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Cleaning a dog can be the most stressful part of looking after your pet. But it need not be.
We all know it’s important to maintain our own personal hygiene, and until you’ve trained your dog to take a shower and cut his or her nails, we need to look after their hygiene, too.
Cleaning your dog helps ensure he or she has a good coat, a healthy skin, and can help keep it free from parasite so it’s a win-win situation for you and your dog.
Dog cleaning tips
We’re going to look at several dog cleaning topics – cleaning a dog’s ears, cleaning a dog’s eyes, and cleaning a dog’s teeth, as well as general dog bathing tips such as how to wash your dog, brushing, using a dog shampoo, and treating skin conditions.
So grab the loofah and jump in.
Start washing your puppy early
This section is for anyone who has a puppy or is thinking of getting one.
Like all training, the sooner you start your puppy on a hygiene routine the better. He or she will learn that the things you do don’t hurt it and that you’ll be doing them regularly so they won’t be afraid and they may even enjoy it.
Cleaning older dogs
If you have an older dog – and this can be anything from several months to an older rescue dog – and they haven’t been cleaned regularly, it can take a while to acclimatise them to the process.
As with all training, slowly and gently does it – and a few rewards.
Murphy was a rescue dog and he submitted to being washed but he didn’t like it. However, he got very adept at giving me alternate paws, and his back paws, too, for drying.
How often should I wash my dog?
Should you wash your dog every month? The average length of time most vets recommend is between one and two months but in practice it depends on the type of dog and their environment.
Dogs with short or smooth hair, or thick or double coats may not need a bath so often, nor will dogs with water-repellent coats such as Golden Retrievers.
Washing the urban dog
If your dog lives in an urban environment and walks mostly on the street (please do try to find a park) then they may not need washing very often at all.
If your dog is fond of rolling in ‘stuff’ or you go for regular walks in the country – yay! – they may need cleaning more often.
Of course, you don’t have to wash all your dog. After a country walk, particularly if it was muddy, I’d wash Murphy’s paws, legs and tummy and that was usually fine. I’d rinse rather than use soap.
Does my dog need washing?
I didn’t wash Murphy on a regular basis – we had no ‘bath night’ – but it was probably every couple of months or simply when he needed it. Giving your dog a good sniff is a good test!
Aside: I cannot be the only one who likes the smell of their dog? – when they’re clean, of course. Many people like puppy breath but I also like the general dog smell, certainly of my dogs, but some people’s dogs also have a nice dog small, although not all. Ah well, back to the bath…
A couple of times after Murphy had rolled in something particularly obnoxious; I had to wash him three time in a week. The smell just did not want to go away.
But as a rule, don’t wash your dog too often if it’s not needed as this can remove the natural oils from his or her coat and lead to skin problems.
Brush tour dog?
To brush your dog before or after washing, that is the question?
Generally, you should brush your dog before washing. In fact, you should brush on a regular basis as part of his or her grooming routine. But this article isn’t about grooming.
Brushing helps remove loose hair, clear matts and tangles, and helps the shampoo disperse better over the hair and skin.
Some people use human shampoo on their dog. This is absolutely not recommended as it’s often acidic and not good for your dog’s skin so please don’t use it.
I found a fun shampoo called Woof ‘n’ Go – how can you not like it with a name like that? – but it doesn’t seem to be so readily available now although the name has been used by numerous dog grooming parlous!
Can I use a human shampoo on my dog?
In case you haven’t got the message – NO!
But if you absolutely must use a human shampoo – emergency fox poo rolling only – and the pet shops are shut use a baby shampoo or, at worst, a mild one with a neutral pH balance. But be sure to get dog shampoo the next day!
Get a dog shampoo that is free of artificial scents. Some dog shampoos are made ‘for humans’ rather than dogs, in the sense that we are the ones who buy them so the manufacturers try to make them appealing to use rather than what the dog needs.
If you want a scent, go for one with natural ingredients. You don’t want it to take away the wonderful smell of your dog.
Treating a dog’s skin condition
Needless to say, if your dog has any sort of skin condition, you should consult your vet who may recommend a medicated shampoo.
Bottom line: Only use an approved dog shampoo with natural ingredients or a shampoo prescribed by your vet. If you don’t, it can cause skin irritation and create an environment for bacteria and parasite to breed in and we don’t want that!
How to wash your dog
I’m not sure it’s true that some dogs like getting washed. Some dogs suffer it but many dogs simply don’t like it.
What I find strange is that a lot of dogs will happily splash through puddles, plodge across streams and swim in lakes and the sea but hate getting bathed. There’s a dog logic there somewhere.
