As spring peeks its head around the corner, we dog parents start to envision hikes, beaches, lakes and all the other fun we can have with our pups outdoors. But with that comes mud, bugs, fleas, allergens, skunk sprays and even in the best cases plain doggie BO.
Now, after working in animal welfare for 16-plus years with dozens of shelter dogs, foster dogs and my own brood at home, I’ve picked up a few tricks to make those home baths go smoothly. I also checked in with PetCoach’s chief medical officer, Dr. Christie Long and others, to chat about ways to make dog baths a piece of cake.
Dogs can get anxiety about bath time for a number of reasons, according to PetCoach veterinarian Dr. Melanie. The pup “could be scared of water, she may not like being bathed with cold water if you use a hose outdoors or if she is in the tub for her bath, slipping in it could cause her to panic.” Of course, these common scenarios that can trigger a lot of anxiety for you as well, which your dog can sense. Taking steps to reduce both of your bath-time anxiety can be a game-changer.
"My attitude about hating giving him a bath caused us both a lot of anxiety,” pet mom Jean Kristensen says, “I changed my energy around bath time. I calmly walked over, took him by the leash and walked him into the bathroom. He literally entered the bathtub with no fussing.” Find out how Jean changed her mindset and get more tips for making bath time Zen in "7 Tips to Make Your Dog Stop Hating Bath Time."
“Dogs shouldn't be bathed more often than once every 6 to 8 weeks,” according to the experts over at PetCoach. (See what else they have to say about toiletries here.)
Also, be sure to consider when you’ve applied flea and tick prevention. “Many flea and tick repellant products will lose their effectiveness if the patient is bathed within 24 hours of application,” Long shared with us, “so be sure to read the label of these products carefully and plan your dog's bathing regimen accordingly.”
This helps your dog be relaxed, but also stops you from taking your pup out in the cold while he's still wet. A good muscle rub with shampoo and conditioner in the bath might even become something your tired dog learns to enjoy — like a doggie spa treatment after a hard game of fetch. Tiring your dog out can also help reduce anxiety. My own nervous Italian greyhound, Fiona, is no fan of baths, but when I tire her out beforehand, she enjoys the warm water and puppy massage enough that she starts to relax and let me pamper her.
Cleanliness of your tools and soaps is important. “There is a condition known as ‘post-grooming folliculitis/furunculosis,’” Long warns, “which basically means that the patient has experienced a painful skin infection after grooming and/or bathing. These infections are intense, usually require [a] culture to insure appropriate antibiotic selection and treatment for 4 to 6 weeks. The infection can usually be traced back to the use of dirty clippers, scissors or contaminated shampoos. So be sure to use a quality shampoo that is well within its date of expiration when bathing your dog.” Ask your vet or groomer for suggestions of what to look for in a shampoo and conditioner for your dog's needs. If your dog's especially itch-prone, you may add some oatmeal bath to the mix.
If you use a shampoo or conditioner that can be diluted, mixing bottles can be a big help. I love them because I can rub my dog down with one hand with the diluted mixture spreading the soap farther while I hold the bottle with the other hand. To use mixing bottles, you simply add your warm water to the dilution line, add shampoo or conditioner and shake. Prep it before you get your dog and keep it to the side at arm’s reach. Just be sure to clean these out well between uses.
Having everything in place before you bring in your dog is a good way to avoid having to get up during the bath (and giving your dog an opportunity for escape). Set yourself up for success by placing your dog’s towels, shampoo, conditioner, a shatterproof cup (for rinsing), toys or treats and a washcloth within arm’s reach. If you use diluted conditioner or shampoo, be sure to have these pre-diluted and in easy-open squeeze bottles next to you.
Slipping in the shower is scary — for your dog too. This is one of the best tips groomers ever shared with me and I’ve used it for years. Help your dog get some grip in your tub by adding a rubber mat for them to stand on. This helps your pup feel more secure and makes slips and falls more avoidable.
Remaining calm and focused can go a long way to reinforcing your dog’s “sit” or “stay” during your dog’s bath. However, sometimes enhancing the attraction with treats (if your dog will eat them), minimizing escape routes by closing doors or having a second set of hands can help as well. In our house, the bathroom door stays shut during bath time so there’s no obvious place for our pups to go.
IMPORTANT: Escape dashes are a common cause of slips, falls and unpleasant water getting into your dog’s face or ears. This can lead to increased anxiety or even some health issues, like ear infections. Water in the ears can be such a problem that Long suggests owners not even try to clean their dog’s ears while in the bath at all, instead doing it later: “In general, I would advise cleaning the ears separately with a good-quality veterinary ear cleaner, then placing cotton balls in the ear canal during the bath, taking care to avoid getting water in the ears as much as possible.” (Check out Long’s "Tips for Cleaning Your Dog’s Ears.")
This one-handed tool is another major favorite of mine for any dog. The beauty of it is you don’t have to fill the tub or contort your dog into uncomfortable positions that stress him out to rinse well. And rinsing is something most dog moms don’t do enough of, according to Long. “The mistake I see dog parents make the most often when bathing their dogs is not rinsing long enough. It takes about 10 minutes of rinsing to rid the fur completely of shampoo — and for exceptionally hairy breeds, probably longer. So, I advise dog owners to set a timer when they start their rinse, use warm water (not hot) and rinse thoroughly for the recommended amount of time.”
Before your dog’s in the tub, start the water and let it adjust to be warm, but not hot. A good way to check the temp is to run it over your forearm, as you would for a small child.
The sensation of water around your dog's eyes, ears and nose are more likely to make him freak out. Instead, use a warm washcloth around your dog's face and head, being sure not to get water in your dog's ears. At our house, we don’t even use soap on our dog’s face, just plain water. This helps us avoid any problems with soap to the eyes (although some no-tear shampoos are available).
Toys and treats can be used to reinforce good bath time behavior and show your pup (and you) just how fun bath time can be.
Now that you have the tools, go enjoy the outdoors with Fido secure in the knowledge that you can clean him up when you get home. Just be sure to consult your veterinarian if you see “redness or discharge in one or both eyes, scratching of the ears or head shaking or painful sores along the top of the back,” warns Long — all signs that something might have gone amiss during bath time.
Have a question about bath time? Ask the experts at PetCoach below.
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