How to Give a Small Dog a Bath

Two Parts:Preparing for a BathBathing Your Dog

Though some dogs do just fine at the groomer's, yours might be one of the many that don't do well with all the noise and strangers at a pet salon. Small dogs are so easy to bathe, you might as well do it yourself at home. Save your money and make the experience more relaxing for your pet by perfecting your at-home bathing method.

Part 1
Preparing for a Bath

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    Gather your basic materials. Depending on how much energy you want to put in, you can give your dog a basic bath or a more thorough cleaning. While thorough cleanings are recommended from time to time, you may just have a muddy pup on your hands who needs a little rinsing. Before getting started, gather these materials so you have everything in one place:
    • Towels: enough to both dry the dog and protect the ground from splashing water
    • Dog shampoo: shampoo formulated for humans will dry out a dog's skin, so buy dog shampoo at the pet store, vet, or online. If your dog has any skin conditions, consult your vet for recommendations.
    • Sponge
    • Comb or brush
    • Small cup or bucket (for pouring water)
    • Doggy treats (optional, but can comfort stressed dogs)
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    Consider optional materials for thorough cleanings. While bathing a dog too often will cause dry, flaky skin, you should still give him a thorough cleaning every once in a while. When you notice your dog getting smelly, it might be time for a cleanup. You'll need everything listed in the last step, plus as many of the following optional materials as you'd like:
    • Dog conditioner: this will keep his fur soft and smooth after shampooing
    • Toothbrush and dog toothpaste
    • Cotton balls for ear cleaning
    • You don't have to do all these things at once the first time. If you feel your dog is getting overwhelmed, just work on the bath-time first. Then, you may add in more extensive things, like nail trimming, later.
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    Decide where to bathe your small dog. Since your dog is small, you have the option of choosing a bathtub, sink, or even a plastic tub or bucket outside. Choose a location where you can stand, sit, or kneel comfortably without straining yourself. The bath area should be warm and free of drafts — only bathe a dog outdoors on hot days, so he won't get cold.
    • If there's any chance your dog will get skittish and jump away from you, bathe him in a bathtub. Don't risk a fall from the sink!
    • Consider taking your dog with you right into the shower. You'll get wet no matter what, so this can be an effective time and mess-saving approach.
    • Put cotton in your dog’s ears if you take him into the shower. This prevents water from getting in the ears and causing an ear infection.
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    Place a rubber mat or towel in the sink or tub.[1] You know from experience how slippery a tub can get once you lather up the soap and shampoo. To keep your dog from slipping on the wet surface, give him a mat or towel that will help keep his feet under him. He'll feel more comfortable and secure, making it easier for you to proceed with the bath.
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    Prepare your dog for the bathing process.[2] If your dog is already comfortable with baths, you can skip this step. But whether you have an adult or puppy, the bathing process might scare your dog, so take things slowly. Help him associate the tub or sink with pleasant things by going through several dry runs. Depending on the dog, this might take a few days, a few hours, or just a few minutes — let your dog set his own pace.
    • Help your dog into the dry tub. Speak reassuringly in a soothing voice, petting and praising him while he sniffs around and explores. Give him treats for being calm inside the tub.
    • Touch and rub him all over while he’s in the tub, so he knows how the bathing process will look.
    • When he's comfortable with that, try splashing a little water on him and continue praising and treating.
    • Let him hear the sound of the running faucet while he’s not in the tub until it’s no longer frightening.
    • Rub him down with a dry towel after every session, to get him used to the drying process.
    • Place him in a tub or sink that has enough water to just cover his paws, then gradually work up to a full, immersive bath.
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    Groom your dog's coat before bathing.[3] Brush it out to remove any loose dirt, mats, and snarls that will be harder to handle once the coat is wet. If the fur is too matted, take your dog to a professional groomer, then groom him more regularly in the future to avoid matting. Even professionals can knick the skin handling severe mats — you might do serious damage trying to do it yourself.
    • To remove small mats, place your fingers between your pet’s skin and the mat, then snip it away a few hairs at a time.
    • Check under the tail for fecal mats ("dingleberries") that need to be trimmed off. If the stool is too hard, you can wait until after it's soaked in the bath to work it out of the hair.
    • After the bath, put diaper rash or hemorrhoid cream on any irritated skin around the anus after the mat is removed.
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    Consider protecting the eyes with eye ointment. If you intend to wash your dog's face, you can buy ointment that will prevent stinging from soap. This is especially important for breeds with protruding eyes. You can buy this ointment from your veterinarian's clinic. You can also use a drop of mineral oil instead of prescription ointment.
    • Use a dropper to place the ointment or mineral oil onto the eyeball without touching the eye itself.
    • Let the dog blink several times (or push the eyelid open and shut yourself) to spread the ointment or oil around.
    • Never use your finger to wipe ointment onto the eye, and don't let the tip of your container touch the eye.
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    Protect the dog's ears with cotton. If water or shampoo gets into your dog's ear during the bath, it can result in an ear infection. To prevent this, gently tuck a small piece of cotton ball into each ear, but be careful not to push it in too far. You should be able to see it and pull it out easily.
    • If in doubt, skip the cotton ball and use a washcloth to wash the dog's head instead of pouring water over it.

Part 2
Bathing Your Dog

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    Fill the tub or sink with enough water. The water level should reach your dog's chest level. Test the water temperature before beginning to wet your dog's coat. It should be warm, but not hot. Keep your hand in the water to make sure the water temperature remains correct.
    • Lift your dog gently into the tub if he can’t get in on his own.
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    Shampoo your dog thoroughly. Work from the front to back of the body, but save the head for last so shampoo doesn't have time to drip into his eyes. Work the shampoo into a gentle lather, moving from the neck down the back to the rear, then on to the belly and legs. Make sure to get between the pads and toes and over the tail and genitalia. Combine your rubbing with soothing praise — your dog should be enjoying your caring touch!
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    Examine your dog carefully. Skin problems can often indicate more serious health concerns, so take this hands-on opportunity to inspect your dog. Look for strange marks on the skin, rashes, flaking, redness, lumps or bumps, hair loss, or change to skin color.[4] Your vet can perform tests to figure out if these things are skin issues, or whether there may be internal problems.[5]
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    Rinse the shampoo out of your dog's coat thoroughly. If you're using a kitchen sink, you can use the spray attachment if you have one. If not, just pour water over the coat using a cup or bucket. Either way, use a wet washcloth on the face so you don’t overwhelm the dog. If you can still see bubbles on the dog, you need to rinse a couple more times. Any soap, shampoo or conditioner residue left on the dog will attract dirt, defeating the purpose of the bath. Soap residue can also irritate your dog and cause itching.
    • A dog conditioner is a good idea for dogs with long fur. Apply after thoroughly rinsing out the shampoo and follow the instructions on the bottle.
    • You can buy a bathtub spray attachments at the pet store or online.
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    Brush the dog's teeth (optional).[6] Make sure you're using a toothpaste formulated for dogs, not humans. If a dog swallows human toothpaste, he's likely to get an upset stomach. Make sure your dog is used to you handling his mouth before brushing his teeth, so you don't get nipped on the hand.
    • Lift his lips and brush the teeth at the front of the mouth.
    • Gentle encourage him to open his mouth by pulling up on his muzzle. Brush the inner teeth.
    • Give praise and speak in a soothing voice throughout, taking frequent breaks for petting.
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    Clean his ears with cotton balls and a dog ear cleanser (optional).[7] Dog ear cleansers pH balanced to help prevent ear infections. Apply it to a clean cotton ball or an ear-cleaning pad bought at a pet store. Wipe the cleanser first over the outside of the dog's ears, then over the inside of the dog's outer ear. You can move a little way into the ear canal, but don't poke your finger into the dog's ears.
    • Do not pour anything, including water, into your dog's ears, as it can get trapped down by the eardrum and cause infection.
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    Dry off your dog. Place your dog on a dry towel, then wrap him in another towel to absorb most of the water. Change towels as needed to continue drying your dog's coat. Let his coat air dry once you have blotted up as much water as you reasonably can. Dry the insides of the ears with cotton to prevent infection.
    • Blow-dry the coat to speed up the process, if he tolerates it. Make sure to keep it on a cool setting so you don't burn the dog's skin.
    • If your dog is scared of the blowdryer, don't push him. Put in the extra time needed for a towel-drying.
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    Reward your dog for getting through the bath. Shower him with praise and give him a tasty treat, even if he had trouble getting through the experience. He'll quickly learn that getting a bath is not a frightening experience, but one that leads to treats!
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    Let the coat dry before trying to brush it. It's very important to brush your dog after every bath so his hair doesn't get matted or gets dandruff. As with humans, brushing or combing is a lot harder when the hair is wet, and you run the risk of damaging the fur. Furthermore, you risk building up an unpleasant association between baths and painful skin-tugging. Wait for the coat to finish air-drying before you brush it out.


  • Love and praise your dog while bathing.
  • If your dog tends to shake, try placing one hand over the back of the neck when washing. This can stop the shake before it starts and keep you and your surroundings relatively dry.
  • Trimming your dog's nails is easiest when in the tub after a bath. The nails are soft and they don't seem to mind as much. Dog nail clippers are safest to use.
  • Always give positive feedback.
  • One thing that may prevent dogs from shaking is to hold their ear. This should only be done while taking them to a more shake-friendly place.
  • Some small dogs prefer placing their front paws on the edge of the bath away from you. It can help to keep your dog calm and from that position it's probable that he/she can't jump out, so just go with it.


  • Dry your small dog thoroughly and keep him/her sheltered until he/she is completely dry––small dogs can be vulnerable to cold and get chilled quite easily.
  • Do not bathe the dog with soap intended for humans. It can damage the dog's skin by making it dry, forming flakes or creating chemical reactions. Human skin and the skin of a dog are not the same.
  • Bathe your small dog no more than once a month. Bathing too often may strip the dog of his/her natural oils and waterproofing and cause his/her skin to dry out. Of course, if your veterinarian advises otherwise, then do as advised.
  • Be careful not to get water in the small dog's nose as they can choke very easily. Try covering his/her nose with the palm of your hand. Or, as mentioned, use a washcloth around his/her face, rather than spraying or pouring water over his/her head.
    • Don't let water get into the dog's ears, as this can result in ear infection.
  • Use warm water (tepid or lukewarm). If you must use cold water, use it slowly. Continuously running cold water might only be 60°F (about 16°C), but a dog's body cannot tolerate that much cold. If your dog is young, old, small, or has little fur or fat, use warm water!

Things You'll Need

  • Towels for drying, perhaps one large towel and a few smaller towels
  • Dog shampoo - use a shampoo formulated for dogs, with a good pH balance; a dog's skin has a different pH level than we do, so using human shampoo is inappropriate as it will dry out the dog's skin. Dog shampoo is available from pet stores, your vet or online
  • Dog conditioner - this can be used after the shampoo if wished; follow the instructions on the bottle
  • Sponge
  • Comb or brush
  • Doggy treats (optional but can ease any distress)
  • Toothbrush and dog toothpaste (optional)
  • Cotton balls for ear cleaning (optional)
  • Small cup, or bucket for pouring water on dog(eases the dog)

Article Info

Categories: Dog Grooming