Bathing Dogs

The following article is for general information only and not intended to serve as professional training nor replace professional training. We strongly advise professional training for every new groomer before they offer grooming services to pet owners. Based on our experience your charging fees for grooming services is legally interpreted that you are the expert in grooming, and not the pet owners you serve. Thereby you accept the risk of being responsible for the services you provide. You are responsible to interview every pet owner you serve to ensure that your services are not only aesthetic, but safe and appropriate for their pet. You are also responsible to disclose to each pet owner any and all risks your procedures may involve to their pet. Professional grooming requires professional training. Click for training opportunities. We wrote the Pet Care Services Brochure and Pet Groomer's Report & Health Alert in the book From Problems to Profits to exemplify one example of  the disclosure process for a professional groomer. Remember, every pet owner you serve is putting their faith and trust in you. Get the professional training required of a professional groomer.

Bathing Picture
The Basics

At the core of every grooming procedure is the bathing and drying process, sometimes done by full-charge groomers, or pet bathers which complete the bathing procedure but do little or no finish styling.

Most grooming services are can be categorized as either a "complete trim and bath" or a "bath-only" service. Notice that that bathing procedures are a part of both categories.

The term "bathing" commonly refers to far more than just washing and drying a pet. In fact, there are several more procedures commonly lumped together and referred to as bathing, and they are completed by "Pet Bathers", "Bather-Brushers" or Groomers/Stylists that groom a pet from start-to-finish.

Photo: A Day in a Pet Grooming School Photo Exhibit

Regular dog grooming keeps your pet happy and clean, and a bath is a great way to do that! As an owner, dog health should be your top priority. Keep your dog healthy with regular grooming and nutritious dog food.

Before bathing a pet groomers typically perform up to 5 procedures. They are:

Pre-Grooming Inspection
Brushing and Combing, and as necessary De-Matting
Nail Clipping and Filing
Ear Cleaning and Deodorizing

Brushing, combing, de-matting, ear cleaning and nail clipping procedures are sometimes loosely lumped together and termed "prepping."

"Pre-clipping" requires more advanced skills than those of a typical pet bather. Pre-clipping is usually performed by a skilled assistant groomer or full-charge groomer, and it is usually performed prior to bathing. Common pre-clipping duties are placing the pattern on a Poodle (the close clipped stripes on a Poodle), as well as clipping Poodle feet and feet, and other styling attributes. Pre-clipping can be done on most any breed of dog when the coat is so heavily matted the groomer "removes" the matted by clipping it off. Coat removals are done before the bath so the pet will dry much more quickly, and if the coat is matted, water would only increase tangling and matting.

Nail clipping and filing and ear cleaning procedures are done before the bath for one very good reason. These procedures can loosen dirt, ear wax, foreign matter and even blood in the case of nail bleeding, and that would spoil the the main objective of bathing, to produce a clean pet.

Brushing, combing and de-matting are done before the bath to loosen dirt and dander, and prevent any hair shed from causing worsening any existing tangling and matts. Hair shed held in living coats typically begins to matt around the good coat in the presence of water, almost immediately in the case of some Poodles and always the Bichon Frise.

There is another objective of bathing though very important to stylists. Not only must the dog be clean and dry before styling, but the coat must be prepared for styling. Hand-fluff drying most coats lifts and fluffs coats, and in some cases straightens the coat, readying it for the fine art of styling by professional groomers.

A Poodle not bathed and fluff-dried properly will have areas, or even small spots, of curly coat that was not straightened by brushing under the moderate heat of a blow dryer. Those beautifully groomed Poodles require their coat to be bathed and brushed precisely to prepare it for sculpting by the stylist.

Cat Bath
A Closer Look

Full-charge pet groomers working alone must of course complete pre-clipping, bathing and any "finish trimming or styling" procedures. These groomers are usually experienced full-charge pet groomers (sometimes called "trimmers" or titles gained through certification, such as a National Certified Master Groomer or N.C.M.G.

Yes. Many groomers bathe cats too!  Photo: Friends of Gallery

Some businesses have not only full-charge groomers, but "pet bather" or "bather-brusher" employees that assist the full-charge groomers with complete trim and bath pets, and highly-skilled pet bathers can even completely groom some bath-only dogs not receiving finish styling from a full-charge groomer.

Even other grooming business employ another loosely termed position, the "assistant groomer." This position's skill level is more advanced than the pet bather position, but not as advanced as the highest level of grooming skills associated with full-charge groomers.