So, if you can get your puppy used to getting washed, it will be much easier as they get older.
Dog water baths
Although you shouldn’t shampoo your dog too often, you can give them water baths and this is an excellent way to introduce your puppy to the world of doggy hygiene.
With an older dog or one who, ahem, has not been bathed regularly, it can be a little more challenging. As ever, approach it slowly, gently and with treats.
Habit and routine will work in your favour but you do have to put in the groundwork.
Washing your dog in the bath
If your dog isn’t used to being bathed, you could acclimatise them to the bath by playing games, lead them to the bath and give them a reward. Use a lead by all means and give them much praise when they are in the bath.
A dedicated dog bath
Many people wash their dogs, if they’re not too large, in the house bathroom. However, that doesn’t suit many people for various reasons and it’s not always practical. But if you want to use a ‘bath’ there are many dog bath options available.
There are galvanised bath tubs, more suited to outdoors than in, and a wide range of plastic baths which can be used in both locations and there will be ones to suit your dog’s size.
As always, take it slowly and progress according to your dog’s reaction and temperament. At first you might just put them in the bath with no water, take them out and ‘towel them dry’. Most dogs enjoy being rubbed by a towel.
Just add water to your dog bath
Then you can progress to adding water – don’t forget the treats – and so on.
I have washed Murphy in the bath perhaps four or five times. It did not go well. He assumed an air of suffering indifference but as soon as human hands were out of the way, he was out of the bath.
Of course, the smaller the dog, the easier it is to wash them in the bath. At least it should be.
Put a towel or a non-slip mat in the bath so your dog doesn’t slide around.
Some people suggest putting cotton wool in their ears to prevent water getting in. If you’re careful this shouldn’t be necessary but it’s a good precaution if your dog will allow it.
Water in a dog’s ears
I never did this with Murphy and, often due to what can best be described as exuberance, he did get water in his ears which he’d shake for several minutes afterwards. So it’s a good tip if you can do it.
Remove your dog’s collar so you can get a good lather around their neck.
If you need to keep them on a lead, use a nylon collar – always my preferred choice anyway – rather than leather as leather can shrink (although a good collar shouldn’t) and repeated wetting and drying may encourage it to perish.
Washing a dog without a bath
After the bath time episodes, I washed Murphy outside, his lead, alas, tied to a hook in the wall. Soon, however, he admitted defeat – or so I believe – and just stood there and took it like a, er, dog.
A lot of it had to do with expectation. Feeding him treats during the washing process worked well.
Hot or cold dog wash?
Wash your dog with lukewarm water, never hot as, again, this can adversely affect their skin which is more sensitive to temperature than ours. Dog shampoos work with lukewarm water and cleans just as thoroughly.
Don’t wash them in cold water, even though they delight in splashing through cold puddles and swimming in an icy sea. Washing is not the same.
When I washed Murphy outside I carried out buckets of lukewarm water. In the Summer – yes, those two glorious days we get in England! – I did ese the hosepipe.
Washing your dog
Now we get down to the nitty gritty. Lukewarm water, cotton in their ears. Water in one hand, shampoo in the other and treats in the third! Yes, it can certainly be easier if you have an assistant.
Start by thoroughly wetting your dog. Watch their eyes and ears. If they’re nervous, be gentle.
Now apply dog shampoo
When they’re happy being wet, apply the dog shampoo. Start at their neck and work up a bit of a lather around their neck, chest and back. Then work your way down their body, round their tummy, down their legs to their paws and toes, and to their tail.
Don’t forget the treats if they seem anxious and, of course, talk to them in your best soothing voice.
How to wash your dog’s face – ears, eyes, nose and mouth
Naturally, be very careful with these tender parts and avoid getting suds or water in them. A little gentle rubbing around the nose/snout and cheeks, and over their ears should be fine although if you have a small dog or one without prominent features, be sensible.
Alternatively, you might prefer to use a wash cloth. For a small dog, a damp wash cloth might do. For a larger one you could wet it, put a very small amount of shampoo on it, squeeze it out and use that. Be sure to rinse the cloth thoroughly afterwards and get rid of the shampoo.
Emergency dog-washing procedure
Most times a damp cloth will do but sometimes a dog will roll their ears in muck – yes, I’m looking at you, Murphy! In such cases, you obviously need to wash their face and ears, sometimes more than once.
Aside: Many dogs like their ears rubbed. Most of mine have, and many other dogs I’ve met, too. I put the palm of my hand over their ear and sort of massage into the canal. Some, like Murphy, make a sort of purring noise.
Obviously, use common sense if you try this. The practicality and method will depend on your dog and the size and position of their ears.
