Everybody knows that cleanliness is next to dogginess: The way you bathe your dog really can impact the health of his skin, coat, and maybe even his insides. The more you know about the right way to bathe your dog, the cleaner, sweeter-smelling, softer, and healthier he will be.
But maybe you have questions about the best way to give your dog a bath. Do you really need a special dog shampoocan't you just use your own shampoo on your dog? Can you bathe your dog too often? Do you have to put petroleum jelly around his eyes and cotton in his eats? What if your dog just hates getting a bath? Let's dive right in and bust those myths about bath time!
Do I really have to use dog shampoo?
Many people have very strong opinions on the subject, even though most of them don't have any actual information beyond their own personal experience. Some have heard that human shampoo is the wrong pH for dogs and will cause horrible, drying, rashy damage to a dog's skin and coat. Others say they know for a fact that there isn't a bit of difference, and human shampoo is just fine. Some insist that, if you must use human shampoo, use only "tearless" baby shampoo. Others claim that baby shampoo is far worse than adult shampoo because of the pH.
The real answer is more complicated. First, how a dog reacts to any given shampoo depends on the individual dog. Some dogs aren't bothered by anything you put on their coats; they just aren't that sensitive. Others are highly sensitive and reactive to chemicals, and for them many shampoos--made for dogs or humans--will cause dryness, flaking, itching, or a rash, Some have such a high-quality diet and are so healthy that they can withstand a less-than-perfect shampoo without a problem, even though they might respond better to a better product.
But even more important, in my opinion, is which shampoo you use. If you use a cheap shampoo filled with harsh detergents and chemicals such as sulfates, parabens, and artificial fragrance, then not only is this not a good choice for your dog, but it isn't a good choice for you, either. Harsh chemicals can be irritating, drying, and can cause itching, rashes, and allergic reactions.
Personally, I use organic, chemical-free shampoos on my dogs and myself because they make everyone's skin, hair, or fur softer, shinier, less dry, and definitely sweeter-smelling from all those natural herbs and plant oils. They are better for the planet, and if they also might contribute to better health, then that's worth spending a few extra dollars as far as I'm concerned. (I'll cut back somewhere else.)
Nowadays you can easily find gentle, detergent- and chemical-free shampoos made with natural botanical ingredients-many of them organic, so they are also pesticide-free--for both yourself and your pet. If that's what you use, then yes, you can use those products on your dog. Or, buy a separate shampoo for your pet, but make sure it, too, is made of gentle, natural ingredients.
Can I bath my dog too often?
I've been reading--and writing--for years that for some dogs, especially those with sensitive skin, frequent bathing is a bad idea. But now, after much research and many discussions with groomets and veterinarians, I've found that this old advice isn't exactly true. If you use a harsh chemical shampoo, then yes, bathing too often can indeed dry out and irritate your dog's skin and coat.
But if you use a natural, detergent-free shampoo without sulfates, parabens, or other harsh ingredients, then frequent bathing can actually add moisture to the coat and skin. You could bathe your dog every day and he would probably be just fine. There are some exceptions: For a few super-sensitive dogs, just the frequent exposure to water can he drying, although a natural moisturizing shampoo with botanical oils usually makes up for it.
Another reason why people think that too-frequent bathing is bad for dogs is because they aren't rinsing the product out of the coat well enough. It's hard to get all the shampoo out of a long or thick double coat. A bristle brush and a spray attachment can help you get all the way down to the skin. If you think you've rinsed it all out, rinse some more. The same applies to any coat conditioner you may use on your dog. Rinse, rinse, and rinse some more because leftover product residue is much more likely to cause skin irritation than is frequent bathing.
Do I have to use petroleum jelly and cotton balls?
A lot of how-to articles about bathing dogs advise putting a dab of petroleum jelly around the outside comets of your dog's eyes and cotton balls in his ears to keep water and shampoo out. Is that really necessary, or is it a little bit overzealous?
Whether or not you should do this depends on how sensitive your dog is and how careful you are. If you are using a natural shampoo and you don't think you'll get any in your dog's ears or eyes, don't worry about it. If you're concerned, and your dog doesn't mind salve and cotton, then go ahead--it certainly won't hurt. If you are still using a shampoo with chemicals, use the cotton and petroleum jelly, be extra careful, or better yet, switch shampoos.
If you do get a little bit of natural shampoo in your dog's eyes or eats, it's probably no big deal. Carefully wipe or rinse it away, then watch for irritation. If the eye or ear starts to look red or infected, give your veterinarian a call--but chances are the shampoo's not to blame.
My dog really hates getting a bath.
Do I have to do it?
I have a dog like that. Sally shivers and scrambles around and finally gives up and just stares miserably at me until I'm done drying her off. But here's a simple fact that loving and sympathetic pet owners often forget about dogs: Routine trumps dislike.
In other words, anything your dog doesn't like--nail clipping, ear washing, grooming, bathing-will become perfectly OK if you do it regularly. The problem is, we tend to do those things our dogs dislike less often because we don't want to make them uncomfortable. That's exactly the wrong approach.
If your dog doesn't like bath time, give him a bath every week at the same time, in the same way. Offer lots of praise and encouragement, rather than acting worried or stressed. Give favorite treats as a reward at the end of the bath, or even during the process. Before you know it, your dog won't mind bathing at all. He might even beat you to the tub.
With the right shampoo, the tight attitude, a long rinse cycle, and a bathing routine, you and your dog will soon learn to love getting squeaky clean.
Eve Adamson is the author of more than 40 books, including The Simple Guide to Grooming Your Dog. She lives in Iowa City with her family.