Bathing A Dog Can Be Lots of Fun!

Want to know how bathing a dog can be done without tears and tantrums? Our handy checklist will show you how your dog's bath-time can be lots of fun!  Read on to learn the best and easiest way to bathe a dog.

Bathing A Dog Without Tears!

'Who's tears?' you might ask, 'His or mine?'

Bathing a dog outside in a bucket, loads of lovely soapy bubbles!

Bathing a dog can be stressful for you both, especially if your Cocker Spaniel decides he doesn't want to be bathed!

However, giving your dog a bath from time to time is essential to help his coat stay clean and shining, his skin healthy, and to stop him from smelling less than fragrant!

Read on to learn how to get your dog smelling and looking clean with the minimum of fuss. I aim to answer your most frequently asked questions about bathing a dog such as:

And then, I put it all together into an simple check-list on how to bathe your dog.

Best Time to Brush: Before  Or After Bath-time?

Some groomers recommend gently teasing out all knots and matting and brush the coat before bathing a dog because they believe that if tangles and mats are left in the fur, they'll trap dirt and shampoo and simply make matters worse by tightening the mats.

Trapped dirt and chemicals (yes, they're even in the gentlest of dog shampoos) so close to the skin can cause skin complaints and can aggravate existing skin conditions.

There are other groomers however, that say you should wash your dog first. They believe that the grit and/or dirt in an unwashed mat or coat will blunt their (very expensive) scissors and trimmers.

Personally, I like to remove tats and matting before I bath my Cocker Spaniel, give him a quick brush and then brush him thoroughly afterwards. However, this is entirely a personal choice.

Decide for yourself which way around you prefer to do it - bathing your dog first and then brushing him, or groom him first - it's not life threatening!

Whichever way you choose to do it, brushing your dog is an important part of his grooming schedule as brushing helps to remove dirt, loose hair, tangles and that all important undercoat.

If you don't reach the undercoat and remove all the dead and loose fur, it will eventually clump together and cause matting.

Apart from helping you and your dog to bond, brushing also gets the circulation going and helps to distribute natural oils evenly around his  coat.

How Often Should I Bath My Dog?

Your Dog's Lifestyle

The lifestyle of your pooch can help you to determine how often you need to bath your dog.

For example, if your Cocker is very active and free to run around in the countryside, his coat will no doubt collect half a ton of vegetation; picking up burrs, leaves, bits of twig, and other debris of dubious origin.

If your dog is lucky enough to swim in the sea, or in rivers, or even if he romps through all the muddy puddles he can find, it probably means that bathing your dog will be a fairly frequent event in your household - especially if he enjoys rolling in muck! (And they do, don't they? Max loves to roll in fox pee!)

American cocker spaniel wearing shower cap, sitting in a bucket waiting to be bathed

On the other hand, if your Cocker Spaniel is getting on in years, he may be fairly sedate and content with just a little gentle exercise in the garden or a short stroll along the pavement.  In his case, bath-time may only be required once every three months or so. If this applies, lucky you!

Type of Coat

The type of coat your pet has is another factor involved in determining how often you should be bathing your dog.

If his coat is heavy or thicker than normal, your Cocker may need frequent baths to keep him clean, but dogs with shorter, smooth hair, may not need so many.

Cocker's coats are naturally water-repellent and bathing a dog too often could be harmful because it will strip the coat of its essential oils, and can cause dryness and irritation leading to skin disorders.

Keeping bath-time to a minimum will help to preserve those essential oils which keep his coat waterproof.

The Sniff Test

If you have any doubts about when to wash your dog, this very scientific test can help.

  • Ask your dog to sit in front of you
  • Get down to his level
  • Lean over him and...
  • sniff deeply! 

If he smells bad, it's bath time - very scientific!

Best Place For Bathing A Dog

In the summer, when the weather's warm, you can bathe your dog outdoors. Simply lather him up and hose him down!

Using a garden hose in winter is fine too, but only to hose down your Cocker's paws and legs to rinse away any mud that he may have picked up on his walk. I don't recommend bathing a dog outside in winter. It's not safe. Cold water can chill to the bone!

