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This is Vet Nurse Becky’s 12th article in her excellent series on Puppy Behaviour

Bathing your puppy is essential for when they decide to role in something nasty as they explore the world or get smelly. Starting the bathing process from a young age will allow them to be easier to bath when they are adults as they will be more used to it and it is a normal experience for them.

How old does my puppy need to be before I can bath them?

A common misconception that people have is that you cannot bath a puppy under 6 months old, as this will damage their coat by drying it out. Most decent puppy shampoos are designed to be gentle on the skin and coat to prevent this. However, it is important to read the label on each shampoo bottle, as there are many that cannot be used on puppies under 12 weeks old.

When your puppy is in the litter, the bitch is responsible for keeping the puppy clean by licking them. Once they have left their mum it is our responsibility. They should be cleaned whenever they get dirty or smelly. For the most part, they can be cleaned with a wet sponge and warm water. However other times, only a bath will do.

How often do I need to bath them?

Try not to bath your puppy too often. This will strip the dog’s natural oils that are needed to keep the coat soft and silky and stops the fur from getting brittle and damaged. The time between baths depends on the individual dog and how dirty they get. Also longer haired dogs will need bathing more regular, as their fur will get matted and tangled quicker.

As a general rule:

  • Curly coats need the most bathing. This generally needs to be done every 8 weeks.
  • Wiry and silky coats can be bathed every 3 months.
  • Double coats generally need to be bathed every 6 months. This should be after their normal shedding period in the spring and autumn.
  • Smooth coats generally need to only be bathed once a year.

If your pets get dirty or smelly in between these times, they can be bathed or sponged down with a damp cloth.

Which shampoo?

There are many different shampoos on the market for different ages, breeds and conditions. When choosing a shampoo it is important to read the label.

You must choose a puppy shampoo and not a human shampoo, as they have different pH levels and harsher chemicals.

A good oatmeal based, tearless shampoo is suitable for most puppies. But if they have sensitive skin, make sure you go for a soothing one.

How to bath my puppy?

It is important that your puppy’s first experience of bathing is a positive one, and tells them there is nothing to be worried about. Take it slowly; rushing will only scare your puppy.

Ensure you puppy is kept warm at all times. Pre heat the room where you are going to bath them, whether it is the kitchen or the bathroom, and use warm towels to dry them off with.

  • A few days or weeks before bathing your puppy take him into the bath area regularly and play with him and give him treats. Make him feel that the bath or sink is a fun place to be. Let him have full reign and sniff about.
  • Before starting the bathing procedure, ensure your puppy has been outside to the toilet.
  • Ensure before the bath, you brush your puppy out. This removes dead hair, dirt and matts, which the water will tighten.
  • Place a rubber mat into the bath to prevent your puppy slipping.
  • Have shampoo, towels and treats ready before bathing.
  • Run the water first with your puppy not in the bath to get him used to the sound, put a little on him to show there is nothing to fear. Once he is comfortable with this you can put him in the bath, hind limbs first, ensuring his head is above the water.
  • The water should be no higher than half the dog’s height to prevent him drowning.
  • Use lukewarm water (like you would for a baby) and slowly wet your puppies coat thoroughly, using a shower attachment or jug, if these scare your puppy, you can use a cupped hand to wet the dry parts of him.
  • Apply the shampoo into the palm of your hand, then rub onto your puppy and lather up. Avoid his eyes and ears.
  • Wash his head last after rinsing off the shampoo from everywhere else:
    • You can slowly introduce this over baths, as this is a big thing for a puppy and the main thing they do not like about bathing.
    • Firstly you can use a wet cloth without soap to wipe over his face.
    • When he is comfortable, you can gently pour warm water over his head from behind the skull with a jug, avoiding his face. Gently tip the head back so that the water runs away from his eyes and nose.
  • Wait 5 minutes and then thoroughly rinse all of the shampoo off. It is important to remove all of the shampoo, otherwise it can cause the skin to dry out and become itchy.
  • Towel dry. Remove him from the bath and wrap him in a towel. Gently rub him down in the towel and then put him on the floor and let him shake.
  • Fully dry with a hair drier on the lowest cool setting. The sound of the hairdryer could frighten your puppy, so try to get him used to this before his first bath.
  • Remember throughout this process to praise your puppy regularly. Talk calmly at all times and take it slow. Be relaxed.
  • Do not let your puppy go outdoors if they are still damp, as they can get a chill and become dirty again.
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