As a rule, animals generally benefit from baths only when they are dirty, but for dogs, a cool rinsing or a swim can do a lot of good, particularly in hot weather. The sooner you get your dog used to bathing the better, so integrate bathing into a puppy's routine. Be careful, though: too much bathing will actually strip your dog's coat of its natural oils.
When to bathe your dog
Does your dog need a bath? If your dog has begun to smell unpleasant or the coat is dirty then the answer is yes. You may also need to bath your dog for medical reasons and you should also wash dogs after they have been swimming or have been anywhere near toxic sprays, or oils. If your dog’s hair is very matted, or the skin sore or tender, then contact your vet before bathing your dog.
Getting ready to bathe
Before bathing, take the opportunity to have a good look at your dog's body, checking for lumps and bumps. You should also brush and comb the coat to remove any foreign bodies and loosen any matted hair before bathing. For small breeds a sink will make a good bath, larger breeds may need the shower or a bath (an old baby bath works well) and use a non-slip mat so they don’t panic if they lose their footing. On warm days large dogs can be bathed outside, still using warm water. Make sure the environment is warm enough as small/thin breeds may get cold. Ask your vet which shampoo is best for your dog. To minimise any possible reactions, the best choice tends to be a mild all-round dog shampoo, without harsh chemicals or perfumes. Never use human shampoo as dog skin and hair has a different acidity to yours.
Shampooing and rinsing
After wetting the dog with a jug or shower attachment, carefully apply a small amount of shampoo so as not to get any in the eyes or ears. Then lather right down to the tail, not forgetting the underside and neck. Rinse with a shower nozzle or jug of warm water, again avoiding the eyes and inner ears. Use your hands to help the soap run off. Some medicated shampoos have a required contact time so follow the directions. Always rinse thoroughly as leaving shampoo in the coat can cause itching/drying.
Drying your dog
Keep a stock of old towels in the airing cupboard to allocate as ‘dog towels’ for drying the dog. After soaping and rinsing, dogs naturally roll and rub their heads, necks and bodies on any available ground, including grass. This is a natural follow-up to bathing, so have some towels ready on the floor or garden to try and encourage your dog to use these instead. Dogs usually want to shake off any excess water themselves, so remember to remove your dog from the tub beforehand or you will be the one who ends up getting a bath! Once your dog has had a good shake, rub him or her down from head to toe with a towel. If the coat is very long, or thick, it may need blow-drying while brushing it. Your breeder or groomer can advise you if this is needed. Make sure the dryer is not too close to the skin, directed near the eyes, or on a hot setting, as the skin can burn easily. Hair dryers can be quite frightening for a dog if not used to them, so ensure you reassure him throughout the process and reward good behaviour. If your dog is likely to need hair drying but isn’t used to it; start introducing this as soon as possible, initially just the noise in the room, and moving onto directing the dryer onto the dog, following with praise and reward so the experience is not stressful.
Dealing with reluctant bathers
Baths can be a stressful and even quite frightening experience. As in any scary situation, be aware that your dog may try and bite. If your dog has any history of biting when afraid, discuss with your vet methods to minimise the stress of the experience and protect yourself - perhaps using a muzzle. Dogs that are simply fearful, but not aggressive, should be reassured and praised throughout the bath - food treats are always helpful. If your dog shows signs of nervousness, especially the first time, offer praise and reassurance throughout. Try distracting with a treat. You can also take the tub outside to a less confined space, which can be less threatening. Ask a family member/friend to help by stroking and re-assuring the dog whilst you do the washing! Introduce bath times gradually - don't force the issue. You may also want to take the tub outside so your dog has more space and is less likely to feel threatened.
If you are finding your dog’s coat difficult to manage or they are very tangled, discuss with your vet or a professional groomer how to make things easier for you and your dog.