How to Give a Dog a Bath

by Janice Jones    |Last updated 11-10-2022

If you are wondering how to give a dog bath, relax.  You are not alone.  Many people wonder if there is an easy way to give a quick but thorough bath to their small dog.

Here is a method for bathing that should take you less than 10 minutes, leaving your dog smelling fresh, and clean.

The good news about bathing a small dog is that he is small and manageable. The bad news is that dogs are not born loving baths--they need a little convincing. 

Even if he does decide to squirm about or shake all the water off him and onto you, you will be able to control the situation.  Puppies can be trained to enjoy grooming and especially the bath.  Therefore, as I tell you how to bathe a dog I will also describe how to train your dog so you will end up with a dog who you feel confident to bathe.

You might not have a professional grooming salon (who does?) but I will bet you do have a kitchen sink, and that works great!  Just how do you get started?  Assemble the things you will need.

Puppy Bath

How to Give a Dog Bath:  Supplies You'll Need

  • Nonskid mat for the sink (a rubber mat intended for a bath tub or shower works well if trimmed)
  • Shampoo & Conditioning Rinse
  • Sink, with a spray nozzle if possible;  if not you will need to reposition your dog periodically to get him thoroughly washed and rinsed
  • Large cup or plastic bottle for diluting shampoo and conditioner
  • Cotton Balls for ears if desired
  • Bath Towels (Smaller towels work fine for puppies)
  • Hair Dryer
  • A gentle voice and a few dog treats
  • AND, if you are worried about getting all wet yourself, consider purchasing a plastic apron or a smock such as those used in salons.

You can pick up an inexpensive smock at a beauty supply store or online.   Chances are you won't need one, but if your dog is one of those that simply HATES BATHS, then a little extra personal gear is well worth the price. 

How to Give a Dog Bath:  First Things First

Best Advice

Brush Before Bathing:  A slightly matted dog before a bath will be a VERY matted dog afterwards.

Before you give a dog bath, remember to brush the coat thoroughly making sure that you de-tangle and remove any knots.  Knots tend to get worse when they get wet.

Beyond that, bathing a Shih Tzu or other Small breed dog is like bathing a human infant.  If you make it an enjoyable experience, your fur baby will love all the attention and pampering.

Always keep a hand on your dog at all times, even if they have never tried to jump out of the sink. When the dog relaxes and remains still, praise him.  A massage behind the ears also helps a skittish dog to relax.

How to Give a Dog Bath:  How Often Should You Bathe

Small dog owners tend to bathe their dogs more frequently than large dog owners do.  Shih Tzu and other small dogs do not get any dirtier than large breed dogs, but they do spend more time on our laps and in our beds.  Small dogs do need frequent baths, but not so frequent that the shampoo dries out their hair.

Most reliable sources that I have seen tend to recommend bathing a dog no more frequently than about ever three weeks.  Certainly if he gets dirty, he will need a bath sooner.  Most small dogs love the outdoors and are great at finding every mud puddle, dirt pile, or smelly grass patch in their path.

Some small dogs love to swim and without access to a pool, will try to swim in their water dish. One way or another, the end result is a DIRTY DOG!   I personally bathe my dogs once per week.  They all seem to crave the extra pampering.

How to Give a Dog Bath: 
The How To's

Personally, I like to use the kitchen sink for a dog bath.  However, you can also use your bathtub, an infant bathtub, or a large plastic container.

Place the small towel or skid free mat on the base of the sink so your puppy or dog will not slide around.  Add a little warm water and lift your dog gently into the sink.  You do not need a lot of water, or your Small dog may become fearful.  An inch of water is fine. Alternately, just try the shower method and do not fill up the sink at all.

First, get him fully soaked using a spray or cup for pour water over his entire body.

Use a good quality dog shampoo.  There are so many different types of shampoos to choose from that a discussion about each type is a great topic for another site.  I like to use a soothing dog shampoo such as an oatmeal based one.  If your dog is under a year old, you might want to use a puppy shampoo. There are shampoos specifically for dogs that shed. There are shampoos for white dogs, black dogs, itchy dogs, flea-ridden dogs, etc. etc.

Do not use your own shampoo, as human products tend to dry out the coat of your small dog.

