How to Bathe a Poodle Mix

I remember the first bath I ever gave a dog. I was 8 years old, and I ended up more drenched in water than that old, long-suffering Labrador retriever was! Today, I have a bit more expertise and bath my Shih Tzu/poodle mix on a regular basis. If you start bathing your long-haired dog on a regular basis when he or she is a young puppy, you will eliminate many soggy wrestling matches with an adult dog. Here is what I do to keep my dog him soft and clean.

Leo the Shih-poo
Leo the Shih-poo

1. Before bathing, make sure you brush your poodle mix's fur out. Any mats that are there before the bath will only be much worse after bathing. Bathing does not help get knots out; it guarantees a knotted mess! Once a mat has gotten wet, detangling it is pretty much impossible, and you will actually need to cut it out. If your dog is matted or tangled, a detangling spray will be useful. You may find that you need to actually use a detangling spray during daily grooming to keep mats to a minimum.

2. Plug his ears with cotton balls. Wet fur in the ears can become a breeding ground for bacteria, which leads to ear infections--both uncomfortable for the dog and expensive for the owner, to say the least! A couple of cotton balls can pretty much take care of the problem. Actually, if your dog is small, it may work better to tear the cotton balls into smaller pieces. The first few times I bathed my Shih-poo, I ended up with soaked cotton floating in the tub because I used whole cotton balls that were too big for his tiny ears.

3. Put the dog in the tub and soak him to the skin. You can use a sink, if he is small enough. Many people actually favor infant bathing tubs propped on counters, both of which can be easier on the knees. I just use my regular bathtub. A bathing extension that will reach the dog is most handy, but a large, plastic cup for pouring can work as well.

4. Using a good dog shampoo, work up a lather! Dog shampoo has a ph balance made especially for canines, while human shampoo is balanced for people. Although I have known people to use human shampoo on dogs with no ill effects (I, myself, have used baby shampoo when in a pinch), I don’t recommend doing it for an extended time. Dry, itchy skin can sometimes be easier to prevent than to treat. When first learning to bath a dog, puppy shampoo can be a lifesaver, as it is usually “tear-free”. Squirming puppies can end up with shampoo in their eyes, which hurts them as much as getting soap in your eyes hurts you.

5. Rinse, rinse, rinse, rinse, and then rinse some more! Getting all the soap out of the fur, and off the skin, is key to avoiding itchy skin. When you think you are done rinsing, do it again! For the head, be sure to tip his chin up and pour over the top to avoid getting water or shampoo in his eyes.

6. Rub him down with an excellent conditioner. This is particularly important with poodle mix fur, pretty much across the board. In fact, I pay much more attention to Leo’s conditioner than I do my own! The shampoo gets the fur clean, but the conditioner is what keeps it soft. And don’t we all love that soft, cuddly fur?

7. Rinse him well. Again. See why that extension is so handy?

8. Take him out of the tub and wrap him in an absorbent towel. He likely will be shivering from cold, so get him wrapped up as quickly as possible. Blot him to absorb the water, but whatever you do, do not rub him! This is a quick way to wet mats. If his fur is quite long, you may want to remove the wet towel after the first once-over and then wrap him in another dry towel. Keeping him wrapped for a little while in the towel before drying can speed the drying process. Don’t forget to remove the cotton balls from his ears!

9. Blow dry his fur while you brush him again. Dryers specifically for dogs are generally recommended, as they are designed to reach and fluff the undercoat, avoid burning his sensitive skin, and usually are hands free. For those of us who haven’t quite saved up the money for one, using a human hair dryer is better than no dryer, particularly for long haired dogs. With long fur, especially if he has an undercoat, the outer coat can feel dry, but the undercoat still be wet. That wet undercoat is another breeding ground for bacteria and can even grow mold, so making sure that undercoat is bone-dry is imperative! I actually cheat. I have a standing heater that can be set on low heat and high fan. I put Leo on a towel on top of my coffee table, put the heater (low heat/high fan) blowing on him, and brush away! If the fur dries before you brush it and you don’t like the effect, you can keep a bottle of water handy and dampen the fur before you brush.

10. Give your pup a treat for a job well done! Getting a bath is a long procedure, especially for a young, long-haired puppy. Rewarding after each step can help him get used to the grooming process, and eventually he will even look forward to it (or at least look forward to the treats!).

As you can see, bathing your poodle mix is a rather time consuming process. Many dog owners opt for shorter fur and regular trips to the groomer, rather than completing the grooming process themselves. But as with any other endeavor, practice makes perfect, and this can even become a process you enjoy.

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