Giving your dog a bath and going to the groomers aren’t just for special occasions. Instead, they should be routine parts of your pet’s care for both their skin and coat health and to help keep them comfortable.
That being said, do you know how often you should bathe your short-haired dog or how you’ll know when your long-haired pup is ready for their first groom? Do you just wait until they are visibly dirty or shaggy? The answers depend on a few factors, including your dog's breed, lifestyle and coat health. Check out the guidelines below to determine the ideal schedule for your pup.
Bathing your dog isn’t just about cleaning them up after a day of splashing through puddles at the dog park (though that’s a valid reason for an extra bath). Regular bathing is important because it removes dirt and debris from your dog's skin while helping to prevent potential skin conditions from developing, including clogged pores, itchiness and dry skin or oily skin. "When pets are dirty, their skin doesn't 'breathe' correctly," says Wendy Weinand, manager of Services Training & Education at Petco, "and they can end up with some issues that may require veterinary care to fix."
Bathing frequency depends a lot on your dog's coat type. Use the following guidelines as a starting point:
Double-coated breeds have two distinct coats, an outer coat and an undercoat. The undercoat is typically shorter, thicker and lighter in color than the outer coat. Although it will “shed out” throughout the year, it has two major releases, in spring and fall. The outercoat is longer, thinner and typically darker and it does not shed out. It will grow to a set length and stay at that length year to year, so long as it remains healthy. If you have a double-coated breed, plan to bathe them every eight weeks in non-shedding seasons. Before you turn on the water, be sure to brush and comb the coat out first to help remove any loose undercoat hairs. This will cut down on bathing time and help prevent possible skin issues if their skin and coat do not dry quickly. During shedding seasons, plan for monthly baths and daily brushing. If you can’t maintain a daily brushing schedule, aim for at least three times a week to help keep the shedding undercoat under control.
Short-coated breeds need to be bathed about every three months, with regular (once a week) brushing to help keep their skin and coat healthy. Brushing distributes your dog’s natural oils over their coat to help keep it hydrated and shiny (similar to the benefits we can see from using a natural hand lotion).
If you have a long-coated dog, give them a bath every eight to 12 weeks. Note: It’s imperative that all tangles and mats are removed from the coat first. If you bathe first and then try and brush them out, the session will take longer, be harder on your pet’s skin and coat, and could cause irritation.
While bathing needs differ from dog to dog, Weinand says that when in doubt, wash your dog every four weeks and also take time for de-shedding (if double-coated), clipping their nails, cleaning their teeth and checking their anal glands (expressing if needed).
"This will help to keep their skin and coat clean and keep their natural oils spread out to help condition," she explains. "Plus, they will smell great."
Keep in mind, however, that dogs who play outdoors regularly or get dirty from rolling around in dirt and mud may need more frequent baths. Certain dog breeds may also need to be washed more than others.
"Certain breeds, like Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, have a naturally oily coat," says Weinand. "Bathing them regularly will help remove the 'dirty' oils and replace them with clean, new natural oil the skin is producing." Additionally, some breeds, like the Shih Tzu in their full coat, may require weekly bathing.
The seasons may also affect the frequency of your dog's baths. In winter, for example, pet parents may want to schedule baths every eight to 12 weeks since too much bathing in dryer months may result in dryer skin and coat. You will still want to brush your pet at least once a week to minimize tangles and help distribute natural oils, which can help with itching. In the spring, when pets are shedding, more frequent baths may be necessary to help remove the dead coat.
Just be careful not to bathe your dog too often, as this can cause skin irritation. As Weinand clarifies, "Unless there is a medical reason for more frequent baths, overbathing your pet—say weekly or even every two weeks—can dry out the skin and coat."
In addition to bathing, grooming is an important part of caring for your dog. This can include de-shedding, hair trimming, nail clipping, teeth-cleaning and anal gland expression, depending on your dog's specific needs. Like bathing, the frequency of grooming appointments or at-home sessions will depend on your dog's breed, coat length and desired trim. In general, most dogs should see the groomer every six to eight weeks.