Instead of placing the shampoo directly on the dog, I like to put some in a cup and add warm water.  I mix it thoroughly and then pour it onto the coat, making sure I do not get it in their eyes.

An alternative method that works well is to purchase a plastic bottle from a local beauty supply store and dilute the shampoo in it. A good soothing shampoo will contain oatmeal. Always follow the label instructions for diluting.  

I work it into lather, especially on their pads, as their feet tend to get dirtier than the rest of them.  Since most dogs do not like their faces washed, I leave that part until last.

If, however, your dog's face is white, put the whitening shampoo on first so it has plenty of time to soak.  If you are careful, you will be able to put shampoo on their head, on the hair around their muzzle, and the ears and chest if you cover their eyes with one of your hands.

You can use a washcloth if you prefer but since the face area gets very dirty it is a good idea to keep the shampoo on for a few minutes before rinsing. 

Here is one of our videos on giving a dog bath you might find helpful.

How to Bathe a Dog:  Rinsing

Rinse with warm water.  You should express his anal glands while in the tub.  Next, I use a conditioning rinse, but once again, I mix it in a cup or plastic bottle filled with warm water.

I then pour it over the coat and massage it in.  I like to keep it on for a minute or two or longer if the dog will allow.  If I am massaging, he usually does not protest at all.  I will then rinse it out.

Some people like to keep just a trace of the conditioner on the coat.  This helps with brushing, but do not leave so much on that the hair becomes oily. Called residue, leaving some conditioner can be a problem.  The coat may feel silky but it does attract dirt faster than if you remove all of the conditioner. 

Have a towel handy and ready to go because the first thing your Small dog will do is shake off the water.

How to Give a Dog Bath: 
Drying the Hair

Pamper Your Puppy

If you wrap him up in a towel quickly, he will not be able to spray water on you.  Pat gently dry, but do not rub the coat of a long-haired dog as this will tangle the hair.

Keep him wrapped in a towel while you prepare to blow him dry with a hair dryer.  If you have a short haired dog and the temperature inside the home is warm, the dog should dry quickly without the aid of a hair dryer.  But, remember, the more time you spend drying with a towel, the shorter the time spent with the blow dryer.  Most dogs would prefer a towel to a blow dryer.

You can purchase a dryer specifically for pets or use your own.  Use the low or cool setting of your blow dryer.  I like to hold the dryer with one hand and brush with the other, but that is only because my dogs have become accustomed to laying still.  If you are doing this on a table I recommend you keep one hand on the dog at all times if they are not tethered in some way.  It is also helpful if someone holds the dryer for you so you have an extra free hand. 

Many pet dryers come with a stand, which is extremely useful allowing you to have your hands free for brushing.  If your dryer does not have a stand and you still want to have a free hand for brushing, prop the dryer on a folded up towel.  If you are doing this, be sure to check frequently and never block the air intake duct.

Bathing can become an enjoyable experience for both you and your dog and provides an opportunity to bond with your dog.  Always keep it positive and have some extra treats around if your little one resists.  A dog bone that can be chewed by you are blowing her dry will create all the distraction she needs so you can get the job done. 

How to Give a Dog Bath:  Tricks of the Trade

  • Use good quality products
  • Use a firm, but gentle approach
  • Talk in a soft soothing voice
  • Use a thick towel and remove as much moisture from the hair as possible before blow drying
  • Train a puppy to love a bathe with lots of TLC, praise and a few treats
  • Use cool setting on dryer to avoid burning the dog

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About Janice

Janice is the voice behind Miracle Shih Tzu. Having lived with dogs and cats most of her life, she served as a veterinary technician for ten years in Maryland and twelve years as a Shih Tzu dog breeder in Ohio.

Her education includes undergraduate degrees in Psychology with a minor in biology, Early Childhood Education, and Nursing, and a master's in Mental Health Counseling.

She is a lifelong learner, a dog lover, and passionate about the welfare of animals. Her favorite breed for over 50 years has been the Shih Tzu.

When not writing, reading, or researching dog-related topics, she likes to spend time with her eight Shih Tzu dogs, her husband, and her family, as well as knitting and crocheting. She is also the voice behind Small Dog Place and Smart-Knit-Crocheting.