Puppy bath time should be fun! But it’s something that new puppy parents often worry about.
We’ve put together this great little guide to put your mind at rest.
You’ll find out how to bathe a puppy
When you can bathe a puppy
And what to wash a puppy with!
Let’s start by finding out when you can first give your puppy a bath
Puppy first bath age
Puppy bath time needn’t be a daily occurrence. Small puppies don’t need daily baths in the way that human babies do.
And you may be surprised to know that some folks with clean healthy dogs never bathe their puppies at all
Unless the puppy gets poop on themselves or steps in something equally unpleasant.
More of that in a moment
Can you bathe a puppy at 8 weeks old
You can certainly bathe a puppy at 8 weeks old if he needs a bath.
And most puppies will at some point as they are prone to falling and stepping in poops and puddles.
However, a small puppy’s fur doesn’t need washing with shampoo on a daily basis. And little marks, a bit of spilled food for example, can be simply wiped off a short-coated puppy with a damp sponge
When can you bathe a puppy regularly
You can bathe a puppy regularly from the day he arrives home. Whether you should or not is another question.
There are a couple of downsides to bathing dogs regularly, especially once they are out and about in the world.
There are some benefits too, so we’ll look at those too
The disadvantages of regular baths is that even the gentlest of shampoo is likely to disrupt the natural balance of your puppy’s skin and fur to some extent.
And that it disrupts the natural waterproofing that fur develops as the puppy matures.
Under your puppy’s fur is a little environment or microworld of friendly bacteria that help to maintain your puppy’s skin at exactly the right level of acidity. Altering that balance with shampoo may reduce your puppy’s natural resistance to skin problems and infections
Your puppy’s soft baby coat is replaced by a typical adult coat during the first few months of life.
Between six and twelve months old, most puppies will have grown their adult fur.
One of the characteristics of adult fur in many dogs, is that it is fairly waterproof.
This waterproofing is created by oils from the skin. It helps keep your dog warm and comfortable when he swims or goes out in the rain. And makes the smears you’ll see on a white wall if your dog regularly sleeps up against it!
Shampoo strips out those natural oils allowing water to penetrate your dog’s coat right through to the skin.
For those reasons, regular baths are neither essential, nor even a particularly good thing. But surely your pup needs a wash from time to time or he’ll get smelly? So just how often can you bathe a puppy?
How often can you bathe a puppy
Here’s a puppy bathing schedule for you to use as a guide.
- Once a week until three months old
- Once a month until six months old
- Twice a year thereafter or as necessary
Bear in mind that it probably won’t hurt your puppy if you never bathe them at all, but let’s explain the reasons for the schedule above
I mentioned that there were some benefits to regular bathing, let’s look at those now.
One of the benefits is to enable the puppy to get used to being bathed. Let’s face it. He’s almost certainly going to need a bath at some point in his life.
Your puppy may need a bath
- For medical reasons (infections, parasites, allergies)
- To remove nasty substances from fur
- To reduce odor
If a puppy has never experienced one before, a bath on his third birthday because he meets a skunk or steps in some engine oil, is going to be a pretty traumatic experience.
The other benefit is really for you.
Some breeds of dog, especially some of the sporting breeds have a natural strong body odor.
Labradors and other gun dogs can be particularly smelly. With some individual dogs being affected more than others.
My yellow Lab for example smells very strong if not bathed occasionally, while my chocolate Lab has only the mildest body odor.
Many dogs smell stronger as they get older, and elderly dogs can get very smelly if not bathed occasionally
Sharing your home with a Lab that hasn’t had a bath for a couple of months can be a pretty intense experience.
So, to avoid upsetting your older dog if you need to start giving them baths from time to time, it’s a good idea to get a puppy used to baths right now.
This means it’s a good thing for all puppies to be accustomed to happy bath times from an early age.
If you bathe your puppy once a week for the first three or four weeks, then once a month until they are six months old, then at least twice a year thereafter, bath-time should be a peaceful non event for your dog.
What to wash a puppy with
Don’t be tempted to use human shampoo on a puppy. If you get it in his eyes they will sting and he won’t want to have another bath, ever again.