When bathing a dog indoors, it's best to use lukewarm water; common sense tells us that hot water can burn his skin, but it can also cause dryness and irritation.

Either way, water that's too hot or too cold can make bath-time a miserable experience for your dog.

You could buy your Cocker a special dog bath which can be placed at a level to suit you (and your back!). The bath can be set up in a garage or a shed.

For me, the bathroom is ideal; even better if you have a utility room. They're both easy sources of warm water and can be easily cleaned afterwards.

My Cocker, Max, is such a 'muck magnet' and always seems to find the muddiest places to roll in. When he gets really muddy, I carry him through the house (cream carpets!) and dump him into the shower. Here, he can shake himself as much as he wants to - all the muck, soap and water is contained within the shower - keeping the rest of the bathroom clean!

It does mean, however, that I have to take a shower with him!

Best Bath-Time Essentials


There are many types of dog shampoos available for bathing a dog; medicated, treatments for fleas or skin conditions, beautifully scented shampoos, shampoos with aloe vera to soothe the skin, conditioning shampoos, dry powder shampoos, and many more.

Bathing a dog with a good quality, tear-free, dog shampoo or conditioning shampoo will help to keep your Cocker's coat clean and healthy looking and it will also take good care of his skin.

Don't be tempted to use shampoos formulated for humans, except perhaps for no-tears baby shampoos, as all others will be far too harsh for him and may cause skin complaints or trigger allergies.

Cocker spaniel trying to get out of the bath - I don't think he enjoys his bath time.

If you're unsure which to use, or if your pet has skin problems, why not  ask your vet or your groomer to recommend a more gentle shampoo for him?

If you're using a medicated shampoo, only use as prescribed by your vet.

Trying to get the shampoo into all areas of your dog's coat can be a real challenge. However, this great tip will help you to do just that.

Use an empty bottle, pour in enough shampoo for one wash and top it up with water. Put the top on and give it a shake to mix it up. I find approximately 10 percent of shampoo to 90 percent of water works very well. 

Using a bottle to dilute the shampoo with water before using it on your Cocker's coat helps the shampoo to lather up much more easily. The shampoo lasts longer too!

I don't recommend diluting medicated or flea treatment shampoos as this will reduce their effectiveness. Use as recommended by your vet, or by the instructions on the packaging.

Bath Mat

When bathing a dog, a non-slip bath mat is essential to stop him from slipping and sliding in the bathtub. It will help your dog to feel safer and could also stop him from hurting himself.

Bath Towels

Have two or three large fluffy towels nearby; two to dry him off with, and another to wrap him in, or to lay on later, until he's fully dry.

A Handful Of Dog Treats

When bathing a dog, I think it's advisable to keep a couple of treats handy. Giving him a small treat two or three times during his bath may help to keep bath time fun and rewarding for your Cocker Spaniel.

A Shower Hose Or A Large Plastic Jug

A shower hose on your bath will make it easier for you to rinse him thoroughly, but a large plastic jug will do just fine.

Sink-Hole Protector

If your Cocker Spaniel's coat is heavy, or it molts quite a lot, it may be time to invest in a sink-hole protector to catch fur and hair, otherwise you may create a blockage.

Bathing A Dog: A Simple Check List

Before bathing your Cocker Spaniel, collect everything you need, towels, shampoo etc., and put them within easy reach of your bath.

  • Collect your dog, bring him into the bathroom and close the door behind you in case he feels like making a bolt for it!
  • Place your Cocker Spaniel in the bath on a non-slip bath mat.
When bathing your dog it's easier if you stand in the bath with him
  • If your Cocker's a wriggler, you can use a short nylon collar and lead (never leather) and link it to a hand grip (if your bath has one) or to a tap. This will give you the freedom to use both hands and will help to make the job much easier!

    Please note, if you decide to use a lead, it's very important that the lead is short enough to make it impossible for your dog to jump out of the bath.

