Many dogs hate B-A-T-H time. My family’s four-year-old German Shepherd mix hides under the table whenever she sees her bath towel being put into the bathroom. We actually have to speak in code so that she does not know we are preparing for her bath until the very last minute, when the towel has to be produced.
But bathing our dogs is very important for their health. So, whether they like it or not, they have to go through this dreaded routine.
How often should I bathe my dog?
Not all breeds are created equal when it comes to bathing. Dogs that love to run around outdoors, roll in the dirt, and have extra oily skin need more baths. Dogs that have short hair and smooth coats do not need frequent baths. Dogs that have thick, long, or double coats, like German Shepherds, don’t need to take a bath often —about once a month is generally okay.
There are exceptions, though.
When your German Shepherds change their coats during spring and fall, you have to groom them religiously and bathe them as often as necessary to help them maintain healthy coats. German Shepherds which lead very active outdoor lives also need more bathing time than those which live in apartments.
Although there are shampoos and soaps made especially for dogs, they can still strip their coats of natural oils, therefore less frequent baths are better. Dogs that lose their natural oils may become prone to matted fur, dandruff, or irritated skin. You wouldn’t want your German Shepherd to keep scratching because of itchy skin, right?
Check in with your veterinarian when in doubt.
How do I bathe my German Shepherd dog at home?
For dog owners, bathing can be an ordeal. For the dogs, it can be a traumatizing experience as well. So, here are some simple steps you can follow that might help you and your dog handle bathing, if not in a fun and enjoyable way, then at least in a less upsetting way.
1. Prepare your tools
The first step to any good endeavor is preparation. So, prepare the bathing supplies and equipment.
Supplies include dog shampoo and conditioner (or soap if you use that), comb or brush, cotton balls, and treats. Do not forget the treats! These are essential as bribes and rewards. Necessary pieces of equipment are a tub, hose or shower, towel, washcloth, non-slip mat, and bath toys.
Preparation also includes the location. Whether you bathe your dog indoors or outdoors, you have to make sure that the area is clean and all your supplies and equipment are within easy reach. Lay out the non-slip mats on all the places you think your very wet dog will frolic on, including the bottom of the tub, if you are using one. If you bathe your dog outdoors, make sure that the tub will not skid across the ground when your frisky dog jumps into or out of it. I know some people who prepare a station that they can tie their dogs’ leash to in case they make a run for it.
Also, check the water temperature. Make sure that it is either lukewarm or, if you use water from the tap, that it is not ice-cold. Your dog is sure to go crazy if you suddenly spray cold water on them, even if the weather is hot and they seem to be panting like crazy.
2. Prepare your dog
The final preparation involves your dog. As I mentioned earlier, my own dog knows when she is about to get a bath, so she hides under the table or growls at us threateningly. My family has three methods of getting her into the bathroom:
- A. the physical method. This involves either picking her up and dropping her inside the bathroom or pushing her until she enters the bathroom. This is the most effective strategy, but you have to have someone strong enough to carry your dog. It also requires close coordination between the lifter (i.e., the person who has large enough muscles to carry several kilos of dog), the person who opens and closes the bathroom door, and the one who distracts the dog long enough for the lifter to do his or her job. This method also makes everyone involved— humans and animal alike— get really grumpy, because tempers flare up from both sides.
- B. the bribery method. This is where the treats come in handy. Showing a treat and coaxing your dog into the bathroom sometimes works. Sometimes it doesn’t, though. Be prepared to have your pooch eat the treat like the thief s/he is and bolt away to safety in just a matter of seconds! Have method A ready for such a case.
- C. the deceit method. We lure our dog into a false sense of security. Sometimes we prepare her lunch and pretend that she is about to be fed. Then we execute the physical method. Sometimes we groom her and make her relax before coaxing her into the bathroom.
The last one is actually the best method, because brushing or combing your dog before bathing will allow you to remove loose hair, matted fur, or any dirt that’s been collecting in your dog’s coat much more easily. You will also be able to check if your dog has any bruises or dry skin so you know which parts to avoid or be gentle with during the bath. Also, a relaxed dog is a happy dog. And a happy dog is a dog you can lure anywhere.
You might need to experiment a bit on the best method for your own German Shepherd. You can use just one or a combination of two or three. Or, if you are one of the lucky ones, you don’t need any method at all, and your dog will obey your command of Bath Time!
Take things slowly. Let your dog get used to the things and equipment you will use. Dogs are always curious, so let them sniff out the tub, the hose, and the general area. It might help if you have some of your dog’s toys in the tub, so they get the sense that the bathing area is a safe place. Put some cotton balls in your dog’s ear. Make sure you can take them out afterward. If your dog resists, make sure that you will not get any water in the ears later on.
Then slowly open the shower or hose and bring it close to your dog.
Get your dog wet. Try to start at the spots where your dog feels most comfortable being touched. Then slowly move to the other spots. Save the head for the last part, since many dogs are very sensitive about being touched there.
When your dog is all nice and wet, lightly massage the shampoo or soap into their coat. Pay attention to the parts where you could not get the dirt out through brushing or combing. Be extra gentle when you go over bruises or irritated skin.
When you reach the head, the best way to clean it would be with a wet washcloth that’s been soaked in shampoo. Gently wipe your dog’s face and head with the washcloth. Then, rinse the washcloth and wipe your dog again to rinse off the shampoo residue or any remaining dirt on the face and head.
If you feel that this method is not very effective, you can use the pour method. Gently point your dog’s nose downward and slowly pour or shower/hose down water over the top of their head. Pour a small amount of shampoo on your palm and apply it on your dog’s head, starting from the top and heading downwards. Be careful not to get any shampoo in your dog’s eyes or ears! Follow the same method when rinsing.
If you are using a conditioner, apply it after the first rinse. If you are using a 2-in-1 shampoo/conditioner, or at least after you have applied the conditioner, make sure that the final rinse is very thorough. You don’t want any shampoo or conditioner residue to clog your dog’s skin, because this might cause irritation, dry skin, or dandruff.
Your dog will instinctively shake off water from their body, so expect a few shakes after the bath. You can then wrap your dog with a towel and rub them dry.
My dog also gets the zoomies after a bath, so we have a game of chase, which allows everyone involved to release some of the accumulated tension and go back to being happy.
My German Shepherd also likes rubbing her body against the sofa to try to get the scent of the shampoo off her and to regain her own scent. Again, this is normal. Enjoy the spectacle of your adorable pooch being silly.
To speed up the drying process, you can use a hairdryer. Some dogs don’t mind the noise of the machine. But other dogs don’t like the sound, so you can just let their fur air-dry.
7. After-bath service
After being such a good girl or boy during the bath, you really need to reward your dog. We usually give our dog lunch or treats.
Part of our post-bath reward for our dog is an oil massage. We slather coconut oil all over her body and give her a massage. Coconut oil has antibacterial properties, helps reduce allergic reactions to chemicals, makes coats sleek and glossy, soothes itchy patches, and tastes good, so it’s okay even if our dog licks it. If you don’t have coconut oil, you can use lavender, peppermint, or chamomile oil. But consult your vet before you apply any new oils onto your dog’s fur.
Bathing can be a fun bonding routine for you and your dog. Just remember to prepare, be gentle, rinse thoroughly, dry well, and provide an after-bath service that will make your dog look forward to the next B-A-T-H.