This complete guide to bathing a Labrador will give you the best tips and tricks as well as answering the question: how often can you bathe a lab?
- Do Labradors need baths?
- When should Labs have their first bath?
- How often can you bathe a Lab?
- How to bathe a Labrador – step by step
- Choosing the best products
Labradors aren’t a typically high maintenance breed when it comes to grooming. But, all Labrador owners know just how messy these dogs can get! As a general rule, many Labs can get away without a bath for months at a time! But, you will need to wash them when they get dirty – particularly if they enjoy playing in muddy puddles on walks, or rolling in the smelliest things they can find.
Do Labradors Need Baths?
Labradors are popular, friendly and intelligent dogs. They’re also very active, and are happiest when they’re spending time out and about with you! Labs enjoy a wide range of activities, from retrieving and swimming to hiking and exploring the outside world.
Labradors don’t suit sedentary lifestyles, but this means they often get dirty or mucky as they exercise. So, when this happens, they will need a bath! This might not be as regular as other breeds who have longer, or curly fur. In fact, many Labrador owners will simply wash their dogs as and when the process is needed, rather than on a set schedule.
About the Labrador Coat
Labradors have short, dense fur made up of two layers. This means they have relatively low grooming needs compared to many other dogs. But, they are also heavy shedders. Labs will shed moderately all year round, and heavily during their highest shedding periods.
Though a Labrador’s coat won’t usually grow long enough to form painful knots and tangles, grooming and bathing a Labrador can help to keep their coat clean and to remove any dead fur during high shedding periods. So, you may want to bathe your Lab slightly more frequently than normal when they’re shedding very heavily.
Labrador coats are also water resistant, a trait which was very useful in their original days of working alongside fishermen in Newfoundland, Canada. So, you must be very thorough when washing them to ensure all of their coat is properly cleaned and dried.
When Should Labradors Have Their First Bath?
By the time your Labrador puppy comes home with you at 8 weeks, some breeders may have already given them their first bath! But, if they haven’t it’s a great idea to start this process early. Puppies have a fear period between 8 and 12 weeks where they should be socialized to new experiences. Bathtime should be included in this process!
Make sure that it’s a positive experience for your puppy, perhaps paired with lots of tasty treats. And, make sure they’re happy and comfortable with you touching and washing them all over, including their paws, stomach, tail, and so on. Labs who experience bath time as puppies will often be much happier with the process as adults!
How Often Can You Bathe a Lab?
Labrador grooming needs are quite low, and this includes bathtime. Many Labs will easily be able to go months without having a bath. Often, Labrador owners prefer to use their judgement when giving their dog a bath. Since they have such short, easy coats, tangles and knots are rare.
More common than knots and tangles are smelly scents and dirt from outside getting caught up in your Lab’s fur. You will need to wash your Labrador when this happens.
Can You Bathe a Lab Too Much?
Labrador fur contains healthy oils that contribute to the fur’s water resistance. Washing a Labrador too often can strip their fur of these oils. Not only can this damage the health of the individual hairs, but it can also leave your dog’s coat looking dull and unhealthy. So, don’t wash your Lab too frequently! Generally, this breed only needs a bath once every few months, or when they’ve rolling in something smelly or mucky.
How to Bathe a Labrador – Step by Step
Whether it’s the first time bathing your Labrador as a puppy or an older dog, it’s important to ensure you’re getting their fur properly clean. Part of this process will involve choosing the right products, but using them correctly is just as important. Here is our step by step guide to bathing your Labrador.
Step One – Preparation
Before anything else, you need to prepare. Bathing a Lab can be a messy process, so choose your location wisely. Some people like to wash their dog in the shower, but others will choose to do so outside. Remember that you’ll need plenty of space for both you and your dog. Both of you will likely get quite wet, so wear clothes that you don’t mind getting a little dirty!
Once you’ve chosen your location, gather your products. You’ll need a dog-safe shampoo. Some people also choose to use a conditioner. Flexible shower heads are usually the best tool for getting your Lab wet – you can get versions of these that will attach to an external hose or outdoor water source. And, make sure you have plenty of towels. Some people like to dry their dog with a dog-safe hairdryer, or even in a dry-sack, but towels are useful for general water spillage, or a shaking dog!
Step Two – Getting them Wet
Once you’re fully prepared, you’ll need to get your dog’s fur wet. Labradors have dense, double layered coats that are water resistant. So, this can be a lengthier process than you would first think. Use your fingers to move your dog’s fur around as you’re showering them. Make sure water gets into their undercoat, and any other particularly dirty areas.
