As a groomer, I have a lot of clients asking me if it's ok to bathe their dog at home between grooms. My answer is, of course! Sorta. If you read this article first and do it right, that is. Others do bathe their dog between grooms without a second thought, and end up making my job as a groomer much more difficult because they are not doing it properly. There IS a proper way to bathe a dog, and forgoing any of the tips below can cause skin and coat issues with your pup that I may not be able to fix easily, and your dog and the haircut will suffer for it.
Equipment Needed: Tub. High Pressure Water Nozzle. Hot/Cold Water Faucet. Brush. Comb. Shampoo. Bottle to dilute shampoo in. Towels. Vodka. (This is for you. After the bath.)
Rub a Dub Tub...err Shower
The most important thing to have if you are going to bathe your dog at home, equipment wise, is a nozzle with good water pressure. Some showers have take down shower heads, but they don't always have the best water pressure. You can purchase attachments that hook up to your tub faucet, or hose attachments, however, be sure if you are using hose attachments that you are hooking up to a faucet that has both hot and cold water. The water from an outdoor spigot is usually too cold. If it's not comfortable for you, it's not comfortable for your dog, and even on a very hot day being directly sprayed by a cold hose is not all that welcome. Always use cooler water, not warm to hot. Dogs run at a higher body temperature than us humans, and cooler water will feel more comfortable.
One of the most common mistakes people make when bathing their dogs at home is filling a tub up with water and dropping the dog in. All this does is mix dirt, dander, soap and hair around, leaving most of it on your dog when you remove them from the tub. The old "tub o' water and a cup" method went out with the idea of communal bathing years ago for a reason: it doesn't get you clean, and it's pretty disgusting.
Water should be running off your dog and down the drain as you bathe and rinse. Never bathe a dog in standing water, no matter what Grandma says. Or google.
Brush First! Ask Questions Later!
Have you ever gotten your hair wet without brushing it first? When you do brush it out, it hurts. A lot. If you don't have enough hair to experience this, go grab a small child and try it. They will very vocally educate you and your shins. It only takes ONE time of getting the hair wet without brushing it out first and immediately after, before tangles form. Your dogs' hair is the same way. Hair breeds such as Lhasas, Shih Tzus, Maltese, etc must be brushed and combed out completely before they are bathed as well as after. Getting the hair wet without removing the tangles and mats is pretty much the same as pouring a bottle of glue on your dog and rubbing it in. Water and tangles equal instant mats, and mats are extremely uncomfortable to brush and comb out.
Am I repeating myself? It's because I can't stress this enough. As a groomer I hear "but I bathe her at home all the time!" every day when I explain to my clients their dogs are too matted to be kept in a longer groom. It's almost always BECAUSE of all the (improperly done) bathing at home that their dogs are matted.
Run a wire bristle brush through your dogs entire coat (armpits, belly, back, legs, ears, face...ALL OF IT!) and then follow through with a fine tooth comb. If you can't get the comb through from surface to skin without resistance, your dogs coat is matted and needs attention BEFORE you bathe the dog. Remember...water and tangles is the equivalent of glue. Dumping glue on your dog is generally frowned upon. So is bathing a dog that hasn't been properly brushed out. At least from a groomers standpoint, as we are the ones that have to fix that mess!
If you are worried about getting water in your dogs ears, gently stuff a few cotton balls in the ear to prevent water from getting in the ear canal. Be sure to take them out when done! Ears can be cleaned using unscented baby wipes, just gently wipe out the outer areas of the ear. Never use Q-tips, if your dogs ears are excessively dirty, they need to see a vet for a cleaning.
If you brush your dogs teeth, bath time is a good time to do this as well. May as well get all the un-fun stuff done in one shot so they can hate you for an hour or so and get over it.
The Dilution Factor
There are hundreds of choices for dog shampoo on the market, and just like human shampoo, some are better than others. Chain store brands are usually low end and you won't get the same results as if you use a higher end, salon purchased shampoo. Never use shampoo intended for humans. Your dog may be your baby and that is perfectly ok, but I highly doubt you would pick up a $2 bottle of dog flea and tick shampoo for your infant. The same goes for your fur baby. Dogs hair and skin are different than humans, and require a different sort of shampoo.
ALL shampoo needs to be diluted before using on your pet. Salon brands will usually have the dilution ratio on the bottle. Sometimes this dilution ratio can be as big as 32 parts water to 1 part shampoo. If no dilution ratio is listed, try 4 parts water to 1 part shampoo. Diluted shampoo cuts through the coat easier, and is easier to rinse out. Using a half gallon milk jug to mix up the shampoo you need for the bath is a great, easy way to mix. Add the water first, then the shampoo and shake. Shampoo does have a shelf life, so you don't want to store mixed shampoo for long or it will start to break down and separate. The resulting mixture will be a very watery solution that suds up well when applied to your wet pet, if the shampoo is of good quality. If you insist on using a cheaper shampoo, expect less impressive results, and less impressive lather.
If your dog has been skunked, there are specialty shampoos designed to help with the smell. Forget the tomato juice, unless you have a beer to go with it for yourself afterwards. There is a recipe for a homemade skunk solution at the bottom of this article using common household ingredients that works well.
