How to Bathe a Labrador Retriever in 10 Steps

How to Bathe a Labrador

All dogs require baths as part of their regular grooming care. Here our veterinarians give step by step instructions on how to bathe a Labrador and how often a Labrador should be bathed. Here are step by step instructions on how to bathe a Labrador so they stay healthy and squeaky clean.

How to Bathe a Labrador

How to Bathe a Labrador

Bathing a Labrador Retriever is a multi-step process, and you should prepare to be equally as wet, if not more so, than your dog by the end of the bath. Wear some old clothes that you don’t mind getting soapy and wet. Most Labs love water and will cooperate reasonable well for the process and it can be good bonding time.

If you want a suggestion for shampoo, my go to shampoo for Labradors is Pro Pet Works All Natural Organic Oatmeal Pet Shampoo Plus Conditioner. It works great and has helped reduce dog dandruff as well.

Follow these steps on how to bathe a Labrador and get your Lab shiny and clean:

10 Steps To Bathe a Labrador

1. Gather Your Supplies

Have all your bathing materials ready before you put your dog in the bathtub or start the hose outside. You will need a mild shampoo and conditioner, petroleum jelly, a scrub brush, a slicker brush, and a hand-held sprayer (a pitcher will work here, too). Do not forget to have plenty of towels within reach.

2. Brush and Blow Out

Use a dryer over your Labrador’s coat for a few moments to loosen and dirt, debris, and dead hair from the skin. Take the scrub brush and remove tangles from the fur. Then, use the slicker brush on the undercoat to remove additional loose hair. Bathing your Labrador Retriever will be an easier process if you remove loose hair and dirt before starting the bath.

3. Protect the Dog’s Eyes and Ears

Use a dab of petroleum jelly at the corner of your dog’s eyes to repel any shampoo and water that may get in them. A cotton ball in the ears helps keep the water out.

4. Use Lukewarm Water

Regardless of if you are attempting to bathe a Labrador outside or inside, keep the water at a lukewarm temperature for their comfort.

5. Secure Your Dog

For outdoor baths, make sure you clip a leash to your dog’s collar and either hold on to it or secure it to something sturdy. For indoor baths, encourage your dog to hop into the tub using a treat or toy as a lure. If you are lucky, your Labrador will love water so much that they will jump in without any prompting.

6. Lather Up Your Dog

Get your Labrador’s coat thoroughly wet down to the skin, including the under coat. With the scrub brush or your hands, use a mild dog shampoo and work it into the dog’s coat from front to back, or head to tail. Do not pour any water or soap on your dog’s face; use a soft washcloth to clean that area.

7. Rinse The Coat

Using the hand-held sprayer or hose, rinse the shampoo out of your dog’s fur. Keep in mind that the Labrador’s double coat means double the rinsing effort to ensure the removal of all soap from the skin and hair. Do not stop rinsing until the water runs completely clear and there are no more soap bubbles or streaks. This step is critical as leftover soap will dry and cause skin irritations and itchiness.

8. Apply the Conditioner

If you are using a liquid conditioner, apply it to your dog’s fur, let it stand for a few moments, then rinse thoroughly. Spray-on conditioners can be applied at this time, leaving a few minutes for them to penetrate the coat.

9. Towel Dry Your Dog

Using clean towels, gently dry your dog’s coat as much as possible. Your dog will probably shake a few times to help with this step of the process.

10. Blow Dry Your Dog

Some dogs are not fond of noisy dryers, but if your dog tolerates them, use one to speed up the drying process. Place the dryer on the cool or low setting and keep it a hand’s length distance from your dog’s coat. If the dryer is too close, it can burn your dog’s fur and skin. Use the brush to gently dry the hair in its natural direction as you dry it. Alternately, you can allow your Labrador to air-dry as well although that will take more time.

With these steps, you can make bathing a Labrador a common and enjoyable experience for your dog. You can also check out our picks for the Best Dog Shampoos to see what is the best option for your dog.

How to Clean Your Dog’s Ears

An essential part of bathing a Labrador Retriever is cleaning her ears. This breed is highly prone to developing ear infections which are often caused by bacterial growth in the ear canal due to moisture, wax, dirt, or parasites.

Because Labradors have floppy ears, dampness and debris become trapped with no way for the ears to dry out. When you bathe your Labrador, that is a perfect opportunity to clean their ears as well.

My recommendation for ear cleaner is Virbac Epi-Otic Advanced Ear Cleaner.

To clean your Labrador Retriever’s ears, follow these directions:

How to Clean Your Dog’s Ears

1. Gather Your Supplies

You will want a gentle canine ear cleaner (available at pet stores or through your veterinarian’s office), cotton balls, a soft towel, and treats.

