How to Give Your Puppy a Bath
By Kristen Seymour
We’re all familiar with the dog bath scene in movies, right? It seems like every film featuring a new puppy includes a bit where the family struggles to get the puppy in the tub only to have the mischievous pup escape and run amok while covered in bubbles. Inevitably he drenches everyone and everything around him.
Now, it’s funny to watch that scene unfold on screen, but if your puppy needs a bath, you might see this task as less of a comedy and more of a thriller. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Bathing your puppy can be a low-stress, highly adorable endeavor. You just need a little information before your puppy’s paws hit the water.
When can you give a puppy a bath?
Since puppies can regulate their body temperatures at just a few weeks old, you can start acclimating your little guy to the bathing process when they’re just about a month old. However, it’s better to wait another couple of months, if possible, to reduce the risk of your puppy getting water into their lungs.
Whenever you bathe a young puppy, it’s crucial that you dry them off thoroughly—ears, wrinkles, and roly-poly areas included—and keep their eyes and ears clear of any shampoos. In fact, unless your veterinarian has recommended a shampoo for a specific reason (such as a skin issue), you might want to stick to a gentle rinse with plain water to start. You could also start by just wiping them down with a warm, damp washcloth, maybe with an inch or two of water in the tub, to help them get used to the sensation.
As with any new experiences for your puppy, you should make bath time fun, positive, and, ideally, short. Use positive reinforcement with treats, petting, and praise; never scold your puppy for being uncooperative when it comes to bath time. It’s new and scary for them, so it’s up to you create an enjoyable experience.
How often should you bathe a puppy?
How frequently you need to bathe your puppy depends on a number of factors, such as coat, breed, and lifestyle. (Active dogs who spend a lot of time playing in the mud likely require more baths than a lapdog.) Your veterinarian is a great resource to help you understand your pup’s specific skin and coat needs.
Bathing your dog as frequently as once a week using a specially formulated puppy shampoo is considered perfectly safe for most dogs (and potentially quite necessary, depending on what your pooch rolls around in!). As long as the products you use are safe and you completely dry your puppy afterward, frequent baths should not lead to dry skin. However, if your puppy isn’t stinky, dirty, or in need of a bath-related treatment for their skin (such as a medical rinse), bathing them as little as a couple of times a year may also be just fine. Never use shampoos or soaps formulated for humans—even babies!—as those products have a different pH and can irritate your puppy’s sensitive skin.
How to give a puppy a bath
Before you even approach the tub, brush your puppy well, carefully working through any knots or tangles. Make sure you have all the supplies you could possibly need within arm’s reach. Remember the soapy dog running amok scene? That’s what happens when you realize you didn’t bring a pitcher of clean water to rinse your dog once he’s already sudsy. If the sound of running water stresses your dog out, try filling the tub before you bring your puppy into the bathroom.
Use lots of positive reinforcement as you help your puppy into the tub. Now is not the time to be stingy with treats!
Wet your puppy’s fur, making sure their coat is soaked to the skin, using a constant, soothing voice. You might want to start at the neck and create a line of shampoo before continuing onto the rest of the body, keeping any fleas or ticks from jumping up to the head. Make sure to rub the shampoo in thoroughly. When shampooing your puppy’s head, be careful not to get any soap in ears or eyes, no matter how mild the formula may be. If you have a dog who doesn’t dig water in their face, you may find that a damp washcloth is all you need around their head. When it’s time to rinse, drain the dirty water first, then rinse with clean, warm water until the water runs clear.
Now it’s time to dry, which to most dogs, means it’s time to shake, shake, shake! If you’d prefer to avoid getting yourself soaked, try covering your puppy’s body with an extra towel (you can drape it over their back like a horse blanket) as you dry off their face and paws with a separate towel. You can then move along and dry off the rest of their body, keeping in mind that larger puppies or those with thick coats may require a whole stack of dry towels to get the job done. Once you’ve done your best with towel-drying, it’s time to let your puppy do their thing in an area where shaking is allowed. You can leave a towel on as you lead them to this shake zone, or very gently hold their muzzle with your fingers—shaking starts with a head motion, so if their muzzle is stilled, they won’t get the rest of the body going.
Now, try to keep your pup indoors until they’re thoroughly dry. Otherwise, they’re likely to head straight outside to the stinkiest thing they can find before you’ve even had a chance to snuggle your nice, clean, fresh-smelling puppy!
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And remember, puppyhood is fast and is gone before you know it. Make sure to savor the time when your pup is young, and take lots of pictures along the way!