Brown short hair dog getting a bath

Baths are one of those things most dogs never learn to love. Fortunately, there are some strategies you can use to make bath time a little less scary for your pup, and a little more enjoyable for yourself.

Here’s some sound advice for making bath time an activity your dog won’t dread. 

How often should you give your dog a bath?

We’ve all asked this question: does my dog actually need a bath? Just how often do we really have to go through this?

Not that often, we’re happy to report. At a minimum, you should aim to give your dog a good cleaning every three months.

A few factors will determine how long your pooch can go between baths.

  • Hair length: Perhaps most obviously, your dog’s hair length will be a deciding factor when it comes to timing baths. Dogs with longer coats are more likely to carry extra dirt and debris that becomes trapped in their fur, so they’ll need to be bathed more often.
  • Energy level: Do you have a rough-and-tumble firecracker on your hands? If your dog is the active, outdoorsy type, he’s probably going to get dirty quicker than a dog who spends most of his day chilling on the couch.
  • Allergies: A dog with a skin condition can benefit from bathing with an antimicrobial shampoo.

Ultimately, you’re going to rely on your nose for Fido’s bath schedule—if he’s especially stinky, it’s time to hit the showers.

One thing to keep in mind: make sure you’re not over-bathing. Frequent bathing can strip your dog’s skin of its natural oils, leaving it dry and irritated.

Should I hire a professional groomer to bathe my dog?

golden retriever getting bathed by a groomer

Giving a frightened, jumpy dog a bath can be a challenge, to say the least. Why not hand off that task to someone professionally equipped to handle it? A professional groomer will save you a lot of time and energy. Some other benefits to consider:

1. They have the right tools

Aside from a few dog-grooming essentials, it’s unlikely you own any special equipment such as an adjustable grooming table or a dog-specific hair dryer.

A professional groomer will have an assortment of clippers and dog-friendly shampoos to get any type of dog looking her best.

2. They can handle all kinds of dogs

Elderly dogs, anxious dogs, aggressive dogs—your groomer has seen them all. And she knows how to work with them. If you’re at all intimidated at the prospect of bathing your nervous pup, a professional groomer can ease your worries. And if sedation is required, your groomer will be able to administer it.

3. They’ll do the dirty work for you

There are some aspects of dog-bathing that we find…unappealing. A professional groomer will tackle the yuckiest of chores, from cleaning anal glands to shampooing a dog who’s been skunked

How to find a professional dog groomer

If you’ve never worked with a dog groomer before, fellow pet owners are usually eager to offer their recommendations. Your vet will also be able to provide you with a few names. Many online resources exist to help narrow down your search, including our Grumble Dog service page, where you can read descriptions and reviews of local groomers. Download our app to get started today!

How to prepare for bathing your dog

small dog being bathed in a large bowl

So you’ve decided to go the DIY route—we applaud your gumption! Here are a few steps you’ll want to take before lathering up Fido with shampoo.

1. Get the right products

Stick with a dog-specific shampoo, or your furry friend could end up with some majorly dry skin. According to Vetstreet, shampoo made for humans has a different pH level than dog shampoo, so it’s important to get this right. If you’re unsure about which shampoo is best, hit up your veterinarian for advice. He or she can also recommend therapeutic shampoos if your canine companion sufferers from an uncomfortable skin condition.

2. Pick the right bathing location

For most dogs, a bathtub with a detachable showerhead will do just fine. Smaller dogs or puppies may be more manageable in a sink. And if you have the space to store it, an elevated tub made just for dogs is another option.

Don’t rule out the backyard for baths if the temperature is warm enough. As Gina Fera, owner of Perfect Paws Pet Grooming in Wakefield, Rhode Island reported to PetMD: the garden hose can be a good choice for large breeds with heavy coats or dogs who shed excessively. Try bathing your dog in a kiddie pool—just make sure you position it on a flat surface like a deck or driveway. Otherwise, you could be looking at a muddy, grass-covered dog immediately after all your hard work.

3. Gather supplies ahead of time

There’s absolutely nothing fun about realizing you forgot to grab a towel when your dog is already dripping with sudsy water. Plan ahead and set up your bathing station with all the tools you’ll need before you start your dog’s bath.

It’s also not a bad idea to prepare yourself for bath time by switching into clothes you don’t mind getting wet, hairy, and possibly dirty.

4. Brush first!

It’s easy to overlook this crucial step, but it’s imperative that you give your pup a good brushing before his bath to smooth tangles and remove loose hair. Be sure to get rid of any mats in your dog’s coat before his bath—once those get wet, they’re a nightmare to deal with.

5. Make it safe

Use a non-slip mat or place a towel in the bottom of the tub to prevent your dog from slipping.

Tips to make your dog’s bath time a success

golden retriever being bathed at home

Once you’re ready for your dog to take the plunge, here are some tips to make it as painless a process as possible.

1. Stay cheerful

This can be a stressful time for your dog. A positive attitude goes a long way in calming his nerves. Speak in a kind tone, be patient, and always have a treat ready to reward your dog’s cooperation. Over time, he’ll learn to view baths as a harmless activity.

2. Use cotton balls

If your dog will tolerate them, you can (gently) place some cotton balls in his ears to prevent water from getting inside. Just remember to remove them after the bath is done. And if he’s not a fan of having foreign objects placed in his ears, no worries: just be extra careful not to get water in them.

3. Get the temperature right

Humans aren’t the only species particular about their shower temperatures. But unlike the scalding hot showers that most of us enjoy, dogs should be bathed in lukewarm to warm water, according to PetMD. Water that is too hot can easily burn your dog’s skin. If the weather is warm and your dog has a heavy coat, cool water is also acceptable.

4. Work your way up

When you begin shampooing your dog, start at his paws, and then work your way up to his neck. To protect your dog’s eyes and mouth, use a wet washcloth to clean his face.

5. Rinse thoroughly

Don’t be stingy when it’s time to rinse. Residual shampoo that’s left behind on your dog’s skin can cause itchy flaking. Save your dog from any discomfort by rinsing his coat thoroughly. Some vets even recommend that you rinse twice as long as you think you need to.

6. Dry your pup

Drape your dog in a thick towel immediately after his bath to help him retain heat and prevent him from shaking water all over you. A hair dryer is a quick remedy if your dog is chilled after his bath—just be sure to set the temperature to a cooler setting to avoid injuring your dog’s skin. You may even consider purchasing a dog-specific blow dryer if it’s a tool that you’ll get a lot of use out of.

In-between baths, you must remember one thing: brush your dog’s coat! Brushing your dog regularly helps prevent painful mats from forming, and it also extends the time between your dog’s baths by keeping him cleaner.

If you approach bath time with a cheerful and relaxed attitude, you can bet your dog will follow suit in no time. In the end, this once unpleasant task can become a cherished bonding experience between you and your dog.