Everyone knows how to bathe a dog, right? But even if you’re doing a good job already, here are a few tips to make your work easier or last longer.
Veterinary dermatologists are changing the rules, now saying that bathing weekly isn't a bad idea at all. Forget the old idea that bathing strips the oils from the coat and should be done only every six months or even less often. Information presented at recent cutting-edge veterinary conferences suggests that there are benefits for some dogs to weekly bathing including reducing allergies (yours and your dog's), treating skin infections (at least as effectively as some medications) and reducing the itching and scratching that drives everyone crazy.
Besides, do you really want to share your bed with a stinky, dirty dog?
Before Your Dog Gets Wet
Before you put even a single drop of water on your dog, make sure you have everything you need.
Get the right shampoo. Shampoo designed for people — even baby shampoo — has a different pH than what’s best for your dog. Ask your veterinarian to recommend a product that works best for your individual pet, and follow the directions. If your dog has skin problems, you'll likely need a therapeutic shampoo that will address his condition. While you're shopping, get a bath tool, such as the Kong Zoom Groom. Such tools reduce shedding by loosening ready-to-drop fur in the tub, and they take your shampoo further by working it deep into the coat. They also give your dog a relaxing massage.
Stop the tears and wet ears. Ask your veterinarian for some bland eye ointment and have her show you how to apply it. Also, put a small piece of cotton in each of your dog’s ear canals to prevent water from getting inside; just make sure you take it out after the bath.
Brush your dog. Brushing before a bath helps the shampoo get into the coat and works out mats before they get set in by the water. Gently pick apart or cut out any mats before the bath, because adding water will make them impossible to remove.
Stock your station. It's frustrating to start bathing a dog only to realize the shampoo or towels are on the other side of the room. Unless you enjoy playing tag with a soaking wet pup, get your supplies together before you bring in the dog.
Use the three-towel trick. Have one towel to put in the bottom of the tub to provide traction and prevent slipping. The second towel is the antishake towel — drape it over the wet dog (between washes or before rinsing) to prevent him from shaking and soaking you and the walls. The third towel is the drying towel. A big dog might need more than one drying towel.
Block the drain. Put a piece of steel wool in the drain to catch the dog hair and prevent it from plugging your drain.
Put in a nonslip surface. This can be just a towel in the bottom of the tub or sink — using my three-towel trick — or a nonskid rubber mat. Few things stress out a dog more than not being able to stand without slipping, and giving him something to sink his toes into will help ease his anxiety about baths.
Go warm on the water. Fill the tub or sink with water before you bring in your dog. The sound of rushing water adds to his stress if he’s not an enthusiastic bather.
Time to Splish and Splash
Use a leash if you have to, but lead your dog to the water, offering good cheer and a treat along the way. Don’t lose your cool if your dog resists — if he already dislikes bathing, an association with your angry voice won't help. Put him in the tub with as little drama as possible and get to work.
Wet your dog completely, down to the skin. Start shampooing at the neck and work your way down his body to tail and toes. Putting a sudsy barrier at the base of the skull prevents any heinous hitchhikers — fleas and ticks — from running for the hills ... er, ears. Keep the praise coming for your dog and keep your attitude upbeat.
When you get to the tail, you can empty your dog’s anal glands. These pesky little organs produce a stinky fluid that dogs use to mark their feces like gang members uses colors and signs. Though some dogs never have a problem with them, many do, and emptying them from time to time can help prevent the glands from becoming impacted. It's a good idea to have someone at your veterinarian's office demonstrate the technique — it's not hard to do, but easier to learn if you see it done.
When every inch of your dog has been sudsed up, open the drain to let the dirty water out — the steel wool will catch the hair and spare you a drain clog. Rinse, rinse and rinse some more, using clean water from the tap. Getting all the soap out and the coat and skin flushed with fresh water will keep your dog clean longer and minimizes flaking.
Dry the Dog Instead of Soaking Yourself
Dogs dislike the smell of shampoo. To dogs, mint, pine and citrus just aren't as appealing as the smell of rotting stuff. To prevent an immediate muddying of your hard work, don’t let your dog outside until he’s completely dry — or he'll roll in the muck before you can say, "Oh, no!"
Throw a towel over him like a horse blanket and use another one to dry the face, then the ears and then the feet. You can use a blow-dryer to speed things along if you like and if your dog isn't afraid of the noise. If you do use a blow-dryer, set it on the cooler setting to avoid accidentally injuring the skin. Dryers made just for dogs blast room-temperature air. They make drying go more quickly by blowing the water out of the coat so it can air-dry more quickly. If you have a long-haired dog, this is a pretty good investment that will save you lots of time.
Here’s a simple trick to keep your pup from soaking you after his bath: Gently take hold of his muzzle with your thumb and forefinger. A dog starts to shake from the head back, and if he can't rotate his head, he can't rotate his body either. After you've towel-dried him the best you can, put him in a "shaking allowed" zone, and let him have at it.
See? That wasn’t so hard. If you’re feeling accomplished, maybe you should bathe the cat — or not.