How to Bathe a Tiny Dog

happy kate sitka pet psychic

I’ve talked a lot in the Joyful Telepathy Podcast how Tiny Dogs are different creatures from other dogs who are 20lbs in size or larger, and they really have “special needs”.

Happy taught me a WHOLE LOT about being a tiny dog and what sort of special treatment they need in order to feel comfortable and safe in the world.  I’ll eventually do a series of the “Special Needs of Tiny Dogs” so you’re witnessing history here, the very first instalment:  How to bathe your tiny dog.

In Happy’s first home, his first Mom rarely bathed him herself, but took him to a groomer.  Here’s a list of things I’ve heard tiny dogs say about their groomers, so these are things to keep an eye on, and discuss with your groomer.

She goes too fast / too hard / too rough / its scary.  Many professional groomer’s bodies have muscle memory habits from working with larger dogs.  They may also have an eye on a quota they need to meet in order to make their grocery budget that week, so they really need to be conscious of slowing down and moving their hands lightly and gently with tiny bodies.  Some groomers actually *specialize* in Tiny Dogs, and have all the gentle tiny-dog-handling-habits programmed into their bodies.  If I did take Happy to a groomer, I would look for one who had a lot of other tiny dog clients.

The blower is too hot / too loud / scary.  This is a common complaint of a lot of dogs, but for tiny dogs the experience can be catastrophic.  This is a rock and hard place situation, because the alternative to the blower might be sitting wet and cold!  I have  solution to this, which comes at the end of this post.

Happy *hated* being groomed and had some aggressive habits when I adopted him – he had a laundry list of complaints from his former groomer too, although he did appreciate that she always gave him cheese (so he wouldn’t bite her, I’ll bet.)  His first Mom didn’t disclose these biting habits (a rescue would have been honest – lesson learned) but it was easy to see him tense up and stare at the slicker brush the moment I brought it out.  His belly fur was also so long that he peed on it every time he went to the bathroom, and his toenails were so long they were nearly full circles.  I was required to groom him on his third day in our home!

Because of his high-anxiety state of mind, I decided to groom him myself rather than take him to a professional.  I’m also a bit of a control freak when it comes to my animals, (I would observe their spay / neuter surgeries if I were allowed) so whenever I can do something for them myself, I do.  I think that basic dog grooming is a great skill for all dog owners, and if you do it well, it will become an opportunity to bond with your dog (even if the dog is less than thrilled with the bath, like Happy.)

Here we go!  First thing:  Get your dog *really dirty*!  He’ll be tired, happy, and more willing to tolerate your ministrations.

Happy says, I smell fish.

The dirt tastes like salt .

Back at home, gather all your supplies, so that your dog spends a minimal amount of time wet and waiting for you.  You see three bottles:  One is a dog shampoo for sensitive skin which whitens his coat.  It is great for drowning fleas, because it has foaming agents.  Foaming agents leave a residue on the fur and make him itchy, so I give him a second wash with my own shampoo that does not have foaming agents.   Today I’m using a conditioner that’s also good for his skin.  I use a locally made product called Sea Wench, which is a great souvenir if you ever visit Tofino (be sure do drop me a line if you do!)

I suggest you look for something with no sodium laurel sulphate, no parabens, and no strong scent.  Try it on yourself, and get a little in your eyes (even “no tears” dog shampoos can sting like crazy)  If you get it in your own eyes, you’ll be darn sure to never let it get into your dogs’!

In the past I’ve used “earth bath” for my own hair as well as my dogs’.  Tiny dogs are extra sensitive to even a little bit of detergent left on their skin.

Here I’ve gathered one big towel, and a stack of facecloths.  If I were planning on giving him a haircut afterwards, I’d have scissors, nail clippers, combs and brushes on this counter too.

I fill one of my sinks up with warm water:  the temperature *really* matters with tiny dogs.  It needs to be warm enough to keep them from shivering, but not too warm as to feel painful on their skin.  Tiny dogs are like babies – it needs to feel warm to your wrist but not tingling hot.  I like to add a little shampoo to the first sinkful of water.  I use a pitcher to wet the dog, not a spray tool.  Hand-held shower heads can be jarring and feel like a fire hose!  If you use one, keep the water pressure on the low-end.

I’ve put some wet dish cloths over the edges of the sink so Happy can stand up.  He’s more comfortable this way.  The dish cloths give him traction, which helps him relax.  If he was feeling like he might slip, his muscles will be tense and he’ll feel unsafe.  The idea is to make him as comfortable as possible so that he’ll tolerate the bathing process as well as possible.  Most dogs don’t like baths!

The moistening.  Look at his little face!  His feeling is Ewwwwwwwwwwww.

I pour water into my cupped hand to direct it to the underside of Happy’s body.

