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Why doesn’t my dog clean himself?

Why doesn’t my dog clean himself?

Cats are known for being fastidious groomers, but dogs will naturally groom themselves as well. However, some dogs don’t groom themselves properly, or at all. There are a number of reasons why dogs don’t groom themselves, from maltreatment to personal preference. 

Why doesn’t my dog clean himself?

It can be quite frustrating as a pet owner. You want your dog to be clean. Of course, you expect to have to do some grooming, but you shouldn’t have to do it all. 

Dog grooming is something you aren’t likely to think much about, until you have a dog that doesn’t groom themselves. You suddenly have a lot of extra work to do.


Young dogs, much like young children, are not great groomers. Many puppies don’t seem to mind being dirty, and they will not groom themselves. 

Most dogs begin grooming themselves as they get older, usually about 6 months to 1 year old. However, not all dogs pick up on the habit. 

Dogs that are very old may be lax about grooming as well. If they have low energy levels, it may not be a priority. 


Some dogs just don’t want to groom themselves. There’s no obvious reason why. They simply seem to lack the desire to do so. 


Depression in dogs is similar to depression in humans. Dogs who are depressed may lose interest in activities they once enjoyed, and become lethargic or withdrawn. Just like people, a dog suffering from depression can also lose the desire to groom themselves. 

Other signs of depression in dogs include changes in appetite, changes in sleep pattern, low energy levels, and frequent whining or howling. 

Medical Condition

If your dog normally grooms themselves and suddenly stops, it could be a medical issue. The signs will vary based on the condition, but there are some basic indications to be on the look out for. 

A change in appetite is often the first sign something is wrong. Behavior changes may also occur. Your dog may become withdrawn or lethargic. 

Other signs your dog is ill include vomiting, diarrhea, fever, difficulty breathing, and nasal congestion or sneezing. 

If your dog seems unwell and stops grooming themselves, they will need a veterinary checkup. 

Used to Being Dirty (Maltreatment Background

Dogs are generally hygienic animals. They will pee and poop away from where they eat and sleep, for example. However, a dog that is frequently confined to a small space for longer than they can hold their bodily functions has no choice but to use their living area as their bathroom. 

The instinct to keep their living area clean is eventually overridden, because the dog has no choice. When they live in better conditions, they may continue to potty where they sleep or eat. They’ve become accustomed to the behavior, so it doesn’t seem abnormal to them. 

If you’ve adopted or rescued a dog that won’t groom themselves, there may be a similar problem. If they weren’t properly groomed and allowed to be very dirty, they may have simply gotten used to it. 

They do not groom because to them, being dirty is completely normal. 

Lack Of Parenting

There’s no hard evidence that dogs learn grooming from their mothers, but it can be inferred. Mothers keep their puppies very clean. In fact, the mother must lick the butt of young puppies to get them to poop. Once they do, she immediately cleans it up. 

She will lick her puppies frequently, and they will be very clean. This is part of a mother caring for her puppies. 

We do know that mothers teach puppies many things, including how to behave and socialize with other dogs, and how to eat. It’s highly likely that they teach them to groom as well, if not through express teaching, then through example. 

However, some mothers lack the maternal instinct. They may attempt to harm or simply not care for their puppies. Lucky puppies in this situation are raised by the owners. 

Owners can certainly keep the puppy clean and fed, but they can’t teach the puppy everything their mother should. Puppies raised in this manner may instinctively know how to clean themselves, but some may never learn. 

How do dogs normally clean themselves?

Dogs typically have a few ways they clean themselves. It’s interesting to learn about this aspect of dog behavior, because some of their cleaning methods may surprise you. 


Dogs use their teeth to lightly nip at their fur and skin. This is called nipping. It’s common when a dog has fleas, but it’s also used for regular cleaning. It can remove debris, dirt, and dead skin cells from your dog’s skin and coat. 


Cleanliness is far from the only reason your dog licks, but it is a favorite cleaning method. Dogs use their tongues the way humans would use a wash cloth. It’s an effective cleaning method, and the mainstay of self-grooming for dogs. 


Have you ever given your dog a bath, only to have them roll around on the ground immediately after? Rolling can allow a dog to scrub off some of the dirt with grass or even your carpet. 

When it occurs after a bath, your dog may be trying to remove the scent of the shampoo. It can also be a way of drying themselves. 


Just like cats, a dog will lick its paw and then use it to clean. They do this with hard to reach areas, like their face. Dogs can look quite prim when washing their face in this manner. 

Body Shake

A good body shake can also rid your dog of dirt and debris. It’s most common when the dog gets wet. A shake can actually remove 70% of the water from a dog’s coat. If you’ve ever been drenched by a post bath shake, this won’t come as a shock to you! 

How do you teach a dog to clean themselves?

If your dog doesn’t clean themselves, there may be nothing you can do. However, there are a few things you can try. You should also get your dog a checkup if they have suddenly stopped cleaning themselves. It may be caused by a medical issue or depression. 

