Friday, August 13, 2010

How to Efficiently Wash a Big Dog with Lots of Hair

This guy does not have it down.
I have a 100 lb. German shepherd.  They have thick coats (and thick undercoats) and they're very strong.  Mine lives indoors and we live close to the beach.  This dog has been washed a lot of times in her nine years.  I've seen other people try to wash my dog who have had smaller, short-haired dogs and they just don't seem to have any technique.  Here's how I do it.

You will need:
shampoo and conditioner
1 hose, preferably with a control nozzle
2 large towels
1 patio/backyard/lawn
1 large, stinky, hairy dog

Here's the technique:

1. Leash your dog.  It is just way easier this way, so do it.

2. Rinse the dog with the hose.  This may sound like an easy task, but it's a big job with a big dog.  Start by stepping on the dog's leash.  This way your dog can't easily go anywhere and you have two hands to work with.  Stand in front of your dog.  Adjust your hose to a flat, high pressure spray and start at the nape of the neck along the top of the back to the tail.  Next, rinse one side of the dog from front to back and then the other.  I move in the direction because I'm assisted by both gravity and the direction of hair growth.  Next is the tail and haunches.  Finally, rinse the chest, belly and legs.  You do the face and neck last.

Awesome Tip of the Day:  Why do you stand in front of the dog and wash the face last?  So you don't get wet.  First, when your dog shakes all of the water sprays outward toward the sides, top and bottom.  Thanks to physics, you are pretty safe standing in front of the dog (I know, location, location, location...).  You wash the face last because this is something most dogs hate.  They will probably shake and possibly misbehave.  If you are next to the dog because of the area you're washing and you see a shake coming on, quickly get behind or in front of your dog to stay dry.

3. Shampoo and condition.  I typically mix the two on the dog.  You can also mix them in your hands and apply it to the dog.  I don't care for rinsing in between unless it's a really special occasion and I have a lot of time.  The best way I've found to apply washing ingredients to my dog is to make little product dispensers out of my hands.  Fill your hands, make a loose fist, and run your hands over your dog while slowly squeezing the product through your fingers.  Once the product is applied, rub it all in by kneading and squeezing the hair and skin.  This should be a pleasant little dog massage for your dog.  It's the only way to really get the skin clean on dog with that much hair.

4. Repeat step one, only more thoroughly.  Use the flat spray close to your dogs fur with one hand while using the other to squeegee it through their hair.  This gives you maximum purchase for the amount of water you will use.  If your dog likes to drink out of the hose like mine does, let them.  It's good for dogs to have things they like about bathing.  Use the shaking at the end when you spray your dog's head to your advantage.  The more they shake, the less you towel.

5. Towel off your dog.  This is my dog's favorite part.  Make it a game.  Take the leash off and let your dog run around and shake a bit, then come back and face plant into the towel.  Do not let your dog bite or pull the towel.  Once they start, they will never stop.  Rub down your dog as much as possible with the first towel focusing on the head, back, and belly.  By now your towel is useless.  Grab towel number two and give everything a quick rub down.  If that towel is not too wet, put it down somewhere in the sun so your dog can relax and dry off on something clean.

P.S. Squat to save your back.  Bend over as little as possible.
You now have a clean dog.  As soon as they're dry, they'll start to smell good.

A word on dog shampoos.  Don't waste your money.  First, they are horribly overpriced and not all too different from people shampoos.  Second, they are usually heavily perfumed and your dog will hate that.  My dog used to have an "itch" that is common in the area in which I live.  I switched her to people shampoos and conditioners and she hasn't itched since.  Find a people shampoo that is simple, preferably mild.  The cheaper the better.  I don't put anything on my dog's head that I don't use on my own.  VO5 works great and costs about $1 on sale, $2 not on sale.  Today I used Main N Tail Original, which is available in big bottles for $5 or less.  Sometimes I use Garnier Fructise Triple Nutrition for $5/big bottle or the Trader Joe's Nourish Spa (no link available), which runs for less than $3 a bottle.  I usually save these last two for myself and use the first two for my dog.  The latter contains the mildest cleaning agent.  These products do not contain silicones (ingredients ending in -cone) in their shampoos or conditioners, which can build up on your dog's fur or cause irritation to their skin.

Just like your scalp and hair, dogs need conditioner, too.  The detergents in shampoos, even mild ones, can be harsh.  They clean by stripping the skin and hair of everything including the natural oils.  This can cause itchiness, excess dandruff, irritation, and just dull, dry hair.  Also, a little conditioner will make your dog soft, pettable, and huggable.

Once your dog is dry.
Brush thoroughly to avoid matting and excess shedding.  I use a giant cat brush (slicker brush) or those big shedding blades that somewhat resemble bear traps or torture devices really get the job done.  Both types can pull equal to two rabbits out of my dog and fill a grocery bag full of hair.  During nesting season, I throw that soft shed undercoat over the fence so the birds can use it for their babies.


  1. THANX - this sounds like such a crazy thing to search for but I have an English Mastiff that I want to give a bath and it's just overwhelming to think about! I appreciate all your hints - wish me LUCK!

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