If your dog has a long coat, schedule grooming services every six weeks. This is ideal for breed pattern haircuts—trim styles specific to a dog’s breed—such as the lamb trim or puppy cut for a Poodle or the Cocker Spaniel trim for the—you guessed it—Cocker Spaniel. If your dog has a short trim, you can likely go eight to 10 weeks between grooming appointments.
In addition to professional grooming services, follow the tips below to help maintain your dog's coat at home.
In between visits to the groomer, you'll need to brush your short-coated dog once a week to help remove loose hair and dander and help spread your dog's natural oils over their skin and coat.
To groom your short-coated pup, we recommend using a Zoom Groom brush and FURminator to remove loose fur.
If your dog has a long coat, they’ll need to be brushed at least three to four times a week, if not daily. This will help keep their coat from getting tangled and matted.
Use a slicker brush to remove excess fur, a metal comb to check for tangles after brushing and a pin brush for daily brushing. Keep in mind that a pin brush is not ideal for removing mats but will work well if your dog's fur is mat-free.
To help prevent matting, brush your long-coated dog in layers. Start at one of your dog’s back legs by the foot. Hold a section of the hair up with your free hand, then brush the coat down and out. Continue until you’ve brushed the entire coat. The goal as you're brushing is to see your dog's skin and to brush from their skin out. If you only brush the top of your dog's coat, it will eventually get matted. In time—as soon as six to eight weeks from their last professional groom in some cases—mats can grow so dense that they need to be shaved off. If your groomer needs to shave your dog’s coat, it will be very short as the blades will have to go under the mats since they cannot go through them.
Always watch for matting, and pay attention to overall skin and coat health when brushing your dog. If something doesn't look right, consult a veterinarian or dog groomer for professional treatment.
Helping your dog stay clean and free of bacterial growth doesn’t start and end with coat care. Use the following additional at-home grooming tips between appointments to help keep your pup looking and feeling good.
Once a week, use a wipe or cleaner specifically designed for dogs’ ears. Ear wipes remove dirt and help prevent the growth of unwanted bacteria. They also help prevent tear stains, infections and irritations caused by mucus around the eyes.
Brush your dog's teeth once a day (or at least three to four times a week). In between brushings, provide your pup with dental treats formulated to help prevent plaque and tartar buildup.
In many cases, anal glands express themselves naturally. If this is true for your dog, you can take anal gland expression off your list of dog care responsibilities, but do pay attention to your dog’s demeanor. If they show signs of irritation such as scooting across the floor or biting at their back end, talk to your groomer about expressing your dog’s anal glands during their routine appointment, or stop in for a walk-in service.
If you have questions or concerns about your dog's need for anal gland expression, consult your veterinarian. They can help you determine a good cadence for anal gland expression and may make recommendations, such as a change in diet, that might make your dog more comfortable.
For many pet parents, nail trimming feels like a daunting task, but it shouldn't be overlooked.
"If nails get too long, it can cause issues with walking," says Weinand. "Or they will crack to the paw, exposing the 'vein,' which can be very painful." Additionally, "Not trimming your dog's nails regularly can also lead to infections that may require veterinary intervention."
Most dogs need their nails trimmed every two to four weeks. However, if your dog regularly walks outside on sidewalks or pavement, they may require less frequent nail trims because walking on hard surfaces can help wear down the nails. While you can take care of this task at home with the right supplies, some dogs are particularly sensitive when it comes to nail trims. If this is true for your dog, stop by your groomer between full-service appointments for a nail trim.
Providing your dog with regular baths and keeping them well-groomed not only helps your dog look their best but also contributes to them feeling their best. And as you develop a routine for bathing and grooming, you’ll be investing in quality bonding time with your pup. Remember, if you need more guidance on your pet's specific bathing and grooming needs, you can always call your local Petco grooming salon for recommendations or speak with your vet.
Wendy is Petco’s Manager of Pet Services and Grooming Education. She has over 30 years’ experience and is certified through International Pet Groomers and the International Society of Canine Cosmetology. Wendy also sits on the board of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, ensuring legislation is made in the best interest of pets, pet parents, groomers and salons.