Bathing your dog: a step-by-step guide

When bathing your dog, follow these 8 steps for a smooth and stress-free experience.

Bathing your dog isn’t rocket science. But it’s a good idea to follow a consistent procedure to make things easier and minimize stress. From setup to cleanup, this guide will simplify the bathing process for both you and your canine companion.

Step 1: Set the stage

Setting up the bathing area beforehand will help ensure a smooth and stress-free process. First, gather all the necessary supplies (see checklist). Once everything is within arms’ reach, line the tub or sink with a non-slip rubber mat. This will make your dog feel more secure, and prevent any accidents once the water gets flowing.

Step 2:  Call your dog

Using a healthy treat (small pieces of chicken or cheese work well), invite your dog to join you in the bathing area. Gentle coaxing is fine — just be sure not to force him. If you’re dealing with a stubborn subject, attach his leash to his collar so he knows it’s time to listen.

To lift your dog into the basin or tub, place one hand beneath his chest, and the other behind his hind legs. If he’s large, lift with your knees rather than your back. Know your limits, and recruit a friend for help if your dog is too heavy for you to lift by yourself.

Secure your dog’s leash to prevent him from bolting mid-bath. If he’s a high flight risk, rub some all-natural peanut butter on the edge of the tub to keep him occupied.

Step 3: Get him wet

Wet your dog from the base of his skull down to the tip of his tail, first making very sure that the water isn’t too hot or too cold. Be sure to pay close attention to hard-to-reach areas such as his legs, chest and groin area. Because dogs’ coats repel water, consider keeping a bucket of lukewarm water and a sponge nearby to keep him wet during step four. You can also use the sponge to wet his head, as it’s less invasive than spraying.

Step 4: Add the shampoo

Fill your palm with an all-natural shampoo formulated for dogs. Avoid human shampoo and dish soap, as the high acidity can upset the sensitive pH balance of your dog’s skin. If your dog has dry, flaky or oily skin, talk to your vet about which shampoo will best serve his needs. Otherwise, look for an alcohol-free product with limited ingredients, and steer clear of anything containing harsh detergents and surfactants.

Apply the shampoo to the base of your dog’s skull. Avoiding his eyes, massage into a lather around his head and chest. Just as you did with the water, work your way down his body using long, gentle strokes. Shampoo instructions vary, but most advise you to leave the product on your dog’s coat for a few minutes. While you wait, praise your dog, and continue with his “massage” if he starts to get antsy.

Step 5: Rinse and repeat

An all-natural dog shampoo shouldn’t be too sudsy – but it’s still important to get it all out. Rinse your dog thoroughly from head to tail until the water runs clear. Then rinse again! Use your fingertips to part his hair, ensuring no soapy residue is left on his skin.

Step 6: Condition his coat

This step isn’t always necessary, especially if your dog’s coat is already naturally soft and silky. A conditioner formulated for canines can be a good addition to baths during the winter months, or any other time his hair is on the dry side. If possible, use the conditioner counterpart to the shampoo you’ve used.

Apply the conditioner the same way you did the shampoo. Let it sit as long as the instructions recommend, then rinse well.

Step 7: Dry him off

There are two basic ways to dry your dog: with a blow dryer or a towel. For skittish dogs who don’t like loud noises, the latter option is the obvious choice.

While regular bath towels work fine, they can be cumbersome. To make your life easier, reach for something more lightweight. “The Absorber absorbs water much more quickly than a bath towel, making the process faster and more enjoyable for your pup,” explains Eryka Hawkins, Marketing Associate at Clean Tools. “Unlike a bath towel, it completely wrings out once saturated. This allows you to re-use the same Absorber over and over again.” The large Absorber can also double as a non-slip bathmat.

If you opted to skip Step 6, consider applying a natural topical moisturizing balm once your dog is dry. Healthy Hemp Pet CannaBalm contains all-natural ingredients, including hemp oil rich in phyto-cannabinoids. It can promote skin health, and also helps settle any post-bath anxiety.

Step 8: Let him loose

From your dog’s perspective, this is a crucial part of bath time! Running “zoomies” helps him get rid of any lingering bath-induced stress, and gives him a chance to shake off that “soapy” smell. If weather permits, let him into your backyard to keep him from rubbing along the carpets and furniture.

Positive reinforcement is key

Reward, reward, reward! Between each of the steps in this article, be sure to offer your dog some type of reward. Whether it’s a low-calorie treat or a pat on the back, positive reinforcement will help him associate bath time with a pleasant experience.

Integrating essential oils

Essential oils are a popular natural remedy that can help soothe your dog’s bath time anxiety. “Essential oils work with the limbic system, which plays a role in controlling breathing, heart rate, memory, stress levels, hormone balance and blood pressure,” explains Veterinarian Dr. John J. Hanover, distributor for Young Living Essential Oils. “The limbic system is often referred to as the ‘emotional brain’; therefore, the molecules in the oils can promote calmness resulting in relaxation.” Dr. Hanover recommends lavender, cedarwood, frankincense, valerian, and patchouli to promote balanced emotions, or one of Young Living’s calming blends such as Stress Away, Peace and Calming, or Gentle Baby.

Essential oils can be added to a shallow bit of water at the bottom of the tub, or mixed in with his shampoo. You can also rub a few drops between your palms and apply them directly to his coat before getting him wet. “Remember that a dog’s sense of smell is far superior to humans, so a little goes a long way,” adds Dr. Hanover.

Shopping list for dog-bathing supplies

Clean Tools,

Grizzly Pet Products,

Healthy Hemp Pet,


LifeFORCE Pet Health,


True Raw Choice,

Young Living Essential Oils,


Animal Wellness is North America's top natural health and lifestyle magazine for dogs and cats, with a readership of over one million every year. AW features articles by some of the most renowned experts in the pet industry, with topics ranging from diet and health related issues, to articles on training, fitness and emotional well being.