Monday, August 30, 2010

Bathing tips

Having gone through periods with my dog where he needed to be bathed on a weekly, sometimes bi-weekly, basis, I've got the bath thing down pat.
Sensi is so good for his baths. He doesn't like them, but does what I ask with sad, obliging eyes. The poor dude even pushes his head into me, trying to bury himself and seek comfort in the arms of the very woman who is forcing this awful bath on him.
Here's 10 tips to improve your dog's bathing experience. I guarantee that making the bath better for your dog will make the whole experience better for you as well.

1) Nix the outdoor hose idea unless your dog is caked in mud or something. If it's a normal bath, use a bathtub, lukewarm water and purchase a hose attachment for the faucet.

2) Buy a cheap mat for the bottom of the bathtub. Sensi really hates the sensation of sliding around on the slippery bathtub bottom, so a cheap plastic bath mat made a world of difference in his comfort level.

3) When asking the dog to enter the bathtub, drape a folded towel over the ledge — especially if your dog is older or has a hip or arthritis issues. The towel simply gives them some traction as they enter the tub. Once he's in, I take it away and save to use for drying him.

4) Don't wash the head. Dogs hate having water sprayed on their face and ears and the sensation is usually what prompts them to shake all that water off (bad for the person giving the bath). Plus, you don't want to get water into the ear canal and you don't want any soap getting into their eyes, nose or mouth. Wash the dog up to the back of his ears and wash from the chest as far up under the mouth as you can without getting soap on your dog's bottom lips. To rinse, simply hold the sprayer directly on or about a half-inch away from the dog's fur — this ensures the water doesn't spray up around the mouth but rinses specifically the areas you applied the soap to. (If you have a really small dog, that technique won't work.)

5) Do wash in between your dog's toes, both on the front and on the back. These are the dirtiest places on your dog's body and you must do them justice. I drip soap inbetween the toes, lift the paw and scrub with one finger between each toe. Then I put soap on two fingers, relift the paw and scrub between the toes on the underside too. Make sure the dog is positioned securely on the mat when lifting the back paws for cleaning; he'll appreciate having the extra traction as you take one of his leg supports away for a moment to wash.

6) Do seek out a good shampoo that does not irritate your dog. If the shampoo turns your dog's skin red during the bath, seek a gentler or hypoallergenic shampoo. Prescription shampoos and conditioners are available from your veterinarian, but a quality oatmeal shampoo is a gentle way to clean a sensitive dog too. Always use products made for dogs. Their skin's PH is different than a human's skin and they have different needs from shampoo and conditioning products because of it.

7) Do try to create a shake routine. For Sensi, as soon as I drop the spray wand, I quickly pull the see-through shower curtain closed and tell him "OK, shake it off." At first, he'd just stand there looking really sad and confused. Wait for it. You know the dog will eventually shake. After he does, praise him, pull back the curtain and get to towel-drying. Nowadays, Sensi knows the routine so well that it goes like clockwork. I turn the water off, pull the curtain closed, he shakes, I open the curtain, towel dry him and off he goes.

8) Do help your dog use towels after the bath. If your dog is like most dogs, he'll want to roll around and rub on stuff after the bath is over. Why not turn those behaviors into a drying routine by encouraging him to roll and rub on towels?
(Check out Sensi's dry-off routine in the video below)

9) Do bathe your dog regularly starting from a young age, and do touch your dog's paws often starting from a young age. The more you can get your dog accustomed to taking baths, the less stressful it will be for him. And one day, you may reach a point where, like me, you can point at the tub and tell your dog to get in and he just does — no coercing, no carrying, no spastic attempts to avoid the tub. Touching your dog's paws is important too, not just because you need your dog to let you touch them at length in order to wash them, but also because you need to be touching them for regular nail clippings too. So make a habit of just reaching out and massaging or holding your dog's paws a couple times a day.

10) Do reward your dog after the bath. I've used plain old treats, new toys or just games of fetch or tug to reward Sensi after a bath. I do the same thing for nail clippings — another procedure he really hates, but goes through with flying colors despite his complete Eeyore attitude. It's just getting your dog to realize that sometimes, experiences they hate are worth enduring because it ends with an experience they really, really love.

(Photo credit: My friend's Brittany, Ruger, peers into a mirror while he gets dried off after a bath.)


  1. Great tips for smooth going at bath time. One thing I've find helpful for getting paws clean, is to close the drain and let the tub fill an inch or two. Then the paws soak a bit for easier soap up.

    Some of my dogs lay down in the water! Tummy soak, anyone? Most dogs however, just stand in the water looking tragic.

  2. I like the way you described the dogs ... "stand in the water looking tragic." That's exactly the look in my dog's eyes during a bath!

    You're so lucky to have a dog that will lay down! Sounds like he must enjoy the water. You'd think Sensi, who has a bit of lab in him and loves to swim, would enjoy a bath, but no. I get the tragic look!

    Good tip on the paw washing. Sounds like you've bathed a dog or two in your day as well!