How Often Should I Bathe My Dog?

By Chyrle Bonk, DVM November 07, 2019

No matter how much you love your best friend, there always comes a time when their odor might have you looking elsewhere for companionship. The easy fix to a doggy odor problem is a bath. But since dogs can’t handle daily showers like humans can, dog parents often wonder how often to bathe their dog. It’s true that you can over-bathe your dog and cause all kinds of skin problems, but under-bathing comes at a smelly price. Let’s look at the factors involved in determining a bathing schedule that is just right for your pooch.

How Often Should I Bathe My Dog?

The frequency of bathing a dog depends on their breed, hair coat, lifestyle, and dedication of the dog parent. It’s also going to depend on the products that you use and the bathing method. Some dogs can be bathed as often as once a week, while others need to wait a couple of months between dips in the tub.

Who knew that there was so much that went into determining how often to bathe a dog? But the fact of the matter is, it’s not so clear cut. Some dog parents tend to be too cautious and bathe their dogs too frequently just to make sure they don’t stink. However, bathing too frequently can be detrimental to the skin and hair’s natural oils which can lead to problems. Every dog is different and so is every dog parent for that matter. Your dog’s bathing schedule will depend on both of you and the following factors.

  • Hair coat type

A dog’s hair coat comes in different lengths, densities, and textures. That means they trap and hold dirt, debris, and oils differently. It’s not as simple as the longer the hair, the more frequent the baths. In fact, longer haired breeds actually need their natural oils to keep their flowing locks healthy. However, you may need to bathe these longer haired dogs more often if they get dirty or matted. Same goes for thick haired breeds like Akitas or Malamutes.

  • Lifestyle

Whether your dog is indoor, outdoor, or a little of both is going to affect how often they need to be bathed. Outdoor dogs tend to be dirtier, so baths may be essential to keep them clean. However, indoor dogs are always in your presence and may need to bathe more often to keep their smell pleasant. A dog’s activity level also has a great affect. Active dogs are more apt to get into dirty situations, like digging holes or rolling in garbage, while more sedentary dogs may stay cleaner simply by keeping out of trouble.

  • Health conditions

Dogs with skin allergies or other health conditions may need more frequent bathing to relieve itching or less frequent bathing to prevent itching. It all depends on the condition and the products used for bathing. It’s best to discuss bathing frequency and products with your veterinarian if your pup suffers from any health issues.

  • Your schedule

That’s right, your dog’s cleanliness also depends on your schedule. Even if you’re not the one doing it, you still have to schedule the groomer and take them in. It’s also up to you to brush your dog in between baths. How often and how well your dog gets brushed can be a major factor in how often they need baths as well.

If you still have questions about determining the right bathing frequency for your dog, ask your veterinarian or a groomer for help.

How Do Wild Dogs Keep Themselves Clean?

Of course, your dog’s cleanliness doesn’t rest solely on your shoulders. Every dog has some natural skills to keep themselves clean, skills that their wild relatives use all of the time. You may have noticed your dog displaying some of these behaviors, but did not completely understand what they were about. Some of these behaviors include:

  • Licking

Dogs often lick their fur in order to remove dirt and to spread the natural oils around. You may especially notice them licking after they’ve gotten wet or dirty.

  • Nibbling

Nibbling is another cleaning behavior in which dogs use their small incisor teeth to pluck debris from their hair coat. It also stimulates oil production that they then spread down the hair shaft as they nibble along to give their coat a glossy shine.

  • Rolling

A dog’s mouth isn’t the only part that gets in on the cleaning process, in fact their whole body plays a part. Rolling in the grass, carpet, or even sand can help free their hair coat from debris and loose hair. Just be sure that what they’re rolling in isn’t smellier than they are!

  • Shaking

Finally, we’re all familiar with the wet dog shake because it usually seems to be well aimed in our direction. Dogs shake when they’re dry too! This is their way of removing loose dirt, hair, and debris.

When Is It Necessary to Bathe a Dog?

Since dogs have so many methods to keep themselves clean, you may be wondering whether you really need to ever bathe them at all, but there are certain instances when a bath should be considered a requirement.

  • Harmful substances

If your pup gets into harmful substances, like pesticides, you definitely want to clean it off. Not only are some chemicals harmful if swallowed, they can burn and irritate the skin. The longer they have in contact with the substance, the more severe the consequences.

  • Hug test

If you’re feeling like your pup’s odor is too strong to warrant a hug, it’s time for a bath. Dogs thrive on contact and affection from you. If their smell in getting in the way, you are better off breaking out the shampoo and giving your dog a bath.

  • Relieve allergies

Even though a bath usually doesn’t cure allergies, it can definitely reduce the itching for a while, especially if you use specialized bath products like lavender or oatmeal shampoo.

  • Accidents or extra filthiness

Potty accidents or a day spent swimming in the lake should bring on a bath. Not only do these events create a smell, you also don’t want your dog bringing unnecessary filth into your home.

What Items Should I Have Ready Before I Bathe My Dog?

It’s time to get down to it, you’ve decided that a bath is in order for your dog, but where do you start? Having a selection of items on hand will help ensure that your dog’s bath times goes swimmingly and that you won’t have to improvise with something potentially harmful.

First and foremost is a dog-safe shampoo. This can either be a soap that is specifically formulated for pets or a tear-free baby shampoo. If your pup has special needs like skin allergies or hot spots, consider a shampoo meant especially for those issues. You’ll also want to have a non-slip mat, especially if you’re bathing in the sink or bathtub since the last thing that you want is your soapy, nervous pooch slipping and sliding around. Have a stack of towels handy and a brush or two for detangling hair pre and post-bath.