2. Clean the Ear Using a Cotton Ball

Pour a few drops from the cleaner on a cotton ball and gently swab around the dog’s ear. Start with the inside of the ear and work your way to the outside to remove any debris.

3. Clean and Massage the Ear

Squeeze a few drops of the cleaning solution into the dog’s ear. Gently massage the base of the ear for about 30 seconds. Allow the cleanser to get into the folds of the ear and loosen dirt. Then, let your dog shake their head to remove any excess cleaner from their ears.

4. Dry the Ears

Using a cotton ball or soft towel, wipe out the ear canal. Only use the towel or cotton ball on the visible areas of the ear.

5. Praise and Treat Your Dog

After cleaning the ears, praise your dog for a job well done and give them a treat. Let them associate this experience with a positive reward.

Regular ear cleaning is a must for Labrador Retrievers. Because of the pain of infection, and potential hearing loss, cleaning your Labrador’s ears is a part of the grooming process you should not neglect.

How to Bathe a Labrador Retriever, Final Step: Drying After a Bath

How to Bathe a Labrador, drying

To prevent skin irritations, hot spots, or flaky skin, your Labrador Retriever must be as dry as possible after their bath. So the final step in our How to Bath a Labrador step by step instructions is drying. Here are some methods to use to make sure your dog is completely dry after their trip to the tub:

Towel Drying After a Bath

Have three or four towels on hand to wipe off remaining water from your Labrador. Rather than rubbing the cloth over your dog, use squeezing or patting motions to soak up the excess moisture. By this approach, you limit the number of mats and tangles that may develop in your dog’s coat. Dry the top of the head and back first, then work your way to their belly, legs, and tail.

Hand-held, Deep-Down Drying After a Bath

In warmer dry weather, you can allow your Labrador to air dry outside. However, if the weather is cool or very humid, a hand-held dryer is one of the fastest ways to get your dog warm and dry. Keep the dryer on a low heat setting and continuously move it over your dog’s body. Be aware of how hot the dryer is on your dog’s coat by placing your hand nearby so you can always check the temperature.

When Should You Give Your Labrador Puppy Its First Bath?

How to Bathe a Labrador, First Bath

When should a Labrador puppy have its first bath? The earliest you should give a full bath to a Labrador Retriever puppy is about 8 weeks of age. Prior to 8 weeks spot cleanings can be done as needed. The ability of the puppy to regulate its own body temperature is the primary reason for waiting.

After 8 weeks old, you can bathe your puppy with lukewarm water. Remember to use a gentle or mild dog shampoo; never use human shampoo on a dog. Also, avoid using flea shampoo on any puppy younger than 12 weeks of age.

How Often Should a Labrador be Bathed?

How often should a labrador be bathed

A Labrador Retriever should have a bath once every 6 weeks, but that time frame is flexible depending on the dog’s lifestyle and environment. Labradors who regularly swim, play in grass or dirt, or roll in the mud will need baths every week or two as needed. Environments that are muddy, swampy, or are breeding grounds for parasites like ticks and fleas mean even more baths for your dog. However, there is a limit to how much bathing your Labrador’s coat can take.

Washing your Labrador Retriever too much strips those natural oils from the fur, leaving your dog’s coat dull and her skin unprotected. Skin infections and dandruff may result. Using mild and gentle shampoos can still cause these medical issues; therefore, it’s best not to bathe a Labrador too often.

Of course, Labradors will be Labradors, and there are occasions where unscheduled baths will be a necessity. If your dog stops, drops, and rolls in feces, a dead animal’s scent or remains, they need a bath immediately. The same goes for Labradors who decide to leap into algae-filled ponds or those who revel in racing through mud pits at the local dog park. In these situations, you will need to bathe a Labrador Retriever as soon as possible.


While bathing your Labrador Retriever is an involved process, it is well worth the love, loyalty, and companionship these wonderful dogs provide to their owners.

Perhaps more importantly, bathing your Labrador Retriever is necessary for their current and future health and well-being. To keep your Lab smelling pleasant you will need to bathe a Labrador on a routine basis. Your Labrador will be much happier if they are clean and dry, and so will you.

If you need tips on cleaning your dogs teeth, be sure to check out our article on Labrador Retriever Teeth: Care and Cleaning.

Dr. Anne Traas

Anne Traas, DVM, MS, DACT is a veterinarian and the President of Labrador Retriever Society. She is a specialist in canine reproduction. In her day job, she is a leader in a small biotech where she and a team of vets and scientists are working to develop new medications for pets.

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