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We've all been there (and if you haven't yet, you will be one day)....
We have a dog, whom we love very much, and we want only the best for. We cherish and dote on them and cuddle with them. Sometimes we see, or smell something amiss.
A.) They got into ~SOMETHING (?)~
B.) They picked up some nasty hitchhikers (fleas, ticks)
C.) They sport the 'Dog Funk' odor and are turning our fingers grey.
The list goes on. Now, we all know a bath is coming, but what do we use? Can't we ask a friend or look it up on the internet? Perhaps we can just figure it out ourselves as we go? Maybe we have a bottle of doggy shampoo from the supermarket on standby. Simple, right?
First let's consider what we are working with, and go from there.
When we wash our pets we are removing the excess oils, dirt, old skin cells and dead hair as well as potential allergens, irritants and environmental pollutants from the surface of the skin. How we go about this and the products we use can have an enormous effect on our pets' health.
The skin is the largest organ of the body and serves as the barrier. As all living things have needs for survival, so does the skin. These needs are: Nutrition, Hydration, Protection and Oxygen, and all but the last are fulfilled by something that is produced in the hair follicle called sebum (basically - oil. Yes, oil is actually our friend). This oil (sebum) not only feeds, waters and protects the skin, it also keeps the fur healthy, shiny and easy to brush. What do I mean when I say it 'protects'? It keeps bacteria, fungus, yeast, parasites and harmful UV rays at bay. Obviously, this is some pretty important stuff.
Now, what do we use to bath our dog?
Suggestions abound, from the internet, to friends and family and old conventions. Very commonly suggested product types are baby shampoos (because they sound gentle, and smell nice) and dish detergents (because they clean very well and will knock down fleas).
Here's the reality about human products, they are formulated for an animal that has a completely different type of skin and hair than dogs. Our dog's have a pH of approximately 6.5, while human's average around 4.9-5.5. What that basically means is our skin and the products we use on ourselves are more acidic than the skin of our dog's and the products we should use on them. Using these human products will disrupt the delicate balance of the skin barrier. Also, our dog's are not all built the same, different breeds vary greatly in the type of coat they have. The products you use must meet the needs of coat type you are bathing. There are different kinds of moisturizers that do different jobs, and human products are not balanced for canine use. Our conditioners are often ill-suited and insufficient to restore our dog's skin barrier.
Dish detergents more extreme as they are designed to completely cut through all the grease and oil of whatever you wash with them. Meaning, our dogs are left with dry, itchy, and compromised skin. Now we all have a presence of bacteria and fungi, in low levels, on our skin. They balance each other out and the population stays low because they are in competition with each other for resources to survive. Once the skin is stripped of its protective layer those populations suddenly have a lot more resources and they grow. Remember that the oil made by the skin protects the skin from these guys. Our dogs scratch because their skin is dry, this weakens the skin more and the bacteria and fungus can move deeper. A dog with skin like this stinks much more quickly, too. These detergents may kill fleas by removing their oil layer and suffocating them in the detergent. We can tolerate these products, to some extent, but let's be honest, we can get dry, cracked hands from using dish soap. We must remember our dog's skin is 6-8 times thinner and more sensitive than ours (because they have that fur to protect them), so imagine how dry, cracked and irritated these soaps leave your dog's skin. Please don't use these products on dogs!
Clearly, there is more to the story than wash and done.
So how do we safely bathe our dog, and keep their skin healthy? We use a high quality, mild, dog specific shampoo (followed by the appropriate conditioner) made by a company that understands the unique needs of our dog's skin. The ingredients will be effective and will not strip the oil we want to keep. Avoid cheap supermarket shampoos, the marketing can look so appealing but has the product inside had the same treatment as the label design? It is easy to make something that looks good, is produced cheaply and sells for a high profit. There are a lot of these out there. Usually what is inside are harsh products and will result in a dry, itchy dog whose signature "Dog Funk" smell quickly comes back (often leading to a trip to the veterinarian which they commonly diagnosed as “allergies” and an expensive "fix" that doesn't address the cause) You will also see an increase in shedding because dry skin can't hold healthy hair.
Don't skip the conditioner! That's right, dog conditioner is essential to replace what the shampoo removes. Because, even a high quality, dog specific shampoo is still shampoo. If you skip your conditioner you will likely have a dry, itchy scalp and dandruff. Our dogs are the same, only it's called dander. And, if you thought all dogs have dander, sigh a breath of relief, because hydrated, healthy skin is not dandery! You and your dog will likely notice a major improvement in coat manageability and skin comfortability, as well as an improved odor in your home once you start conditioning. Most dog shampoos have a conditioner counterpart. (2 in 1 products are not effective because they are breaking down oil in the same step as adding it to the skin and the body does not get to benefit from the hydrating ingredients before they are gone.)
So how do you find good dog products? Speaking as a professional dog groomer certified in Skin Science by the Educators at Iv San Bernard (taught by a Veterinarian and a Groomer well versed and experienced in the care and treatment of hair and skin), I possess a thorough understanding of the needs of each type of coat (they are not all made the same, after all). I recommend the following:
Short coated dogs such as Bulldogs, Great Danes, Rottweilers and Labrador Retrievers need 30% more oils than other coat types. I like to use Iv San Bernard's Lemon shampoo and Black Cherry Pek conditioner because it removes less oil and adds more back to the coat. It is perfect to care for the delicate balance of the short coated dog.
Medium coated dogs such as Cocker Spaniels, Golden Retrievers, Pomeranians and German Shepherds also need mild shampoos but they also need proteins and minerals. Conditioners fortified with plant oils will feed the coat and keep it healthy. I like to use Iv San Bernard's Banana shampoo and Pink Grapefruit Pek conditioner as it has everything your medium coated pet needs.
Long coated dogs such as the Poodles, Shih Tzus, Lhasa Apsos and Yorkshire Terriers need collagen and hydration to maintain the quality of their coat. I like to use Iv San Bernard's Green Apple shampoo and Passion fruit Pek conditioner as it has been thoughtfully formulated specifically for long coated dogs.
Iv San Bernard products are an exclusive line of fine Italian pet spa products. I suggested products from their Traditional and Fruit of the Groomer lines but they also have SLS-free versions and Luxury Spa options. They can be found at isbusa.com
Always use products as directed by the product label and for their designated purpose. The formulations come concentrated and need to be properly diluted. Make sure to rinse thoroughly after both the shampooing and conditioning stages and allow each product the contact time they need to work. Brushing after a towel dry is best, even for short coats as this stimulates the skin and moves good oils along the coat. For longer coats is the best time to deshed and detangle while damp because the hair is supple and elastic, and less prone to breakage.
Bathing our pets at home can be a bonding experience, a learning experience, a necessity and a lot of fun. Being mindful of the effects of our product choices takes a little effort but we all know you would give them that and so much more.
The information given is not meant to diagnose, treat or replace consultation with your veterinarian. If you suspect there may be cause for concern regarding your pets health, if there are any oogey-gooey, or super stinky issues, contact your local veterinarian.
If you need more information about bathing techniques, product choices and purchase or to inquire about what type of coat your dog has please reach out to me at (413) 663-4819 or
Kendra Baker is the owner and operator of Give a Dog a Bath Dog Grooming in North Adams, MA. Established in Jan of 2020. Before opening her own Salon, she was a manager and groomer at Barks N Bubbles Dog Grooming in Woodland, WA. She is Certified in The Science of Skin by Iv San Bernard, AKC S.A.F.E., and IPG's PPGSA Standards of Care, Safety and Sanitation, among others. Visit Give a Dog a Bath Online at for more information about her career.