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How Often Can I Bathe My Dog? And Other Bathing Tips

Whether you’ve been a faithful dog owner for decades or you’re new to the world of sloppy puppy kisses and fuzzy paws, you probably figured out pretty quickly that dogs get dirty. Perhaps more problematic, especially for those of us with indoor dogs, dogs get stinky. It’s tempting to throw your furry best friend into the bathtub every few days to cut down on the smell, but how often can you actually bathe him without hurting him?

The answer depends heavily on your dog’s age.

How Often Can I Bathe My Puppy?

If your new puppy is eight weeks old or younger, you really shouldn’t bathe him at all. Puppies under the age of eight weeks have not fully developed the ability to regulate their body temperatures yet, and giving them baths can cause them to catch a chill, become sick or even die. If your puppy is eight weeks old or younger, he shouldn’t actually need a bath. If he does happen to get into something messy or stinky and you’re forced to wash him, don’t put him into the bath or use puppy shampoo.

Instead, take a cloth and soak it in warm water. Then simply wipe your puppy down with the warm, wet cloth. Get as much of the gunk off of him as you can, and then be sure to dry him thoroughly. Leaving a young puppy wet after washing him is very dangerous. It can lead to a deadly chill, especially in the cooler months of the year or if he’s inside the house with the air conditioner running.

Don’t Over-Bathe

Once your puppy hits the 8-week mark, you can then start bathing him in an actual bathtub, sink or doggy bath while using puppy shampoo. Even at this age, though, you don’t want to over-bathe him. Your puppy’s fur and skin are quite a bit more complex than you might think. Your puppy is covered in natural oils to keep his coat healthy and a natural substance that helps “waterproof” him as he ages.

Furthermore, underneath his fur, he’s covered in bacteria. That sounds like a horrible thing, but it actually isn’t. This is good bacteria that helps keep his skin perfectly pH-balanced.

Bathing your puppy too often can cause a lot of problems, including messing up his natural waterproofing, throwing off the pH balance of his skin and leaving him prone to skin irritation and infections. A general rule of thumb is to bathe puppies no more than once a month, unless they get super dirty from playing in a mud puddle, rolling in poop or something else that necessitates a cleaning.

How Often Can I Bathe My Adult Dog?

Dogs are like humans in one major way; the older they get, the less prone they are to getting filthy and stinky. As your dog ages, it’s safer to bathe him a little more often than once a month. Ironically, though, your dog will usually not need to bathe nearly as often as he gets older.

Dogs are self-groomers. They aren’t as fastidious about it as cats, but they still groom themselves. Unless your adult dog gets into something nasty or becomes super stinky, you shouldn’t have to bathe him that often. However, you can safely bathe an adult dog about once every two weeks, as long as you use gentle shampoo specifically made for dogs and take special care to dry him off and keep him warm until he’s 100% dry.

How Often Can I Bathe My Senior Dog?

For senior dogs, you’ll want to bathe them as infrequently as possible as the cold can hurt their joints and make them sick more easily than dogs in their prime. Furthermore, if your dog is one that doesn’t enjoy baths and gets fussy when taking one, a senior dog is much more likely to hurt himself struggling in the bathtub. If possible, it’s best to bathe senior dogs with spray-on, waterless shampoo that doesn’t require them to get wet at all.

Should I Bathe My Puppy if He Doesn’t Stink?

As we’ve already discussed, you don’t want to bathe a puppy too often, so if your puppy isn’t dirty or doesn’t stink, you may think you shouldn’t bathe him at all. For health reasons, this is fine. As long as your puppy is visually clean and doesn’t smell, there are no real health-related reasons for bathing him until he’s older.

However, once your puppy hits the 8-week-old mark, you’re going to want to bathe him anyway to get him used to the process. Another way puppies are like humans is that they learn most easily while they’re young. I’m sure you’ve likely heard the phrase, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” While this isn’t strictly true, it does have a bit of truth to it. The older a dog gets, the harder it becomes to teach him things he never learned as a puppy.

Learning the Process

At some point in your dog’s life, it’s inevitable that you’re going to have to give him a bath. If this point doesn’t come until your dog rolls around in some poop one day when he’s about five years old, the experience of bathing him is going to be fairly traumatic. A full-grown dog who’s never been bathed isn’t going to understand what’s happening to him.

It’s much better to prepare your dogs for being bathed by getting them used to the process as puppies. Stick to the guidelines outlined above. Wait until your dog is at least eight weeks old, and never bathe him more than once a month unless strictly necessary, but do bathe him. If you get your puppy used to taking baths while he’s still small, he’ll be much less likely to fight you on the process later on in his life. This is especially important if your dog is a large breed dog, as bathing large dogs for the first time as adults can be nearly impossible.

What Will I Need?

Ensuring you have everything you need before you start washing your puppy is imperative. You’ll want to have everything you plan on using within reach before you ever put your furry little friend into the water. If you forget something and have to leave in the middle of bathing, it’s going to get messy. By the time you get back from retrieving whatever you forgot, that puppy is going to be out of the water and running around doing the “after-bath crazies” all over your house.

But what exactly do you need?

Here are the basics:

A Bathtub, Sink, Puppy Bath or Other Large Container

Amazon has plenty of puppy- and dog-specific bathing tubs you can buy to use while washing your dog. The Booster Bath, Pet Gear Pup Tub and Lumcrissy Foldable Pet Bath are three of our favorites.