Bathing your dog doesn’t take a lot of special items, but having them within reach before you start the bathing process will cut down on the amount of time you’re scrambling around looking for them with a wet dog ready to bolt at any second. Don’t forget the treats! Reward your pup for having some good, clean fun. For dogs that need a little more encouragement, you may try a lick pad with peanut butter or other interactive toy to offer a distraction.

How To Bathe A Dog

There’s more than one way to wash a dog. How you choose to do it will depend on the amount of time you have and the set up that is available to you. Where ever you choose to bathe your dog, try to keep it consistent, especially if your pup is on the nervous side. Sticking to the same spot will help them know what to expect and help decrease their bath time jitters. We will discuss the steps for bathing indoors and outdoors

Bathing indoors

For smaller dogs, try the kitchen sink. Larger bathroom or utility sinks will work as well, or you can use the bathtub if you don’t mind getting down onto the floor.

  • Step 1: Brush it out

After you’ve gathered all of your things at the designated bathing spot, take this opportunity to brush your pup, especially if they have longer hair. Brushing before the bath will help remove tangles and mats that may become worse when wet. If your dog is prone to ear infections, you may consider putting a cotton ball in their ears to keep water out.

  • Step 2: Just add water

Sink sprayers make great doggie shower heads. If that’s not an option for you, you might want to look into a shower sprayer faucet attachment that works in the same manner. Otherwise, using a good old-fashioned plastic cup works to get your dog’s hair wet all over.

  • Step 3: Work up a lather

With your soap of choice, apply a light lather in circular motions starting at the bottom of your dog and working your way up. Start with the paws and legs, then work to the belly, sides, back, neck and finish with the head. Working from the bottom up will help cut down on shaking and soap suds from flying all over. You also want to leave the face for last to decrease the amount of soap that runs into your pup’s eyes, nose, and mouth.

  • Step 4: Rinse and repeat (if necessary)

Rinse your dog water in the reverse order. Start at the head and work down to the paws and rinsing until the water runs free of suds. Pay special attention to the belly, chest and groin area as these spots can be hard to see and completely rinse out.

  • Step 5: Dry

Using your stack of towels, start to dry your dog. You can do this however you find works best, but sometimes draping towels over your dog’s entire body will help prevent shaking. Remove as much water as you can and allow the air to do the rest. If it’s cold out or your pup has very long, thick hair, you can try a doggy blow dryer to remove any remaining moisture. Give your pup a thorough brushing once they’re dry to prevent matting and snarls.

Bathing outdoors

‘In the summertime when the weather is hot’ you may want to take bath time outdoors for a fun change up.

  • Step 1: Find An Outdoor Spot

A location with a hard surface, such as concrete or a deck is the ideal spot to bathe. Avoid locations with grass or dirt because the bath water can make the ground muddy. A muddy ground will make your job whole lot harder.

  • Step 2: Use A Tub, Pool, Or Shower Head Attachment

You can use a kiddy pool or a large tub to give your dog a bathe outside. However, you can also give your pup a shower by attaching a shower head to your garden hose.

  • Step 3: Get Water Outdoors

Attach your water hose to an indoor sink and then run the hose outside to fill the pool or tub. Select a comfortable water temperature.

  • Step 4: Use The Bathing Indoor Steps Above

Once you get your outdoor bath site figured out, the bathing procedure is the same as the steps used for indoor bathing. The only difference is to keep in mind how you’ll be discarding the bath water. Since the water won’t be going down an indoor drain inside your house, you might want to choose a safe biodegradable shampoo.

How To Wash A Dog’s Face

Most dogs will tolerate a bath, but call it quits when it’s time to wash their face. And understandably so. Nobody likes to get blasted with water in the face or have stingy soap run into their eyes. Quiet your dog’s face washing fears with these tips.

First of all, don’t spray water directly into your dog’s face. Instead, direct the sprayer to the top of their head using low pressure. You more or less want the water to just run over their head and face rather than to spray them. Apply a small amount of soap to your hand or a washcloth and then put it on their face. Don’t dump shampoo directly on the hair. Gently massage the soap in avoiding the eyes, nose, ears, and mouth. Immediately rinse by having water run down their head and face. Towel dry gently. Use a corner of your towel or a paper towel to dry the inside of their ears and gently wipe the nose and eyes with a damp cloth.

To Blow Dry or Air Dry, That is the Question

Now that you finished bathing your dog, the next step is to dry them out. Should your blow dry or air dry? Both blow drying and air drying is fine as long as you know the ins and outs of both methods. Whichever way you choose to go, always towel dry your dog first to remove as much water as possible.

You’re okay to go the air drying route if the temperature is warm enough to keep them from shivering. Air drying works great for shorter or thinner haired dogs. It’s also the way to go if your pup has any sores, wounds, or a fear of blow dryers. Issues with air drying can arise if your dog has a thick hair coat that doesn’t get completely dry, especially in hard to reach places like the groin, armpits, and under the tail or collar. Thick hair coats tend to trap moisture next to the skin, which if left there, can lead to hot spots and infections. Always make sure your pup is completely dry in all of those places or continue toweling until they are.

Blow drying will definitely speed up the drying process, so it’s a good choice if the weather is cold and your dog is shivering. Using a doggie blow dryer is preferable, but a human dryer can be used in a pinch. Just be sure to keep the dryer a couple of inches away from the fur and to always keep it moving to prevent burns. You may use it on the cool setting and rely solely on the air movement for added safety. Don’t aim the dryer directly at your dog’s face and make sure they are comfortable with it before you proceed.


Bathing your dog is one of those dog parent chores that can either be really fun or slightly nightmarish. Prepping yourself with the proper items and equipment and making it fun and rewarding for your dog will help you get through bath time with less suds on the floor and more fluffy nice smelling cuddles in the end.

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