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Your complete guide to bath time at home.

By Zoe Denenberg
May 07, 2020
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If you’re anything like me, you have a standing monthly appointment with your dog’s groomer. In a matter of hours, she washes his coat (with organic shampoo, of course), brushes his teeth, and clips his nails—he emerges from the groomer donning a new bandana and smelling fresh and clean. While I can wash my dog at home, this monthly check-up is absolutely worth it: Groomers have all the right tools, know how to handle dogs under distress, and do the important, yet unsavory work of cleaning a dog’s ears and expressing his anal glands.

But in the past few months, Melo and I have both been thwarted from our normal grooming routines. I’ve resorted to at-home hair color and Melo’s been shedding like no one’s business. With no clue as to when he’ll be able to return to the groomer, I decided to take matters into my own hands and groom Melo at home. Here are a few techniques and tips to help you wash and style your dog with ease.

How Often to Wash a Dog

The American Kennel Club recommends bathing your dog around once a month, but this timeframe varies based on your dog’s breed, age, hair length, and type of coat. “Washing to control odors, remove residual dirt, or manage a skin sensitivity all have different bathing frequency recommendations,” writes Petco.

“Most dogs require bathing on an occasional basis usually when their coat becomes dirty or when they develop a 'doggy odor',” write Dr. Tammy Hunter and Dr. Cheryl Yuill for VCA Animal Hospitals. “Non-shedding breeds that have no health issues usually need to be bathed about every six to eight weeks.”

How Often to Brush a Dog

You’ll want to brush a dog frequently between baths to keep his coat fresh and shiny (as much as once per day for long-haired dogs). Generally speaking, short-haired dogs require less grooming maintenance than long-haired dogs.

“Dogs with long, silky or curly coats require daily brushing to keep their hair from becoming tangled or matted, especially around the ears, in the armpits, or along the back of the legs,” write Drs. Hunter and Yuill. “Dogs with short hair coats may require less frequent brushing. However, daily brushing of any dog that sheds will cut down dramatically on the amount of loose hair and dog dander floating around the home.”

How to Wash a Dog

It’s no surprise that puppy bathtime can be challenging at home. But according to Petco, “The key to getting your pup accustomed to bath time is to make it enjoyable.” Here’s how to wash your dog with ease and make bathtime fun for all.

  1. Brush your dog. Brushing your dog before bathtime helps remove matted or excess hair, which could irritate your dog’s skin.
  2. Choose your washing area. Some prefer to wash their dogs inside, while some prefer the great outdoors—there are pros and cons to both. Handheld showerheads can help to control water, but bathing your dog in a standard bathtub can end with a messy, flooded bathroom; outdoors, all that’s required is a hose, but your dog can easily get dirty all over again. Weight the pros and cons and determine what area and environment will be most comfortable for you and for Fido. No matter where you’re washing, setting down a non-slip mat will help you and Fido stay safe.
  3. Prepare your supplies. You’ll want to get a specially-formulated dog shampoo to clean Fido’s coat. “Dogs should only be bathed with a shampoo that is formulated for use on dogs - their skin has a different thickness and pH (acidity) than human skin. Human shampoo, including baby shampoo, is far too harsh for their skin,” write Drs. Hunter and Yuill.
  4. Protect Fido’s ears. Stuff cotton balls into your dog’s ears to ensure no water gets in.
  5. Get washing. Wash from the neck down, rubbing shampoo into your dog’s fur and rinsing out with lukewarm water. Rinse. If desired, repeat process with conditioner.
  6. Avoid your dog’s face. Don’t splash water directly on Fido’s face: Instead, use a damp washcloth to clean his cute little face off.
  7. Dry. You can speed along the drying process by using a blow dryer, but be careful not to linger too long in one spot and burn Fido’s skin. Alternatively, simply use a towel.

How to Wash a Dog’s Face

When washing, you’ll want to avoid splashing water or using shampoo directly on a dog’s face. Instead, use a washcloth to gently clean Fido’s face.