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So, you're ready to give your puppy her first bath. That's great, because the sooner you start to bathe your pet, the sooner she'll learn to tolerate it. Be prepared to get a little wet yourself and follow these tips to keep your canine companion clean.

Setting a Schedule

Dogs clean themselves naturally by rolling around on the ground. Humans, however, hold different standards for cleanliness. With the occasional bath, your puppy will look great and won't offend your or your friends' sense of smell when she wants to snuggle.

In general, a bath once a month or so when your puppy is really dirty is enough. The quality and texture of your dog's hair and how oily her coat gets will determine how often she should be bathed. And when it comes right down to it, you'll decide how dirty you can stand your dog to be. For most dogs, regular brushing keeps their coat and skin in good condition and eliminates the need for very frequent baths. Most dogs should be brushed twice a week and can be bathed every month or two, or more if they need it, depending on the breed.

Space to Bathe

Your bathtub is obviously a good place to bathe your puppy, but smaller puppies may feel more secure in the sink or a small tub. And a warm, windless summer day is perfect for bathing a puppy outdoors in a baby pool or a tub. Whatever location you choose, be sure to give your dog secure footing with a nonslip mat or towel.

What You'll Need

Place all your supplies near the sink or tub before you get started. You'll need shampoo, towels and a pail of warm water for wetting and rinsing. If you want to fill up the tub with 4 or 5 inches of lukewarm or tepid water, that's okay as long as it doesn't frighten your puppy. Just empty the soapy water before you rinse your pup. Use a spray hose only if it doesn't scare your puppy. After all, the first bath is a fairly traumatic experience and you want your puppy to learn to enjoy bathing. Use only shampoo made specifically for dogs. A dog's skin is more delicate than human skin, and a harsh shampoo can make it dry and cause flaking and itching. Conditioners and detanglers work well if your puppy has a medium to long coat. Your veterinarian or groomer can recommend a brand.

Brush Before Washing

Don't be tempted to skip this step. A thorough brushing removes debris and loosens tangles - which is especially important if you have a longhaired puppy. Wet tangles are much worse to comb out than dry ones. You'll also want to make sure your puppy doesn't have any mats, because matted hair can trap soapy residue next to the skin and create itchy, flaky patches.

Also consider placing cotton in her ears to help prevent water from going in.

Getting Wet

Now you're ready for the main event. If you're indoors, close the door to the bathroom to prevent a great escape. A wet, sudsy dog running around your house will make the cleanup process much longer. Slowly place your puppy in the tub or sink while talking to her in a soothing, encouraging tone. Because dogs can overheat easily, keep the water lukewarm or slightly cooler - never hot.

While you stroke your puppy with one hand, begin wetting her neck and head with water. Try to keep the water out of her eyes. Continue over the back, legs and hind end until she's completely wet. Next, work the shampoo into her coat, taking care to keep soapy water out of her face. Don't just lather your puppy's back and sides. Her neck, chest, belly, tail, legs and paws all need attention too. You can use a washcloth to clean her face.

Now it's time to rinse. And rinse. And rinse. Keep rinsing until the soap is completely gone. Any leftover residue will irritate her skin. Be especially vigilant when rinsing puppies with undercoats, long and/or thick hair, or folds in the skin.

Drying Time

Towel-dry your puppy from head to toe, absorbing as much water as possible. The more water you soak up, the less will soak you and your surroundings when your puppy gets the urge to shake or roll on the carpet. If it's summer and you're outdoors, let your puppy shake to her heart's content. For dogs with long hair and undercoats, it's best to use a special dog hair dryer. The hot setting on your hair dryer is too hot for your puppy's sensitive skin, so use your own hair dryer only if it has a cool setting and doesn't frighten your pup.

Keep your dog inside until she's completely dry so she doesn't get chilled or dirty from rolling on the ground. Check her skin under the thickest part of her coat to be sure she's dry before you let her out.

The last and possibly most important step is to shower your recently bathed puppy with praise and a treat. Why? You want to give her fond memories to tap into when the next bath time rolls around.

Stinky Situation

We sure hope it never happens to you. But if your puppy has the bad luck to encounter a wayward skunk, try to get her into a bath before the skunk spray dries. Otherwise, you'll be investing in a hefty supply of puppy perfume.

Some people recommend soaking a dog in tomato juice before shampooing. This works - if you happen to have gallons of tomato juice available at the exact moment your pet needs it. A more practical approach is to keep a deskunking product on hand if your puppy spends a lot of time outdoors.

Congratulations! You and your puppy are headed for many happy baths. And don't worry, even if your first sudsy experience together is a bit rocky. Your cute little canine will soon learn to tolerate and even enjoy regular baths. And you'll enjoy petting, playing with and pampering your sweet-smelling pet.