How to Bathe a Dog: Advice From a Veterinarian


Have you ever tried to bathe your dog? My mini-labradoodle, Athena, is a real squirmer. Usually, I’ll let the groomer have the pleasure of washing her every two months. 

But sometimes, Athena will get into something smelly and I’ve got to take action immediately. In these cases, it’s an unpleasant experience for both her and me. 

 

Dr. Benaryeh examines Athena at the Spicewood Spring Animal Hospital in Austin, Texas
Dr. Benaryeh examines Athena at the Spicewood Spring Animal Hospital. The vet tech holds Athena.

 

Recently, I decided to get some tips on how to give a dog a bath. I talked to my amazing veterinarian Barak Benaryeh, owner and lead veterinarian at the Spicewood Springs Animal Hospital in Austin, Texas.

So how do you bathe a dog the right way? First, if possible, use a dog bath that is raised to waist-level so that you don’t have to bend over. Second, use an anchor to hold the dog in place. Third, make sure to use the proper shampoo. And finally, learn the right way to wash your dog’s face to avoid getting water in the ear canal or shampoo in the eyes.

Once I was equipped with tips from Dr. Benaryeh, I gave my 7-year-old labradoodle Athena a bath. The difference in her comfort level was truly astounding. And she absolutely loved when I used Dr. Benaryeh’s special technique for how to dry a dog after a bath!

 

How to Bathe a Dog the Right Way

 

Dr. Benaryeh and his dog, Tula
Dr. Benaryeh and Tula

 

First, let’s take a look at where this advice is coming from: Dr. Benaryeh has been a vet for 22 years. He’s owned many dogs himself and has given thousands of dog baths in his life. If you ask me, you can’t get much more street cred in the dog washing department. 

I told Dr. Benaryeh I wanted his advice on how to bathe a dog — and I asked him to give me as much detail as possible, because Athena and I needed all the help we could get.  I told Dr. Benaryeh that whenever I’ve tried to bathe Athena, she yelps and tries to jump out of the tub.

 

Use the Proper Equipment to Bathe Your Dog

 

How to bathe a dog - use a bathtub that's waist-high if possible

 

Dr. Benaryeh said:

“When we bathe dogs at our clinic, we anchor them so they can’t get away. You can create an anchor using a leash at home. Attach the leash to something that won’t move. But you could also go to a do-it-yourself place where you pay to bathe your dog. At these places, the dog is at the proper level, and they provide the anchor. Having the right facility will be a huge help.” 

 

Use Gentle Shampoo to Bathe Your Dog

 

How to bathe a dog - use gentle shampoo

 

Dr. Benaryeh really stressed the importance of using the right shampoo on your dog. 

He told me that sometimes people use a flea and tick shampoo to wash a dog, but that’s a big mistake. A flea and tick shampoo is just for getting rid of fleas and ticks. Those products are too harsh if you’re just bathing a dog to get it clean.

In fact, Dr. Benaryeh strongly advises anyone washing a dog to use a hypoallergenic dog shampoo or oatmeal-based dog shampoo. He says that these types of shampoos won’t strip the oils from the coat.

Some dogs that have skin conditions will get a medicated shampoo prescribed by a vet. If your dog uses a medicated shampoo, Dr. Benaryeh says, “It’s very important to leave the medicated shampoo on the dog for 5-10 minutes so the medication has time to work.” 

 

But can you wash your dog with dishwashing detergent?

 

I had heard that some people bathe their dogs with Dawn dishwashing detergent. Well, that sounds logical, right? 

Not so fast! 

Dr. Benaryeh is no fan of that idea. “I recommend against it, unless your dog gets sprayed by a skunk. Then you can use a teaspoon of dishwashing detergent in the de-skunking bath. But otherwise, dishwashing detergents are made to cut through oil and your dog’s coat needs something gentler.”

 

Think About How You’ll Dry Your Dog After the Bath

 

How to bathe a dog - Get towels ready before you get the dog wet

 

Once you’re set up with the proper equipment and shampoo, you’re ready for action, right? 

Wrong. To go ahead and start bathing your dog would be a rookie mistake. 

This is the time to plan how you’ll dry your dog after the bath is over. You don’t want to be searching for the towel you want when your dog is all wet and shivering.

