If you were to poll dogs and their owners about their collective thoughts on bath time, both would probably agree that they’d rather skip it. Unfortunately for them, periodic baths are incredibly important for a dog’s health, coat, and skin. While they also have the added benefit of making it so you can actually stand the smell and sight of your four-legged friend when it comes time to cuddle. 

Like so many dog owners, you’re probably all too familiar with the difficulties of bathing your particular pooch, especially if they’re the type that fights tooth and nail to stay out of your terrifying tub. Even if you are one of the lucky ones, with a system in place and a routine you’ve nailed down, there’s still always room to improve on bath time. Read on to discover 11 tips for dog bathing at home.

11 Tips for Dog Bathing at Home


Use the Right Shampoo

Dogs are rugged, tough creatures, capable of withstanding harsh conditions and eating things that humans could never stomach. This fact doesn’t mean that you can simply give them any product that you’d also use. This goes with food items as well as pet shampoo. It may seem obvious, but many new dog owners unknowingly make the mistake of bathing their dog with soaps made for humans, often to the detriment of their pooch.

Humans and dogs have a different pH balance in their skin. Human skin is a 5 on the acid-alkaline spectrum, meaning that it is more acidic. Dogs have a 7, which is a neutral pH balance. If you were to use human shampoo, you could damage your dog’s skin and fur, often called “stripping the acid mantle”, leaving them vulnerable to:

  • Viruses
  • Parasites
  • Bacteria
  • Dry skin
  • Irritated skin

If you dog has current skin issues, a medicated shampoo might be best.  Speak with your vet and ask them to recommend the right medicated shampoo for your pup. A vet will also be able to recommend a shampoo that works best with your dog’s breed, coat, and health history.

Brush Beforehand

Want baths to take less time? It helps to brush your pup before you ever get him in the water. This helps remove excess hair, dander and dirt.

This step makes your life easier and the bathing process cleaner, especially if you’re doing it in your own bath tub. It also prevents annoying and painful hair mats or knots.

When brushing, take the following steps: 

  • Pick a side – It doesn’t matter which end you choose to start at, either the head or the tail works just fine. Simply select whichever method is more comfortable for your pup. Once you do, meticulously and gently work your way to the other end. 
  • Pick a brushing method – This may depend on the type of breed and its specific coat. Methods include:
    • Brush and comb – Part the fur and use both a comb and brush to address each section in patches. 
    • Spiral brushing – Brush and comb in a circular pattern.
    • Brush backward – Brush against the grain of the fur and then go back the other way to get it back in place. This helps to remove dead hair and dander and helps to stimulate your pup’s skin. 
  • Be sure to brush all of the coat – Some owners make the mistake of only addressing the top layer of the coat. You need to get at all of the hair, so it’s better to start at the skin level and then brush up and out. 
Enlist Help 

If you have a dog that’s new to bathing or anxious about the experience, bring in a helper to give you an extra hand. Having someone else there who can focus on keeping your dog soothed and relaxed is a fantastic way to help facilitate the process. Especially in the early stages, your goal is to make this as positive an experience as possible. Enlisting help to provide some extra loving, might just do the trick.  

Be Wary of Over bathing or accidentally leaving some soap in the undercoat

Dogs already do some of their own grooming, but periodic baths are an essential part of maintaining their health and hygiene. However, you need to avoid over bathing.  Be sure to get all the soap rinsed out! Letting shampoo or conditioner dry on their coat or skin could result in skin irritation and a matted coat. It can cause several issues, including:

  • Increased risk of bacterial and fungal infections
  • Skin damage and irritation
  • Hair follicle damage

With that in mind, certain dogs need baths more frequently than others. Frequency of baths depends on the following:

  • Coat type – Different coats call for different maintenance. Dogs typically fall into one of four categories:
    • Hairless
    • Short-haired
    • Medium-haired
    • Long-haired 

Speak with your vet to get an understanding about your dog’s coat and how often you should be washing it. 

  • Health – Some health conditions call for medicated shampoo and more frequent bathing practices to treat the issue. Common conditions include: 
    • Allergies
    • Parasites
    • Bacterial infections
    • Fungal infections 
  • Lifestyle – Your dog’s daily activity will impact their cleanliness. An outside dog that likes to play in the dirt, mud, or water is going to end up needing to bathe more than a pup that has to be dragged from the couch. 
Start ‘Em Young

One of the easiest tips for making dog bathing at home simple is by starting to give them baths when they’re puppies. Dogs learn behavior, either good or bad, through repetition. By making this a routine early on, you can teach your pup that bathing is a normal and enjoyable part of their life. 

Although you never want to over bathe your dog, don’t space out baths too far in between one another or your pup may forget his routine and the proper expected behavior. 

Prepare Beforehand 

You want bathing to be as seamless and efficient as possible, right? Then you should have all of your bathing equipment close by. 