Keep Them Clean

Not all, but most, dogs want to be clean. If they’ve become accustomed to being dirty, keeping them very clean may do the trick. Once they are used to feeling clean, they may want to stay that way. This can encourage them to clean themselves. 

If your dog doesn’t participate in the grooming, it may be something you’ll just have to live with. There’s no guarantee it will work, but it’s important to keep your dog clean, regardless. 

Positive Role Model 

A positive role model may help your dog learn to clean themselves, particularly if they weren’t groomed by their mother. This is more likely to be effective if your dog is still young, but it’s possible for it to help other dogs as well. 

If you have multiple dogs, perhaps one of them will teach your pooch how to clean themselves. If you don’t, regular play dates with a well groomed dog may do the trick. 

Again, there’s no guarantee, but it’s worth a shot.  

How often should I bathe my dog?

You may expect a simple, one-size fits all description of how often to bathe your dog. Surprisingly, how often you should bathe your dog can vary greatly based on your dog’s breed, health, and activity level. 

Dirty Dogs

Before we get into specifics, there’s a caveat. It’s usually ok to bathe your dog if they are dirty. If they are gross, smelly, or covered with dirt, feel free to give them a bath. 

However, you should not bathe your dog more often than once a week. If they need more regualr cleanings, there are a few options. 

Cleansing wipes can be great to use between baths. They work well for cleaning minor dirty spots, like paws. They are also excellent for removing pee residue if your dog has an issue with that. 

Secondly, a bath means using soap or cleanser to clean your dog. This is different from simply rinsing them with plain water. You can basically rinse them with water when needed, once a day at maximum. 

Indoor vs. Outdoor Dogs

Generally, indoor dogs should be bathed every 2-3 months. There are some exceptions to this, which we will discuss in a moment. 

Outdoor dogs will need more frequent baths. There’s no exact timeframe, but most experts recommend bathing an outdoor dog at least once a month. 

If your dog has a tendency to get dirty, they may need more frequent bathing. 

Athletic Dogs

The higher level of activity for athletic dogs means they may need more baths, particularly if they spend lots of time outdoors. 

This becomes more important if your indoor dog spends lots of time outside. You don’t want them tracking dirt inside the house. Athletic dogs may also smell faster than those who are less active. 

Coat Type

Long-haired or curly haired dogs need to be bathed at least every 4-6 weeks. They also need regular brushing to care for their coat. 

Dogs with oily skin also require bathing more often. The Cheseapeake Bay Retriever is famous for its coat, which needs bathing at least once a month. 

Short-haired dogs don’t require bathing nearly as often as long-haired breeds. Short-haired breeds have an easier time caring for their own coat. Long-haired breeds typically have a soft underlayer of hair on top of their visible coat. The undercoat can be difficult for them to groom themselves. 

Short-haired breeds can be bathed every 2-3 months, but long-haired breeds should be bathed at least once a month. 

Surprisingly, breeds with little to no hair need frequent bathing. The hair on most dogs traps dirt, keeping it away from the skin. Hairless breeds don’t possess this defense mechanism, so they need to be bathed about once a week. 

Dog’s Grooming Skills

The dog’s grooming skills are also an important factor. A dog that grooms themselves well will require less care from you. Dogs that don’t groom themselves will need more frequent baths to keep them clean. 

Personal Preferance

Your personal preference also makes a difference. If you feel that your dog is dirty, or they aren’t smelling fresh, it is ok to bathe them. If your dog doesn’t get very dirty and seems clean, it’s ok to bathe them every 3 months. 

Allergies are another consideration. If you are allergic to dog dander, frequent baths can keep the allergen levels low. Your dog can also bring in allergens, like pollen, on their fur. Remember that it’s not advised to bathe your dog more than once a week, but a weekly bath may be helpful in this situation. 

Skin Problems

If your dog has allergies or skin problems, your bathing schedule will be different. Your vet may recommend using a medicated shampoo. They should also tell you how often to bathe your dog. 

 Dogs with skin problems can also benefit from oatmeal baths. It calms their skin, relieves itching, and contributes to a healthy, shiny coat. 

You can do this with plain oats, or oatmeal bath products made for humans. Baby oatmeal cereal also works very well. Loose oats can be a pain to clean out of the tub. 

Both oatmeal bath products and baby oatmeal are cut into a powder. This allows them to dissolve into the water. The oatmeal should rinse down the drain, requiring only a rinse to remove any remaining oatmeal. 

Another method that provides an easy clean up is to use a pair of panty hose. Cut a leg from the stocking. You can then fill it with oatmeal and toss it in the bath. This prevents the oatmeal from getting all over your tub. 

You can also use the oatmeal stocking to rub the oatmeal directly onto their coat and skin. 

When giving your dog an oatmeal bath, no soap is necessary. Just rinse off the excess oatmeal and residue.