To bathe or not to bathe? That is the question! For pooch parents, there's no one-size-fits-all answer to be found regarding a dog's ideal bath schedule. Some pet parents insist on a monthly trip to the groomers as part of basic hygiene, others are much more laid-back, preferring an occasional wash down with the garden hose. But who's in the right?
Well, it depends on a multitude of factors - predominantly, dog breed and coat type. Given that every pup is unique, today's dog-friendly guide will outline the various sides to canine hygiene so that each dog owner can make a tailored decision about their four-legged friend's bath ritual.
Signs Your Dog Needs a Bath
The most obvious tell-tale sign that your dog is in need of a good scrub down is if they stink! A solid 60% of pet parents resort to the classic sniff test in deciding when to bathe their dog. And, let's face it, no one wants to skimp on puppy cuddle time because their furry friend is overdue for a bath. So if your pup is smelling especially ripe, it's best to pop them in the tub.
Coincidingly, if there is visible dirt or debris on their coat, it's best to wash your dog down with soap and water. If your canine companion is particularly outdoorsy and prone to roll in the mud at every opportunity, this may make bathtime a more routine part of your life. Also, we can all attest to our pets having bathroom issues at some point or another. If your pup's rear-end fur is looking particularly uncleanly, a bath may be in order to keep them looking and smelling fresh.
The third major marker to signal a bath is skin irritation. If your dog is excessively scratching, a good wash could help relieve any skin-related ailments and manage dermatological issues. This factor ties back to the consideration of coat type as well (but more on that later).
Bath Time 101
Your average healthy pup needs a bath anywhere between every one to three months. But what should a home bath time ritual consist of if you don't want to book an appointment with a dog groomer? Here's a basic breakdown to help make bath time seamless and enjoyable for you and your dog:
- Gather Supplies ahead of time so you aren't left trying to corral your dog in and out of the tub. By getting your dog shampoo, towels, and treats on hand, you can ensure a less frantic bath time experience for all involved.
- Brush Your Dog First to remove tangles, dirt, debris, and loose hair beforehand, as they are more difficult to remove when wet.
- Use Lukewarm Water instead of hot water! Dogs' skin is sensitive and should only be bathed in lukewarm water for maximum comfort. For reference, anything over 38°C (about 10o°F) is too hot.
In the Tub
- Be Gentle and reassure your dog with a calm, soothing demeanor. If you're stressed, your dog will likely be too! Also, to keep your pup from frantically slipping and sliding around the tub, put down towels or a shower mat in and around the bathing area to help them feel more stable.
- Avoid Eyes and Ears during your pup's shampoo and rinse. Due to canines' L-shaped ear canal, moisture can easily get trapped and cause inner ear infections. By protecting these sensitive areas from soap and water, your pup will feel much more at ease.
- Rinse Thoroughly until you stop seeing any bubbles in their fur to ensure all soap is washed out. Leftover residue from shampoo due to poor rinsing can lead to skin irritations and a matted coat.
- Avoid Brushing a Wet Coat. After patting your dog down gently with a towel, let your pup air dry or use a low heat setting on your blow-dryer before brushing them.
- Post-Bath Treats are a must! Reward your dog to create positive bath time associations, and promptly cuddle up with your squeaky clean canine!
Coat Care and Breed-Specific Concerns
A dog's coat will determine not only how often to put a bath on the books but also what products you should use. Overarchingly, dog shampoos with oatmeal or aloe formulas are best for dogs with normal or dry skin. However, when it comes to dealing with extra-oily coats (seborrhea) and other skin-specific conditions, seeking out a medicated shampoo from your veterinarian is typically the best route.
The short, wiry coats of dogs like Pitbulls and Weimaraners are generally low maintenance for their owners, requiring less frequent baths and minimal grooming. For example, just a handful of baths a year is usually sufficient.
Hypoallergenic, longer-haired breeds like Poodles, Shih Tzus, and Terriers will tend to collect dirt faster, so a monthly bath is a good baseline to aim for. Also, the specialized care of soft and curly dog hair often requires routine grooming from a professional to keep that coat looking luxurious!
Thick or Oily Coats
Breeds with thick coats (ex. Siberian Husky) shed constantly, which amplifies the need for daily brushing but often cuts back on the need for more recurrent baths. Most often, that classic "dog smell" odor has more to do with how oily a dog's coat is than the hair thickness.
Retrievers, for instance, have extra oil in their coat which may necessitate a bath every few weeks instead of every couple of months. Plus, more active dogs will tend to develop odors faster to begin with. If that signature "dog smell" becomes overpowering to the point that it is transferring to blankets, pillows, and the like, you may want to revamp your dog's bath routine.
What About Dogs That Hate Water?
Since only 24% of pet parents say they experience no frustrations when bathing their dog, it's important to recognize that bath time can be an exasperating process for many dog owners – especially for those with a water-adverse pup.
Though you can attempt to help make bath time a little more approachable for your dog by gradually acclimating them to water in short bursts with lots of treats as a distraction, sometimes dogs are plain scared of having a bath because it feels overstimulating or they have negative associations with water from a past traumatic experience.
Some tips to consider before you ditch the whole bathtime endeavor for pet wipes or waterless shampoo would be to build more positive associations around the bathtub. For instance, temporarily move your dog's food bowl into the bathroom to build more comfort in that environment. Perhaps put some smears of peanut butter in or on the side of the bathtub. After cementing these positive rewards, try turning on the water and seeing your dog's reaction to the sound. If you can gradually work up to actually getting them in the water in a positive, playful state rather than an agitated one, you're golden!
At the end of the day, if this desensitization strategy isn't working, you can always consult your vet or a professional dog groomer about the next steps and alternatives for pups with severe bath anxiety.
Finally, it's important to remember that over-bathing your dog is just as much a concern as under-bathing your dog. Bathing your dog more than once a week will quickly dry out their skin and damage its moisture barrier, creating itchy, irritated skin.
In conclusion, caring for your dog's coat goes far beyond aesthetic appeal; it's a crucial component of their overall health and happiness. Though striking a happy medium may take some trial and error, a tailored bath time schedule will ensure both the comfort and cleanliness of your unique canine companion.
On that note, how does your dog feel about bath time? Leave a comment below!