Of course, you can just use an ordinary towel to dry your dog, but as Dr. Benaryeh pointed out, little dogs can get especially cold. 

Revealing his tender heart, Dr. Benaryeh told me about the bath he gave his own chihuahua just the other day. “Before I bathed my dog, Milli, I put the towels in the dryer and ran the dryer. Then I took them out and had nice warm towels ready to dry Milli with as soon as the bath was over.”

I loved that idea and thought Athena would too, so I made a mental note to try that with her as soon as possible.

 

Wash, Lather, Rinse

 

Anchor your dog in the bathtub by tying the leash to something that won't move

 

Now you’re ready to bathe your dog, right?

Well, almost. Dr. Benaryeh says you’d be wise to have some of your pup’s favorite treats on hand in the bathroom. You want your pup to start associating the bath with good times, so the yummier the treats, the better.

Also, don’t forget the leash. Attach the leash on your dog’s collar and anchor to something that won’t move. 

 

Use Lukewarm Water to Bathe Your Dog

 

Use lukewarm to almost cool water, because as Dr. Benaryeh told me, hot water can irritate the dog’s skin. Test the water on your hand first. 

Then wet your doggie all over, and keep testing the water temperature with your hand because it can change in the middle of the shower. I know in my house, if someone turns on the dishwasher and throws in a load of laundry, the water can suddenly get colder! 

 

Know How to Wash Your Dog’s Face

 

When bathing your dog, tilt the face up

 

Of all the tips for bathing a dog that Dr. Benaryeh shared, the tips about how to wash your dog’s face seem the most important to get right. Messing this up can have serious health consequences.

“You’ve got to do everything you can to avoid getting water in your dog’s ear canals,” Dr. Benaryeh said. “Tilt the head up and use the ear to cover the hole in the ear. If it’s a floppy ear, I’ll turn the ear over to cover the hole. If the dog has a pointy ear, I’ll turn it over as well if I can do it without hurting the dog. Or, for other pointy-eared dogs or dogs with no ears, I put cotton in their ear canals. You just have to remember to take the cotton out after the bath.”

It’s equally important to avoid getting shampoo in a dog’s eyes. When washing your doggy’s face, Dr. Benaryeh advises turning the water way down and using your finger to gently scrub. “Go very slowly around the eyes,” he says. “I’ve treated corneal ulcers where the dog got soap in the eye and ended up with a defect to the cornea.” 

That’s scary! I will definitely go super gentle on the face. 

 

But How Do You Give a Puppy a Bath?

 

How to give a puppy a bath? Use the same techniques as you would for a full-grown dog.

 

Puppies seem so fragile. Is it really okay to bathe a puppy? If so, how would you even do it? 

Dr. Benaryeh assures me that you follow the same process for a puppy, nothing different at all. He also said that no puppy is too young for a bath. 

I remember when Athena was a puppy, she fit in the kitchen sink. That was more convenient for us because we didn’t have to bend over like we do when bathing her in the bathtub.

 

How Often Should You Bathe a Dog?

 

Like I mentioned, I feel a little guilty for not bathing Athena more. Then again, she’s rarely smelly. Unless it’s summertime! Then she loves to go on the trail near our house. 

Before I can stop her she rubs herself in coyote poop left on the trail. (Apparently that’s a protection behavior. Well, protection for her, not for the rest of us who have to go home with her and smell it!) When that happens, I really do bathe her as soon as possible.

The other thing is that Athena loves to swim in the creek near our house. My favorite thing in the world is watching her. After that, she can get a bit smelly, but it’s nowhere as pungent as after the coyote poop rub. 

After she swims in the creek, I sometimes wait as long as possible to bathe her even though I know I should.  

But coyote poop and creek swims aside, how often should you really bathe a dog? 

Dr. Benaryeh says that it really depends on the particular dog, but usually up to twice a week is fine. More than that is probably not advised. And he says some dogs can go a month or two without needing a bath.

And in case you’re wondering, the same bathing schedule applies to puppies—bathing them up to twice a week is unlikely to cause any problems.

 

But Why Do Some Dogs Still Stink After a Bath?

 

I have friends who complain that their dogs just smell all the time, bath or no bath.  

