How to give your dog a bath

Dirt and odors love dogs, which makes learning how to give a dog a bath an essential part of caring for your pet. You may have visions, or past experiences, of your dog tearing through the house half-soaped up and shaking water all over your new furniture. But bath time doesn’t have to be an occasion to dread if you plan ahead and give your dog a bath he’ll enjoy.

Gather your bath supplies

Collect all the supplies you’ll need to bath your dog before you start, and let him sniff everything to satisfy his curiosity. Essential dog bath items include:

  • Brush or comb: Choose the appropriate grooming brush or comb for your dog’s coat.
  • Dog bath shampoo: Never give a dog a bath with products made for people. The pH balance isn’t appropriate for dogs and can damage their coat and skin.
  • Cotton balls: Inserted shallowly into each ear to keep water and soap out.
  • Plastic pitcher: If you don’t have a removable shower head, a plastic pitcher is perfect for wetting and rinsing your dog.
  • Drain screen: Keep your plumbing happy and free of dog hair.
  • Towels for drying

Two optional items you might want when you give a dog a bath are special ophthalmic ointment to keep your dog’s eyes from being burned by the shampoo (available from your veterinarian or a pet supply store) and ear dry solution if your dog is susceptible to ear infections.

The steps for bathing a dog

Once you have everything gathered up, it’s time to give that dog a bath! Before you start, close the door to the bathroom or whatever room you’re bathing him in to thwart any escape attempts.

Step 1: Brush your dog

Always brush your dog before giving him a bath to remove loose hair, tangles, and mats. Bathing will only make them worse.

Step 2: Add dog to bath tub

Have your dog climb into the tub. Put a cotton ball into each of his ears. Make sure you don’t press them down too far into the ear canal. Apply protective eye ointment to his eyes if you’re so inclined.

Step 3: Turn on the water and wet your dog

Use lukewarm water to wet your dog from front to back and underneath. Try not to get his head wet yet. A dog with a dry head has less of a tendency to shake since the best shakes always start from the front and move back. You can also keep a firm hold of the hair on his neck or his muzzle during the bath to prevent shaking.

Step 4: Shampoo

Use a small amount of shampoo to facilitate easy rinsing and work into a nice lather starting at the neck and moving back to the tail in the direction of hair growth. Don’t forget the belly, armpits, groin, and between the toes. If your dog has a long coat, squeeze and press the shampoo through his hair rather than rubbing it, which can cause tangles.

Step 5: Rinse and repeat if necessary

Rinse out the soap completely. Run your hands over your dog and check for any slimy or slippery spots. You’ll need to re-rinse those places. Soap left on your dog after you give him a bath can cause skin irritation so be thorough when rinsing. If your dog is particularly dirty and smelly, you can reapply soap to the offending areas, wash, and rinse again.

Step 6: Wash the face last

Wet your dog’s head carefully and use your fingers or a wash cloth to soap up his skull, muzzle, and ears. Keep soap away from his eyes. Then rinse everything again from front to back and do one last check for soapy residue that could need rinsing.

Step 7: Prepare for the shake and then dry thoroughly

Remove the cotton balls from your dog’s ears. Then hold up a towel and stand back to let your dog shake himself dry. If he just stands in place, you can blow in his ear to trigger a good shake. Use the towels to dry your dog as much as possible. If he has long hair, pat rather than rub him dry to avoid tangles.

After you give a dog a bath he may go nuts, so expect a sudden burst of crazy running and rolling. Keep him inside and out of drafts until he’s completely dry. Check out our dog bath tips to learn how to introduce your dog to the tub without a fuss, how often to bath your dog, and other helpful dog bath information.