How Wash Your Dog Like a Pro
Updated: Mar 15
It's mud season, which also means bath season! Washing your dog at home can take a little extra planning, but with a few tips and tricks it can still be done like a pro.
Before you get your dog in the tub, it's important to gather all your supplies and have them ready. This will help you avoid the chaos of wet dog running loose around in your bathroom while you run to get the towels or a refill of shampoo. Here's the supply list that we'd recommend for every at-home bath.
Shampoo and conditioner that's made to be diluted
A few squirt bottles
Large measuring cup, a spatula, and a funnel
Something for hooking up your dog
High quality hair catcher for the drain
Removable shower head or water sprayer
Ear cleaner and cotton balls
Old clothes or a waterproof outer layer for yourself
Once you have your supplies gathered, prepare yourself to get wet. Put on something you don't mind getting wet and hairy, or try waterproofing yourself with a rain jacket or pancho. At Ollu, we use water proof aprons to help keep us dry.
Next, prepare the tub. If you don't have one already, a heavy-duty hair catcher is essential for your drain. Dog hair can wreak havoc on your plumbing if you're not careful. A non-slip mat is also a nice touch, especially for dogs who are already nervous during bath time. Simply having a stable surface to stand can go a long way in helping them feel safe. Lastly, if at all possible, find a way to hook your dog up into the tub or shower. A handicapped safety bar, for example, would be perfect for looping a leash around. If you wash your dog at home frequently, you may even consider installing a sturdy hook or bar to tether them to. This will save you from a wet and hairy wrestling match! Of course, if you have a very small dog, you can do all this in a sink instead, and can probably forgo rigging up a way to hook him up.
☝ Pro Tip #1: Be mindful that nervous dogs can be very strong. When finding a way to hook up your dog, make sure it is very secure and strong to prevent damage or injury.
Follow the instructions on the bottle regarding the shampoo and water ratio. Put your shampoo or conditioner in a large liquid measuring cup, then add water, and stir until it's completely mixed. Using warm water helps the shampoo dissolve more easily, as well as being a luxurious touch for your dog. Next, use a funnel to pour the liquid into a squirt-top bottle. Something with a smaller opening is ideal, because it allows you to direct the flow of liquid and not accidentally dump it all out at one time. You can use some old shampoo bottles or even some clean condiment squeeze bottles. If you want to invest in some grooming shampoo bottles, they are relatively low cost and work great.
Since the shampoo is so diluted, plan on using a lot more liquid than you would of the non-diluted stuff. Depending on your bottle size and the size of your dog, you may use one, three, or even six bottles for the large hairy dogs. It's best to mix up slightly more than you think you'll need so that you don't run out of shampoo mid bath. Keep in mind that once the shampoo and conditioner is mixed with water, it should be used withing 24 hours because bacteria can begin to form after that point.
☝PRO TIP #2. Don't use human shampoo or conditioner on dogs. Dog's skin and human scalps have different pHs, and the shampoo products are adjusted accordingly. Human shampoo on dogs can cause mess up their pH, which leaves them more vulnerable to bacteria, viruses, and various skin issues.
Now that you're all set up, it's time to begin. Get your dog hooked up in the tub, if that's an option for you, or set yourself up to block your dog from escaping. If you have a big, strong dog, it may be wise to enlist help to get your dog in the tub and even to keep him in the tub.
Start by getting your water temperature to around 80 degrees. Dogs have different body temperatures than we do, so what feels good for you may not be ideal for them. Next, wet your dog to the skin. Detachable shower heads work great for this, but if you don't have one you can always fill buckets with water from the tub spout. If your dog is super sandy or dirty, spend a little longer rinsing before you grab your shampoo. When your dog is thoroughly wet, grab your shampoo bottles and squirt it directly on your dogs coat, sudsing it up as you go. When your dog has a good lather all the way to their skin, you know you've used enough shampoo. Don't forget the easy to miss spots, like inside the thighs, on the belly, and on their face.
☝ Pro Tip #3: It can be difficult to keep shampoo from getting into your dog's eyes while washing their face, especially for the squirmy ones. Consider investing a tearless shampoo to use just on their head and face, so it won't irritate their eyes. We love Kelco's Puppy Tears shampoo for this purpose.
Once you're done with the lathering, rinse your dog until the water runs clear and your dog's coat no longer feels as slippery. If the water coming off your dog still seems dirty you may want to do a second round of shampoo then rinse again.
If you decided to go for a conditioner, now is the time to add that. Apply it just like you did with the shampoo, then rinse.
☝ Pro Tip #4: Rinsing thoroughly is very important because shampoo or conditioner residue can cause irritation and hot spots on your dog's skin. When in doubt, keep rinsing.
Now that the wash is done, it's time to grab those towels and do some drying. If your dog is a shaker, let him go at it before and during the towel drying process. It will save you time and help your dog dry more quickly.
Once your dog is as dry as he'll get with towels, you can try using a blow dryer. In the salon we have high velocity blow dryers that allow you to get your dog completely dry and blow out a lot of loose hair. Since you most likely don't have one of these at home, you can try using a normal hair dryer, keeping it at a medium or low heat setting. Depending on your dog's coat type, you may not be able to get him completely dry with this, but at least it will give him a head start on air drying and can get him used to the blow drying experience he would have at a salon. If your dog is scared of the dryer, stay positive and start in small doses, offering some high value treats. It may also help to start blow drying near the rear before working up to the face.
☝ Pro Tip #4: It really is worth the extra work to help your dog get used to the blow dryer. Along with getting a lot of loose hair out of your dog's coat, getting them completely dry helps prevent the matting and hot spots that can easily develop in damp fur.
It's ear cleaning time! Wet some cotton balls with an ear cleaning solution and gently wipe inside the ears. Don't go into the ear canal any further than your first knuckle, or you may cause damage to your dog's inner ear. You can also spray your dog with a leave-in conditioner or cologne, and brush their teeth at this time.
Lastly we recommend brushing your dog thoroughly after a bath, once their coat is 100% dry. This will remove any remaining loose hair and prevent tangles from developing. Don't brush your dog until the coat is completely dry all the way to the skin. Damp skin is much more sensitive, and even a few gentle strokes of a brush can cause irritation and brush burn.
Once you're done with the bath and any extras, treat your dog to something special to create a positive association. Maybe a new chew or a delicious treat. For some dogs, that will make it all worth it!
All that's left now is your special treat - a hairy, wet bathroom to clean!
☝ Pro Tip #5: Try a self-service wash at Ollu. We have waist high tubs with hooks to tether your dog, waterproof aprons, professional equipment, and complimentary shampoo. The best part is, when you're done you get to leave the mess with us!