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Bathing Your Dog

 Many people do not encourage owners to bathe their Cocker frequently, but I believe that if you use quality grooming supplies and bathe the dog correctly, a weekly bath (or every other week if your dog is short coated and not the outdoorsy type) is beneficial and helps keep the dog healthier.  Not only will the dog benefit from regular baths, you will benefit because the dog will not be trailing dirt and dander around your house, on the furniture and in your bed (if Fido gets to sleep there!)  No one wants to cuddle a dirty, smelly dog, so everyone will be much happier once bath time is over and you can get back to snuggling and cuddling on the couch! 

Be sure to keep bath time as pleasant and unhurried as possible.  This can help prevent accidents in the slippery  confines of the tub and bathroom and will help you avoid frightening the dog.  In addition, try to keep the proceedings quiet and calm so the dog doesn't get overly excited.  An excited or anxious dog may dance, jump around or struggle and this could also lead to the dog slipping and hurting himself. 

NEVER leave your dog alone in the tub.  Make sure you have all of your supplies ready and within reach before you bring your dog into the bathroom.  (Specific shampoos and other doggy products I recommend are listed on other web-pages, so this article does not specify that type of information.  Go back to my GROOMING page to find this information.) 


Before you throw Fido in the tub, be sure he is ready for his bath, your chosen location is appropriately prepared and that you have all of your supplies ready.

    • Gather all necessary bathing supplies (or grab your previously packed and stored bathing supply tote!) and arrange products within easy reach.
      • Shampoo - premixed in a spray or pour-on bottle + some shampoo concentrate in a small bottle for really dirty spots.  (Save an empty dish soap or shampoo bottle for mixing and applying shampoo.)
      • For extra greasy spots or dogs, prepare an additional small bottle of 50% Dawn Dish Soap (original) and 50% water.
      • If your dog has runny eyes, excessive tearing, lip fold dermatitis or ear infections, have a small pump bottle of anti-bacterial hand soap available.   Use this in the corners of the eyes, under the chin in the lip folds and around the ear canal on the inside of the ear leather to kill bacteria on the skin.  (Be careful not to get this in the eyes or mouth.  While it's OK to get a little bit of diluted soap in the ear, the undiluted stuff would be hard to rinse out completely so avoid getting full-strength soap in the ears.) 
      • Conditioner - premixed in a pour-on bottle.
      • Flea treatment or other specialty products.
      • Washcloth.
      • Ear Cleaner & Drying solution.
      • Cotton balls and Q-Tips.
      • Dog biscuits  - BRIBES!!
      • Metal comb and/or flea comb.
      • Tweezers in case you find a tick. 
      • Flea & Tick spray to kill any parasites you find.
      • If you really want to pamper Fido, try some aromatherapy candles and give him an extra few minute of massage and petting!
    • To prevent damage to items in the bathroom, drape with towels or remove from harms way.
    • Secure a drain screen in the tub to catch excess hair and prevent plumbing clogs.
    • Cover the bathroom floor with an old shower curtain, trash bags and/or an old sheet.
    • Unless you have a hand-held shower head that can be used to wash the dog, plan on using a plastic pitcher or large plastic cup to rinse the shampoo and conditioner off the dog. 
    • For heavily coated dogs, a small bucket filled with diluted shampoo is helpful in getting the legs completely wet and being sure the shampoo goes all the way to the skin.  Can also be used on the ears.  (Not getting the dog wet and the shampoo not getting to the skin is the #1 reason a dog still stinks after its bath.)  Can also be filled with clean water and used to rinse the legs and ears.
    • Hang 3-4 towels within reach  - 2 or 3 for the dog and 1 for drying your face!  (If you want to dry your dog faster, you might splurge for specialty pet drying towels that absorb ten times their own weight in water!)
    • Place a rubber bath mat in the tub to prevent your dog from slipping and hurting and/or scaring himself during the bath.  Press the may down to make sure it won't move.  Use another mat in front of the tub to cushion your knees while bathing and to give the dog a safe spot to stand for towel drying after the bath.
    • If you have a SOLID handle or rail within the tub that is suitable, attach a leash or grooming noose to this to help keep the dog in the tub and prevent escapes. 
      • If there is no suitable place to attach a restraint within the tub, you can purchase a heavy suction cup pet restraint.  These generally come with a grooming noose type attachment to control the dog and prevent accidents.
      • Be very sure any restraint is short enough to prevent your dog from jumping out of the bath or falling over the side of the bath and strangling himself.
    • If you have a grooming table and plan to dry the dog on it, set it up in the appropriate location.
    • Place the hair dryer in a handy location so that all you need to do is plug it in.
    •  A radio or boom box and some good tunes!  Keep it relaxing.  (Your dog is liable to stress with hard rock or rap blasting in such a small space!)
    • Just before you bring in the dog, run the water to get the correct temperature settings and so that the warm water is ready to flow.  If you don't have a hand-held shower head (or even if you do!), you may want to close the tub drain and run 4-6 inches of bath temperature water into the tub.  This can make it easier to saturate a heavily coated dog.  (Bath water should be warm, NOT hot.  A dog's normal body temperature is slightly above a human's, but you do not want the water to be too hot.  Approximately the same temperature as for a child should be appropriate.)  
  • THE DOG:
    • Fido should be reasonably well brushed and his nails should be trimmed before you start his bath.  (UNLESS the dog is really dirty and tangled.  In that case you will want to bath him, condition him and then brush him out as you blow him dry.)  It's acceptable to skip the brushing on the "pee spots" and any other areas that are exceptionally dirty and/or that have sticky residue on the hair, but if most of the dog's coat is in pretty good shape, you should brush him out before his bath.
      • Brushing before the bath will help remove dead coat that is trapped in the long hair and which could become more tangled during bathing and towel drying the dog.
      • Brushing will also remove small tangles in the coat that could be scrubbed and rubbed deeper into the coat as you bathe the dog. 


