Preparation is key to making sure bathtime runs smoothly for both you and your pup. It’s important to remember that the introduction of any new activity, including bathing and grooming, should be done slowly and gently so your puppy becomes used to the experience in a positive way. This article will discuss everything you need to give your puppy a bath, including step-by-step instructions and helpful tips to make it safe and fun for everyone!
What you will need for your puppy’s first bath
Here’s a checklist of useful items you should have before you begin bathing your puppy for the first time:
- Dog shampoo. It’s important to use a gentle shampoo formulated for dogs as the pH of their skin is different from ours. These are available at vet clinics and pet stores and your veterinarian will be able to make a recommendation.
- Towels. Make sure you have 2-3 absorbent towels on hand so puppy can stand on a towel and be dried carefully after the wash.
- Combs and brushes. There are many different styles of grooming equipment and the best choice will vary depending on your puppy’s breed and the texture of their fur. A Pomeranian with a thick fluffy coat will need different grooming tools compared to a smooth-coated Jack Russell Terrier.
- Treats. We want bath time to be a positive and low-stress activity from a young age. Having some of your pup’s favorite treats on hand will make the process much more fun and rewarding.
- Non-slip mat. Many of us will be bathing our puppies in a sink or bathtub which can be slippery. Placing a non-slip mat in the bottom of the bath can help avoid injury and your puppy feel will feel more comfortable.
- Hair trap. If bathing your puppy in a sink or bath, consider using a hair trap to help prevent the drain from clogging, especially if your pup has long fur!
- Casual clothes. Bath time can be messy so make sure you’re wearing a comfortable outfit you don’t mind getting wet!
Now onto the bathtub and setup. Consider the size of your puppy and what will be the safest and most convenient place to bathe them. Some owners like to use a laundry sink or a bathtub. Many owners also use a plastic dog bath outdoors on the lawn. Whatever your set-up, consider any potential hazards and how you might minimize them.
- Is the yard secure?
- If using a hose check the temperature and pressure first (they can heat up fast in the sun!)
- Make sure to have lukewarm water ready in a bucket or container as puppies can become cold and develop hypothermia very quickly.
- Be mindful of the temperature outside and avoid washing your puppy outdoors in cold weather.
- Is my puppy likely to jump over the edge of the sink or bathtub?
- Are they likely to slip? Do I have a non-slip mat?
- Is there a safe place to dry my puppy?
Remember if you need help bathing your puppy, your veterinarian will be able to offer advice or you can use a professional dog groomer. It’s also useful to get their recommendations for the right grooming tools for your puppy’s breed and fur texture.
Helpful tips for bathing your puppy
Taking the time to make grooming and bathing your puppy a positive and low-stress experience can make the world of difference. Gradually letting your puppy become used to the process with positive reinforcement means they’re less likely to develop fear or anxiety around bath time. Here are our top tips (use with lots of praise and treats!):
- Start massaging your puppy like you would when giving them a bath so they become comfortable being handled this way. Build up gently until they’re happy to be handled all over, including their ears and between the toes.
- Make sure they’re used to being brushed and combed, with short gentle sessions to start until they’re comfortable with the process.
- Let them stand in the bathtub or sink without any water at first until they are comfortable, then introducing water gradually.
- Consider sound. Try turning on the hose or tap to a low flow to see how your puppy reacts when they’re within earshot. Slowly acclimate them to the sounds of the bath.
- Speak to your puppy using a calm and soothing voice.
- Constantly supervise your puppy during bathtime.
- Make it FUN. Introduce treats and toys during and after a bath. Lick mats that attach to the tub can be spread with a little dog-friendly peanut butter as a fun bathtime activity.
- Keep the temperature lukewarm (test on the inside of your wrist) and the water pressure low.
- Use a non-slip mat to help avoid injuries.
- Avoid getting water down their ears – instead use a damp cloth to gently clean around the ears and face.
Certain breeds such as Maltese Terriers or Poodles will require regular trimming or clipping. Many professional groomers offer puppy sessions which are perfect for getting them comfortable with the process.
