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How to Give Your Dog a Bath

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This article is a step-by-step guide on how to bathe your dog. It does not discuss the grooming, or haircut, that is required in certain breeds such as Cocker Spaniels or Poodles. We suggest professional grooming as recommended by your veterinarian or groomer for those dogs.

But if your Golden Retriever has just rolled in something awful in the woods, here's what you do

  1. Gather all your supplies together. You will need:
    • a brush and comb appropriate for your dog's coat
    • a shampoo for dogs from your veterinarian or pet store
    • ear cleaner from your veterinarian
    • cotton balls
    • towels
    • (maybe) a hair dryer

    With many dogs, the bath is made easier with a hand-held showerhead, otherwise, use a large pitcher. You will get wet and soapy along with your dog, so wear old clothes. If it is a warm summer day, an outdoor bath is just fine. Consider warming up a pail of water if it is not really hot out so the dog does not get chilly.

  2. Before putting pooch in the tub, thoroughly brush her coat to remove any tangles. If these tangles get wet they will be much more difficult to remove.
  3. Stand your dog in the tub; you may need a helper to make sure she doesn't jump out! Most dogs feel more secure if you place a rubber mat on the bottom of the bathtub so it is not too slippery.
  4. Wet your dog down with warm (not hot!) water and lather her all over, taking care to keep the soap and water out of her eyes and ears. Until you are comfortable giving baths, it may be better to avoid soaping her head. Certain medicated shampoos may need an increased contact time specified by your veterinarian. Make sure she doesn't lick the shampoo during this time.
  5. Rinse your dog thoroughly, using the pitcher or hand-held showerhead. Take particular care to rinse up in the armpits and groin, and thick coats will need several rinsings. Rub her fur between your fingers; if you see bubbles, or it feels slippery, you need to rinse more. Soap left in the coat will cause dry irritated skin so rinse until all the hair feels squeaky clean.
  6. Let your dog shake in the tub, then start drying her with a towel. Depending on the size of your dog and the thickness of her coat, you may go through several towels. On cold days, with young or elderly dogs, or if your dog has long fur that tangles easily, you will also need to use a hairdryer. You must be careful because it is easy to burn the skin. Keep the hairdryer on a low setting and move it constantly in a back and forth motion. Keep your hand between the dryer and the skin—if it is too hot for your hand, it is too hot for the dog! Stop occasionally to double check the skin and make sure it is not too hot. Brush the coat as you dry to speed up the process and prevent tangles.
  7. Lastly, clean her ears with a drying solution to remove any water that may have gotten in. Some people place cotton in the ears during the bath to keep water out. If you do this, make sure you remove them after!

When should the bath be done by a professional?

You should bring your dog to a professional groomer for baths if she has so many mats, or tangles, that you are unable to brush them out, or if your dog objects to the bath and you have safety concerns.

How frequently should you bathe your dog?

That depends on how dirty your dog gets. Twice a year may be enough for some dogs, while others may need weekly baths during the summer, but none at all during the winter. Basically, if you are snuggling with your pooch and she's stinky, she should probably get a bath.

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