Now it's time to get down and dirty....I mean clean!! 

  • Bring your dog to the bathroom and CLOSE THE DOOR (preventing escapes!).
  • Place your dog in the tub and attach the restraint. 
  • Give Fido a cookie for being so brave!
  • If there is water in the tub, begin wetting the dog from the head and then down the back.  Starting with the head will drive any fleas that happen to be on the dog away from your dog’s face, eyes, and ears (where they like to hide until after the bath and may not be killed by flea shampoo or dip).
  • If there is no water in the tub, turn on the faucets, set the temperature and begin wetting the dog as soon as the correct temperature has been achieved. 
  • Before turning off the shower or allowing the tub to drain, separate the feathering on the ears, sides and legs to verify that water has soaked all skin surfaces and the hair is wet EVERYWHERE.  Check between the toes, on the undersides of the ears, the armpits and the groin area.  The dog MUST be soaking wet everywhere!
  • Begin shampooing by applying diluted shampoo to the head, neck and ears.  Use your fingers to work the shampoo around the face and neck. 
    • Sometimes it's easier to use a warm soapy washcloth to scrub the face.
    • A fingernail or comb may be needed to remove gunk in the corners of the eyes.
    • This area should be shampooed well and/or should be washed with the anti-bacterial soap.  
    • As should the area under the chin and throat (don't forget the little folds around the mouth) and around the bottoms of the ear leathers.  
  • Add more diluted shampoo to the ear feathers (both sides and down to the skin) and carefully shampoo the ear featherings without scrubbing them into tangles.  (If the ears are exceptionally gunky or greasy, you can use full strength shampoo or your Dawn solution.)
  • After you are sure you have the ear hair clean, gently squeeze excess water and shampoo out of the ear feathers and repeat.  You CANNOT use too much diluted shampoo! 
    • You may use your diluted shampoo in the bucket to re-wet the ears after that first shampoo and squeeze.
    • Repeat the ear shampoo/squeeze routine until the water being squeezed out runs clear (or the color of the shampoo).
  • Once the ear hair is squeaky clean, use your ear cleaner to clean the ear canals.  (Check out my EAR CARE article for directions on how to clean the ears.)
    • Flush the ears with cleaner until no more debris comes out.   
  • Next, use your diluted shampoo bottle to pour shampoo down the dogs neck and back.  Lather these areas well. 
  • At this point you should check the dog's side, belly and leg coat to see if the dog is still wet enough to lather properly.  If the dog is getting too dry, wet his coat again thoroughly.
  • You will need to set your bucket of diluted shampoo in the tub at this point.  Pick up one front leg and put it in the bucket.  (If the dog won't stand on the leg in the bucket, pick up the opposite leg so he has to stand on the leg in the bucket.) 
  • Using your fingertips again, scrub the leg in the bucket up, down and around the entire leg being sure to get all the way up into the armpit and down between the toes and pads of the feet.  If necessary add shampoo to the upper areas of the leg from your shampoo bottle or with the glass/cup with shampoo from the bucket. 
  • Do NOT scrub the leg with your hands flat and/or wrapped around the leg as this will tangle the coat. 
  • Work all the way around the dog, washing each leg in the same fashion.
  • When you have washed all four legs, use your cup to add shampoo from the bucket to the side and belly coat (one area at a time).  Use your fingertips and wash these areas well.
  • After you have the dog lathered all over, dip or pour shampoo on the ear feathering once more.  Work the shampoo through the ear hair, then pour the remaining shampoo in the bucket over the dog and go over the dog one more time with your fingertips.

The Rinse!