  • You might like to place a cotton wool ball inside each of his ears to help keep water out of the ear canal. Try not to get them soaked though as the cotton wool could act as wick instead. Just take extra care around your Cocker Spaniel's ears when rinsing.

Wetting Your Dog

  • Test the water to make sure it's not too hot. You don't want to burn your Cocker's skin. 

  • Gently spray his body with warm water. 

  • Don't wet his head and ears at this stage as he will only shake himself and cover you with water!

Time To Lather Up!

Only shampoo your dog once unless he's really, really dirty, in which case you can give him a second lathering.

  • Shampoo his hind legs first, then his bottom and tail.
  • When you've done that, move on to the body, underbelly, chest and front legs. Don't forget his paws and in between his toes. 

  • Try not to use the shower spray directly on your Cocker Spaniel's face or genitals unless the water pressure from the spray is very gentle. 

  • Smooth the shampoo into the coat in the direction that the hair grows and gently massage. Be careful not to rub too vigorously otherwise you may create knots and matting.

  • If your Cocker Spaniel has short hair, (ie, his coat is trimmed using trimmers and not hand stripped) you can massage and lather the shampoo as vigorously as you need to in order to get his coat clean.

  • Bathing a dog should be fun, not a stressful exercise for either of you so keep things light and easy. Praise your dog quietly as you work. It will help him to enjoy his bath time, and it will also strengthen the bond between you.

Wetting Your Dog's Head

  • When you've finished washing his legs, tail and body, you can now gently wet his head, face, and ears.

    I usually wet each ear first, separately, inside and out, but never allow water into his ear canal. 

    I lift my dog's face up slightly to allow me to wet his head without water running into his eyes and I use a small wash cloth to clean around his eyes and muzzle. It's much easier and I think Max prefers it to having soapy water poured onto his face.

  • Apply the diluted shampoo solution carefully and lather the top of his head, his ears, but be very gentle. Don't forget to soap behind and under his ears, and under the chin. 

Rinse Your Dog Well

  • Thoroughly rinse the soap from your Cocker's head and ears and then follow up with his body and his legs, not forgetting his underbelly.
  • Remember to keep the spray away from the inside of his ears; away from the ear canal.
  • When you've finished rinsing him, rinse again. If there are any signs of lathering as you glide your hands over your dog's body, his coat is not yet fully rinsed. 
  • Continue spraying him with warm water until the water from his coat runs clear. You don't want to leave any soap residue in your dog's coat.
  • When you've finished rinsing, gently squeeze as much water out of his coat as you can and then quickly throw a towel over him to stop him from shaking himself.

Dry Him Off

If you dry your Cocker's head and ears first it may stop him from shaking. Try it!

  • Towel dry thoroughly, but don't rub too vigorously otherwise you may cause tangles and matting. Besides, Cocker Spaniels don't like 'rough handling', so gently does it!
  • Gently squeeze the feathers and his fur in the towel as this may help to absorb excess water.
  • Use the dry towel to pick him up and take him into another room where he can be warm and lie on the towel to dry off. 

Some dogs go crazy after having a bath - dashing and rolling around. For this reason, (and the fact that you want to keep him warm) I recommend you don't let your dog outside otherwise he'll end up dirty again!

My dog Max goes mad after his bath. He runs for the nearest rug or towel and slides his face along the floor (alternately rubbing each side of his muzzle) with his bottom stuck up in the air, and will then roll around on his back, kicking his legs happily. This is quite amusing and so endearing to watch!

Many professional groomers use hair-dryers (or crates with dryers) on their dogs after bathing. If you like, you could use a hair dryer on him (on a cool/warm setting) but make sure you don't get too close or you may burn him.

Max is quite the little hedonist; he loves being dried with a hairdryer and will lay on the floor in ecstasy, and will often fall asleep!

Confident About Bathing Your Dog?

After reading my advice on bathing a dog, I hope you're now more confident about the whole bath-time process. However, if you're still unsure about any aspect of how to bathe a dog, perhaps a chat with your groomer would help?

You can now go on to learn about grooming your dog here.

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