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Bathing a Shih Tzu

Nico, photo courtesy of The Mulcahey Family


If there is just one event that has a drastic effect on your Shih Tzu's coat, it is bath time.

And if there were just one action that was either terribly detrimental or wonderful beneficial to your Shih Tzu, it would be what you use to bath your puppy or dog. 

Bathing your Shih Tzu is your opportunity to lather your dog up in awesome products that bring about super good skin and coat health.

It can also be the time that you use specialty products to help your dog with certain issues. 

In this section, we'll go over all the important aspects of giving a Shih Tzu a successful bath. 

How Often to Give a Shih Tzu a Bath

This is one of the most important aspects of grooming. A Shih Tzu should be given a bath once every 3 weeks, unless a skin, coat, or other health issues calls for more frequent baths.

The timeline of every 3 weeks is not an arbitrary number. And it all comes down to natural body oils.

A canine's natural body oils work to keep skin moisturized and soft, and the coat shiny. But, it is important to keep these balanced. That is what baths do. They whisk them all away, to start anew. 

If you give baths more often then this, both skin and coat can become dry, even if you are using great products. This is because if the products do what they are supposed to, body oils will be washed away.  But, if they are stripped away too often, a Shih Tzu's body will not be able to keep up with oil production. 

If you wait much longer than this to give baths, there will be too much accumulation of body oils. Oil will start to clog skin pores and block proper air flow, and it will cling to the roots of the coat. Skin can become itchy, pimples may develop, and this can start to smell quite bad. If a bath is still not given, the coat will start to look greasy and flat. 

Preparing to Bathe Your Shih Tzu

There are two aspects to prep: The bathing area and your Shih Tzu.

The bathing area: 

Due to his small size, most Shih Tzu do best having baths in the kitchen sink. It is not so overwhelming and it's easier for you to keep him in one spot, reach all areas, rinse him off, and have easy access to the bathing products.

Also, many kitchen sinks have spray nozzles, and this is the best method for rinsing.

This said, you can give your Shih Tzu a bath in your tub if for some reason you cannot use the kitchen sink.
Shih Tzu getting a bath in kitchen sink
Cooper, photo courtesy of The LaPenna Family
More tips include:
  • Have all of your needed supplies to the side of your dominant hand (more ahead on supplies).
  • Clean the sink thoroughly first, making sure that there is no dish soap residue.
Your Shih Tzu:

1. Comb and brush the coat before giving your Shih Tzu a bath. This is to separate the hairs and to check for any tangles or mats (if the coat is long enough to possibly develop these).

Part of your grooming tools collection should be a small-sized, two-level steel comb. Use the wide side of this to comb the coat (the fine tooth side, typically used for the paws and other small areas, is not needed to prep for baths). 

Also, comb your Shih Tzu's face using a face comb to prep this area as well. 
If you do find a mat, take care of this before the bath. Mats can be worked out by hand with the help of conditioner. 

If you cannot work it out, you can remove it with a quality tool like the Safari De-matting Comb.
2. Place small pieces of cotton balls into the outer ear canals. This is to prevent water from entering the ears, which can lead to painful ear infections. You do not need to place the cotton deep; all that is needed is a barrier to stop the water. 

Bathing Supplies to Have

You do not need to have a lot of supplies. All that is required is:
  • Non-slip mat for the sink or tub (or a kitchen dish towel)
  • A quality towel for drying (the softer, the better. If you can splurge for it, an Egyptian, Turkish, or combed cotton towel is best)
  • Cotton balls
  • Shampoo and conditioner - the products that you use will have a HUGE effect on how your Shih Tzu looks afterward and the basic health of his skin and coat. More ahead on choosing the best shampoos. 
  • A small thin wash cloth (for this, the thinner, the better)
A small children's toothbrush (this is for the eye area for Shih Tzu that are having issue with tear stains)
Oliver, photo courtesy of Amanda

Step by Step, How to Give a Shih Tzu a Bath

Bathing a Shih Tzu is a bit more involved than putting your dog in the sink and scrubbing away. However, the process is not overly complicated or time consuming. This can actually be a great time for your and your dog to bond together. 

For these instructions, we are using the word 'sink'; however, these steps will be applicable even if you have your dog in the tub. 

Once you have both the bath area and your Shih Tzu prepped:

1. Fill the sink with 2 or 3 inches of warm water. Test the temperature by dipping your wrist. 

2. Using two hands, gently place your Shih Tzu down, ensuring that he is on the non-slip mat. If he stands up with his paws on the side of the sink, that is fine. 

