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GSD - Bath or Shower

 Reviewed 10 March 2019 share-a-picture Or go to discussion?join-the-discussion dogphoto

==> "A Bath is for the Soul - A Shower is for the Body"

Rights and Wrongs about bathing your dog
and how to secure a healthy hygiene easily

You can find a lot information on this topic online, some of which is right, a lot of which is wrong.




Every dog owner faces this dilemma many times during the dog's life: When your German Shepherd is ill, particularly when there's a Skin Infection or Skin Allergy, you don't want to make things worse with a lack of hygiene or the wrong hygiene regime, right?

Just under 10% percent of you have a Long Coat German Shepherd, which (if filled in correctly) means your dog has no undercoat (well, more precise detail you will get in a future Periodical on hair growth). You may find it easier to clean your dog, however you also need to be more careful on the skin: A lack of undercoat means higher risk of skin lesions, not only during grooming.

47% of you have a Short Coat German Shepherd. If filled in correctly (there is a brief description of each coat type as hover text right on the subscribe page), this means your dog has a short-hair toplayer over a dense undercoat. You know that cleaning your dog is comparatively easy and that you can (and need to) rub more intensely (but gently) to clean the skin under the undercoat.

All others have a GSD with a Long Stock Coat or Plush Coat, meaning your dog has a long-hair toplayer over a dense undercoat (either flat and fairly harsh hair, or plush and soft hair respectively). You may need to double the amounts I mention below, and you may also wish to double the cleaning frequency since your dog's coat provides a perfect hiding place for dirt, parasites, and bacteria.

Explanations follow in context.

Don't just read online - but think

Always think about what you read: If a text holds many punctuation, grammar, and spelling errors, we cannot and we shouldn't expect the technical content to be any better! When I read online, most websites fall into this category: Created by bloggers on a whim (possibly on the cheap too: in developing countries). Thus I leave those sites immediately. Saves time and nerves.

Rather than complaining "I've got no time" (say to wash my dog), save time and nerves: Quit reading, listening, watching, and waiting whenever you notice a) bad quality or b) it's not helpful to you.*

* Bad quality indicators: punctuation, grammar, and spelling errors; loose, illogical, non-sequitur; mostly statements and fillers, few why's and because's; no meta insight.

Not helpful to you indicators: gossip and propaganda; commercials; queues to nothing of value.

Similarly, many sources - online (internet) as well as offline (books and dog magazines) - scare us with warnings like: "Do not bathe your dog more than once or twice yearly" - and similar frequency advice. And you may wonder, like I did: "What's the problem, my dog is swimming every week, and this hasn't harmed either". Right?

So, before we go into detail, let's be clear here and mention what others forget to mention:

When can bathing be a problem?

Full-body water exposure is not a problem for the GSD (within limits of course), whether or not our dog is from a family line bred for water sports or hunting. German Shepherds cope well with bathing and swimming alike, both health-wise and behavior-wise (except maybe if traumatized from some prior experience). In fact, even a 20-min swim or bath every day would not at all harm our dog's skin and coat.

Limitations for bathing our dog should explicitely refer to:

  • The use of shampoo and similar cleaning products. It is primarily this factor that can quickly impact on our dog's health and behavior (see below why).
  • A much smaller factor is that parasites or bacteria can use the water as a carrier to easily transit the entrances of our dog's body openings - particularly anus, genitals, and ears - all of which have no autoimmune reflex to 'flush' back out unwelcome intruders. The other openings do have this: the nose sends the stimulus to sneeze, the eyes to close and to produce tear fluid with lysozyme that kills bacteria, the mouth to cough and to produce saliva with lysozyme. However, this refers to bathing in open, standing (and hence very likely infected) waters, rather than bathing our dog at home in clean tub water!
  • Another factor is that bathing our dog can dry out its skin when the slightly oily protection layer has been carried away with the water. However, this too is very unlikely to be caused by clean tub water: a) You would have to bathe your dog very long and often (say twice daily for an hour each, which you won't consider anyway), because the protection layer of the outer skin (epidermis) fully replenishes within 12 hours, and b) the GSD skin pH is much closer to that of water than our own!

In fact, bathing our dog is primarily about skin pH (cutaneous pH), so let's briefly explain this as well.

Skin pH

pH stands for potential (or concentration) of Hydrogen (ions) in any substance, and it basically measures the acidity or alkalinity of the substance: blood, urine, skin, foods, feces, you name it. Standard pH is measured on a scale from 0 - 14. Pure water at 24C or 75F is right in the middle (pH of 7.0), it is neutral. Substances with a pH below 7 are acidic, and substances with a pH above 7 are alkaline or basic.