So I smooth my sudsy thumbs over his ears if they need washing and he tries to get me to do the palm thing so he’s quite happy. I sometimes wonder if he rolls his ears in stuff just to get them washed but I think probably not.
While washing your dog…
Use your hands to wash your dog. Not only will you be better able to work the lather into the fur but I’m sure your dog will appreciate your personal touch.
Using your hands also gives you the opportunity to get to know your dog’s body – it’s not always easy to picture what they look like under all that hair. My Bernese shrank to half their size when wet.
Use your dog’s bath time as check-up time
In particular, check for lumps, bumps, cuts, calluses or blisters which may have developed. Such things are often difficult to see under their fur.
Also, if they have a sore or an open wound, the shampoo might irritate it and rubbing it might aggravate it so if they protest when you touch a particular area, be gentle and check it carefully.
Rinse Tin Tin
(That’s a really terrible pun based on the America TV children’s series about a German Shepherd dog called Rin Tin Tin. Younger readers may not understand the reference.)
After thoroughly soaping, your dog needs to be thoroughly rinsed. This is probably the hardest part of the operation. The basic rule is to rinse, rinse and rinse again.
It’s important to get all the shampoo out to prevent itching and flaking so keep rinsing until the water coming off your dog is clear and free of suds.
I found with Murphy that he was generally happy – or as happy as a big soaped up dog can be – with the shampoo but as soon I started rinsing he wanted to shake.
I have no idea how to avoid the wet dog shake. It seems to go with the bath-time territory. We should be used to it by now.
Dry your dog
When you dog’s thoroughly rinsed, throw a big warm towel over him or her and pat away.
You may need another towel.
Remove the cotton from their ears!
Dog hair driers
You can get hair driers for dog. They should be low noise and often run at a lower temperature – you do not want to overheat your dog!
Dogs can react to hair driers because of the noise, the air or the heat so there are three considerations to take into account here. If your dog runs from the vacuum cleaner or the sound of your hair drier or the blast of air when you turn it on him – shame on you! – a dog drier may still not be for your dog.
Having said that, some dogs love them and do the head-out-of-the-car-window thing into a jet of warm air. Dogs, eh?
Dog air drier
Yes, you can’t keep a good pun down. Unfortunately…
I have always let my dogs dry in the air. It’s a good idea to let them outside, especially if it’s sunny, but you will be aware of their tendency to want to roll after a bath.
Some of this has to do with the new feeling of their skin, some has to do with the scent of the shampoo – it’s not half as appealing to a dog as as rotting pile of fetid matter (sorry for my descriptive pose) – so it’s a good idea to keep them on a lead or on a concrete surface if you can.
If the weather is inclement then encourage them to lie on (yet more) towels or put one in their bed (hopefully you have a spare bed they can use while you wash the wet one).
Comb your dog
If your dog has long hair that is easily tangled, you might want to brush it again or comb it out a little while it’s wet so it dries straight. I sometimes did this with Murphy when he was shedding but not all the time as his coat was relatively smooth and short.
Cleaning tour dog’s ears
The following does not have to be done at bath time but it can be useful to do so to get into a routine.
You need to prevent the build-up of excess ear wax in your dog’s ears by cleaning them, but not with water. Bath time offers a good opportunity to check your dog’s ears but do check them more often if you only bathe your dog every few months.
With Murphy, I used a tissue wrapped around my finger and that will work for larger dogs and dogs with large ears. You can also use cotton balls – not swabs or cotton sticks or Q Tips (a small ball of cotton on the end of a stick) as these can cause damage if you’re not careful. They are re really not recommended.
Wiping your dog’s ears
Lift their ear and wipe the inside of the flap. Depending on the ear size and shape, you can wipe around the entrance to the canal but DO NOT push anything inside the canal.
If your dog is unhappy when you start doing this, they may have an ear infection and need a trip to the vet. If you’re unsure how to clean your dog’s ears, your vet will show you how to do it.
Dog ear cleaning liquid
You can also use a special dog ear leaning liquid. Apply it to the tissue or cotton ball – just dampen it, don’t soaken it – and wipe. Follow the instructions. Do not pour it into the ear. I’m sure you wouldn’t but who knows who is reading this?
Again, do not poke anything into the canal. If the ear is sensitive, unusually waxy or smelly, see your vet.
When a dog shakes its head, you can often tell if it’s trying to clear its ears so check their ears if you dog is shaking their head more often than usual.
Cleaning your dog’s eyes
When I was little, my Mother told me a story about ‘sleep’ in the corner of my eyes. We won’t go in to that here, but dogs get ‘sleep’ too. It sounds slightly better than ‘discharge’.