3. Wet down the body. It is best to use a spray nozzle for this. However, if you do not have this, use a small cup. Be sure that the coat is thoroughly soak down to the skin. 

4. Now it is time for the shampoo. Be sure to read the label, in case it needs to be watered down. Apply a liberal amount to your hand and start to work it in, adding more as needed.

5. Scrub every area of the body, including the armpits, genitals and tail. Massage the shampoo over the body for 3 to 5 minutes. 

6. Dip the washcloth into the sudsy water, wring it out a bit, and then gently swipe over all areas of the face. For the eye area, start at the inner eye and swipe down over the lid. Then, up over the brow and over the forehead. 

7. If your Shih Tzu is having issues with tear stains, take this opportunity to scrub under the eyes with a child-sized soft bristled toothbrush, that you have dipped into the sudsy water. Of course, take care to not touch the eyes.

8. Rinse the shampoo out. It is important to rinse very well. This is because even if you are using a superior shampoo, it is meant to do its job and then be removed. Any residue will prevent the conditioner from doing its job. 

9. Now it is time to condition the coat. Apply this very generously. Work this into all areas for 3 to 5 minutes. 

10. Rinse out the conditioner.  If the water level has risen too high, first allow a bit to drain by loosening the plug just a bit as not to startle your Shih Tzu. When rinsing, be sure to be thorough. The conditioner is meant to do its job and then be removed. Since it is a thick, luxurious product, you so not want this staying on the coat as it will weigh it down.

11. With the towel opened up, gently pick up your Shih Tzu, remove him from the bath, and place him on the towel. Allow him a good shake, and then carefully fold up the ends to wrap over him. 

Drying a Shih Tzu After a Bath

You may have thought that the work was done; however, there is just one more step to go. Part of a successful bath is to ensure that your Shih Tzu is properly dried. 

Due to this breed's coat of silky hair, drying the wrong way can destroy all of the work you did for a great bath to improve the coat and skin. 

You can opt to towel-dry/air dry your Shih Tzu or to use a blow-dryer. 
Porter, photo courtesy of Laura Toma
Towel/air drying is just fine for young pups, and for adult with short or medium length coats.

Typically, blow drying is done for long show coats. Additionally, blow drying can be done if you will be taking your Shih Tzu outside shortly afterwards or you want the coat to be fully dry for another reason. 

If you towel dry: 

Surround your Shih Tzu with the towel (using the highest quality, most absorbent towel that you can afford), and use a patting motion to soak up excess water. 

Be sure to not rub the coat, as this can cause split ends. It can also cause a huge mess of terrible tangles. Vigorous rubbing can utterly destroy a coat, sometimes with irreversible damage. 
Once you feel that most of the water is absorbed, use your chosen leave-in coat conditioner product to mist the coat lightly (more on these ahead). Use the wide tooth side of your two-level steel comb to comb through.

Allow your Shih Tzu to start air drying. Keep an eye on him. When the coat is almost dry, it will be time to finish the coat off. 

Holding your leave-in conditioner 5 to 6 inches away, lightly spritz about 1 inch from the roots, and using a pin brush, do strokes from root to tip. 
If you blow dry: 

Working in sections, mist the coat with your chosen leave-in, holding the bottle 5 to 6 inches away, and spraying about 1 inch from the roots. Go over all areas with the wide side of a two-level comb and comb down from roots to tip. 

Once you are sure that all hairs are separated and the conditioner has been distributed, set the blow dry to warm (not hot) and hold it 5 to 6 inches away. While moving it side-to-side, use your hand to work through the hair. 

Once the coat is dry enough to be separated (not clung together due to being wet), you can then finish off by using a pin brush while you dry. If you see any areas that seem to need it, light amounts of additional coat spray can be spritzed on. 
The Details of All Grooming

This, of course, is an overview of grooming. Grooming is one of the most important elements of taking care of your Tzu. If you'd like to have the details of:
  • How to deal with disasters
  • Nails & dewclaw details
  • The exact step-by-step instructions for each part of the Tzu's body
  • The difference in grooming a short cut Vs a long coat
  • What ruins a Shih Tzu's coat... and much more! Have a look at the AllShihTzu Book. Now in both print and eBook.
See Also:
The Best Shampoos and Coat Products for Shih Tzu - If you are not 100% confident that you are using the right products, see what is recommended and why. 
You may also like:

Shih Tzu Hair Styles - Cute options that can really change the appearance of this breed. 
Feeding a Shih Tzu - A helpful guidelines for all feeding aspects. 
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