  •  Give Fido a cookie!
  • Turn on the water and rinse your bucket well as you are waiting for the water to warm to the required temperature.  Set the clean bucket to one side.
  • Starting with the dog's head, rinse the dog well.  Be sure to get clean water into the armpits, between the toes, on the inside of the ears, under the belly and between the rear legs.  Rinse until the water runs clear. 
  • Pay particular attention to any areas that you know have tangles.  It will be harder to rinse shampoo from tangled areas of hair and from the skin below, so rinse these areas extremely well.
  • Now it's time to re-wash the dog!  That's right, the first wash is just to get the TRULY nasty stuff off of the dog,  to make sure the dog is wet to the skin and to be sure he is ready for his REAL bath!  This time you are going to use any necessary specialty shampoos to treat the skin for itching or sores or to treat for parasites.  This shampoo is where you will make sure, absolutely 100% sure, that every inch of the dog is clean and smells good!  (Be sure to let any medicated or flea shampoos sit for 10 minutes before rinsing!) 
  • Lather the dog as above, except that you shouldn't need to use a bucket of shampoo. 
  • If there are any especially nasty places on the dog that always seem to stink or collect extra dirt or that always look dirty, use some full strength shampoo on those areas instead of your diluted shampoo.
  • If you are using whitening shampoo, I generally let the dog sit for about 20 minutes, but this may not be practical for your situation.
  • Now it's time to rinse again.  Fill your clean bucket with warm water and set aside.
  • Rinse, Rinse, Rinse. 
  • When you think you are through rinsing, rinse for 2 more minutes!  (Remember to pay extra attention to tangles!)
  • When you are SURE you're through rinsing, get your bucket of clean water.  Dip the ear hair into the water and use your fingers to fan the hair and slosh it around in the water. 
  • Repeat the standing in the bucket routine with each leg, fanning the coat, rubbing between the toes and through the coat to be sure each leg is rinsed completely.  If necessary, change the water in the bucket so you have clean water to finish rinsing.
  • When you have rinsed each leg, pick the dog up by the front legs, have him stand on the rear legs and pour the rest of the water from the bucket over the chest and belly hair.  Set the dog down and run your fingertips through the dog's coat (especially the armpits, the middle of the belly and between the rear legs to check for shampoo.
  • If you are satisfied that the dog is now clean and properly rinsed, start at the head and begin squeezing the water from the top of the dog, down towards the tail and legs. 
  • Gently squeeze water from the coat all the way down the sides and legs, picking up each foot and removing as much water as possible.
  • If your dog is "in coat" and needs conditioner applied to the hair, now is the time.  Using small amounts of conditioner poured into your hand or diluted conditioner in a pour-on bottle, apply conditioner to the hair on the bottoms of the ears.  Next apply conditioner to each leg, the side coat and chest hair.  (I rarely use conditioner on the head and back coat as the head coat is usually shaved short and the back coat is not supposed to be soft.)
  • Let the conditioner sit on the dog for 5-10 minutes.
  • Rinse the dog as described above, using a clean bucket of water after the first rinse to be sure you are getting all of the conditioner out of the coat.  (You can leave a LITTLE conditioner in the tangled areas as this will help with brush-out, however, too much conditioner left in the coat can contribute to matting and can attract and hold dirt.)
  • After rinsing the dog completely, squeeze the excess water from the dog as described above.
  • After removing as much water as possible, use your ear cleaner or drying powder in the ears to flush and remove any water that may have gotten in the ears. 
  • Using a Q-Tip, remove excess powder or cleaner from the ears.
  • Starting at the head, squeeze the excess water from the dog once more.

Towel Drying:

  • Get a towel (hopefully the extra thirsty towel!) and begin to towel dry the dog in the tub.  Do NOT scrub the dog!  Starting from the head, work your way back and down the dog, squeezing gently to remove water.  As you work your way over the dog, use dry portions of the towel and/or get a dry towel as needed  (Make sure you have at least 2 towels left!).
  • After you have removed as much water as possible from the dog, lay one of your last 2 towels down on the floor, wrap the last towel around the dog, pick the dog up out of the tub and place him on the towel that you placed on the floor.
  • Continue to towel dry the dog until you are satisfied that you have removed enough water to start blow drying the dog.

Congratulations, your dog should be squeaky clean from head to toes and ready to be blown dry!  For information on dryers and drying your dog, check out my Drying The Dog page. 


For owners that like to bathe their dog (or dogs) regularly, but dread having to do the dirty dead in the house, consider purchasing a raised dog bath.  These portable units elevate the dog to a comfortable level for you, have a restraint to keep the dog from jumping out of the tub, have a padded non-slip surface to prevent the dog from slipping and sliding and are so lightweight almost anyone can move them.  The one below is about $150.  The hose attachment shown with the tub is an addition $35 or so and lets you hook up to existing laundry connections for hot/cold water.  You attach a garden hose with a spray nozzle and shut-off valve to the hose connection and that gives you warn water at the touch of a button to bathe the dog.

With one of these set-ups, bathing the dog is no longer such a chore and is less time-consuming. You'll find yourself more willing to tackle the task when you know you won't have to clean the bathroom and suffer from an aching back for the rest of the day! 

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Copyright © Sandcastle Kennels 20044004

Last revised: January 08, 2006