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How to bathe a puppy: A step-by-step guide

Puppy in bath with suds on head
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Learning how to bathe a puppy is one of those skills most new pet parents want to master sooner rather than later, so if you’ve just welcomed a new bundle of fur into your family and are looking to make tub times a breeze, you’re definitely in the right place.

Puppies, much like toddlers, can be boisterous creatures, and trying to get them to stay still when they’re in the bath can be more than a little challenging. It’s not unusual to find yourself torn between amusement and exasperation as your fur baby sends shampoo bubbles and water flying all over the place.

Fortunately, those bath sessions needn’t be a hassle and they don’t have to create more mess for you to clean up either. In fact, armed with a bottle of the best dog shampoo and a little bit of knowledge, tub time can actually be a happy and enjoyable experience for both you and your young canine companion. 

Below, you’ll find your very own puppy bath survival guide, with step-by-step instructions to help guide you through the process as well as helpful information on when you can start bathing your puppy and how often you should be lathering them up. 

When can you bathe a puppy?

Most experts agree that it’s best not to start bathing your puppy until they’re eight weeks old and that’s because these little guys have trouble regulating their body temperature, so they’ll catch a chill far more easily and quickly than older dogs.

If you feel like your puppy needs a bath before then, we recommend you fill a basin with warm water, dip a flannel into it and use this to gently sponge them in the areas that they’re dirty. This will get them nice and clean while avoiding the risk of them becoming too cold. 

How often should you bathe a puppy?

When it comes to how often you should bathe your puppy, the same rule applies to our little fur friends as it does to our big ones - about once a month is more than enough. More frequently than that and you run the risk of stripping the coat of it’s natural oils, which can cause dryness and skin issues.

You may find that your puppy can be bathed less often than once a month and their breed and coat type is normally a good guide as to how often they need to be lathered up. Double-coated puppies may only need one or two baths in their first year, while curly-coated breeds will likely need their four-weekly lather and rinse.

How to bathe a puppy

Before you pop your puppy in the bath, you’re going to want to make sure everything you need is within easy reach, so take a few moments to get yourself all set up before you start the bathing process - trust us, you’ll be glad you did! Here’s some useful items to have at hand:

Once you’re armed with all your supplies, it’s time for some sud-soaked fun! The steps below will help ensure bath time is always a breeze for you and your little one. At each stage, we recommend that you reward your puppy with a treat if they respond well, this will help them associate the bath with happy (and tasty!) things.

Puppy in wooden tub with towel and rubber ducks

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Step 1

The first thing you want to do is place your puppy on the table. The reason we recommend you use a table and don’t try to start this process on the floor is that the table elevates your puppy and let’s them know that it’s not play time - there’s too many distractions for them on the ground, which can make it harder for them to pay attention to you.

Step 2

Once you’ve got your puppy on the table, take your brush and gently and slowly start working it across your puppy’s coat. Not only will the slow and rhythmic strokes be soothing and calming for your little one, it will also help make sure there are no knots or tangles in their fur that could cause them pain once you start lathering them up with shampoo.

Step 3

Turn the hairdryer on and let it run for a few moments so that your puppy has a chance to get used to the noise. This will teach them that the hairdryer is nothing to be scared of, which will help make your job easier later on.

Step 4

There are two methods you can choose between when it comes to the bath itself. You can either fill the tub with a small amount of warm water (up to your puppy’s knees is enough) or you can set the shower head itself to warm and after testing it on your arm, use that as your water source. Sometimes having some water in the bath can be easier when you’re the only one around as it gives you both hands free to work with your pup, but have a play around and see which one works best for you.

Step 5

Once your puppy is in the bath, make sure they’re soaked all over and then take a small amount of shampoo and spread it across the fur, being sure to avoid the eyes. Some shampoos need to be diluted before they can be applied to the coat, so make sure you read the label first and see if there are any special instructions.

Step 6

Gently scrub your puppy all over - the best way to get the pressure about right is to imagine you’re washing a human baby. Gentle hand motions in the direction that your puppy’s fur grows will help them slowly get used to being in the water.

Step 7

The most important step of the whole bathing process is actually the rinse cycle as you want to make sure all the shampoo is removed from the fur to prevent any skin irritation later on. Thoroughly rinse them and then repeat with another rinse just to be sure you’ve got all those suds out. For breeds with long ears or skin folds, ensure you check these carefully. 

Step 8

Now, take your puppy out of the bath and you’re probably going to get a little bit wet at this stage as the first thing they’re going to want to do is shake off all that water. This is completely normal, so let them do that and then once they’ve finished, wrap them in a towel and give them a vigorous rub to dry them off. Follow up with a gentle blow-dry on a low setting. 

Step 9

Reward your good boy or girl with another puppy treat and voilà, you’re done! 

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has spent the past two years dividing her writing time between her two great loves - pets and health and wellness. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with one very mischievous Cocker Spaniel, drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and attempting to set numerous world records for the longest ever FaceTime calls with her family back home in NZ.