The Art of Bathing your Small Dog

Forget the old idea that bathing strips the oils from the coat and should be done only every six months or even less often. There are benefits for most dogs to weekly bathing including:

  • reducing allergies (yours and your dog’s)
  • treating skin infections
  • Reducing itching and scratching

Bathing your dog can be a challenge, but here are some tips that will help make the process a lot smoother for you and your dog.

Before you ever put a drop of water on your dog, gather the basic supplies you will need for bathing your dog, so you won’t have to struggle with a wet slippery dog while hunting for what you need. Since we bath our pup in the mudroom sink, I have a basket of bath goodies under my sink there so that everything is within arms’s reach.

  • Towels (at least 2)
  • Dog Shampoo and conditioner, if used
  • Vinegar (if you have trouble rinsing the shampoo out of longer haired breeds)
  • Comb or brush
  • Small cup or sprayer
  • Colloidal silver (if using for bad tear stains)
  • Cotton balls
  • Ear/eye cleaner wipes

Our bath kit includes 2 puppy towels from the dollar store, a selection of puppy-only facecloths, trimming scissors for stray hairs in between groomer visits, ear/face wipes, organic gentle puppy shampoo and a Tangle Teaser brush. We keep it under the sink in a nice organized basket so that everything is at our fingertips.

You need a good quality shampoo and conditioner.

Do not use people products because they are not formulated for your dog. Select a product that provides what your individual dog requires:

  1. Oatmeal shampoo and conditioners: Good for sensitive skin and soft-coated breeds. Oatmeal is a gentle cleanser and is great for dogs that might have itchy skin, allergies, or need extra moisture. Oatmeal dog shampoos also work well for hairless breeds.
  1. Whitening shampoo and conditioners: In order to keep white breeds like Bichon Frises Highland White West Terrier snowy white, you will want a whitening product such as “Super White” by Bio-Groom.
  1. Tearless shampoo and conditioners: For puppies and pets that need product around their faces, like Yorkies, tearless products are the best way to avoid eye problems.
  1. Special shampoo and conditioners: For dogs with skin problems, hot spots, seborrhea, bacterial, or fungal problems, you will need special products. Good options for regular maintenance of problems are Micro-tek medicated shampoo by EQyss or Tropiclean’s Oatmeal and Tea Tree medicated shampoo.
  1. All purpose shampoo and conditioner: Most dogs do well with all purpose products, although you can find special puppy products, moisturizing products, all natural products, etc. Good all purpose shampoos and conditioners include brands like Bio-Groom, Tropiclean, Miracle Coat, and Lambert Kay’s Fresh n Clean products to name a few. 

Stop the tears and wet ears.

If you intend to wash your dog’s face, you can buy ointment that will prevent stinging from soap. This is especially important for breeds with protruding eyes like pugs or Chihuahuas. You can buy this ointment from your veterinarian’s clinic. You can also use a drop of mineral oil instead of prescription ointment.

Also, put a small piece of cotton in each of your dog’s ear canals to prevent water from getting inside; just make sure you take it out after the bath. Water in the ear canals can lead to ear infections. 

Clean his ears with cotton balls and a dog ear cleanser, or specially-formulated ear wipes.

Dog ear cleansers are pH balanced to help prevent ear infections. If using a liquid, apply it to a clean cotton ball or an ear-cleaning pad bought at a pet store. Wipe the cleanser first over the outside of the dog’s ears, then over the inside of the dog’s outer ear. You can move a little way into the ear canal, but don’t poke your finger into the dog’s ears. Do not pour anything, including water, into your dog’s ears, as it can get trapped down by the eardrum and cause infection. 

Brush your dog.

Brushing before a bath helps the shampoo get into the coat and works out mats before they get set in by the water. Gently pick apart or cut out any mats before the bath, because adding water will make them impossible to remove.

Make sure you have lots of towels.

… At least two. Have one towel to put in the bottom of the tub to provide traction and prevent slipping. The second towel is to prevent shaking  — drape it over the wet dog (between washes or before rinsing) to prevent him from shaking and soaking you and the walls. The third towel is the drying towel.

I also like to keep facecloths close – I use this to wash our little yorkie’s face while she is in the sink so I’m not pouring water over her face or spraying her.

Fill the tub/sink and block the drain.

If you do not have one of those neat little sink plugs, put a piece of steel wool in the drain to catch the dog hair and prevent it from plugging your drain. Fill the tub or sink with warm water before you bring in your dog – about an inch or two of water is all you need.

Place your dog firmly in the sink or tub. Make sure there is a non-skid mat or towel on the bottom so your dog does not slip and slide (another dollarstore find). Keep a hand on your dog at all times. This helps to relax and reassure your dog.

We’re lucky since our mudroom at the back of the house has it’s own sink/counter area that we use strictly for our pup. If your dog is small enough to bath in a sink, and you have the option, elect for a deep sink and a spray hose tap. This will help keep down on over spray and also help you to ensure that all areas, including the underbelly get rinsed thoroughly.

Wash from the neck down.

You can accomplish this by using a bucket or cup to wet your dog or using a sprayer. Place some shampoo in a cup with warm water and then pour it over your dog’s coat. Or use shampoo in your hands and work into a lather before massage it into your dogs hair.

Rinse with warm water (and vinegar if necessary) to remove all of the soap.

Mix the conditioning rinse with some warm water in a cup and pour over the dog’s coat. Massage it in for a minute or two and then rinse it out.

Use a damp washcloth to wash your dog’s face.

Many small dogs produce more tears than the average dog. The tears lubricate the corneas, but they also spill over and create staining in the creases of their little faces. You can clean the tear stains with colloidal silver (which you can buy at any health food store). Put a little colloidal silver on a cotton ball and wipe down the facial folds. Colloidal silver is entirely safe and an effective disinfectant.

Dry off your dog.

Place your dog on a dry towel, and then wrap him in another towel to absorb most of the water. Change towels as needed to continue drying your dog’s coat. Let his coat air dry once you have blotted up as much water as you reasonably can. Dry the insides of the ears with cotton to prevent infection.

Blow-dry the coat to speed up the process, if he tolerates it. Make sure to keep it on a warm/cool setting so you don’t burn the dog’s skin.

If your dog is scared of the blow dryer, don’t push him. Put in the extra time needed for a towel drying.


Let the coat dry before trying to brush it.

If your small breed dog has longer or matted hair, it’s very important to brush your dog after his hair is dry. Brushing after every bath will help you to cut down on mats and/or dandruff. As with humans, brushing or combing is a lot harder when the hair is wet, and you run the risk of damaging the fur. Furthermore, you risk building up an unpleasant association between baths and painful skin tugging. Wait for the coat to finish air-drying before you brush it out.

Bath time can be a pleasant experience for you and your dog. Be sure to praise and reassure him often and give him treats afterwards.