- Aim to bathe your dog every one to three months to keep them clean and protect them from parasites.
- Dogs with health issues and long-haired, hairless, and working dogs may need more frequent baths.
- Brush your dog every few days and rinse with water between baths to cut down on odor and dander.
Bathing may not be your pup's favorite activity, but it's essential for keeping their coat clean and parasite-free.
That said, bathing your dog too often — or not enough — can have consequences for their health and appearance.
Knowing how frequently to bathe your dog comes down to their breed, coat, and lifestyle. Here are some tell-tale signs your dog needs a bath and best bathing practices veterinarians recommend.
How to tell when your dog needs a bath
A foul odor is one of the easiest ways to tell your dog needs a bath. However, this isn't the most reliable way to tell, since many dog owners get used to their dog's odor over time.
It might be time for a bath if your dog:
- Shows signs of dandruff
- Scratches or licks themselves more frequently
- Has matted fur
The most important thing to consider in determining the right bathing frequency for your dog is their coat. Here are some general guidelines to follow:
- Short-haired breeds: Breeds like Dobermans, dalmatians, and boxers may only need a bath a few times a year, according to Dr. Linda Simon, a veterinary surgeon and consultant for FiveBarks.
- Long-haired breeds: Dogs with medium to long coats, like collies, terriers, and Australian shepherds, should get a bath every four to six weeks. This is because longer-haired breeds tend to pick up more dirt, mud, and bacteria, according to Dr. Corinne Wigfall, a veterinarian with SpiritDog Training.
- Hairless breeds: Since they don't have fur to protect their skin, hairless dogs like the Chinese Crested actually need a bath about once a week, according to Wigfall.
- Wrinkly breeds: Pugs, bulldogs, and shar peis may need to have their skin folds cleaned more regularly to avoid bacteria and dirt build-up, which can cause infections, Wigfall says.
- Working dogs: Another factor to consider is your dog's lifestyle and activity level. For example, Wigfall says a working collie on a sheep farm exposed to more dirt and livestock feces will require more frequent bathing than a Maltese who spends most of its time indoors.
- Dogs with health conditions: Dogs with certain health conditions, like dandruff or yeast infections, may need more frequent baths with medicated shampoos during flare-ups, Simon says.
How often is too often?
You probably don't need to bathe your dog as often as you think. Dr. Amanda Takiguchi, a veterinarian and founder of Trending Breeds, advises bathing your dog no more than once every 1-3 months.
When you bathe your dog too often, you strip the natural protective oils on their skin and coat, according to Wigfall. This can lead to dry, irritated skin and a dull coat.
Instead, Wigfall recommends rinsing away dirt and bacteria with plain water to keep your dog's coat clean and healthy in between baths,
She also advises brushing dogs with longer hair at least three times per week to help dislodge any dirt or debris. Takiguchi says this helps distribute natural oils throughout their coat, giving them a shinier appearance.
What if you don't bathe them frequently enough?
The most obvious consequences of not bathing your dog regularly include an unpleasant odor and some dirty paw prints on your carpet. But it can also cause more severe health problems.
Leaving dirt and debris in areas that may cause rubbing — like between their paw pads or inside skin folds — can trigger skin irritation and infections.
In long-haired breeds, debris buildup can also cause matted fur, which can look unattractive and cause your dog discomfort.
How to bathe your dog
When washing your dog, Wigfall says it's important to avoid getting any shampoo into their eyes or ears. Here are two things that can help with that:
- Gently placing cotton balls in their ears
- Applying a small amount of mineral oil ointment in their eyes: Gently pull down the lower eyelids and place a pea-sized amount on the inside of the lids.
These additional tips can help you make bath time as pleasant as possible — or at least tolerable — for your dog:
- Brush thoroughly before shampooing: Before lathering up your dog, Wigfall suggests brushing them thoroughly to get rid of any loose dirt and debris.
- Find a canine-friendly shampoo: Human shampoos are the wrong pH level for dogs, so they can lead to skin irritation. Some also contain ingredients that can trigger allergic reactions. That's why Takiguchi strongly advises using dog-specific shampoo, particularly products that are paraben- and dye-free and made from naturally derived ingredients.
- Lather up carefully: Wet your dog's coat with lukewarm water and start working the shampoo into your dog's hair or fur. "Focus on cleaning areas where most debris accumulates, like between the paw pads, under the belly, between the hindlegs, the groin, and under the forelimbs," Wigfall says.
- Keep offering positive reinforcement: Bath time can bring up anxiety for many dogs, which is why Wigfall advises continually reassuring them with a calm voice, positive phrases, and rewards whenever possible. Simon suggests keeping a lick mat smeared with peanut butter or another treat at the edge of the bath to keep them happy and distracted.
- Rinse and repeat as needed: Using your shower's handheld spray attachment can make rinsing your dog's coat much easier, Wigfall says. You can also use a pitcher or bucket to gently pour water on your dog to get the shampoo out. Make sure you've eliminated all traces of shampoo — this may take a handful of rinses.
- Dry your dog thoroughly with a towel. According to Takiguchi, moisture and irritation on the skin create a breeding ground for bacteria, which can lead to acute moist dermatitis. This condition can quickly worsen and develop into painful, oozing lesions. Long-haired dogs are also more prone to matted hair if you let them air dry after a bath. Gently pat your dog dry, since rubbing can lead to tangles.
- Try a blow dryer if necessary. If towel drying doesn't do the job, which is often the case for dogs with longer hair or double coats, a blow dryer can help. Set it to the lowest heat setting, keep it a few inches away from your dog's coat, and continually move it in a back-and-forth motion.
Bathing your dog too often can lead to skin irritation and a dull coat, while not bathing them often enough could increase their risk of infections.
As a general rule, aim to bathe your dog every one to three months — erring on the more frequent side if they're hairless, have a long coat, or spend their days playing or working outdoors.
You can also keep their coat clean by brushing them often and rinsing them with plain water between baths.
If you're ever uncertain about how often to bathe your dog, you can always ask your vet for breed-specific guidance.
We may receive a commission when you buy through our links, but our reporting and recommendations are always independent and objective.