  • Keep a one-step shampoo +conditioner by your free hand (the hand not holding your dog in place).
  • Hang the towel on the towel rack, where it can stay dry and within easy reach.
  • Have treats in your pocket so you can easily cajole or reward your dog for good behavior. 
  • Keep a bucket near the bath in which you’ll keep your brushes, combs, and any other tools you plan on using. 
  • Place a non-slip mat in the base of the tub. This will keep your dog from slipping and injuring themselves as they try to gain purchase. 
  • Block the drain with steel wool to keep dog hair from plugging it up. 
Use a Tub 

A bath tub is an excellent tool for corralling a restless dog. Since many pooches instantly turn into escape artists the moment the water goes on, consider using a specialized bathing leash to help safely keep them in place. If you do use a leash, make sure you never leave your dog restrained in the tub alone.

When bathing in the tub, test the water before you begin to wash your dog. Too hot or too cold could instantly sour the experience. Your goal is to make it as pleasant, relaxing, and as gentle as possible. 

Protect Your Dog’s Ears

Dogs’ ears are incredibly sensitive. You want to help prevent water from entering your dog’s inner ear, which could be extremely painful. To make the bathing process as comfy as possible, carefully put cotton balls in the entryway to your pup’s ear canals. Do not shove them in! That could cause more harm than the water you’re trying to block.  

Rinse Thoroughly

If you have to lather your dog’s face, tilt their head back and rinse towards the tail to ensure that the soapy water doesn’t get in their eyes. Consider using a washcloth as a helpful tool.

Clean Your Dog’s Ears

Once you’ve finished the bath, remove the cotton. Some dogs produce wax more often than others, but you should ideally be clearing their ears about once every other week. Leaving wax or other debris in the ear canal could easily lead to infections, so you should check them more often than you clean them.

When cleaning, you can choose to either put ear cleaner directly into the ear canal or can use cotton balls to swab the gunk away. If you go with the ear cleaner, gently massage it in, so it coats the inside of the ear. This method will prevent your pup from shaking their head to dislodge the solution. 

Reward Your Dog

As the old saying goes, “if it gets rewarded, it gets repeated”!  If your dog knows that there’s a special treat waiting for them at the end of a bath, you can ensure that they’re on their best behavior. As the process goes on, shower your pup with praises, pets, rubs, and love. Be gentle and methodical as you go about your tasks. Use a calm and reassuring voice so that they know not to worry. Once you’ve finished your task, reinforce good bathing behavior by rewarding them with a new toy, treat, or a bone. 

Benefits of Bathing Your Dog

Bathing your dog is an incredibly essential aspect of general pet care. It provides several benefits, including:

  • Forging a bond – Even rambunctious pups can learn to enjoy bath time. All it takes is some training, treats, and a lot of love. Especially for puppies, bath time is your chance to teach your dog to trust you. When you reach that point, bath times become a great chance for the two of you to connect as you spend time adoring and caring for them. The repetitive motion, brushing, massaging, and warm water, all work to help your dog relax and have a blast. 
  • Getting rid of odors and dirt – When your dog walks into the room caked in mud and your nose picks up that heady scent of wet garbage, you know that your pup’s due for a bath. A good soak in warm water and a thorough shampoo scrub ensure that your dog will emerge from their bath, cleansed of impurities and smelling and looking great. 
  • Lets you stay on top of your dog’s health – Bath times are a great excuse to perform a detailed inspection of your dog to ensure their health. You’re already up close and personal, so be sure to check for any abnormalities, irritation, bumps or discharge on their:
    • Teeth
    • Nails
    • Eyes
    • Ears
    • Skin

Also, stay on high alert for parasites like ticks, mites, fleas, or lice. 

  • Softer coat – Prime moisturizing dog shampoo and a blow-dry will help your dog’s coat look lustrous, smell great, and feel soft as a cloud. Coconut oil and conditioner are worthy additions for infusing even more moisture into the fur.  
  • Less shedding – Regularly brushing and washing your dog will help take care of excess fur. The more frequently you do this, the less loose hair they’ll have to shed. This will help cut down on the time you spend going around your home with a lint roller or a vacuum. 
  • Prevents allergies – A dog’s fur is incredibly good at catching dirt, bacteria, and potential allergens. If either you or your pup have allergies, bathing frequently will dramatically help to reduce allergens being carried in the coat.  
Bathing Your Pup at Home

The world would be a simpler place if your dog never got dirty or smelly. The unfortunate truth is that baths are a necessary part of keeping your dog healthy and happy. Although it may be difficult at first, with a measured and gentle approach, you can turn bath time into an enjoyable experience for both you and your pup. Follow the dog washing tips above and home baths should be a breeze. 


Cuteness. Can You Use Adult Dog Shampoo on Puppies? https://www.cuteness.com/blog/content/can-you-use-regular-dog-shampoo-on-puppies

Patrick, M. Spark People. Grooming Essentials for Dogs and Cats. (2013). https://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/wellness_articles.asp?id=1934

Dr. Melinda J. Mayfield-Davis, DVM, WCHP-AH, brings over 20 years of experience in veterinary medicine.  She is the Technical Services Veterinarian with Innovacyn, Inc., parent company of Vetericyn Animal Wellness. She received her DVM from Oklahoma State University and now resides in Southeast Kansas with her husband, two children, four dogs, and six horses. Prior to working with Innovacyn, Dr. Mayfield owned and operated the Animal Care Center in Columbus, KS.

Previous post Adopting a Pet? What To Know About Wellness
Next post How Often Should I Wash My Dog?