As with most questions in life, the answer to how often you need to bathe your dog isn't black-and-white — or brindle, for that matter. Although dogs do groom themselves, which helps hair follicles grow and supports general skin health, they still need baths to get rid of the grime.
That said, most people actually bathe their dogs more than necessary. So how often should you bathe your furry friend?
A dog's breed, coat, lifestyle and health all factor into determining optimal bathing frequency. Obviously, if your dog smells or is visibly dirty, it's bath time. Some dogs love bath time, and as long as your dog is healthy and has no special grooming requirements, it is fine to bathe him or her as often as once a week.
Surprisingly, according to Dr. Jennifer Coates, veterinary adviser to PetMD, healthy dogs without skin conditions will be fine with only a bath or two a year, to control "natural doggy odors." And the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recommends bathing a dog about once every three months, but there are many reasons to adjust bathing schedules.
There are a lot of dog breeds with different types of coats, so it's a good idea to ask your vet for grooming guidance, including how often to bathe your dog and what products to use. A dog's skin has a different pH level than human skin, and it's more sensitive, so avoid using "people" products on dogs. Although the rule of "more hair, more baths" is generally accurate, there are exceptions, such as hairless breeds like the Chinese crested dog, that are high maintenance and need weekly baths.
Then there are breeds where brushing and combing is often more important than bathing. A breed with double-coated, thick shedding hair — like a Shetland sheepdog — is grooming intensive and needs combing and brushing before, during and after a soaking and moisturizing bath.
Samoyeds, huskies and other arctic breeds need to be brushed at least once a day during shedding season to avoid knots and dreadlocks that can cause serious skin conditions if left in their coats. If these breeds are brushed enough, baths should be kept to a minimum or avoided altogether, so the natural protective oils aren't stripped from their coats.
Short-coat breeds, like pugs, dalmatians and greyhounds, typically need fewer baths, and often a good rubdown with a damp washcloth is enough to remove dirt.
Over-bathing dogs with slightly longer coats — like Labrador and golden retrievers — can disrupt the seasonal insulation process. A bath every four to six weeks or less is fine. But frequent — if not daily — brushing is important. Using an antidandruff shampoo when you do bathe them can also help keep their skin from drying out.
The Dog's Lifestyle and Health
You also need to consider Fido's health and lifestyle when determining how often he needs a bath. Dogs who frequent dog parks and lakes, or those who spend a lot of time outside rolling around in the dirt, obviously need more baths than indoor dogs who primarily go for daily leash-walks in the neighborhood.
If your dog snuggles in the bed or has furniture privileges, you may want to bathe him more, but wiping his paws clean might also be enough.
Some dogs have skin diseases or allergies and may need more or less bathing than other dogs. If your dog has a skin condition, bathing him too often could exacerbate it and cause discomfort, so talk to your veterinarian and heed their instructions regarding how often to bathe him.
No matter how often a dog is groomed, it's best to start a regular bathing routine when he's a puppy. Even if the routine is four times a year or less, a dog who begins baths as a puppy is usually more cooperative than one who does not — and incorporate routine nail trimmings and ear cleanings in the puppy routine, as well.
Plus, it'll be harder to try your patience if you start bathing your dog while he's a puppy and just learning how the world works, mostly because he'll still be so incredibly cute.