Puppies are cute, but get messy and mucky. For times when that infatuating fresh puppy scent gets clouded over with an overwhelming smell of mud and the occasional poo, it’ll be helpful to know how to bathe your puppy. It’s nowhere near as difficult or dangerous as a cat being given a bath, no worries about that. Better yet, many puppies, especially the long-haired ones, grow to like being bathed as it gets all the grit and dirt out of their fur. 

At first, you might find that your puppy thinks of baths as scary things. Teaching a puppy to like being bathed is a gradual process. You don’t want to just plonk them in! It can give them quite a fright, especially if their first exposure is during a fear period. 

Pug in the bath
Photo by Justin Jason on Unsplash

To make everything go smoothly, we thought we’d help you out starting from the very basics: from why your puppy needs a bath, how to give puppies a bath in a fun and positive way, what to watch out for when you’re bathing your puppy and whether or not you should treat your puppy to a spa day. It’s not a question of whether they deserve one, of course, the answer to that will always be yes.

Are you looking for a personalised training programme for your puppy? One that’s based on their developmental milestones and their specific traits of their breed? Well, aren’t you glad you’re in the right place? Download the Zigzag puppy training app today to get started; our team of expert puppy coaches are ready to talk to you through any troubles 7 days a week. If your puppy has escaped the bath and blessed your house in soap, they’ll be able to help. 

Why does my dog need a bath?

I love the smell of wet dog… 

Is a flat-out lie. No one has ever said that. Ever. 

But dogs need bathing not only because they can get very smelly, but because it’s also part of a regular grooming routine. Eau de dog isn’t really a longed-for home fragrance, is it? 

Keeping your puppy clean so that their skin and fur stays healthy is an essential part of caring for your puppy. Some dogs will need bathing more regularly than others and will depend on them having a long or short coat, and how much time they spend outside (and what they get up to when they’re there).

If your puppy has a long coat or is a non shedding breed like Cockapoos and Labradoodles, it means that the dirt from outside clings to their coat. Those kinds of breeds will need to be bathed roughly every 3-4 weeks. 

For shedding breeds like Staffordshire Bull Terriers, French Bulldogs, and Labradors, the dirt will come out with the fur they drop, which means they don’t require as much bathing. But it also means they’ll potentially re-furbish your home in a not-so-desirable carpet of fur and mud. Shedding breeds do better with less frequent washing, as overbathing can make the fur brittle as it can strip the oils out of the coat. A warm flannel bath and wipe over can often be sufficient and just give them a full bath if they roll in something unmentionable or are kicking up a stink! 

Breeds such as Afghan Hounds require a lot of coat care and will need bathing even more frequently. Plus regular blow dries. Yeh, really! 

Keep in mind that getting puppies used to having a bath should be done gradually so as not to frighten them. It’s worth starting them off young so that it’s no big deal when they’re older and they’re used to being soapy and in the water. 

How to give puppies a bath

Stage One

The first stage of how to give puppies a bath is getting them used to the bath area. Here are some simple steps on how to do that so that your puppy eventually looks forward to stepping in the tub. 

  1. Brush your puppy before giving them a bath

Brush or comb your puppy’s coat through before you put them near the water to get any of the dead coat out. 

  1. Prep a food toy to make it fun

Using a food toy like a lickimat splash with some liver paste or other bathtime puzzle toy will help your puppy associate the bath or shower with something nice and tasty.

  1. Put a non-slip bath mat inside the bath.

Puppies need to feel safe and shouldn’t slip around in the bath. Make sure you have a rubber mat in the bottom to make them feel comfortable – it’s too early for slip n’ slide games!

  1. Turn the shower or tap on 

For now, all we want is just a little bit of water at the bottom of the bath, or a trickle of water while your puppy is busy enjoying their toy or eating their treats. If you’re giving them treats, break them up really small but feed them frequently to keep their interest high.

  1. Time to take a break, dry off and repeat a few days later

Done all that? Great, that wraps up your first session of introducing your puppy to the bath. Now, it’s time to get them out and dry them off!

Practice this first stage several times so that your puppy gets used to going in the bath and thinking of it as a fun place to be. The more you rebuild positive associations to going in the bath, the easier the next stage will be as they’ll be used to the water.

