Bathing & Grooming Your Labrador Retriever
Labrador Retrievers are not just beloved family pets; they're active, intelligent, and have a penchant for adventure. To keep your Lab looking and feeling their best, regular grooming and bathing are essential. Here’s a guide to ensure your Lab's coat stays healthy and shiny while minimizing shedding.
Disclaimer...a Lab in our show program and/or preparing for an upcoming show should NOT be bathed or brushed with the same frequency as a pet Lab. We do everything we can to maintain and protect their coats. I will bath 5 days before a show, using EpiSoothe...I also intend to try a shampoo for wire haired dogs in 2024...if you have a favorite, I'd love your recommendation! Regular shampoos make the Labs coat soft and not 100% up the the CKC Labrador standard. And daily brushing leads to a short, thin sleek coat which is not what the judges are looking for in breeding stock.
Determining how often to bathe your Labrador Retriever depends on various factors such as their activity level, coat condition, and outdoor adventures. Labs have a water-resistant double coat, which means they naturally repel dirt and moisture. Frequent baths can strip away essential oils from their coat, leading to skin dryness. I recommend avoiding frequent baths for our Labs. Frequent bathing can actually increase shedding and decrease the quality of your Labs coat.
If your Lab gets dirty, maybe they have been out in the mud, or swimming, start with rinsing the dirt off thoroughly with clean water. Save their skin and use shampoo sparingly.
For most Labs, a bath every 8-12 weeks is sufficient unless they’ve gotten into something particularly gross or have a skin condition requiring special care. Bathing can dry out their skin and coat, so it's crucial to strike a balance and use quality products. Use a mild dog shampoo specifically formulated for their skin type and coat needs to maintain its natural oils. My favorite is EpiSoothe by Virbac.
For our LilyWing puppies, they may need more frequent bathing with house training, crate traiing and rough and tumble play. Avoid bathing with shampoo more than once a week and decreasing that frequency once the housetraining and crate training is complete! All puppies will be bathed with EpiSoothe the day before or the morning that they go home.
I do not use conditioner on my Labs after a shampoo...if I have to bath someone. Occasionally I will use a light mist of Eqyss Marigold Coat Conditioner (HUGE bonus as it is a natural bug repellant! ShowSheen in the show ring...particularly for the black dogs like Chili.
Worthy of a special mention....if your Lab is really off adventuring and encounters a skunk...that requires special bathing! A degreaser like Dawn Dish Soap AND a deodorizer like a baking soda paste. There are many homemade recipes online...regular shampoo just won't cut it!
Post bath I also recommend wiping ears out with a quality drying ear cleaner, like EpiOtic, to ensure we don't create an environment for yeast and bacteria to grow and turn into an infection.
Labrador Retrievers are notorious shedders, especially during seasonal changes. Regular brushing helps minimize shedding but also keeps their coat healthy and clean. Aim to brush your Lab at least 1-2 times a week using a suitable grooming tool, such as a slicker brush or a deshedding tool.
For our puppies, I recommend starting with a bit of brushing early to get them used to the feel. Teaching a stand command can help as they mature...but all in good time!
During heavy shedding seasons, which typically occur in the spring and fall, increase brushing frequency to daily or every other day. This practice helps remove loose fur before it ends up on your furniture or floors. Also plan on vacuuming...a lot!
Another truth bomb...I RARELY brush my Labs. In part due to time constraints but also because I want to avoid thinning the coat. When one of them is undergoing a shed, I will brush to speed the process, often with a slicker brush to pull the undercoat out.
Ears: Labrador Retrievers may be at risk to developing ear infections due to their floppy ears, which can trap moisture and dirt. Check their ears weekly for redness, odor, or excessive wax buildup. Gently clean the ears with a veterinarian-recommended solution like EpiOtic and cotton pads to prevent infections. Avoid QTips in the ear. Recurring ear infections can also be a sign of environmental and/or food allergies, so talk with your veterinary team if your dog has an ear infection repeatedly, or if you notice one that comes seasonally year after year.