How to give your puppy a bath (step-by-step)
Making sure you and your puppy are prepared for a positive bathtime experience will make the process that much smoother, safer, and much more fun! Remember when following the steps below, to try and incorporate our helpful tips throughout.
- Consider a patch test. Though uncommon, it’s possible for dogs to have a reaction to shampoos or other topical products – just like us! So, if it’s your first time using shampoo on your puppy it may be worth performing a patch test. Apply a little shampoo to a small patch of skin (rinse off as normal). Monitor the area for 48 hours for any redness or itching and contact your veterinarian if there’s a reaction.
- Set-up. Make sure you have all the equipment you need and can access it easily while your puppy is in the bath. Use the list above to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything. If bathing your puppy outdoors, make sure to check the weather forecast.
- Brush. It’s much easier to remove knots and tangles from the fur when it’s dry, so make sure to comb and brush your puppy before the bath.
- Water temperature and pressure. Make sure the water is lukewarm but not too hot (test it on the inside of your wrist) and the pressure is low. Keep checking the temperature and pressure during the bath.
- Wet thoroughly. Make sure the fur is completely wet right down to the skin. This can be more difficult for breeds with thicker coats such as Huskies and German Shepherds. Wet your puppy from the neck down and avoid getting water in the eyes or ears.
- Shampoo. Apply shampoo and gently massage into a lather, reapplying as needed to remove dirt and debris. Don’t forget to wash carefully between the toes! Leave on for 5 minutes or per label instructions. Medicated shampoos prescribed for skin conditions should be used according to your veterinarian’s instructions, but usually require 5-10 minutes of contact time before rinsing.
- Rinse thoroughly. Make sure all of the shampoo or product has been removed from your puppy’s coat.
- Dry. Gently but thoroughly towel-dry your puppy. Take special care with breeds that have thicker coats as they can be prone to developing skin infections known as ‘hotspots’ (pyotraumatic dermatitis). Most puppies can then be left to air dry but make sure they are in a warm environment.
- Reward. This is a big experience for your puppy so make sure to reward them again at the end for their efforts. This might be an extra treat or a play session with their favorite toy while they finish drying!
How to get your puppy used to the hairdryer?
The reason towel drying has been recommended in this article is because correctly using a hairdryer for a puppy or dog can be difficult. High temperatures or holding the hairdryer too close can be uncomfortable or even cause injury. In most cases, especially when starting out, I would recommend leaving a hairdryer for veterinary or grooming professionals.
If you do choose to use a hairdryer on your puppy, please be mindful that even the noise and sensation of the hairdryer can be highly unpleasant and scary. The same process of gradual desensitization to the sounds and sensations, plus positive reinforcement using treats and praise is essential. A hairdryer should only be used at a low temperature and speed setting and should be held a good distance away from your puppy (never pointed in their face).
How often should you bathe your puppy?
The frequency of bathing will depend on your puppy’s skin and coat, as well as their lifestyle (how dirty they get!). Puppies and dogs can be bathed as frequently as every 1-2 weeks when using an appropriate shampoo according to veterinary dermatologists, but they also advise that this isn’t necessarily better for their skin and coat.
For puppies with a shorter coat and healthy or ‘normal’ skin, bathing is only really necessary when needed if they become dirty or smelly. Washing too frequently can risk stripping the natural oils from the coat, leading to dry skin. Breeds with longer coats or those that require regular grooming such as Poodles and Shih Tzu’s may need to visit the groomer every 6-8 weeks.
If your puppy has a skin condition or allergies, your veterinarian may prescribe a medicated or hypoallergenic shampoo. These are often prescribed for more frequent use, even up to 2-3 times a week, depending on the problem. If your puppy’s skin is itchy, red, or you are concerned in any way, it’s best to speak to your veterinarian so they can make a diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan.
Bathing your puppy safely is important to keep their coat clean and healthy and when done right it can even be fun! Take your time to gradually introduce your puppy to the process to make sure it becomes a positive experience for both of you.