The latter are capable of executing the art of finish styling and certainly not meeting artistic certification standards. The Assistant Pet Trimmer is not widely standardized but there are extensive resources to study this unique position in the grooming business book, From Problems to Profits. Maddie Ogle, pioneered the development and application of this position as early as 1961, and formally presented its job description and theory for the mutual benefit of other grooming business owners. Today there are thousands of assistant positions in grooming businesses everywhere.


The professional groomer is expected to be a master of bathing procedures. There are several steps to bathing once the pet has been given the "pre-bath" procedures mentioned above.

Bathing Procedural Steps:

- Check the grooming service order for any warnings.
- Have all products ready and organized at the tub.
- Protect pet ears and eyes.
- Place dog in tub safely for both groomer and pet.
- Express anal gland (optional).
- Rinse the coat with lukewarm water, not hot.
- Shampoo and/or condition the coat with pet products.
- Rinse the coat (possibly shampoo one more time).
- Additional conditioning as necessary.
- Thorough final rinse, especially armpits, toes etc.
- Lightly squeeze excess water from coat.
- Remove dog from tub safely for both groomer and pet.
- Blot, do not rub, coat with towels to absorb moisture.
- Dry and fluff coat.
- Final comb and brush as necessary.
- As indicated, hair buns, bows, bandanas, conditioner etc.

Today's state-of-the-art shampoos and conditioners can loosened and clean just about all dirt and oil without having to "scrub" the haircoat. Scrubbing breaks down hair shafts. Lightly massage shampoos in and allow the right choice of product to dissolve dirt and oils. Your hands will feel less tired at the end of the day too.

The drying process is perhaps the most controversial. Some salons never "cage dry" any pet, not even owning cage drying equipment and instead hand-fluff dry every pet with no exception.

Some grooming businesses use a combination of cage drying and hand-fluff drying. The pros and cons of cage drying is discussed in more detail here. Some amount of hand-fluff drying is necessary at some point in the drying process for all dogs who coats will be styled by the full-charge stylist. Many professional stylists require hand-fluff drying on all dogs they style, and no cage drying. To reduce drying time on heavily-coated pets there are high force dryers than can blow off excess water quickly before hand-fluff drying. Grooming suppliers can provide you with product information.

Drying Picture

We suggest you learn more about the most well-documented bathing procedure, Madson's Humane Bath Procedure included here. It has exceptional  professional suggestions for a safe, caring and successful bathing procedure every time. Keep in mind that it's author developed and refined the Humane Bath Procedure more than 40 years; she was a true pioneer in documenting bathing procedures.

Heavy-handed brushing and combing can cause to red, irritated patches of skins called "brush burns." Even moderate brushing can lead to brush burns on dogs with sensitive skin, and every dog can get brush burns on areas of the body where the skin is always sensitive such as the stomach and male sheath. Wire slicker brushes are very effective, but their misuse often results in brush burns, and they are very evident to pet owners. There is no reason to brush the skin with one but instead stop above the skin level and brush up and outward. Generally, the lighter the dog's skin, the more sensitive their skin. Even using a hot dryer setting on sensitive skin pets can cause redness and irritation, and we always favor a moderate setting and never hot. Highly-skilled groomers often believe that the strong force of the blowing air causing friction that dries the coat better than hot temperatures.

Salons grooming many pets at once are usually warm and even require higher loads of air conditioning to ease temperature levels. Small grooming businesses may have less heat to temper, but it also means that the bathing and drying area could be cool. Wet pets take chills easily so keep your bathing and drying area warm but not hot at all times.

Safety & Supervision

When you consider the amount of spills and splashes of water associated with bathing dogs, you get an idea that safety is important for people and pets. Add the amount of electrical equipment like blow dryers in the vicinity, and you get even a better idea of the potential for accidents.

BookBut wait! There's also that dog that says, "You don't really expect me to get wet do you?" There are also experienced groomers allowed to bathe a pet while another is secured on a grooming bench or table and under a blow dryer. Usually there are water heaters with pilot flames. Chemicals of all sorts can be found in the bathing area including shampoo and conditioner concentrates and flea and tick treatments. Okay, you probably got the point by now. Safety and supervision should be the foundation of any small or large bathing operation. The finest safety and supervision "program" in print is easily available for you in the book, From Problems to Profits. It also helps you to develop a customized program for your business. In addition, you will learn about a unique job position, the Bathing Department Supervisor, for medium to large bathing operations. The key to this position is its focus on safety and supervision, as well as productivity and quality control.