Bathing Your Dog

There are no firm guidelines for how often to bathe a dog. The quality and texture of the dog's hair (whether it's long, silky, curly, smooth, or wiry) will determine how much dirt it collects and how frequently the dog should be bathed. Your dog's lifestyle and activities will also influence how often she gets dirty and needs a bath. If you own a dog with special coat requirements, you may wish to consult a breeder or a professional groomer for specific recommendations.

The usual reasons for bathing a dog are to remove accumulated dirt and debris, to facilitate the removal of dead hair at shedding time, to eliminate doggy odor in dogs with oily coats, and to improve the appearance of the coat. Routine bathing is not necessary for the health of the coat or the dog. In fact, frequent bathing can rob the coat of its natural sheen and make it harsh and dry. For most dogs, regular brushing will keep the coat and skin in good condition and eliminate the need for frequent baths.

Before bathing a dog, brush out all snarls and tangles and remove mats. If this step is omitted, the wet, matted hair will set and be most difficult to manage.

It is important to select a shampoo labeled “for dogs.” The pH of canine skin is neutral (7 to 7.4). Most shampoos for humans are on the acid side and are therefore unsuitable for dogs. There are a number of good commercial dog shampoos on the market for white dogs and dogs with other coat colors. Do not use human hair dyes or coloring agents on dogs.

Household disinfectants must never be used on dogs. These chemicals are absorbed through the skin and can cause death.

Except on warm, sunny days, baths should be given indoors using a bathtub or basin. Place a rubber mat on the bottom of the tub or basin to keep the dog from slipping and panicking. Plug her ears with cotton to keep water out-wet ear canals are predisposed to infection.

Add some lukewarm water to the tub, then place the dog in the tub. Begin by washing her face with a damp cloth. Lift up the ear flaps and wipe the undersurface to remove dirt, wax, and dead skin. Using a bath sprayer, wet the dog thoroughly with warm water. If necessary, bury the nozzle into her hair to get to the skin.

Then work the shampoo in by hand, one section at a time. Be sure to lather all of the dog-not only her back and sides, but also her neck, chest, belly, legs, feet, and tail. If the coat is badly soiled, rinse lightly and then repeat the sudsing process.

Remove the shampoo by rinsing the coat with the bath sprayer. Don't forget between the toes. It is essential to rinse and rinse until all the soap is out of the coat. Residual soap makes hair dull and tacky. It may also cause contact dermatitis if left on the skin.

Commercial coat conditioners are often used to bring out the beauty of the coat for show purposes. Do not use vinegar, lemon, or bleaches; they are either too acid or too alkaline and will damage the coat. Some exhibitors add Alpha-Keri bath oil to the final rinse to give luster to the coat. The concentration is 1 teaspoonful (5 ml) per quart (1 l) of water.

After the dog has been thoroughly rinsed, squeeze out as much water as you can by hand. Allow the dog to shake, and then blot her dry with towels. You can encourage your dog to shake by blowing gently at her ear.

You can complete the drying process with a good air blower. Commercial dog-drying units are very effective when used as directed. Do not use your own hair dryer on high heat. This damages the coat and may burn the dog's skin. Use handheld dryers only on low heat and slant them to keep the column of air from blowing directly on the dog's skin. Some dogs may be frightened by the noise and blowing air. If this is the case, do not force the dog to submit, as this can lead to trauma and problems later on.

After the bath, keep the dog indoors until her coat is completely dry. This can take several hours.

This article is excerpted from “Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook” with permission from Wiley Publishing, Inc.