Baby shampoo can be used in an emergency, but a dog’s skin is less acid than human skin and it’s best to use a dedicated dog shampoo designed for the purpose
Where to bath a puppy
Some puppies may panic if plunged into a giant white bath tub.
Which if you think about it, is hardly surprising.
You can help accustom your puppy to the big bath by standing him in it for a few seconds, a few times a day, and giving him some treats to eat while he’s in there.
A popular alternative for bathing a puppy is the kitchen sink. But be careful as wet puppies are slippery and if he wriggles out he may fall and hurt himself
A safer place is in a plastic washing up bowl on the kitchen floor!
If the weather is fine you can do the whole thing outside, using a portable shower.
I actually use one of these in the bath too, for my dogs, because the shower head in my bath is not detachable
My portable dog shower has made puppy bath time much easier and the 5 litre tank is sufficient for one adult Labrador without refilling.
Especially if you make her wet with water from a cup first.
You can also get battery operated portable shower heads with a little pump at one end that you stick in a bucket of water.
I should think they are easier to store than the pump action container type that I use. I can’t tell you how good they are because I haven’t tried one, but this one has some pretty good reviews
It’s puppy bath time
Make sure you have everything ready.
If you don’t have a hand held shower spray, you’ll need an enamel or plastic cup for rinsing. Or a portable shower.
Set your cup out within reach of the bath, along with the puppy shampoo and at least two good sized towels.
Many puppies will also appreciate some tasty treats, so have a pot of these to hand too. You want to make bath time the best fun so that he is happy to have a repeat performance next time it’s needed.
How to bathe a puppy
Wet the puppy a little before you apply shampoo, but don’t be surprised if this is a difficult!
Most puppies have quite water repellent coats. Spread a little slick of shampoo down the puppy’s spine, then with very wet hands start to work it into his coat. Do each leg in turn and then his tummy and bottom.
Don’t shampoo the puppy’s face unless absolutely essential, and keep the shampoo away from his eyes.
Keep adding a little more water to spread it around and overcome the water resistance of the coat. Rinse thoroughly with your plastic cup or (shower spray), and change the water before repeating.
The second shampoo will be much more successful and you should be able to work up a nice lather. It is very difficult to thoroughly wet most dogs.
Give the puppy a little treat at frequent intervals. You may need to use an entire meal up this way the first time, to keep him happy.
After the puppy bath..
When your puppy has been thoroughly rinsed off, lay a towel over your lap and scoop him up in the other.
Pop your pup into your lap and give him a good rub down. Most puppies will find this rather fun and exciting, so be prepared for playful nipping and grabbing at the towel.
If you have someone helping you, it can be easier for one person to gently hold onto the puppy whilst the other dries him off.
When you put him down, however well you have dried him he will shake.
You can leave him to air-dry in a warm room. Give him a towel to scoot around on if he wants, as this will speed up his drying and keep the damp away from some of the rest of your house.
You can dry your puppy with a hairdryer, if he doesn’t mind the noise.
If he seems unsure, then don’t use it. If he seems happy then put it on a low, warm setting and focus the stream of air from the dryer through your hand with your fingers spread out, so you can make sure the temperature isn’t too hot on his skin.
Puppy Bath Time – Summary
However you choose to wash and dry your pup, just remember to make puppy bath time as enjoyable and fun an experience for him as possible.
So, by all means bathe your puppy if he is really grubby or has rolled in something smelly, and bathe him often enough for it not to be an alien experience. But don’t overdo it.
For small mishaps, or muddy paws, wet wipes are often all that you’ll need.
And remember, there is no such thing as ‘too many towels’, when you have a wet dog in the room!
References and further reading
- Meyer W & Neurand K. Comparison of skin pH in domesticated and laboratory mammals. Archives of Dermatological Research 1991
- Matousek J et al. A comparative review of cutaneous pH. Veterinary dermatology 2002
- Saijonmaa-Koulumies L and Lloyd D. Colonization of the canine skin with bacteria. Veterinary Dermatology 1996