How To: Bathing Your Dog At Home

Updated: Feb 4

The basics of washing a dog, and how to go about doing it at home without making a mess of absolutely everything.

What have you gotten yourself into?! Washing a dog is not for the faint-hearted at the best of times, and doing it at home can test the limits of a pet parent's bond with their baby, when the tough really gets going.

You can breathe a sigh of relief though, because you've found a genuinely helpful article on that exact subject!

Before Starting


You'll want to start off by doing some basic work ahead of the bath, in order to make the whole ride smoother for yourself.

  1. Run the Bath - I know this sounds crazy, but you might be surprised how often people forget to fill the bath before the dog is brought into the bathroom. Most dogs start fighting when the bath turns on right next to them, so it's important to do ahead of time for the smoothest possible experience. You'll want the water to be just under medium-warm (think: warm, but slightly too cold to be comfortable or relaxing for a human shower), and mid-chest depth; over-filling or heating the water will make your dog uncomfortable, rather than relaxed. Don't add any soap to the water, or it'll cause trouble when you go to rinse.

  2. Get the towels out - Yet another oft-forgotten step, which will have you swimming through the bathroom by the end of it. Have 1 small/hand towel ready to do their face, and 2 regular towels ready to dry the dog. If Fido is likes to splash, hates water, or fights being bathed... have at least 2 extra regular towels handy.

  3. Get a big cup, shampoo, and a curry brush ready - Even if you have a fancy detachable shower head with 50k massage settings, you'll still want to have a big cup to use for rinsing. Dogs tend to hate the sound of a shower head as opposed to the feeling of water pouring over their coats, so using a cup will minimize the push back from Fido in the final stages of the bath.

I'm Prepped and Ready; Now What?


Congratulations on setting yourself up to have your bath go as smoothly as possible! Now the fun starts! There are a few steps between preparing yourself, and actually washing the dog; so let's go over them briefly.

  1. Get the comb out, and go to town - Before you get the dog into the bath, you'll want to comb and/or brush through their coat to loosen the undergrowth, break any mats, and allow the bath water to penetrate to the scalp. It's critically important that you not skip this step if your dog is matted, as a wet mat will tighten as it drys, and is very painful for your dog. To get mats out, make sure you have the right dematting tool or rake, and gently insert it under the mat and begin lightly 'sawing' through the mat, while gently pulling the tool towards you and away from the dog. Once a mat is sufficiently broken, you'll be able to pull it out barehanded, or comb it out with a steel comb.

  2. Use a cotton ball and some ear wash to wipe the ear leather clean of oils and debris. You can also use a Long Q-Tip, but be careful to only use it to remove debris you can see; going deeper into the ear canal can rupture the ear drum and cause deafness.

  3. Clip the nails - This is an intimidating step for most folks, and given how bloody it can get it isn't hard to see why. To start with, you'll want a good set of nail clippers (small, medium or large, depending on how thick your dog's claws are). I recommend getting the scissor type rather than the guillotine, as it's pretty difficult to get your dog's nail in a hole when he's wrestling you for it. Next, it's always handy to have a jar of styptic powder on hand. Styptic Powder is a clotting agent, usually orange in color, that effectively brings an immediate stop to nail bleeding. The drawbacks: it stains -- BADLY -- and it dissolves in water. Don't put it on before the bath, but if you get a bleeder keep it handy in case the bath doesn't stop it. It's best to use outside on the grass, to avoid any staining of furniture or carpet.

That's sounds like a lot, I know; and we haven't even gotten to the bath yet! In reality, the prep work, combing, ears and nails should take you ~15 minutes to get through.

The Bath


Alright, you've got the bath ready, your cup, shampoo, towels, and bath brush are ready; and the dog has been prepped. Now, comes the meat of the matter: the bath itself.

  1. Lift the dog into the tub - face the dog broadside-on, wrapping one arm around his chest, and the other around his hindquarters. This will support the dog's weight on both ends, helping him feel secure, and preventing flailing that can injure the dog or cause a big mess. Gently set him into the bath, bending at the knees so you don't injure your lower back.

  2. Get the coat wet all over - Encourage the dog to lay down in the bath, so you can saturate his coat. If he ignores you (as most will), use your cup to accomplish the job. We need the coat wet all over before shampooing can begin.

  3. Shampoo - Squirt a healthy amount of shampoo into your palm, and rub it into the dogs coat all over; avoiding the head and ears entirely. Using your fingertips, vigorously massage the shampoo into a lather. Take your time here, as it's important to get every nook and cranny, and it's going to be your dog's favorite part of the whole experience; what with the full body rub he's getting. After massaging the shampoo into a lather, use the curry brush to further massage the skin and coat. This will help the hair follicles expel dead, dry hair.

  4. Rinse - Rinsing a dog is just what it sounds like: you're working to get the lather out! And, when done properly, this step is likely going to be where you spend the majority of your time during the bathing process. Not rinsing the shampoo all the way out can result in: chemical burns, hot spots, rashes, oily scalp and coat, and itchiness, among other problems. Using the cup in one hand, and your bare fingers on the other, begin at the back of the dog's head, and rinse the coat clear. You can tell the coat is clear, when you run your hand firmly down it, and it 'skips' lightly. It'll be a subtly, squeaky clean-ness that you feel, rather than see, or hear. Don't forget to check the armpits and groin, since these areas are overlooked often, despite being some of the most sensitive on the dog's body.

  5. Rub-wash the face - Dip that hand towel you have ready into the bath water, and after wringing it out, use it to rub all over your baby's head; paying special attention to get any eye-goopies, crust on or around the nose, and debris stuck to the lips. We wash the face this way, primarily to prevent water getting into the dog's ear canals, but it's also super helpful because dogs (like any reasonable creatures) don't want to drown; ergo, they will fight like mad to avoid having water run over their heads/faces since they don't know better.

  6. Drain the tub - If your dog sheds (few don't), you'll want to have a drain protector to drop over the drain as soon as it's unplugged. If you don't know what I mean, check it out here. Simply pop the cork on the drain, and drop this guy over the drain, so the round part is pointed upwards. It'll allow the tub to drain quickly, while catching all the hair that would normally clog your pipes. Piece of advice here: wait until the tub is fully drained, and the dog's been dried with a towel before you try rinsing it.

  7. Dry the dog - Once your drain has been popped, lift the dog out of the tub and onto a towel. Using the other of the two you prepared, thoroughly rub the water out of the coat. As a work-for-my-supper in-home groomer, I use a high-density viscose towel (street name: Sham-WOW!) which is super absorbent, and sucks water out of a coat like a magnet. It drastically cuts down on drying time, which, as a practical issue, saves your furniture when the dog goes to 'shake' once he's free.

If you have a high-velocity dryer, or if your dog does alright with a handheld hair dryer (do not use the hot setting), go ahead and grab a dry hand towel to keep rubbing his coat, while moving the dryer back and forth continuously.

At this point, you're done! Mission: Accomplished. Be sure to take Fido out for a potty break, as this whole experience will have stimulated his bowels. Otherwise, you've survived the dog's bath with your sanity intact; congratulations!


Have you found this article helpful? Drop me a comment below!

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