I’ve bathed hundreds of dogs in my life. This includes not only those from my clinic, but also routine bathing of my own dogs. From the lips of others, I’ve heard a variety of tales about this mythical event referenced as dog bath-time. Most are stories of horror about wet dogs trampling through the house and leaving soggy footprints on couch and bed alike. Some are whispered fervently behind a raised hand – dogs so wiggly that their owners must don rain-slickers or else they come away from the whole event sad and soaked.
All joking aside, most people look forward to their dog’s bath-time with a mix of dread and annoyance. I can’t promise that your dog will love their baths after reading this article (my 9 year old still only tolerates them), but I can promise that both of you will come out the other side clean and dry – relationship intact.
Positive reinforcement through treats and other forms of praise can help your dog get acclimated if they have an aversion to the tub. Try not to make it a large production. If you have to chase your dog around the house, you’re doing it wrong. If all else fails, have them come to you and sit, treat them and then pick them up and carry them manually to your tub. Too large? Slip their leash over their head and lead them calmly. After over a year of training with Masi, he is still hit or miss whether or not he will follow me to the bathroom.
Most people bathe their dogs in the bathtub. The first house we were in did not have a detachable spraying showerhead. After getting one in this house, I’ve found that it is a deal breaker for further bathing adventures. There is no comparison with efficiency between a hand held sprayer and a large cup full of water.
Smaller dogs can be placed into the kitchen sink as long as they don’t try to jump out. Sometimes the elevation can help inspire them to be less wiggly. Also make sure to disinfect your sink thoroughly afterwards.
This is the most exciting part for me. Having two large male dogs means that having an efficient bathing procedure is important. I feel like I’ve finally got all of the right tools to make my own dog bath-times successful.
- Three towels – One for the floor, one for each dog. I make sure that I get a super-absorbent/plush one for Enzo. His hair is like a sponge.
- Shampoo – There are so many out there! I like to stick with ones that have very subtle scents. I don’t mind commenting on individual shampoo questions, but to keep it simple, I’ll just list the ones that I love the best.
- Hylyt from Bayer: This is my hands-down favorite. Not only is Bayer a well-known company but they really struck a gold mind with this shampoo. The smell is a subtle Hawaiian (though it doesn’t have an advertised name – this is just my description). It isn’t perfume-y or strong. It is soap-free and Soap-free just means that it isn’t as irritating to the eyes/skin as other shampoos with soap can be. Emollients help to moisturize the skin. Overall, it is a good balance and their coats gleam after I bathe them with it. They’ve also added fatty acids to help “replenish” the epidermal barrier.
- Avenalyt from Bayer: This is another routine cleansing shampoo. Similar to Hylyt, the differences are that it isn’t soap-free and it is an aloe and oatmeal base. Labeled for dogs with itchy/dry or normal skin. The scent is more citrus than anything. I’ve been told that more people think that their dogs smell cleaner longer with this than Hylyt. In my experience of bathing my dogs, I’ve found the opposite was true. I wasn’t impressed with the scent and they always smell cleaner longer with Hylyt. Just my opinion.
- Allergroom from Virbac: Virbac is another solid company that produces quality products. Allergroom is soap-free and has emollients added. It has a more subtle scent than Avenalyt, still citrusy. Probably my least favorite of the three, but still a solid shampoo. Our groomer used this in the past when Hylyt was unavailable.
- Relief/Relief HC from Bayer: Relief is labeled for “rapid relief of itching and flaking,” and has 1% pramoxine and 1% hydrocortisone (the HC version only). It is also soap-free with Omega 6 fatty acids added and oatmeal based. It’s a powerhouse for sensitive/itchy skin. It has a mild, sweet scent. I’ve found that though it does provide some relief for itching, that the effects don’t last long. I use this on Masi (and occasionally Enzo) when he doesn’t have an active skin infection though his allergies are still bothering him.