However, you can also use your own bathtub or kitchen/bathroom sink for washing your puppy, especially if he’s a small-breed dog. You want to find a space that’s large enough to give you room to maneuver but small enough so that your puppy feels safe and secure. You also want something sturdy and durable that doesn’t leak and isn’t going to be ripped or torn by your puppy’s nails if he decides he doesn’t want to cooperate.

Handheld Shower Spray, Spray Nozzle or a Cup

The easiest way to wet and rinse your pup is going to be with a handheld spray nozzle. If you’re using the bathtub, the AquaBliss TheraSpa Hand Shower is a great option. It has a long cord and provides you with plenty of slack and room to move. The Booster Bath comes with its own specific handheld spray attachments, which are life-savers, or you can go with a simple garden hose nozzle if you’ll be washing your dog outside.

If you’re in a pinch and don’t have any of these things, a cup will suffice. It is 100 times easier to rinse your dog with a handheld spray nozzle of some type though, so we highly recommend you invest in one as soon as your dog gets old enough to start taking baths.

Puppy/Dog Shampoo

It’s best if you get shampoo specifically formulated for your dog at his current stage of life. If your dog is still a puppy, he needs puppy shampoo. Adult dogs need dog shampoo, and senior dogs actually have shampoo that is better suited for them, as their skin gets more sensitive and less healthy as they age.

Here are our favorites for each stage of your furry best friend’s life:


Puppy Shampoo

Adult Dog Shampoo

Shampoo for Senior Dogs

A Brush, Mitten or Rag if Needed

We actually prefer to wash our dogs with just our hands, but if you prefer using a rag, mitten or brush to clean your dog, make sure you have that handy and ready to go.

A Warm, Dry Towel (or Two!)

When a dog gets out of the bath, the first thing he’s going to want to do is shake water all over the place and then take off running in what we like to call the after-bath crazies. If you’ve ever bathed a dog before, you know exactly what we mean – that thing dogs do where they run full-speed around your house, crashing into furniture and turning nearly upside down to scrub their heads against the floor.

Have a nice, warm towel near at hand to prevent as much of this as possible. We recommend the ColorYLife Dog Towel, the SINLAND Microfiber Oversized Hooded Bath Pet Towel or the Kole Ultra-Absorbent Pet Bath Towel.

The quicker and more effectively you dry your dog off, the less mess you’ll have to clean up and the less likely he’ll be to get sick or chilled. The BONAWEN Dog Bathrobe is a great after-bath robe you can put on your pup to make double sure he doesn’t catch the sniffles after a bath.

Treats

Let’s face it; there’s no better way to teach a dog to do something than by feeding it yummy, tasty treats. Have a few of your dog’s favorite treats sitting close by to give to him afterwards. This’ll go a long way towards helping ensure he cooperates even better during his next bath.

A Second Pair of Hands

Okay, so this last one is entirely optional, but we’ve definitely found bath time goes a lot smoother when there are two of us. This leaves one person to hold the dog and comfort him if needed and the other to do the washing and rinsing. Once your dog becomes accustomed to baths, you may be able to bathe him by yourself, but we highly recommend having a second person there to help, at least initially while both you and your dog are learning the process.

Things to Remember

Whether you wash your dog inside or outside, the area around the bath is likely to get very wet. If you’re washing your dog inside the house, make sure you’re in a room that isn’t likely to incur a lot of damage if your dog soaks everything around him. It’s also best to put down several extra towels on the floor and even to have a couple extras sitting nearby in case you need them.

If your dog has long hair, you might want to brush him before you bathe him. This’ll help get out any tangles or mats beforehand, which will make his fur much easier to wash once you get it wet. Also, don’t forget to test the water before you put your dog in it. There are few things more traumatizing to a dog than to be thrown in water that is either much too hot or much too cold because you forgot to check the temperature before putting him in.

Remember: If you wouldn’t want to get in the water or place your child into the water, you shouldn’t put your dog into it either. Because dogs are covered in fur, lukewarm water works best for them.

Where Should I Wash?

When you bathe your dog, you’ll want to get all his bits. The only place off-limits on a dog is his face/nose area. You also want to try to avoid getting water into his ears. You’ll want to be sure to get behind his ears, though, just like you would on a human. They can get stinky. Other than the face, nose and inner ears, you’ll want to wash everywhere else on your dog.

This includes his back, tummy, chest, neck and legs. It also includes the bits you don’t usually touch, like his butt, his (or her) private parts and his feet and toes, although he might not like that part a lot. You’ll be able to wash your dog much more easily if you get him wet first. Don’t try to put shampoo directly onto a dry dog; it won’t work out well.

Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Rinsing

When you’ve gotten every bit of your dog washed, start the rinsing process. This is very important! If you leave shampoo in your dog’s coat, it can do a lot of damage. At the very least, it can cause a powdery build-up that’ll cause your pup a lot of skin irritation, so be sure you rinse thoroughly.

When it comes to rinsing, err on the side of over-rinsing as opposed to not rinsing enough. Also, be sure you aren’t rinsing him with the dirty, sudsy water. You’ll want to rinse with clean, warm water. The easiest way to do this is with a handheld spray nozzle, but it can also be done with a cup. Whichever tool you’re using, make sure you get rid of all the soap all over your dog’s body before you let him out and dry him off.

Once Bath Time Is Over

Once your puppy is washed, rinsed and dried, be sure to give him several treats and tell him what a good boy he was. Experts have shown that dogs react more strongly to praise from their owners than they do even for the promise of treats, so shower your friend with affection and praise. This’ll help him associate baths with something nice and hopefully make future baths easier.