Human skin pH ranges from 5.2 to 6.2 (depending on too many factors to mention here), with pH 5.5 being a typical average value (namely the mode, the most frequent value).

To help you put things into perspective, lemon juice for example has a pH of around 2.0, and orange juice ranges between circa pH 3.4 to 3.7. Table wine pH typically ranges between circa 3.3 to 3.7, and beer between circa 3.9 to 4.3. Thus, our skin and all these example substances are acidic.

Conversely, canine skin pH varies over a MUCH broader range, but is rather alkaline. Skin pH (or cutaneous pH) of dogs varies particularly depending on breed and anatomy of the measurement (while gender and age have no noteworthy influence here).

For German Shepherds, the broadest range measured was in the interdigital space: 5.49 - 8.36. And the highest cutaneous pH measured was 8.62 in the axilla (range 5.88 - 8.62).

What you need to know

GSDs are the dog breed with one of the highest average skin pH of any dog breed. That's why our breed has more skin problems than other dog breeds! For example, the average skin pH of German Shepherds is about ten times more alkaline than that of a Golden Retriever! Meaning, it is about ten times more likely to develop skin problems! Rashes, hot spots, epidermal cysts etc, you name it.

  • Now, essential to know is that the pH scale is not linear but logarithmic, meaning every adjacent whole number changes the acidity or alkalinity by a factor of 10! With an average pH of 5.5 for human skin and 7.4 for canine skin, this means that your dog's skin is about a hundred times more alkaline than your own skin (which in fact is acidic)!
  • The next essential point to understand is that the lower the pH (ie the more acidic the substance) the harder it is for parasites and bacteria to survive, let alone to flourish!

Our fairly low human skin pH of an average 5.5 fends off many environmental attacks without us even noticing (because it is acidic). Conversely, canine skin with an average pH of 7.4 is about a hundred times less likely to fend off environmental attacks - because it is rather alkaline! That's why dogs in general have far more skin problems than humans have, and why we need to take extra care for our dog's skin and coat.

Your goal

Considering dog hygiene, your goal should be to maintain the average skin pH of about 7.4 - or, more generally speaking, a neutral to slightly alkaline cutaneous pH. In other words, don't destroy it say by using very acidic cleaning products - like some that are made for human skin, or indeed for the floor!

However: You have learned above that dog skin and particularly German Shepherd skin pH has such a broad range that it appears unreasonable to pay undue attention to the exact pH value of a cleaning product labeled for dogs. Following the general advice above (to use products with a neutral to slightly alkaline pH) seems to be both sensible and sufficient.

By the way, the salty seawater in the oceans has a pH of around 8.0, thus it is alkaline and pH-wise right in the range of dog skin. Meaning, even regular swimming in the ocean does not imbalance and harm your dog's skin (while it does imbalance human skin if we swim too long or too often in the ocean). Just ensure that you rinse off your dog (and yourself!) very thoroughly after salt water contact (because salt sucks up all moisture in the skin) - and of course much more thoroughly after swimming in open, standing water, like lakes.

Bathing your dog

How often is too often?

As seen above, this almost entirely depends on what else you do and use when you bathe your dog. If you don't use any cleaning products, just your hands, then you can bathe your dog every day, no problem!

Vermin affecting dogsHowever, typically you will bathe your dog with the aim a) to clean the coat and skin from accumulated dirt, parasites (like ticks, fleas, and all those types of vermin you see on the image here - uuhh, terrible!), and bacteria (too small to show you), and b) to get rid of terrible smell seemingly coming from your dog's coat or skin.

To clean the coat and skin for these purposes, a bath using just tab water is not enough. You will also need a cleaning product that you can tip into your hands and rub in your dog's coat and skin.

Best is to use the mild but very effective Zymox products (I do not hold stock in Zymox, no). The dog shampoo f and the pet rinse f. The latter we personally alternate with Virbac's very effective cream conditioner f.

The right dog coat and skin cleaning process

First, carefully wetten your dog's head, including under the chin and behind the ears. Spare out the inner ear/pinna (actually you may want to cover them with a piece of non-disintegrating cotton-wool pads). Now, tip a tiny amount (two thumbnails) of the shampoo onto your hands and gently rub it onto all areas of the head (of course, sparing out the eyes and the inner part of the ears). Afterwards, use your hands to rinse off.

Next, make sure the coat and skin are entirely wet, and rub away all macro dirt. Now, tip an amount of shampoo equal to a man's palm onto your hands and rub it first against the line of hair-growth ('backwards') then with ('forwards') into your dog's coat and on the skin. Now spare out the head, but don't forget to attend to the paws and legs too. Essential: Leave the anus area until later.