Nails: Trim your Lab's nails every 4-6 weeks to prevent overgrowth. Long nails can cause discomfort and affect their gait. Be cautious not to cut too close to the quick (the blood vessel inside the nail) to avoid bleeding and pain. During the summer and fall, if your Lab is outside a lot, they may naturally wear their nails down. I like to trim nails as soon as I can hear them on the kitchen floor! Nail trimming is a skill for your and your dog...take it slowly at first, maybe only a toe or paw at a time...keep it positive by teaching your dog to be okay with you handling their paws. A lick it matt might help as a distraction (available on Amazon at https://amzn.to/3viALRY and at many pet stores!). And a Dremel tool can help file nails down instead of cutting them.
Teeth: Dental hygiene is important for your Lab's overall health. Aim to brush their teeth 2-3 times a week using a dog-specific toothbrush and toothpaste to prevent plaque buildup and oral diseases. Truth time...I don't brush..something has to give and it's dental care for me! BUT....I do use dental food (Hills T/D or Purina Dental Formula) as treats to help reduce tartar build up and have used special chews and treats for dental health in the past, like CET Chews (visit our Supply Center for the link to CET Chews)
Assuming you have determined your dog needs a shampoo...here are some process tips!
Use lukewarm water and wet their coat thoroughly, starting from the neck down. Avoid wetting the head which can lead to water and shampoo dripping into ears and eyes. If your dogs head needs to be bathed, try using a wet cloth...or better yet a waterless shampoo like Dermoscent ATOP7!
Apply EpiSoothe (or your dog shampoo of choice...i dilute my shampoo with water to help it go further!), gently massaging it into their coat, focusing on areas that tend to get dirtiest, such as the hind end, collar area, belly and paws. If your shampoo has some therapeutic components, read the directions to see if it should be left on the pet's skin for a period of time. Finally, rinse the shampoo THOROUGHLY completely to prevent skin irritation.
In the tub TIP: Put a yoga mat or large bath mat in the bottom of the tub so your dog doesn't slip. This is another chance to keep it positive with a distraction like a lick it mat filled with peanut butter, cream cheese or even canned dog food (try packing the mat and then freezing it if you use canned dog food!) suctioned to the wall.
After the bath, dry your Lab with a towel or a low-heat setting on a blow dryer. Or allow to air dry. Ensure they are completely dry to prevent skin issues caused by trapped moisture.
Remember, every Labrador Retriever is unique, so adjust your grooming routine based on their individual needs. Regular grooming sessions not only keep your Lab looking dapper but also strengthen the bond between you and your furry companion.
By following these grooming and bathing tips, you'll ensure your Labrador Retriever maintains a healthy, glossy coat while minimizing shedding and staying comfortable in their own skin.
Our Favorite Products for Grooming & Bathing
EpiSoothe Shampoo, by Virbac, is specially formulated to be soothing to pet's skin. We use Episoothe on our dogs and horses in between show ring prep session. This product is available at your local vet clinic (may need to be ordered in), or via Amazon at https://amzn.to/3TLJMwX
Epi-Otic Ear Cleaner, is great for keeping ears clean and dry. Dry is important! After a bath, or if your Lab goes swimming, wipe ears out with a cotton pad soaked with EpiOtic to help safely dry inside ears. Do not blow or force air into ears to protect the ear drum. Check ears monthly to dirt build up or an odor, redness or sensitivity that may be an indication of an infection starting. If you are concerned about a possible ear infection, book an appointment with your veterinary team!
Dermoscent ATOP7 Mousse, this is my secret weapon! Friends coming over? Travelling with your dog? Just need a refresh!? Your dog doesnt like to be bathed or sprayed!? This waterless shampoo is quick and effective and can dramatically decrease the number of times we "need" to bath our dogs. Less bathes mean we also protect the natural oils in their skin and keep those big beautiful coats shiny. Available at your vet, some pet stores and groomers and from Amazon at https://amzn.to/3vi9rTM
Eqyss Premier Pet Spray, I use a very light spray after a bath on a dry coat to help condition the coat OR on tummies/groins in the summer to help deter mosquitos and ants (marigold is a natural repellant!. The premier pet spray is a 4oz bottle...but level up and consider getting the equine/horse marigold spray by Eqyss...a bit more spray for your $$ and the same product!