This is easier than ears. I use a damp tissue for general ‘sleep’ but you can use a warm, damp wash cloth, too. Wash your hands before and after.
Some dogs are prone to more discharge than others and their eyes may need cleaning more often. As usual, if you think there’s a problem, get your dog checked over by your vet.
Cleaning your dog’s teeth
Cleaning a dog’s teeth is one of the trickiest dog cleaning jobs. You really need to teach your puppy that this is an okay and fun thing to do – when they’re a pup. As an adult it will be much more difficult.
Some adult dogs allow it but if they have never had their teeth cleaned, they may be very resistant. However, there are other options.
To get your dog or puppy used to having their teeth cleaned, start by making them comfortable having your hands and fingers around their mouth.
To get Murphy to open his mouth and drop something he was holding, I used the phrase “Let’s see” while holding my hand under his mouth. He’d drop just about anything in return for a treat so that was fairly easy.
Aside: The only time he absolutely refused to drop something was when he found half a dead rabbit on a walk through the woods. He wouldn’t even drop it for his favourite treat. He carried it throughout the walk and back to the house and I had to leave him outside until he did, eventually, drop it and come in for dinner.
This was a very useful command, as sometimes he’d get a part of a treat – and the occasional stick! – stuck between his teeth and he would open his mouth and let me get it out.
Yes, you can get special toothpaste for dog. In fact, it’s something you must use.
Here’s another No No! Do not try to use human toothpaste, not ever, because it contains substances which could harm your dog.
Dog toothpaste comes in flavours which are more palatable to dogs so you can try a few. Put a little on your fingers and let them lick it off, then run your finger around their teeth in a brushing motion. Hopefully you can do with without losing too many fingers.
Of course they have toothbrushes for dogs, too. Again, do not use a human one. Dog toothbrushes are softer and specially shaped to help you get to all their teeth.
They come in different sizes, so choose a size that’s suitable for your dog’s mouth.
Put a little of the toothpaste on the brush. Let your dog see it, sniff it and lick it. Gently lift your dog’s lip so you can see their teeth and, hopefully, you will gradually be able to put the brush in his or her mouth and move it around and even brush a tooth or two. Slowly, slowly is the way to go.
Don’t rush it or try to do too much too soon.
Brush a couple of the front teeth as they will be the easiest to reach, then stop. Do this a few times then gradually add a few more teeth.
Start with the easiest areas. You might want to do the outside of all the teeth and then move to the inside, or you might try the outside and inside of the front teeth and work backwards. See what you dog’s happy with.
If your dog says NO to brushing…
Some dogs will take to brushing, some won’t. Although I could poke around in Murphy’s mouth, he did not like the toothbrush. He shied away from it or would clamp his teeth on it but would not let me brush his teeth.
If your dog doesn’t like the toothbrush, you can try using your finger and a piece of cloth. Put some toothpaste on the cloth and rub his or he teeth. You may have done this to yourself when you’ve been away and forgotten your toothbrush.
As ever, though, do it slowly and in stages.
Some dogs will still not allow this but you must not give up on your dog’s dental hygiene. Neglect can cause all sorts of problems not only with their teeth and breath (which can be a sign of gum disease) but also with infections that can affect their organs.
So let’s look at Plan B.
Teeth cleaning toys
Isn’t dog technology wonderful!
There are numerous ‘dog treats’ which can help reduce plaque and tartar build-up. The two most popular are Dentatix and Greenies.
As you know, even with regular brushing, we humans can still have tooth problems. So can dog. And chews are not as good as brushing so it may happen that in spite of your best efforts, your dog does show signs of plaque and tartar that simply won’t go away.
That means Plan X.
Professionally cleaning your dog’s teeth
If your dog’s teeth are in need of attention, that means a visit to the vet for a professional scale and clean. This entails an anesthetic which most pet owners are naturally concerned about. So prevention is much better than cure, even if it takes a little training.
Dental problems are more common in the older dog (older, not necessarily old) and your vet will assess your dog’s health before recommending a treatment. If you want your dog neutered or spayed, you could ask the vet to check their teeth and perhaps clean them at the same time. Most vets will be happy to do this.
If your dog is checked regularly on a yearly basis, your vet should tell you how good their dental hygiene is and may suggest some treatments.
However, we’ve already gone well beyond the scope of this ‘bath time’ article so we’ll leave it there.
Cleaning a dog – summary
Hopefully this article has explained the importance of keeping your dog clean and how to go about it without (too many) tears. Yours, that is, not your dog’s.
If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below and I will reply as soon as I can.
Happy bath time!
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