Lastly, tip a small amount (the length of a finger) of the shampoo onto your hands, and very gently clean the anus area under the tail (always in straight lines from the anus, not in circle movements around the anus, to prevent cross contamination).

You notice, the head is always washed first, then the body, and lastly the anus area. Always in this order, to prevent cross-contamination. Whenever you used a wash-cloth for the anus area, throw it away. Don't just wash it (with other stuff, even worse!), throw it away. The 5 cent for a piece of wash-cloth isn't worth risking your dog's and your own health, or is it?

The 'polish'

After this washing routine gently dry your GSD (dabbing with a towel is enough) and give it a 'polishing': We alternate the pet rinse f and the cream conditioner f.

Tip an amount of pet rinse or cream conditioner equal to a man's palm onto your hands and gently rub it into your dog's coat and lightly onto the skin (following the order set out above). Don't wash this off, leave it on, no problem.

Now, your GSD will be clean and smell nice too! smile

If you bathe your German Shepherd this way and with these cleaning products, then even weekly bathing is fine, no problem. But:

You can do it more rarely, save a lot of time, and promote your dog's health and behavior if you bathe your GSD this way just monthly or when dirty, and in addition you shower your dog.

Taking a 'dog shower'

Giving your dog an outdoor shower f may not look as caring or 'sexy' as giving the dog a bath, yes, but a shower is actually better for your dog (and yourself too): Just like a stream or river, the flowing/rinsing effect of a shower has a significant cleansing impact itself. And:

Together with rubbing movements of your hands, showering your dog will wash away dirt, parasites, and bacteria MUCH better than bathing your dog. Just don't save on water here - let it flow generously. The amount of water pressure of most human shower heads is fine for your GSD too.

Alternatively you could use this 'Rapid Bath' shower hose f (just don't commit yourself to the animal shampoo that comes with it, it's inferior and costs more).

Giving your dog a shower can be a light, quick, healthy, and fun-filled bonding activity for you and your dog!

Remember, there is no limit as to how often you can shower your GSD, because clean water has a neutral pH and does no harm at all! Just don't direct the water flow at your dog's head, or under the tail onto the anus.

Really, consider to make a shower a regular part of your dog's life for better bonding and hygiene of your German Shepherd, and FEEL the difference this makes! smile

I find, a weekly dog shower is the absolute minimum, and if you have four minutes left in your busy day, do it daily or every other day. Consider how often you shower yourself to feel and smell clean, hm?

Best is a mix

Maybe a good mix is the best - alternating stimuli is always best for the German Shepherd, as well as for yourself:

You could bathe your GSD say once a month, and the rest of the time you quickly shower your dog: Always when your dog is dirty after outdoor exercise, and in case (s)he rarely gets outdoor exercise(??), about once a week as a minimum cleaning routine.

With a shower (instead of a bath), the entire cleaning process as described above takes us no more than 4 minutes - and this includes the drying. wink

To quickly dry the dog (or anything else really) you can use this magical drying chamois f (we use it too, everywhere we go). And in between two showers you can keep your dog clean by using these amazing Pet and Paw Wipes f (we use them too). They are handy (including for traveling!) and provide phantastic results.



  • Frequent bathing (full water contact alone) is not problematic at all for your GSD
  • But cleaning products should only be added weekly - or when needed, say after certain outdoor exercise
  • To save time, just give your dog a quick weekly outdoor shower f instead of a full-blown bathing experience
  • Any cleaning products you use for your GSD should be pH-neutral or slightly alkaline (ie pH 7.0 to 7.4) to match the German Shepherd skin
  • Among the best dog cleaning products on the market are Zymox' dog shampoo f and pet rinse f, and Virbac's cream conditioner f
  • While the cutaneous pH of human skin is in a fairly narrow range averaging around circa 5.5 pH (hence being acidic), the canine cutaneous pH is much higher and over a much broader range, averaging around circa 7.4 pH (hence being alkaline)
  • Since pH is a logarithmic scale, this means that our own skin is about 100 times better equipped to cope with environmental attacks than our dog's skin - that's why dogs have much more skin problems!
  • The German Shepherd has almost the highest skin alkalinity of any dog breed(!) - that's one of the key reasons why GSDs have much more often skin problems than other dog breeds
  • To quickly dry the dog after a bath or shower, we use this magical drying chamois f
  • Between two showers we use these amazing Pet and Paw Wipes f to keep the dog both clean and smelling nice. Since these are gentle but kill all germs, they are also phantastic to wipe off the paws when coming home, eg to prevent contamination of a young unvaccinated puppy or the children.

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