Flea and Tick shampoos shouldn't be used as a preventative as they can be harsh. If your dog has fleas or ticks, make an appointment with your vet to take care of these pests properly and promptly. Shampoos designed for fleas and ticks will not take care of the problem alone.
Rinse, Rinse, Rinse! (and repeat, if necessary)
Rinsing is the most time consuming part of bathing a dog. Along with trying to convince your dog to stay in the tub. There are suction cup tethers you can purchase that will help. Another nice trick is to feed your dog in the tub so they are used to being in it for a GOOD reason, or smearing peanut butter on the tub wall to keep them occupied. You can always try this with your toddler too, come to think of it.
You always want to start out by getting the entire dog wet first, then apply the diluted shampoo mixture. If you have a really dirty dog, do a quick shampoo and rinse first and then repeat with a more thorough shampoo to get all the dirt off first. Shampoo the face and ears last, and rinse these first, so your dog doesn't get soap in its eyes. Always rinse from the top down. If you rinse the legs and chest first and then the top areas, you will be pushing dirty water and dander down onto the areas you just got clean. So start at the top and work your way down. Areas between the eyes and privates may need a little more attention to get clean and it's ok to use a cloth to help wipe the "gunk" off. Using rubber curry brushes (usually called Zoom Grooms) is a great way to lather up short coated breeds like Labs as it will help loosen the dead hair. Longer coated hair breeds need to be lathered by hand to prevent their coat from getting snarled up after you just spent all that time combing it out before the bath (you DID, right? RIGHT??). Use your fingers to lather the shampoo into the coat down to the skin level.
Rinse until no more soap or lather is seen and the water runs clean...then rinse some more. Use your hands to work the water into the coat to help rinse below the surface. Soap and dander that is left behind turns into itchy skin issues and a dull, flat coat. A clean coat is a shiny coat. If your water pressure is less than desirable, you will have to rinse twice as long to be sure the coat is clean.
Shake, Shake, Shake Senora...
Before taking a towel to your dog, squeeze all the excess water out of their coat, paying special attention to the ears and feet and tail, then encourage them to shake it off! Yes, this is going to get water everywhere, but its the dogs natural instinct to shake all that water out of their coat, and doing so actually will make the drying process much easier for you. So if they want to shake, let them. Shake with them. Have some fun! I love to bathe dogs with the music on...it keeps me in a good mood, and the dogs pick up on that mood.
Towel drying can also cause matting in hair breeds, so never "scrub" towel a breed with a long coat. Instead, use the towel to gently squeeze the water out of the dog, starting with their back and pat drying and squeezing the water down and out with the towel all over their body, legs, ears and tail. Many dogs love to run and rub their bodies on the carpet or furniture after a bath and as cute as this is, please discourage it by keeping them contained until they are dry. Rubbing a wet coat on carpet just takes us back to that whole "dump a bottle o' glue" theory again.
Human hair dryers are not meant to be used on dogs. The dryers we use in a professional grooming shop are not heated. They are forced room temperature air. Heat will not only ruin your dogs coat, it can burn their skin and cause them to overheat quickly. If you do not have a hair dryer specifically designed for dogs, it is best to let them air dry. Human hair dryers with a "cool" setting are ok in a pinch, but the air force of these dryers is often not strong enough to be worth the time and agitation to your dog when they will likely air dry in the same amount of time. When the coat is dry, brush and comb out again if it's a hair dog, and you are done! You can also brush and comb as you dry if you do have a suitable hair dryer to make a longer coat lay flat or a curly coat fluff up.
You are done! Your dog is clean! Give them a kiss and a treat. Not the vodka. That's for you. Tell them how wonderful they were, even if you are on the brink of murder because you are soaking wet from head to toe, your entire bathroom is covered in hair, you spilled the bottle of shampoo, and you have dog hair in your eyeballs. Next time, pay the groomer to do it for you. That's what we are here for. Also, consider tipping us. We appreciate it. It's how we purchase our vodka.
If your dog acts up during any part of this process, do not stop what you are doing. Tantrums that convince you to stop the unwanted process of being brushed, bathed or dry is basically teaching your dog that you are a huge wuss and they can get what they want by having a fit. Some parents could use this advice too, come to think of it. I know it's hard to see your dog unhappy, but it really IS best for them to learn to tolerate the process. It makes professional grooming much less stressful for them, and likely cheaper for you. Many salons DO charge a fee for dogs that won't behave because it takes us more time and energy to groom a dog that should be able to stand fairly well for a procedure that it is going to have to tolerate for the rest of its life. Puppies in particular can really carry on with fighting and crying...don't worry, you are not hurting anything but their feelings. They will get over it ;) Your groomer on the other hand, may not.
Homemade Skunk Solution
Mix the following ingredients in a plastic bucket:
1 quart of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide (open a fresh bottle)
¼ cup of Baking Soda
1-2 teaspoons of Liquid Soap (Softsoap and Ivory are recommended)
Note: for large dogs, the recipe can be doubled or you can add one quart of lukewarm water to ensure complete body coverage.
Note: The solution will sting if it gets into your dog’s eyes. If your dog’s face is heavily soiled, use a toothbrush soaked in solution to clean the hair around the eyes.
By Seri Dukart - Groomer