“How often should I wash my dog?” is one of the most frequent questions owners ask us veterinary nurses about basic dog care. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have one specific answer: It depends on your dog’s breed, coat type, and temperament, among other things.
With that said, we can still give some general guidelines about how often you need to wash your dog.
So, how often do you wash your dogs?
We wash our dogs when they’re dirty. If they’re super muddy or have rolled in something gross, it’s time for a bath. (Though Harry has a power hose on standby for the day that Gunther rolls in fox poo.)
This works for us because both Bing and Gunther have smooth coats that don’t matt and shed minimally (so far, Gunther may decide to drop a whole other dog next summer; it’s a Shepherd trait). Frequent trips to the beach mean that Gunther is in and out of the water a lot, so once we brush the sand out and he’s dried well, he stays pretty clean. Bing hates baths only a little more than he hates being dirty, so he tends to stay out of trouble with even a whiff of a wash around it.
For most dogs with smooth coats, a similar strategy will work well. If they’re visibly dirty or smell, give them a bath. Otherwise, let them be.
Though if you find your dog gets smelly despite being bathed every few weeks, call your vet. Dental disease and yeast infections are two things that can cause dogs to smell that a bath cannot fix.
How often should I wash my dog with a long or curly coat?
Dogs with long or curly coats pick up a lot of debris on walks. I prefer brushing dirt out over bathing them too often so that their skin can replenish its natural oils properly.
If you hate that they pick up so much dirt, consider getting the groomer to trim any feathers going down long-haired dogs’ legs and do a tighter trim to their bellies. Ask for “poodle feet”—shaving down to the skin—on the paws of any variant of doodle.
The other alternative would be to get your doodle acclimatised to wearing boots in the winter. Bodysuits are also available that stop dogs from picking up muck on their walks if your dog has a low-hanging belly or likes to roll around.
Can I wash my dog too much?
Yes, washing your dog too often can play havoc with their skin and coat.
Too much washing, especially with perfumed shampoos, can dry out all of the natural oils their skin produces as a barrier and leave them susceptible to itchy, flaky, dry skin, which can lead to dermatitis or fungal skin infections.
What can I do to keep my dog smelling nice and looking fresh?
Regular brushing at home is a great way to keep your dog looking and feeling their best. It stimulates the skin to produce more oils and is a natural behaviour that dogs use to communicate and show affection towards each other. It also prevents their fur from matting, which can be painful.
Once they’re acclimatised to the brush, most dogs LOVE getting groomed by their owners.
(We have a lavender scented conditioning spray that I use while brushing Gunther that brings a sheen to his coat, but I only use it once a month.)
When should I start washing my dog?
If you have a new puppy, start getting them used to baths early on. Give them plenty of treats and praise, and avoid scrubbing their sensitive areas like their ears and eyes. (Un)fortunately, puppies seem to get themselves covered in a variety of poo, urine and food from an early age, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to get them used to being washed early on.
If you’ve adopted an adult dog, check with the rescue organisation if they’ve had baths before and how they’ve handled it. Some dogs are extremely opposed to baths (ahem, Bing), and that’s a good thing to know before being in a situation where they’re forced to have one.
If you have a dog that HATES baths (seriously, Bing), do some desensitisation work with them in your bath or shower—without turning the water on. Place a towel on the surface so your dog has something with grip to stand on. (The slippy surface of a bath or shower is a significant factor in many dogs’ hatred of them.)
You also need to make the bath a fun place for them. Lickimat makes products that stick to tiles so you can smear some of their favourite food onto it and let them lick it off while they stand there. Alternatively, you can smear peanut butter on your bathroom tiles and let your dog do the rest.
Once you’ve given your dog a few pleasant, water-free, experiences in the bath, you should be able to turn the water on nearby without much of a reaction from your dog. Do this a few times before you wash them for the first time, and while they may never love a bath, it will become less stressful for everyone involved.
Bing will now willingly jump into the shower instead of running to the other side of the house when I mention the B-word—he still looks miserable the whole time he’s being bathed, but it’s still a huge win.
What’s the most important thing to remember about washing your dog?
“DRY YOUR DOG PROPERLY”Bing’s Best Things, 2022
Drying your dog is the most important step when bathing them, and after any swim or paddle.
Not drying your dog properly can lead to your dog’s fur (especially double-coated dogs) trapping the water next to the skin. The bacteria in the water then multiply which, along with your dog’s body heat, can cause moist dermatitis. This is also known as a hotspot— a skin infection that’s super itchy and can be painful if your dog scratches too much.
It’s hard to properly dry dogs with thick coats, which is another reason I prefer to give fewer baths. I’d rather not risk missing a wet bit under their armpit for the sake of a baby-powder-scented dog for the next few hours. Also, hotspots STINK, so it completely counteracts any benefits of bath time anyway.
The golden rule with bathing dogs is bathe when necessary. We have dogs with low-maintenance coats (for this reason), so it’s maybe once every three months in our house — and even less for the dogs.
If you have a dog that requires regular coat care, your groomer, breeder or vet will recommend the proper bathing routine. But for most dogs, you can maintain their coat in other ways.