How to Bathe a Big Dog
Because of the size factor alone, giving a large dog a bath can be a trying experience. Many folks opt to take their dogs to a professional groomer simply because they find themselves struggling to get the job done adequately.
There are many different options for the do-it-yourselfer who wants to save money and wash their own dog.
This author can attest to the fact that paying for a professional groomer to do the chore can cost big bucks--as in $100 to $150 easily per dog especially if you have a high maintenance breed with layered coats.
Before setting out to bathe a big dog, consider that there are at least several ways that a big dog can be bathed. The key is figuring out which one works best for an individual situation and most importantly, which works best for what dog.
Contrary to popular opinion, all dogs do not like water and all dogs do not get a thrill from getting a bath. Some take to it more than others and some can be problems from beginning to end.
In the case of any dog, know what your particular type of dog requires in terms of bathing. For example, malamutes should not be bathed more than twice per year. It simply is not recommended that they receive a full bath because of the cleanliness of their fur and also because of their double coat. Brushing yes (constantly); bathing no and very infrequently.
Things You Need to Wash the Dog
Some basic things will serve you well washing any dog but especially a large dog. You can ramp up the equipment depending upon your budget and how techno you want to get.
- Place to wash the dog--decide beforehand as you do not want to change mid wash
- Something to wash the dog in--whether it is a tub or a wading pool--or are you going to wash him freestanding on a sidewalk perhaps
- Quality dog shampoo (preferably hypoallergenic)
- Quality conditioner (optional)
- Bucket or hose (optional for some settings)
- Bath nozzle or sprayer (if bathing indoors)
- Cottonballs for ears (optional but keep water out of ears)
- Container with lid big enough to hold shampoo and water to be shaken well
- Bathmat that prevents slipping or insert towel for dog to stand on (optional)
- Leashes or chains to tie off dog to keep from jumping out of container or running away if bathing on cement for instance
- Clean fresh water--preferably lukewarm
- Towels--more towels for area surrounding bathing area
- Another person to help hold the dog if too hard to handle alone
- Blow dryer or professional grooming dryer especially if dog has undercoat
- Booster bathtub for those who can afford it
- Gloves or other dog bathing tools though just hands and lather work well
Picking a Spot to Wash a Big Dog
Because of their size, sometimes larger dogs can be more problematic to wash as opposed to a small dog. Most dogs will try (at least once) to jump out of a bathtub or to get out of a shower stall when being bathed.
It's important to be sure and have plenty of towels or something on the floor to keep the dog (and the human washer) from slipping and getting hurt. Placing a towel inside the tub or shower stall can take the place of a nonskid bathmat if you don't have that on hand.
Tying a dog off with a leash or having someone hold the dog firmly with a leash can help keep the dog in one spot while washing him or her.
If you take your big dog into the shower to bathe him or her, make sure that the door is secure and the dog cannot escape once you're inside the shower.
It's most important to distribute dog shampoo evenly and to lather the dog all over. However, it's twice as important to be sure and rinse the dog after bathing until the water runs clear as residual shampoo and bathing products can irritate skin and cause itching long after the bath.
A great way to ensure that your dog doesn't have pockets of pure shampoo left on his or her skin or in fur is to use the following technique:
- Take a small amount of dog shampoo and squirt it into a large container with a lid. Add water to about 3/4 of the container's fill capacity and then shake the shampoo and water until it;s mixed thoroughly.
- Instead of pouring or squirting shampoo (or conditioner) directly on your dog, squirt or pour the mixed shampoo solution onto your dog where needed. It works great to get the shampoo in the right strength any place on a large dog and also ensures that it'll be washed off in its entirety in the rinse phase.
Rinse repeatedly until the water running off the dog is clear. This will aid in not leaving shampoo or product residual on the dog that will irritate skin and cause itching. Using a large bucket repeatedly filled with clean water is the best way to assure total rinsing. Also using a shower sprayer or a hose connected to a faucet with lukewarm water is another great way to accomplish the task.
Bathing a Large Dog Outside
An option for bathing a big dog is doing it outside. However, this author feels that bathing a dog in super cold water (even in hot climates) is never the best option. It is recommended that the water be at least lukewarm, so if that means dragging a hose in through a window and connecting it to a faucet that gives you lukewarm water, that would be best.
If bathing in a wading pool or other outdoor tub, follow the same rules as above for washing in a bathtub. Assure the dog has steady purchase by placing a towel or mat in the bottom of the pool or tub. Then make sure all soap and suds are rinsed and that the water runs clear from the dog after rinsing.
Some people prefer tying their dog off to a post and washing him or her that way, for instance on a cement sidewalk. This works well and the dog can't run away from the hose. However, be careful that the dog does not choke in an effort to get away from the water. It is best with big dogs to have an extra pair of hands holding the dog steady. The job seems to get done faster this way also.
This author prefers warm days for bathing a dog outside but in some circumstances that may not be possible. When our dogs were skunked once, it was a very cool spring morning when we started bathing them and of necessity, they had to be bathed outside. However, we used lukewarm water and brought them in as soon as possible to prevent chilling.
