8 Tips for Bathing Your Dog This Winter


8 Tips for Bathing Your Dog This Winter

You can—and should!—bathe your dog during the winter months. Here’s expert advice on how to do it safely—although we can’t make any promises you won’t get splashed. By Karen Asp November 28, 2022 Advertisement Pin FB More Tweet Email Send Text Message Print woman scrubbing lots of suds into her dog with homemade dog shampoo
woman scrubbing lots of suds into her dog with homemade dog shampoo Credit: Jaromir Chalabala / EyeEm / Getty

Winter can make having a dog more difficult for many people. Icy sidewalks curtail walks, frigid temperatures mean less playtime outside, and the chill can make bathing a nightmare. You can always take your dog to a groomer or pet store for a bath, but if you're trying to cut costs or don't want to hassle with transporting your dog, you can bathe your dog at home with the right shampoo, water temperature, drying method, and more.

Can You Give Your Dog a Bath in the Winter?

The short answer is yes, namely because winter doesn't stop dogs from needing baths. "Dogs require baths for a number of reasons, including natural odors that form on their skin and coat, odor and fur discoloration from licking, and accumulated mud and saliva from other dogs, which can develop an odor and cause stickiness on their fur," says Amy Attas, DVM, founder of City Pets, The House Call Vets, in New York. Dogs with bacterial or yeast infections will also improve with medicated bathing.

RELATED: A Pro Groomer's Top Tips on How to Properly Bathe a Dog

How Often Should You Bathe Your Dog In Winter?

The general rule of thumb is once a month. "Their skin takes about three weeks to go through a full cycle so you should bathe them on a schedule following the skin cycle," says Molly Bissantz, owner of Grooming by Molly in Boise, Idaho.

Of course, that schedule may also depend on your dog's breed (or breeds) and environment. Some can actually go months without bathing, says Renee Rhoades, head dog behavior consultant at R+ Dogs. If you have questions about your dog's specific breed and coat type, talk with their groomer or vet.

RELATED: Here's How Often You Should Be Washing Your Dog

What If Your Dog Doesn’t Like Baths?

If your puppy or adult dog hasn't had experience with bathing, introduce the area they're going to be bathed in first so they form a positive association with it, Rhoades says. Sprinkle tempting food in the bathing area and let your dog explore. Then invite your dog into the area and spread food or treats. Repeat this frequently, slowly adding in water and scrubbing.

8 Tips for Bathing Your Dog in Winter

Bathing your dog in winter comes with a few challenges, but overall, the strategies are similar to what you'd do in warmer weather. Here are eight to keep in mind:

1. Brush and Comb Before Bathing

Before you get your dog wet, make sure all of the tangles are out. "Getting tangles wet will make them tighter, larger, and harder to brush and comb out, leading to matting that often results in shaving a dog," Bissantz says.

2. Pick a Bathing Spot

Your dog's size—and what you have available at home, given that you'll probably have to bathe inside—will largely determine where you'll bathe your dog. If your dog is tiny, a sink may work. If you have a large mudroom sink, a small dog might fit there. Otherwise, a bathtub or walk-in shower is perfect. Place a mat or towel on the floor if it's too slippery. Pro tip? "Leash your dog and have a place to hook the dog to the wall so that he/she doesn't try to jump out," Bissantz says.

RELATED: How to Build a DIY Dog Wash Station That Makes Cleaning Your Pup So Much Easier

3. Choose Your Shampoo Wisely

Before you buy a shampoo, consider if your dog has allergies, Bissantz says. Next, think about the purpose of the bath. Is it to remove odors? Treat a skin condition? Do general cleaning? "Knowing this will help determine what the best shampoo/conditioner is for your dog," she says. Just check that you're choosing a shampoo made for dogs, as human shampoos can cause irritations.

In general, look for a non-detergent shampoo like one with colloidal oatmeal and a conditioner with shea butter, coconut oil, and aloe vera to add moisture back to the skin, Attas says. What about dry shampoo? Bissantz has never had success with them and warns that if they don't soak in or blow off, the dog could lick and ingest the shampoo.

4. Dilute First

Shampoos and conditioners should be diluted before using them to make them easier to rinse out, Bissantz says. While a small dog will need about a half-ounce of shampoo per 12 ounces of water, a larger dog will need about one to two ounces per 12 ounces of water.

5. Get the Temperature Right

The best water temperature is about body temperature. Dogs' body temperature is slightly higher than humans, which means the water should at least be warm, Rhoades says. If, though, a dog has a heart condition or is difficult, Bissantz will use a slightly cooler temperature to calm them. Check the water on your own skin first.

6. Distract Your Dog

To prevent your dog from moving around, slather peanut butter on a clean surface at mouth height so your dog can lick it as you bathe.

7. Watch for Easy-To-Miss Spots

Make sure you clean the paws, elbows, behind and under the ears, and under the tail, Bissantz says. Because many dogs don't like getting water on their face, Rhoades suggests using a washcloth on their face.

8. Dry Your Dog Thoroughly

"Drying is the most important part of grooming," Bissantz says. "Allowing a dog's skin to remain damp can cause skin problems. Plus, damp hair mats faster than dry hair, and your dog might get cold faster in winter. Let your dog shake to help remove some water and then towel dry him or her. Just avoid rubbing your dog with the towel, as this can cause matting," Rhoades says.

If you're concerned about the messiness of water splashing, try a bath coat to keep your pup cozy while eliminating water, she adds. Then use a hair dryer on low heat and speed. If your dog is scared of the dryer, get them used to it first—use treats to help desensitize them to the noise, and hold him or her on a leash as you use it, Bissantz says.

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