Bathing a dog the right way takes time, organization and a lot of work in most cases. The larger the dog the more of a challenge bath time will be if the dog is not properly trained to get into the bath, stand still, and then get out of the bath on command. Many people with large and giant breeds rarely if ever bathe their dog, which is often the best possible option for the dog's coat and skin.
Unlike people, dogs don't sweat through their skin so they typically don't have lots of odors. A doggy smell, especially when the dog is wet, is due largely to dander that is built up between the skin and the hair, and this can be removed with regular brushing. Even most dog hair will repel both water and dirt as it contains natural oils that are there just to provide this protection to the hair. Bathing a dog using shampoo and conditioner does strip these natural oils. Many people that bathe their dogs on a weekly, monthly or even every other month may be contributing to skin allergies, rashes, infections and dry, dull and limp looking hair for the dog. Most breeds should only be fully bathed when absolutely necessary and there is no option for using a dry powder or grooming to clean the dog.
Supplies and Products
There are many dog shampoos and conditioners on the market that are specially designed with a dog's hair and skin pH taken into consideration. These products are typically more expensive than the pet store brand dog shampoo and conditioner, but may be the difference between a dull coat and a shiny and healthy looking coat for some breeds. If you know that the breed you own is prone to skin allergies, hot spots, rashes or other irritations or skin conditions it is a wise idea to go with the specialty, non-allergic type products. Shampoos and conditioners for dogs with oatmeal and aloe ingredients may be gentler and less problematic. In addition to shampoos and conditioners a good dog hair detangler and a finishing leave in condition may also be beneficial to have on hand.
Before getting the dog into the tub or sink or dog bath, be sure to have everything you need. A hand held shower wand is a wonderful option, but a plastic pitcher can be used as well. Have the shampoo, conditioner, water, buckets, towels and a dry cloth on hand just in case. In addition a non-slip or skid mat in the bottom of the tub or sink will help make the dog feel more secure and prevent any possibility of a slip and an injury. Most dog baths will already have a texturized bottom for easy traction.
Strategies and techniques
Once all your supplies are ready and within easy reach, the next step is to bring the dog. Depending on the breed of dog you own some breeders recommend grooming and detangling before bathing and some recommend after. If you are not sure, call a breeder and ask. Most dogs are OK with water, as long as it is not poured over their heads. Start by having the dog stand or sit in the tub or sink and let them become calm in the bath. Holding the dog firmly by the collar, start to pour warm but not hot water over the dog, ideally using the shower wand. Once the dog is wet all over, apply some shampoo to your hands, work up and lather, then pull through the coat using your fingers from the neck to the hips, only moving your hands in the direction of hair growth. NEVER rub or use circular motions to work the shampoo into the dogs hair if you have a double coated breed or a medium or long haired breed, it will just make a huge mat of hair. Also, don't put any water near the face or ears, this can be washed with a cloth later on.
After the shampoo has been worked through the hair from the neck to the rump, use the wand and completely rinse any and all soap residue. Use your hand to gentle and carefully push the hair back and away from the skin and ensure that every last bit of soap is off the hair, even down by the skin. This is absolutely critical to avoid skin irritations. Once the dog is completely rinsed, apply the conditioner in the same fashion, never rubbing, only stroking it through the hair in the direction of growth. Completely rinse all conditioner out of the hair and check to make sure there is no left over residue.
At this time you can use a damp cloth with clean, warm water to gently wash the face and ears. Never put water into the ears or pour water over the dog's head. Don't use soap around the eyes or ears, just warm, clear water. Typically the hair on the face is very short in most breeds and won't need much attention. Breeds with a beard or moustache or long topknot may need additional attention on a daily basis to keep this longer hair clean.
Always watch your dog for signs of anxiety and stress. Speak reassuringly and be sure to have a few treats on hand to keep the dog attentive in the process. When getting the dog out of the tub or bath be sure to give the command and help the dog so he or she doesn't slip and possibly get injured. Avoid just allowing the dog to jump out on his or her own.
Dry grooming powders are available in most pet supply stores. These are a great way to freshen up the dog between baths. They are simple to use, just sprinkle on and groom out. These powders typically don't cause any skin irritations in most breeds but if your dog is prone to skin allergies you may wish to talk to your vet before using a dry powder.