap, as the high acidity can upset the sensitive pH balance of your dog’s skin. If your dog has dry, flaky or oily skin, talk to your vet about which shampoo will best serve his needs. Otherwise, look for an alcohol-free product with limited ingredients, and steer clear of anything containing harsh detergents and surfactants.

Apply the shampoo to the base of your dog’s skull. Avoiding his eyes, massage into a lather around his head and chest. Just as you did with the water, work your way down his body using long, gentle strokes. Shampoo instructions vary, but most advise you to leave the product on your dog’s coat for a few minutes. While you wait, praise your dog, and continue with his “massage” if he starts to get antsy.

Step 6: Rinse and repeat

An all-natural dog shampoo shouldn’t be too sudsy – but it’s still important to get it all out. Rinse your dog thoroughly from head to tail until the water runs clear. Then rinse again! Use your fingertips to part his hair, ensuring no soapy residue is left on his skin.

Step 7: Condition his coat

This step isn’t always necessary, especially if your dog’s coat is already naturally soft and silky. A conditioner formulated for canines can be a good addition to baths during the winter months, or any other time his hair or skin is on the dry side. If possible, get the conditioner counterpart to the shampoo you’ve used.

Apply the conditioner the same way you did the shampoo. Let it sit as long as the instructions recommend, then rinse well.

Step 8: Dry him off

There are two basic ways to dry your dog: with a blow dryer or a towel. For skittish dogs who don’t like loud noises, the latter option is the obvious choice. If you use a blow dryer, set the temperature and fan speed on low, don’t get too close to your dog’s hair, and give him breaks. A dog’s skin is thinner than ours and he can get overheated quickly. Brush as you dry or diffuse his hair with your fingers.

Step 9: Let him loose

From your dog’s perspective, this is a crucial part of bath time! Running helps him get rid of any lingering bath-induced stress, and gives him a chance to shake off that “soapy” smell. If weather permits, let him into your backyard to keep him from rubbing along the carpets and furniture. Or put old towels down so he can rub to his heart’s content!