Stage 2 

  1. Repeat steps 1 – 4 of how to give puppies a bath

Easy, you’ve done it before. Just repeat the steps you’ve done previously to help to remind your puppy of the positive experience of being in the bath. Keep your eyes open for their body language; it will let you know if you’re ok to move on and really start stage 2 of how to give puppies a bath. It’s ok to go at their pace! No need to rush it. Not even if the wet dog smell is digging into your brain.

  1. Wet your puppy’s feet

Using the shower or a jug of water, see if you can pour some water across your puppy’s feet. Easy does it! Make sure they have that lickimat or are being rewarded with lots of treats so it becomes as enjoyable as it can be.

  1. If your puppy is ready try running water over their back

Go lightly with the shower head. No need to blast the power shower and get water near their eyes or face yet. Make sure you feed them treats regularly or fill their lickimat to keep them feeling good and easy.

  1. See if your puppy is happy with some shampoo

Let your puppy inspect the shampoo bottle. Does it spark joy? Great, this is the moment to  then give them a nice soapy massage and wash their fur thoroughly. 

  1. Rinse the shampoo out of your puppy’s fur

Rinse out all the shampoo well. Leaving shampoo behind can irritate your puppy’s skin, so make sure the water runs clear before you move on.

  1. Use a flannel or sponge to wash their face

Be gentle when washing their face so that they don’t get scared by it. Use plenty of treats and your voice as encouragement, your puppy’s being so good. 

Labrador in the bath
Photo by Autri Taheri on Unsplash

Things to look out for when giving puppies a bath

When you giving your puppies a bath, it’s also the perfect opportunity to check out the following:

1. Cuts on your puppy’s skin

Some breeds like Whippets and other sighthounds have paper-thin skin that can cut easily. Other dogs also frequently get their paws cut, so check your puppy for any nicks or scabs.

2. Check your puppy for fleas, ticks and mites

We know, they’re gross. But there’s no better time than bathtime to check your puppy over for any repulsive crawlies. Check their ears thoroughly – puppy ears make the perfect homes for ear mites, gross! Look out for your puppy scratching their ears – this is often a clear sign.

3. Look longingly into your puppy’s eyes at bathtime

We’re sure you do this anyway. But bathtime is also a good moment to check your puppy’s eye health for tear staining, cloudy eyes or maybe they have runny eyes. Alright, fine – you can also check for dreamy eyes.

4. Clean out any mats in your puppy’s fur

Sometimes your puppy will get sticky stuff in their fur, causing a mat, and other times it’s just where the fur has knotted together. Cleaning out mats when giving your puppy a bath can be much more of a breeze if you use some conditioner, but make sure to rinse it out thoroughly afterwards.

Puppy Spas for puppy baths

Do you think your puppy might enjoy a spa day as much as you? If you have a puppy breed that needs to go to a professional groomer, we recommend doing that when they’re young so that they get used to being around scissors, hair dryers and the whole shebang. Even if you won’t need to see a groomer regularly, it’s still helpful to have one that can trim your puppy’s nails, trim or pluck their ear hair, and give them a thorough wash. 

Ask people for recommendations for groomers – they’ve probably already done the work of weeding out the bad ones, so you’ll have a curated list of the best groomers around you. See? We give the best tips. Whatever you do, make sure that going to the grooming salon is something your puppy will find enjoyable. Some grooming sessions can be a bit rushed and get heavy-handed, so you’ll want to stay away from those. 

Many grooming salons also offer a complete puppy spa break experience, including face packs or even facials which can be great for getting rid of puppy tear stains. Others may offer anything from a deep cleansing micro bubble bath, to a mud therapy bath for itchy skin, to electric teeth cleaning. Doesn’t sound like a bad idea to join them on a spa day.

dog on towel with ball
Photo by Isabela Kronemberger on Unsplash

We hope those tips get you started and you’ve learnt how to give puppies a bath. Bathing your puppy doesn’t have to look like in those movies where the dog escapes in a full soap coat around town! If you have a breed that needs regular washing, it’s especially important that bathtime isn’t a stressful experience. They will need to have many more in the future, and bathtime woes are no fun for anyone. Make sure you introduce them to a groomer during their socialisation period too, so a trip down there doesn’t turn into a soap-opera episode every time. Literally.

Did you find this article helpful? Perhaps we’ve managed to interest you to know what the best grooming brush is for your puppy, or how to clean your puppy’s teeth. We have all the answers you need. 

There’s a lot more content and training tips, advice and lessons in the Zigzag puppy training app. Give it a go and download the trial… who knows what good stuff you’ll pick up.