- Ear Cleaner – Epi Otic from Virbac: This is my favorite ear cleaner and I’m so disappointed that it is no longer available. My biggest problem with ear cleaners is that they are either: too soapy or too smelly. EO is neither. It has a subtle “apple blossom” scent that despite it’s name isn’t annoying. It also persists for weeks after use. It’s also a drying solution, which is important if you are using after bathing. Ear cleaning recommendations can vary by species, size, hair length, etc. However, for my dogs who aren’t prone to ear infections, I find that using an ear cleaner/drying solution after I bathe them (a couple of times per month) is adequate. The drying aspect is most important for an ear cleaner because moisture in the ears is a big cause of ear infections. I use an ear cleaner (as opposed to cotton balls) to help prevent against ear infections caused by moisture retained from bathing. Not sure what I’ll do after I run out. Having gone through about 15 different ear cleaners for work, I haven’t found one that I like.
- Zoom Groom – Enzo is a crazy-shedder. Most of his dog bath-time is me getting as much hair off of him as possible. The Zoom Groom is a new product to me and so far I’m really loving it. It isn’t as effective as the Furminator for removing his hair but it is more versatile and it isn’t ineffective by any means. It can be used wet or dry (though I’ve found that I like it more wet) and it doubles as a massaging product which the dogs seem to like.
After getting them into the tub, I turn the water on to a tepid temperature. If you have a dog that has itchy, inflamed skin, cooler (as opposed to warm) water is best for them. This doesn’t mean cold. It just means tepid. I hit the stopper in the tub and while I wet them down, I let the tub fill to just cover their paws. I call this their ‘fancy paw-soaking time.’ Really, it’s just the only way I’ve found to get inbetween their paw pads clean without scrubbing them raw. Especially during the rainy season when mud cakes everywhere. This fancy paw soak has saved my life.
After I wet them down, I turn the water off (water conservation and it seems less stressful for them to not have to either be sprayed by errant bands of water from the shower head or have the faucet on full force. I’ve tried different methods for the soap, but what works best for me is to just squirt a line along their back. For medicated or really concentrated soaps, this may make it more difficult to rinse out but I think that since I’ve got a long massage time that I don’t really have an issue. I use the Zoom Groom and massage the soap around, applying more if needed for the undercarriage or legs. For Masi, this process is fairly quick. Enzo’s hair is longer and thicker so I massage with the Zoom Groom for longer. Both of them get foot scrubs and I usually spend a few minutes picking dirt and mud out of their paw pads. Mine are sensitive (as I imagine most are) and I will rotate feet if they act like they are uncomfortable.
If Masi is getting a medicated shampoo, I leave it on for 10 minutes. During this time I am massaging his feet or using the ZG to massage his body so that he doesn’t get too bored. I’ve found this works pretty well. I’ve heard of people with smaller dogs (who are using medicated shampoos), wrapping their dog in a towel and just carrying them around for 10 minutes while the shampoo does its magic. Whatever works.
Rinsing needs to be thorough but goes fast. I use the zoom groom for this too. Especially on Enzo because – that hair! – it’s just so thick.
The ear rinse is pretty much their least favorite part. So I try to be sneaky and use it when they least expect it. They love being dried off and I’ve toyed putting an old hair dryer in there because not only does it cut their dry time (still time consuming but much quicker than air-drying) but they love it.
- I’ve never had to use a non-slip pad in the tub. It’s kind of rough at the bottom anyway. However, I know that some dogs will benefit from being able to have that extra traction. So, if your dog “claws” or generally acts unstable, you might think about adding one for their comfort.
- Enzo is getting older and as such I recognize that I can’t clean his feet as vigorously or hold his leg up to clean his feet for as long as I can Masi. Pay attention to your older guys. Some of their reluctance with the process might be discomfort in their joints.
- I haven’t experimented with a ton of shampoos. I tend to stick with what I like. What I don’t like about some commercial shampoos that I have used is: difficult to get rinsed, the cloying smell, a general ‘meh’ performance. I recommended the above because of the overall functionality and attention to coat health that they display.