Tub Time Tips

Making bath time for your dog effective and positive

dog bathing

When your pet needs a bath, it may seem easier to drop Toby off at the groomer’s and let a pro deal with the hairy sink and the flying suds. But whether you have a long-legged Great Dane or a feisty little Chihuahua, these tips may just give you the confidence to do the job yourself.

“The goal is to create a positive experience, so bath time doesn’t become a battle of wills.” Lisa Monical, The Groomery, Medford

Lisa Monical, professional groomer and owner of the Groomery in Medford, says if this is a new endeavor for one or both of you, the goal is to create a positive experience, so bath time doesn’t become a battle of wills. “It’s important to be calm while you’re bathing your pet. If you’re feeling anxious, your pet will be nervous and jumpy. If you act confident and treat them in a matter-of-fact way, they will feel more comfortable with what you’re doing. Lots of praise and a few treats will reinforce it as a happy time.”

Size matters

Kitchen or utility sinks work well for smaller breeds because using a sprayer makes thorough rinsing easiest. For larger dogs, Monical says, “The bathtub works, but it can be hard bending over. Some people take their dogs in the shower with them, but if you do, be sure to rinse them thoroughly with a sprayer, getting all the soap out from under the belly and between the legs because that will cause skin irritations.”

If none of these suggestions work at home, you may want to check for a do-it-yourself dog bath facility where they provide the raised tub, all bathing and grooming supplies and cleanup for a fee.

Supplies and products

Gather your supplies first. You will need a large towel, shampoo, conditioner if you choose, and an appropriate brush for your dog’s coat. If the tub is slippery, place a mat or towel in the bottom for them to stand on. Use a perforated drain cover to catch hair. “Always brush your dog before bathing,” advises Kristi Riverman, owner of Happy Tails Pet Wash in Medford. “For short haired dogs, a Zoom Groom brush has rubber fingers that work well before and during the bath to loosen dead hairs.”

Always check for burrs and foxtails deep between the dog’s toes, as they can burrow up under the hair and be very hard to see, Riverman recommends. “Remove any burs because they will really stick once the hair is wet. One suggestion I have is a product called Show Sheen. It’s a spray you can use around the legs, feet and belly before going into an area with the brush to help keep burs from sticking in the coat.”

Choose a good quality pet shampoo. Riverman advises gentle formulas, free of parabens. “If your dog has skin irritations, I always steer clear of conditioners. You don’t want anything that will hold the moisture in. You want to keep the skin as dry as possible.”

Monical adds, “Some dogs can have a sensitivity to oatmeal shampoos, so I prefer a good quality, unscented hypoallergenic shampoo. People often think they can use conditioner on mats to loosen them, but usually it makes it worse.”

Whatever product you use, a thorough rinsing is the most important step. “Once you think you have them rinsed, go over them one extra time just to make sure,” Monical says. “There are also tearless shampoos that are made especially for the face and waterless shampoos that require no rinsing. I don’t think you can wash them ‘too often’ as long as you are using a good quality pet shampoo and thoroughly rinsing the soap out each time.”

Because cats spend much more time grooming than dogs do, they seldom need bathing, but if needed, be sure to use a shampoo specially formulated for cats. Some dog shampoos, especially those intended for flea control, may contain permethrin, an insecticide that is poisonous to cats. If fleas are an issue for your dog or cat, both experts advise checking with your veterinarian for safe and effective flea control recommendations.

Wash and dry

Sometimes dogs object to baths because the water temperature is uncomfortable. Our experts suggest lukewarm, like you would use for bathing a baby.

“Start with the scruff, or neck area, and get the dog completely wet,” Riverman explains, “then add your shampoo. Do the head and face last, using a tearless shampoo, because any water in the ears will cause the dog to shake during the rest of the bath. You can use a washcloth around eyes and ears, making sure to rinse all the product out. Some people use cotton in the ears as an added precaution.”

After the bath, use a large towel to rub them dry, or you can use a blow dryer. “Just keep it on the low setting, making sure it’s not too hot,” Monical says. “You may have to work with them a bit at first by letting them get used to the sound and then gradually direct the warm air more their way. Be sure not to use it in their face, eyes or ears.”

Positive rewards

“Always go slow, stay calm and use lots of praise.” Kristi Riverman, Happy Tails Pet Wash, Medford

Ideally, it’s best to teach your pet about bathing from an early age, says Riverman, but even more mature pets can learn that bath time doesn’t have to be scary. “Always go slow, stay calm and use lots of praise. Sometimes having a helper can keep the dog calmer. At the end, use something that the dog really loves, either a treat or a toy as a reward.”

Quarterly tubs

The ASPCA recommends bathing your dog at least once every three months, but some may require more frequent baths if he or she spends a lot of time outdoors or has skin problems.

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More to Explore

When your dog gets skunked

dog bathing sidebar

What to do when your dog has an encounter with a skunk? Lisa Monical, owner of the Groomery in Medford, says skunk spray is extremely oily, which is why many of the most well-known remedies like tomato juice, vinegar and water and other odor removers don’t work. While nothing removes the smell completely, Monical suggests the following formula:


1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide (never use stronger than 3%)

1/4 cup of baking soda

1 teaspoon of Dawn dishwashing soap


Use the mixture on a dry coat, immediately after he’s been sprayed.
Wearing rubber gloves, rub the mixture into your dog’s coat (avoiding his eyes).
Wait about 20 minutes before washing the mixture out of your dog’s fur.
Follow up by using a hypoallergenic dog shampoo, and rinse well.
Repeat the process two to three more times as needed.


Do not allow dogs to lick the mixture as it can cause vomiting. The mixture may be flammable, so don’t smoke while using it, and do not store any that is left over. Also, the hydrogen peroxide may cause some bleaching on black dogs, so the longer it stays on, the more bleaching you may see.

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