Dog Bath Day: When and How to Wash Dogs

Originally published on Apr 16, 2014

dog bath time
If only it were this easy!

This was supposed to have been MEGA DOG BATH DAY here at Piney Mountain Foster Care. What I mean is that all 5 dogs, ranging from 50 pounds to 85 pounds, would be getting a trip through The Dog Wash. That being the bathtub I left in place when I converted the mobile home we once lived in into my workshop and office and now kennels. Having their own tub saves a lot of wear and tear on our bathroom at home.

But, it has turned chilly today (high 40’s) rainy (been raining steadily since 10:00 last night) and now becoming quite windy. It doesn’t seem fair to give them all baths on a day they won’t dry out. Maybe tomorrow – then I can include Smokey (due to arrive tomorrow) and have the whole crowd done and ready to receive their flea and tick treatments for the month.

And if you don’t hear from me for a while, it’ll be because I’ve strained every muscle in my body wrestling these dogs into the tub: it is amazing the way they can manipulate gravity at the sight of a bathtub! Cochise and Blondie can easily dial up their 85 pounds to what feels like 200!

Why Bathe Them At All?

I do know a lot of people who never bathe their dogs. But most of them never let the dogs in their house either: they are full-time, outside dogs. They are provided shelter, most are kept in kennels most of the time for their own protection. Not all of the dogs we keep live in the house with us. Blondie and Cochise are adopted family members and are afforded the right to live with us full time. Foster dogs who progress to the stage of House Training during their recovery time with us are also invited to be our guests. It’s sort of Foster Finishing School. Stinky dogs smell up the house: clean dogs don’t. Greasy dogs leave black patches on furniture and walls they rub against. Their bedding requires more frequent washing if they lay on it with dirt and oils in their fur.

Much like people, dirt can make dogs itch. Even if they are kept flea free, they can scratch themselves raw because of skin irritation. Irritated skin multiplies the possibility that infection or disease will take hold. Keeping them clean helps to keep them healthy.

I find a dog with clean, soft, fresh smelling fur much more pleasant to pet than one that is greasy and smelly. New arrivals who have been confined in a shelter may well have fecal matter and urine in their fur. Loving on them can end up transferring that to the “open gate” tissues of your eyes, nose, mouth, and genitals if you’re not careful to keep your hands away from those areas until you’ve washed thoroughly.

How Often to Bathe Them?

There is no pat answer here, it just depends on the dog. Some breeds, like our bulldogs, develop a dry skin condition if bathed too often. Dogs with oily skin will get greasy faster than dogs with a normal coat. Dogs that run lose and like to play in the mud or roll in cow-stuff will be getting washed off, at least, on a frequent basis. Short-haired dogs tend to stay cleaner than long-haired dogs. Some breeds seem to magically repel dirt. We had a boxer, Hercules, who spent a fair bit of his down time maintaining his own feet, legs and belly. He came in clean, stayed clean and did not in his months with us get to feeling or smelling “dirty”. He could quite probably get by with a semi-annual bath. Oily skinned dogs will attract and hold dirt and feel grungy quickly; they typically need bathing monthly. Mud-puppies will need cleaning every time they go puddle diving.

Bath Temperature

Dogs do not tolerate hot water the way some people do. When setting up to bathe a dog, test the water the same way you would for a baby; using a more delicate part of your body like the wrist, not your palm. It should be just on the cool side; not cold but not warm and definitely not hot.

Bath Soaps

There are many brands of dog shampoos on the market. Some include chemicals to kill and or repel fleas and ticks, others tout the same properties that human shampoos do: soft lustrous coat, curl relaxer, etc. Some are very expensive. Whether they are worth the money, or even it they actually do anything is not up to me to decide. When I purchase a dog shampoo I prefer one that cleans well and rinses away without residue. Expensive glitz is not desired. I have used an oatmeal formula successfully on dogs that have itchy skin. I do know that most human shampoos are not good for dog skin.

Human skin is acidic on the ph scale, while dog skin is slightly alkaline. Using shampoo made for human adults on dogs can be irritating to their skin due to the chemical make-up of the shampoo. Anything with fragrances can cause allergic reactions and should be avoided. The safest human shampoo to use on dogs is a basic baby shampoo, which is formulated to be ph neutral and have nothing harsh that will irritate delicate skin or eyes. This is safe, effective, and it’s cheap.

Bathing Options


We use the bathtub in the bathroom of my workshop as our dog wash. It is fitted with a hand-held shower to make wetting an rinsing easier and I allow the water to drain out constantly rather than having them stand in the water. The shower hose attachment was made specifically for bathing pets and is supposed to have a soap dispenser option built in, but that has never worked.

This set-up works OK, except that the bathroom is quite small and is also home to a shelving unit holding towels and bedding for the dogs, which makes getting to the tub from the door just that much more difficult because of the tight space. Also, it is still carpeted. Not a good idea for a dog bath: it offers a good toe-hold for resistant dogs and tends to smell like wet dogs for quite a while afterward. I need to cut all that loose and pull it up.

Outdoor hose

I do have a hose hooked up in the play yard that is used to hose out the pens, clean dog houses between guests and rinse & refill water bowls. I could use that to bathe dogs outdoors in good weather. Our well water comes up from 400 feet down in the ground so hose water tends to be mighty cold. That can be uncomfortable for the dogs. Laying a long hose out in the sun can take the edge off, but keeping any kind of consistent temperature is impossible. If it sits too long in the hose it will be too hot, running it for a while will make it frigid.

Dog bath station
Found on Pinterest

Outdoor Shower

I would LOVE to have something like this. It offers easy walk-in, walk-out access, a clean surface all around, and hot and cold water. It may include a drain for waste water, I can’t tell for sure, but the standpipe would seem to indicate that it does. If the dog shakes out, nothing (but me) gets soaked. A bail in the tray would allow for a short tether to hold the dog in place, meaning I could use both hands to scrub and rinse the dogs.

Perhaps … one day.

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