And, of course, make sure the water is a comfortable temperature – not too hot but not too cold! Dogs have sensitive skin, so this is an important step. You can test the temperature on a sensitive part of your body, such as your forearm.
Step Three – Apply Products
Once your Lab’s coat is thoroughly wet, you can apply your chosen shampoo. You’ll need to use your fingers to massage this into your dog’s coat. Like the water, make sure your shampoo is getting into the dense underlayer of your dog’s fur. If it is not lathering properly, your Lab’s hair might not be wet enough.
Make sure to shampoo every part of your dog’s coat. But, be careful around their face – particularly their ears and eyes. It’s usually best to avoid any product in these areas.
Step Four – Rinse and Repeat
Once you have massaged shampoo into every part of your Labrador’s coat, you need to rinse it out. It’s extremely important to remove all traces of product from your dog’s coat. So, use your fingers to get into that dense undercoat, and don’t neglect any part of your dog’s body.
If you are washing your dog after a particularly messy walk, you may need to repeat steps three and four. And, if you’re using a conditioner, repeat the steps but using conditioner instead of shampoo. But, make sure all products are thoroughly rinsed away before moving on to step five.
Step Five – Dry Your Lab
Once all of your product is washed away, you will need to dry your Labrador thoroughly. This step will vary slightly depending on the method you’re using. If you’re sticking to towels, make sure you get your Lab as dry as possible. This might mean using a couple of towels. A dog hair dryer is great for getting deep into a Lab’s undercoat, but make sure you aren’t holding it too close to their skin, or in one area for too long. Some Labs won’t like the noise of hairdryers, so make sure you associate this tool with plenty of treats from a young age.
If you’re using a drying bag, you’ll simply need to zip up your dog and leave them to rest for a while. Most Labs won’t like being left alone like this, so you might choose to settle down beside them with a good book! You may also need to use a towel on any parts of your dog that aren’t in the bag, like their neck.
Tips for Bathing a Labrador
Adult Labs are large dogs, so washing and drying them can be quite the feat! Here are some tips that should make the entire process a little easier.
- Prepare all of your products and tools before bringing your Lab in.
- Enlist the help of someone else if possible!
- Make sure your Lab is used to baths from a young age.
- Associate the process with something great, like tasty treats.
- Dry your Labrador thoroughly for best results, and to avoid wet dog smell!
- Don’t be afraid to get wet!
If you’ve got any other great tips, leave them in the comments for us to add to this list!
How to Choose the Right Products
Having all the right products and tools at your disposal will also make bathing a Labrador easier. So, invest in those before trying to give your Lab a bath. If you don’t have a shower at home, purchase a shower head attachment, or a dog-shower designed for outside.
Take your time looking at the different dog shampoos and conditioners available. There are a lot of products out there, but some are better quality than others. You can even get an expert opinion from your local groomers. Perhaps you’ll want to take your dog to them for their first grooming session, and see which products they recommend!
How Often Can You Bathe a Lab?
Do you feel more confident about how often to bathe a Lab? Labradors don’t need baths as often as some other breeds. But, as energetic, playful dogs, they often get mucky and roll in things that don’t smell too great! Bathing a Lab can be a fun and wet process, but as long as you start from a young age, your Lab will likely love bath time!
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References and Resources
- Clements, D. (et al), ‘Dogslife: A Web-Based Longitudinal Study of Labrador Retriever Health in the UK’, BMC Veterinary Research (2013)
- Credille, K. (et al), ‘What Happens When a Dog Loses its Puppy Coat? Functional, Developmental and Breed-Related Changes in the Canine Hair Follicle’, Cab Direct (2002)
- Pegram, C. (et al), ‘Disorder Predispositions and Protections of Labrador Retrievers in the UK’, Scientific Reports (2021)
- Vredegoor, D. (et al), ‘Can f 1 Levels in Hair and Homes of Different Dog Breeds: Lack of Evidence to Describe Any Dog Breed as Hypoallergenic’, Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (2012)
- Budreckiene, R. (et al), ‘Dogs’ Shampoos for Coat Care’, American Academic Scientific Research Journal for Engineering, Technology and Sciences (2016)
- Lofgren, S. (et al), ‘Management and Personality in Labrador Retriever Dogs’, Applied Animal Behavior Science (2014)
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website