How to Bathe a Dog: Step-By-Step Tips

Dr. Ragen T.S. McGowan, PhD
By Dr. Ragen T.S. McGowan, PhD
Updated: 5/9/20242-4 minutes
dog getting a bath

Knowing how to bathe a dog is important for any dog owner. It’s true canines don’t need regular baths, but they do benefit from a good wash, at least once in awhile. 

Even if you leave dog bathing to a groomer, it’s helpful to be familiar with the basic steps. Pets can get dirty outside of business hours, and sometimes it may be more convenient (and affordable) to handle their grooming at home. 

Ready to get started? Read on for a step-by-step guide on how to bathe a dog, including tips on what to wash dogs with and where to bathe them.   

Why Should I Bathe My Dog?

Like other types of grooming, such as brushing and nail-trimming, dog bathing keeps your pet healthy.  

Rinsing them removes dirt and debris from their coat, and dog shampoo can help soothe and protect their skin. (Skin health is key to keeping dogs safe from bacteria and infections.)   

Preparing for Your Dog’s Bath

If you’re curious about how to wash a dog, the process will be easier if you make a few preparations first. 

Gather Your Supplies

If you’re wondering what to wash dogs with, use shampoo formulated for canines (dogs with sensitive skin may benefit from a hypoallergenic formula). It’s important to never use human shampoo on dogs, as it can irritate their skin. Gather other basic dog-bathing items as well. 

Choose a Good Location

Where to bathe your dog depends on its size. A small dog may fit in a sink (just make sure to cover the drain if you have a garbage disposal).  

Larger dogs need more space, however, making the bathtub a good option. If you have enough outdoor space and can leash your pet, this can also be a good choice. 

Get Set Up

It’s helpful to have your supplies and towels within reach before you start the bath. If you’re in the bathroom, shutting the door may also be a good idea, just in case your dog decides to bolt before you can dry them off.  

Dog Bathing Supplies

Here are some items you’ll need to wash your dog: 

  • Dog shampoo 

  • A pitcher for rinsing 

  • Towels 

  • Dog treats 

  • A nonslip mat (optional) 

  • Dog conditioner (optional) 

  • A hair dryer (optional) 

How to Bathe a Dog, Step-By-Step

1. Brush Your Dog

Before you rinse your dog, brush them to remove excess dirt and mats. Otherwise, matted hair may hold water and irritate their skin. 

2. Set Water Temperature

The ideal bath water temperature for dogs is warm, but not hot. Setting a comfortable temperature is important, especially for canines who aren’t necessarily excited about a bath.  

3. Rinse Your Dog

Rinse your dog’s body, offering praise and treats to keep them calm and happy. 

4. Apply Dog Shampoo

Before lathering your pet, check the instructions on the bottle. Some shampoos need to be diluted with water. Apply the cleanser and don’t forget easy-to-overlook parts such as their paws and other sensitive areas. Make sure to keep the shampoo out of their eyes and nose. 

5. Rinse Shampoo Thoroughly

Make sure you rinse all parts of your dog’s body at least once. You don’t want to miss a bit of shampoo hidden beneath your pet’s fur. Again, don’t forget areas like the paws, armpits and belly.  

If you’re asking, “Do dogs need conditioner?”, the answer is it’s optional. Dog conditioner might be a good idea if your canine has long hair or dry skin. Just make sure to completely rinse it off your pet’s coat.  

Apply conditioner at this step if you’re using it.  

6. Dry Your Dog

If you’re considering how to dry a dog, simply towel them off once the bath is over. They’ll probably shake several times to rid their bodies of excess water, so be prepared.  

Wondering, “Can you use a hair dryer on a dog?” You can try it but keep the dryer on the cool setting to avoid burning your pet. Also keep in mind your dog may not like the sensation or the sound of the dryer. Consider acclimating them by turning the hair dryer on for short periods in their presence, prior to the bath.  

Once you’re finished, don’t forget to provide treats and praise for a bath well done.  

How Often Should You Bathe a Dog?

How often you bathe your dog depends on your individual pet.  

Factors like hair length and activities (i.e., your dog rolled in something unpleasant) play a role. Generally, though, dogs don’t need to be bathed more than once per month. This goes for puppies as well.   

However, to prevent your pet from smelling between baths, brush their coat regularly, wipe their paws, belly and other dirty areas with a damp cloth, and keep their bedding, toys and other accessories clean. 

How to Wash a Dog’s Face

Unless your dog’s face is especially dirty, you don’t necessarily need to wash it. Soap can irritate sensitive areas like the eyes and nose. Instead, try wiping their face with a damp towel or face wipes to remove excess dirt. 

How to Bathe a Dog That Hates Water

If you’re wondering, “Why do dogs hate baths?” because your canine companion resists getting clean in the tub, there are a few things you can try. 

Ideally, you can teach your dog to enjoy water when they’re a puppy and more open to new experiences. If they don’t like it, however, here are a few tips to make the experience as pleasant as possible: 

  • Make sure the water isn’t too cold or too hot 

  • Give them treats as well as lots of encouragement and love 

  • Use a nonslip mat to stop them from slipping and sliding 

  • Desensitize them to the bath by welcoming them into a dry tub while offering treats  

  • Once they’re comfortable in the tub (this may take a few sessions), try turning the water on for just a few seconds at a time 

Why Do Dogs Get the Zoomies After a Bath?

There’s no research explaining why some dogs get a post-bath burst of energy known as “the zoomies.” One explanation is running around dries them off. It’s also possible that baths make some canines tense and they’re relieved the experience is over.  

Whatever the reason, if you’re wondering how to give a dog a bath because you’ve never done it, expect a possible energy surge when it’s over. 

For more expert tips on grooming your canine companion, explore our library of dog routine-care articles 

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