I asked Dr. Benaryeh why some pups still stink after a good bath? He said that some dogs have a yeast overgrowth that cause the stink. In those cases, the vet will prescribe an anti-fungal agent. So yeast could be causing the problem.

But according to Dr. Benaryeh, other dogs naturally have a muskier odor and there’s really nothing you can do about that. In these cases, washing the dog won’t really help.

 

So How Did These Expert Tips Work for Athena and Me?

 

There is one of those DIY dog grooming places near my house. Still, I wanted to try to give Athena a bath at home using Dr. Benaryeh’s tips. 

I am completely shocked to report that these tips made a night and day difference in Athena’s bathing experience. No joke!

 

Treat Your Dog Before the Bath 

 

Give your dog treats in the bathroom to make it a welcoming place

 

After I threw a beach towel in the hot dryer, I brought Athena into the bathroom. At first she tried to dart into the hallway. But then I pulled out the treats. She was torn. She didn’t want to be in the bathroom near the bathtub, but she really wanted the beef jerky. 

I lured her in for a quick second. Gave her a treat. She bolted out to the hall again, but then I waved another bit of jerky. She couldn’t resist. We went back and forth like that until she was less anxious in the bathroom.

 

The Miracle Maneuver

 

How to bathe a dog - anchor your dog with a leash to something that won't move.

 

Though I had never thought about “anchoring” Athena in the bathtub with her leash, I tried it. I worried that it might make matters worse. 

But since Dr. Benaryeh recommended it, I went ahead and attached the leash to her collar. Then I tied the other end of the leash through the soap holder that’s attached to the wall of the bathroom.

Weirdly, this seemed to instantly calm Athena down. I completely expected her to try to escape the tub like always, but she seemed to like being tethered to the wall. Go figure. She didn’t squirm or yelp or anything. I was—and remain!—completely shocked by that.

 

Floppy Ears and Long Snout to the Rescue

 

Luckily, Athena has a long snout, so it’s easy to tilt her head up with my hand. And she has floppy ears, so it’s easy to fold them over and avoid water getting in. I’m glad I know how important that is now. 

Also, I feel a little badly because I didn’t realize that I shouldn’t squirt her face. I think tilting her head up and going super gently around her eyes with my finger made a huge difference in her comfort.  

And I was more comfortable this time because I knew I was handling her the right way.

 

The Piece de Resistance

 

How to bathe your dog - after the bath, keep your dog warm with towels just out of the dryer

 

My son was home to help me with the last move that Dr. Benaryeh suggested, so I sent him to the laundry room to grab the towel from the dryer. (Of course, if my son had not been around to help me, I would have had the towel at my side before I started bathing Athena.)

As soon as I wrapped her in the warm towel, Athena literally melted like a furry pile of snuggles! This dog that is usually a hyper spaz after a bath turned into a Jello dog. Oh man, it was so great to hug her up in that warm towel. We were both happy, happy, happy.

I feel a little badly to know that I’ve been bathing my dog the wrong way for the seven whole years. However, these days I’m not into blame, shame or guilt. That’s why I’m going to let it all go and just thank Dr. Benaryeh for sharing the best tips about how to bathe a dog!

I honestly can say that this time washing Athena was such a sweet experience. As a result, I know I’ll bathe her more often for the benefit of us both!

 

Other Important Questions about Bathing a Dog

 

Can you bathe a dog after a flea treatment?

 

If your dog is taking oral medication for fleas and ticks, there is no problem with bathing your dog immediately after. However, Dr. Benaryeh says that if your dog is taking a topical flea treatment like Frontline or Vectra, read the directions carefully. You usually need to wait 48 hours after applying the treatment to bathe your dog.

 

Why do some dogs go crazy after a bath?

 

Have you ever seen a dog going totally crazy after a bath? You know, running in circles yelping, or rolling around on the ground?  I wanted to know why they do that. Here’s what the wise Dr. Benaryeh said: “We don’t know how the pyramids got built and we don’t know why some dogs go crazy after a bath.”

 

How do I clean my bathtub?

 

After you bathe your dog, your bathtub might be a big, honking mess. Now is the time to click on over to our post on Tricks to Get Your Bathtub to Gleam Like New. We’ll show you how to clean your tub up in no time!

 

Shana

Shana Burg is a bath enthusiast, content strategist, and award-winning writer. She is the founder of bathtubber.com.

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