Remember that even if the dog is an outside dog, if he or she has undercoat, that coat can produce mold if not dried properly so assure that the dog is as dry as possible with towels and then if necessary, use a blow dryer or professional dryer to further dry the dog. We keep ours inside for several hours after being bathed to allow their multi-layered coats to dry.
If we've washed them somewhere other than home, we keep them in the car with the hot wind blowing on them to help dry them quickly and completely.
Another great option is this dog wash setup in a park. You might have to bring your dog washing equipment with you but no muss and no fuss at home.
Using a U-Wash to Wash Your Big Dog
Another great option if you have a large breed dog (or even a dog that is hard to handle at bath time) is to use facilities created for just this purpose.
Most larger towns have a U-wash for dogs. It may be that the U-wash facilities are right at a dog groomer's (as the one in the picture below is). It's a great place to observe professional dog groomers making dogs look good and you can pick up tips and tricks as well as wash your dog.
The incredible thing about self-serve dog washing facilities is that there is a lot of handy equipment available for a nominal fee. You don't have to invest in special bathtubs for dogs or lifts to get them into the tub. You get the benefits of tie-offs and equipment that they already have and the fee is very reasonable for the convenience of leaving with a clean dog.
The cost is minimal compared to having a groomer do the service for you and in most facilities, you can also use doggie blow dryers, towels, even shampoos and conditioners as part of the fee.
Remember to bring your own shampoo and conditioner if Fido has a particular skin problem or you prefer certain products being used on your dog. The same goes with towels, etc. The sky's the limit in terms of bringing your own stuff--just be sure and ask before using anything you bring or things you see available at the shop to make sure you won't be charged extra.
Getting Help from a Professional Groomer
Some dog breeds are just harder to groom than others. For instance, malamutes should never be shaved and should never have their hair cut in certain spots because it never grows back the same again.
However, some groomers do not know this nor do they understand this. For that reason, we are very fussy about who we let work on our dogs--especially Griffin our long haired malamute. That being said, if you find a good groomer, they are worth their weight in gold. They can be a fountain of information and can help you learn techniques that will help you do some of the work yourself on a regular basis.
Take the time to find a reputable groomer and you will not be disappointed. A groomer can easily demonstrate ways to wash your dog as well as how to trim nails, tidy up hind ends or even trim foot hair and tails. They can also instruct you on the best/proper tools for your particular dog's fur which will make the job easier and less of a chore.
Consider the professional dog groomer as a teacher. I recommend having any dog professionally groomed at least once and sitting in/standing in on the bathing and grooming just to see how it's done. Washing and grooming a dog adds to their overall well being as in the case of our Griffin, it reduces the amount of fur at critical times of year which lowers his temperature in a very hot environment.
Mobile Dog Grooming
Another option for a large dog is a mobile dog grooming service. While this can be a little pricey for some folks, it may be an option for a dog owner who has a hard time bathing their dog at home. It can also be a great option for a dog that is old or has health issues and is hard to transport to a facility to bathe them.
Again, the equipment that they have at your disposal or theirs is a real plus. Even a mobile dog grooming truck can hoist dogs up and help you bathe them at a comfortable level. There are doggie blow dryers available and many grooming services.
This, too can be a great teaching/learning experience for the dog owner who wants to learn to bathe their big dog but with less hassle.
Dog Washing at Boarding Kennels
In years past, when I've kenneled my dogs, it seems that part and parcel of the package was that they washed my dogs for me before sending them home. This hasn't been an issue for many years for me since I do not kennel our dogs any longer, but it was a nice addition.
Like dog groomers, most kennels have very specific equipment that makes bathing large dogs simple. Less mess and definitely a cleaner dog goes home after boarding.
Even folks who put their dogs into doggie daycare can avail themselves of dog washing services if the kennel or veterinary clinic has the equipment. Check out the pricing and bring your own supplies for a do-it-yourself job.
It's a great way to get a sometimes enormous task done especially if you have a dog who likes to play more than he or she likes to have a bath!
Washing a Large Dog
Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on March 15, 2013:
Ain't it the truth, BJ? That's why we do so much work ourselves. You can't imagine though my 3 wooly mammoths getting their baths~ They are quite good about it though, even my wuss Griffin shaking in his boots...I mean paws~
drbj and sherry from south Florida on March 15, 2013:
Hi, Audrey. I guess preferring a small dog for a companion certainly pays off when it comes to professional dog-washing fees for their larger compatriots. $100 to $150 per dog - now that's what I call a business plan.
Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on March 15, 2013:
I hear you, Lela although we both have agreed it's mals or nothing for us no matter how old we get. I hope that remains true--we are just so in love with our big idiots~ It is a chore though trying to hold a 95 pound warrior who hates the water in the tub but lucky for us, they only get 2 baths (hopefully) per year! The rest is "just" brushing and cleanups occasionally.
I may be the first in line if there is ever a "miniature" malamute--although I have to say that Griffin makes the most incredible body pillow EVER made--I call him my acupressure dog!
Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on March 15, 2013:
My dogs are too much for me to handle for bathing, so they end up dirty most of the time. I will occasionally use pet wipes (large sizes) and try to get most of the dirt off. I think my days of having large dogs are over (I'm getting too old to handle them).
I think I'm going to look into chihuahuas or tiny terriers!
Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on March 15, 2013: