Giving your dog a bath can be a royal pain in the back – literally if you have a bad back. Like millions of people, I fall into the bad back category. I needed an easy way to bathe my dog, Henry while not killing my back. At my last physical therapy appointment, I asked for details on how to bathe a dog to save my back. Today, let’s dig into great hacks to wash your dog and save your back. These are literally the skills I was taught to protect my back.
NOTE: Always talk with your doctor if you have concerns about any pain or doing anything that could create more pain.
*Updated: November 5, 2023
Budget Tip: Backs can be treacherous to deal with on a daily basis, especially if you need to bathe your dog. However, with a few simple posture adjustments, you can dramatically reduce or eliminate the pain in your back aggrevated by washing your dog. Even if you need to call in re-enforcements, like your groomer, doggie daycare, or even use a self wash dog facility, it's definitely worth saving the back pain you would normally endure. The goal should be to enjoy your dog. It shouldn't be to create pain and limit your abilities. So, do what you need to do to limit your back pain and enjoy your life with your dog. Even if that means adding bathing to your dog budget. Overall, giving your dog bath at home (even if you have help) it's a major win for your budget!
How do you wash your dog and not hurt your back?
Are you saying no to a dog bath at home because of the hassle or pain you think it’ll cause? Honestly, my dog, Henry dog doesn’t like baths. Well, he doesn’t like getting wet unless it’s his idea. Yet, he’ll sit fairly calmly for his dog bath. Here are my best tips to bathe your dog without being in pain at the end of the task.
1. Be mindful of your posture when you wash a dog
Since I’ve been in physical therapy, my therapist always harps on this concept of being mindful of posture. Our modern society of hunching over a computer for hours tends to destroy the best postures. More on this in a minute.
2. Get at your dog’s level
This simply means as much as possible don’t reach down to your dog or up to your dog. Also, don’t lean over your dog like an arched cat. Any of these moves when you have a bad back tend to create more pain after bathing your dog.
3. Brace yourself with your legs or thighs
It will depend on where you wash your dog as to how you can brace yourself. For instance, if you have a small dog, you might be able to wash your pup in a sink. In this case, you will be able to brace your legs against the cabinets below the sink. This will reduce the strain on your back from standing. This helps tremendously.
NOTE: I use this trick when I’m cooking, washing dishes, or even folding towels. It makes a huge difference.
If have a big dog and decide that the bathtub is the best location to wash your dog, then you’ll need to kneel and brace your thighs against the outside of the tub. Make sure you have a super fluffy bathmat, extra towels, or even a pillow to kneel on to save your knees.
4. Engage your core muscles
You might be asking yourself, “what are the core muscles?” These are the muscles that help support and stabilize the spine. They are the muscles involved in the entire torso.
To engage these muscles, think about pulling your belly button in toward your spine (continue to breathe), tighten your buttocks, and pull your shoulders back and down. Watch that your head isn’t forward but rather pulled back and is in line with your shoulders and spine.
5. Use a handheld shower sprayer in the bathtub
By using a sprayer you will be able to reduce leaning and reaching, which can aggravate a bad back.
6. Keep your dog occupied during bath time
If your dog is bouncing around or doesn’t like to get wet, it can strain your back. A good solution is to smear a small amount of dog-friendly peanut butter (free of xylitol) on the shower wall and let him lick it off during the bathing process.
7. Make sure everything is easily accessible without reaching during bath time
With a bad back, you want to keep reaching to a minimum. Thus, prepare your dog’s bath in a way that everything is within hand’s reach without leaning. This includes:
- dog shampoo and conditioner
- handheld sprayer
- microfiber towel (and extra microfiber cloths)
How to give a small dog a bath?
Do you have a very small dog? Then you are lucky at least when it comes to bath time. A great idea is to simply give your dog a bath in your kitchen sink. Of course, you want to make sure the sink is impeccably clean and all your supplies are still at arm’s reach. Additionally, make sure that any sharp or dangerous items are put away such as knives.
Other steps to keep in mind when bathing your dog
- Brush your dog before bathing. This will release loose hair, debris, dirt, and speed up the bathing process
- Don’t get water in your dog’s ears. It could cause an ear infection.
- Use rubber gloves to bathe your dog. It will help remove excess fur and dirt.
- Microfiber towels are great for getting a wet dog dry quickly
- Avoid your dog’s eyes. I like covering Henry’s eyes when pouring or putting water, shampoo, or conditioner on his head. Although dog shampoos and conditioners are safe for the eyes, I still avoid them.
- Dry paws thoroughly especially if you have hardwood floors or tiles. These will be slick surfaces for your dog.
- A wet dog will want to roll, especially outside. I keep my eyes on Henry until he’s completely dry.
- Bathtubs can be slick. You can remedy this with a towel at the bottom of the tub.
- A dog’s coat can shed a lot when they are bathed. Too much fur down your drain can be an issue. Some dog owners have solved this problem by simply placing steel wool over the drain during bath time. Or you can put a drain hair catcher over the drain to catch loose fur.
- Bath day is also laundry day. Remember that the day your dog is bathed is the day you wash his or her bed, collar, leash, and any clothing that needs scrubbing. This will keep your dog smelling fresh for longer.
GREAT TIPS! Easy ways to get your dog in and out of the tub
Yes, getting your dog in and out of the tub with a bad back seems like a stumbling block. But there are solutions.
- Ask someone to do it for you, maybe someone from your neighborhood or your dog community will be able to help.
- Invest in a portable dog ramp (sometimes you can find these much cheaper on Facebook Marketplace)
- Teach your dog to jump into the bathtub (make sure you have towels in the tub so there’s no slipping)
Are there other options to wash a dog and not kill your back?
Yes, there are still other options for bathing your dog. Here are a few options:
Yep, your groomer will do just a wash without a cut. The price is better too.
2. Doggie daycare
This could surprise you, but a lot of doggie daycares will offer the service of bathing your dog. You simply must ask for them to do it.
3. Dog self-wash station
A dog wash station can be a great option. There’s one in my town at a mom-and-pop pet store. They provide the supplies – shampoo and conditioner (every kind imaginable), towels, the tub which is adjustable, a dog bath ramp for your dog to enter the tub, a groomer’s leash and collar to stabilize your dog, and a hairdryer. Plus, the 12th wash is free. Since the tub is adjustable and there is a ramp, the leaning is next to none which is great for an achy back. Additionally, it’s easy to brace yourself against the side of the dog washtub.
4. Custom dog wash station
If you plan to wash your dog every month or so, you may want to look into creating your own dog wash station within your home. You can have a local contractor build it fairly economically. Or if you have a handy friend, it might even be more economical. The keys to building your own dog wash station to help back back (or having it built for you) are to:
- Have a dog ramp (even removable) so your dog can get in and out easily.
- Make the dog washing area high enough you don’t lean.
- Hand-held sprayer should be attached also to reduce reaching and twisting your back.
- An easily accessible ledge or spot for supplies such as shampoo and conditioner
- A good way to stabilize or occupy your dog such as a groomer’s leash or you can continue with the peanut butter trick.
What about washing your dog outside?
If you have a bad back, washing your dog outside is most likely not a great option. You do not want to bend over your dog and you want to be able to brace yourself against something while engaging your core muscles. Being outside limits your ability to do these essential things to save your back.
Besides the water outside can be cold for your dog, which would mean you’d need to carry warm water outside in a bucket or some other container. This is not a great idea if you have a bad back.
NOTE: 2-in-1 dog shampoo and conditioners can be great for getting your dog washed quickly and saving your back. Some dog parents don’t like these products because they are viewed as not being as effective. However, everything in life is a balancing act. If you feel you need to expedite your dog washing activity, then by all means invest in a 2-in-1 dog shampoo and conditioner.
Can I shower with my dog?
Some dog parents find it easier to bathe their dog while showering themselves. Of course, this can be very beneficial if you’re trying to bathe a big dog. It can make things easier. However, you will still want to consider your back.
How to wash dog in shower?
Perhaps you’re wondering how to wash dog in stand up shower? First, you’ll want to add a stool or lawn chair to the tub or shower and sit on it while bathing your dog. Of course, the size or height of the chair will depend on the size of your dog and the space you have available.
Moreover, always think about safety first. Thus, make sure the floor of the shower or tub is not slick and you have all your supplies easily at arm’s length. Additionally, a handheld shower sprayer is very useful despite the size of your dog. It helps speed up the process and prevents bending over too much and hurting your back.
My personal tricks for washing my dog and saving my back
I do compensate as much as possible for my bad back. Some days are better than others. I did use the bathtub technique this last bath time. However, Henry is not a big dog. He’s only 13+ lbs. Most days I can lift him with my core muscles engaged without too many issues.
Additionally, I can guide him into the bathtub and he will go the rest of the way. Also, the really good part is that he LOVES to stand on his hind legs, so he’s perfectly level with me. This past bath time was much better on my back. Although, I’m still dreaming of my own custom dog washing station. That will be built at my next house. For now, I will continue to use the bathtub technique along with my local dog self-wash station as my back requires it between grooming sessions. The dog self-wash station is definitely the Rolls Royce of bathing your dog.
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Summary of easy solutions to wash your dog and not kill your back
As a person who’s battled a bad back her whole life, I’m always looking for solutions that will allow me to do what I want or need to do without creating additional pain. I’ve come up with a few good options for bathing my dog, Henry that doesn’t add more back pain. On good days, I’m using the bathtub approach with my core engaged and my thighs braced. Henry is also very good at helping me.
On other days, I use my local self-dog wash station. I have yet to call upon Henry’s doggie daycare or his groomer for an in-between bath. But those options are always on the table. Life is too short to not enjoy it as pain-free as possible with my little furry friend.