He kind of likes getting it poured on his shoulders and down his back.  I *do not* get his head wet until the very end.  As soon as his head is wet, he starts losing body heat like crazy, and his tolerance for the process is *over* when he gets cold.  This is contrary to most dog grooming instructions where you want to start at the “top” and work your way down.  A big dog can tolerate a wet head for a long time, because they have a larger body mass.  A tiny dog has a much harder time regulating his body temperature, especially keeping warm.  From this point on, I pour a pitcher of warm water over his body every minute or so to keep him warm.  Ever notice how quickly you get cold if you step out of the running water in the shower?  Well your dog gets cold even FASTER!  My whole goal is to get through the process without Happy shivering.

Shampoo time!  A lot of people don’t know this:  If you can keep your dog suddsed up for five minutes (a really long time if you’re a dog) it will drown a lot of the fleas on his body, because they can’t travel through soap suds, and they need to breathe.  Fleas will also try to take cover the moment the dog starts to get wet, so apply shampoo first to the dog’s groin, around the base of his tail and then around his neck, to cut off their escape routes.  Fleas will try and crawl into body cavities to hide from soap and water – NOT a fun feeling for a dog!  This is another reason to leave his head dry until the end – any fleas on the dog’s head will try and hide in his ears, so you want to ambush them last.

Fleas also like to hide in arm pits and skin folds: soap these up next!

Then I do the rest of his body, down his back, his belly, his legs, feet and tail.

I keep applying smallish amounts of warm water to keep him from shivering.  See his head is still dry?  He doesn’t mind the process much as long as he doesn’t get cold.  I probably go through twice as much shampoo by constantly rinsing him with warm water, but he’s so small, it doesn’t add up to a lot.

When I’m ready to do his head, I apply water to his head with a wash cloth.  This has a HUGE impact on his sense of safety and comfort.  Pouring or spraying water directly on a dog’s head can wash soap into their eyes, it can get into his ears, nose and mouth, and can make him feel like he’s being water-boarded.  A soaking-wet wash cloth does the job well for tiny dogs, and you can control where the water goes.  I use a different wash cloth for applying shampoo, and sometimes a third clean one for rinsing.  You want to rinse all that shampoo off immediately, because guess what he’s going to do next!?

Lick all that water away from his mouth!  If there’s any shampoo in there, it’ll taste VERY bad, and shorten his tolerance for the process – and it’ll affect his overall idea of “baths”.  If a dog gets shivery, stinging eyes and a nasty soap taste every bath time, he’s going to dread the process!

Final warm rinse!

I was wanting to apply conditioner this time, but he looked up and was like, Mom, I am done now.

Can you see the subtle differences in his posture?  He has tension between his ears, he’s starting to get cold and his submissive looking up means he’s done cooperating.  If I were to continue, I’d be “forcing him”.  Not an experience I want to bring to bathing, so, we’re done!

If you can recognize your own dog’s “we’re done” face, it’ll improve his perception of the experience because you’ll be ending on a good note.

Towel time!  This is his favourite part.  I grabbed the stack of 10 or so dry face cloths.  I use the big towel to get the bulk of the water off of him.

Here’s my face cloth trick:  After the first towel gets waterlogged, I use one face cloth after another to continue to dry him.  Once a cloth gets as damp as the dog, it’ll stop drawing water off of his fur, so I keep switching to bone-dry face cloths to continue to draw as much water off his fur as possible!  It works really well.  10 face cloths gets him 2/3 dry, and he *loves* this part of the process.  Remember to dry his armpits, belly and legs too!  If his legs are wet, he’ll re-wet his belly when he curls up to rest.

It’s also a really great bonding time.  Many dogs like being rubbed on the front of their chests (slowly).  Happy especially loves getting his ears dried between the folds of a nice cloth.

Here he is, mostly dry!  As long as the fur gets fluffed up at it’s roots, it’ll do a better job of keeping him warm.  I have a heater in my bathroom and I turn it up to 20 C.  If you don’t have a small heated space, you can tuck your pup in a kennel with a hot water bottle (make sure he has enough space to move off of it) or tucked into blankets on the couch.  I prefer to keep wet dogs off of my furniture, so leave Happy in the toasty bathroom for a half-hour with a bowl of water and some special treats.  Happy would prefer to zoom around the house until he dries off.

All dry and all done for today!  Happy is a poodle / papillion cross, and so some of his fur sheds and some of it doesn’t.  I’ll have to give him a gentle brushing later tonight to get all of the shedding fur out of his non-shedding hair so he won’t get mats.

Phew!  That’s it!  Next time, I’ll document his haircut process.  Happy is a “run through the mud” kind of dog, so his haircut needs to for practical, hygienic purposes.   If I had a local groomer, I’d probably bathe him myself and take him to a professional to be scissor-cut (those buzzers are too big for tiny dogs.)  But, alas.  We have no local groomers!  So you’ll get to see his home-hair cut next time!

(PS:  I’m using Live Writer to compose this blog entry offline.  Its the first time I’ve used it, so if anyting goes wrong with the formatting or photos, that’s why!)

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