Q: I’ve tried cutting my dog’s grooming sessions from our family budget. Unfortunately, my dog is big, hairy and sheds a lot. Bathing him at home turns into a major ordeal and the whole bathroom gets soaked. How can I save money without driving up my water bill or my blood pressure?


A: Bath time for my pooch Lulu used to resemble scenes from “The Miracle Worker.” But that was before I discovered do-it-yourself dog washes. With Lulu safely and somewhat solemnly tethered to the wall inside a waist-high tub, I could scrub away to my heart’s delight. This option saves me the headache of chasing her around the tub, and it saves water because I rely on a doggy “spa” that uses low-flow aerators to conserve water. It’s a much cheaper option than hiring a groomer, and it works well for my short-haired pooch.

Since you have a super-size grooming issue on your hands, I paid a call to my friends at Dogma Dog Care. Groomer Nancy Rector has a few insider secrets that will help you cut costs and conserve energy while caring for your dirty dog.


Gather your gear before you get the dog

Make sure all the tools you need are within reach. That includes your towels, shampoo and dryer. Also, make sure to brush the dog before bath time. “This is essential for a long-haired dog because bathing can tighten up mats,” Rector says. “If you are going to use a Furminator shedding tool, dirty hair comes out more easily, so do it before the bath.”

She added that a bathmat inside the tub is essential to helping prevent your dog from slipping and potentially getting injured. It also helps panicky dogs feel more secure in the tub. Leashing a nervous dog gives you two free hands to bathe it quickly.

Drop the ’tude at the bathroom door

Attitude is everything. Save the pleading, the bribing and the yelling; Rector says those tactics simply do not work. Of course, you may already know that by now. “Most dogs that act up are used to being yelled at or pleaded with,” she says. “Dogs regard loud words as barking and react by becoming excited. Pleading is useless.”

Instead, focus on the task at hand and communicate through simple commands, the power of touch, and the power of silence. Tools like rubber brushes can make the experience go faster, she says. “Most people who handle dogs professionally or for sport are pretty quiet and even the most nervous dog will stop to enjoy the rubdown.”

It also helps to tie your dog to the faucet or get a bathtub restraint designed for the task. She warns that soap holders simply aren’t strong enough to do the trick. Once you are set up, use a spray bottle or a nozzle with a low-flow aerator to wet the dog around its neck and face and apply a tearless shampoo to that sensitive area. This tactic also helps to prevent fleas from moving to the face while you are shampooing the rest of your dog’s body. Wet the dog from back to front, top to bottom and then apply shampoo, using one hand to hold the sprayer and the other hand to gently guide the dog. Keep bath time soothing by giving the dog a nice massage before you rinse — front to back, top to bottom.

Once you’ve finished, wrap the dog in a towel and begin a rubdown to remove all the water before he exits the tub. Finish with a compliment for the dog — if he has earned it.

Mid-range shampoos do the trick

Most dog shampoos are supposed to be diluted, Rector says. Follow the instructions carefully to avoid pouring money down the drain. While the pet market abounds with shampoos that contain everything from green tea to tea tree oil, she notes that professionals typically prefer moderately priced grooming products. Choose any scent you like and, when in doubt, look for products that contain oatmeal. It’s a key ingredient that soothes most skin types.

Conditioner requires a thorough rinse

Dogs with hard or wiry coats do not require conditioner, Rector says. This step works best for dogs with long hair, but only if you follow up with a good rinse — make that two or three good rinses. “Any conditioner left in the coat will attract dirt, undoing all your hard work,” she says. “There is also a good reason why we groomers use conditioner when we de-shed — it loosens up any fur that's ready to come out.”

Keep dryers on the ‘cool’ setting

“Use a good hair dryer set on low temperature,” she says. “In fact, never use any heat source at all, especially on a short-faced breed.” A box fan placed in front of a well-ventilated crate can do the job, but the greenest and cheapest approach is to simply take the dog for a long walk after bath time.


Heavy shedders require daily brushing

While it may be tempting to just grab the clippers and shave your pooch down, Rector says it’s best to resist that urge. Instead, start with daily brushing and keep in mind that you probably will need professional grooming at least twice a year for general upkeep. That is especially true for “spitz” breeds such as Pomeranians and Malamutes. Shaving those breeds can ruin the coat, Rector warns. Besides, “It can take two years to grow back and looks horrible in the interim,” she says. (Who wants to get the stink eye from their dog for two years?)

Pay the pros to put up with high-strung pooches

If you have a dog that really puts up a fight, Rector says to save the drama and hire a pro. “Most dogs settle down with us when the owners are not there,” she says, adding that experience counts. Don’t be shy about asking the groomer how long they have handled dogs. “Groomers usually cut hair and not all of them bathe the dogs they are working on. Being a one-woman show, I bathe and groom.”

I hope this helps to reduce the entertainment value of your dog’s next bath.

— Morieka Johnson 

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Photo: Jenah Crump Photography/Flickr; MNN homepage photo: paparazzit/iStockphoto

I can't afford a groomer but bathing my pup is tough. How can I save money and my sanity?
Morieka Johnson has figured out how to keep her dog clean without hurting her wallet -- or herself, or her pooch, for that matter.