How To Bathe A Shih Tzu Dog For Healthy Skin And Coat

How to bathe a shih tzu dog.

As I said in my previous post “How Often Should You Bathe A Shih Tzu?”, there’s a little more to bathing your shih tzu than just immersing him in water and drying him off if you want his skin and coat to remain in a healthy condition.

Before I show you how to bathe a shih tzu dog the healthy way, first you need to prepare yourself, then you need to prepare your dog.

Preparing Yourself To Bathe Your Shih Tzu

The first thing you need to do is to decide where you are going to bathe your dog. Your shih tzu will never grow too big to fit into the kitchen sink and, if your kitchen sink is fitted with one of those flexible spray head mixer taps, this is the ideal venue for his bath as you will not have to bend down so much and all the things you need can be at hand on the drainer.

If your kitchen sink does not have a spray attachment but your bath has a hand held shower head, then the latter would be the better choice, although you will be spending a lot of the time in a bent over position. Another alternative, perhaps less desirable because you would have to bend down even more and your shih tzu may be able to take the opportunity to run for it, is to use a large plastic bowl in the shower if an adjustable or hand held shower head is available.

A shih tzu wearing swimming goggles is well prepared for bathing.
ID: 29630628 George Kroll | Dreamstime

You may gather from this that spraying the water on your dog and the soap off, is the most efficient method of cleaning up your shih tzu. However, don’t worry if you don’t have a spray or shower head available, you can use a large mug to tip the water over him.

What You Need

Having decided on where you want to bathe your shih tzu, you will now need to gather your “grooming kit” together, a collection of tools and products to get the job done. Here, then, are the ideal components for the bathing aspect of your grooming kit.

  • Double sided dog brush – A stiff-bristle dog brush is essential to prepare your shih tzu for bathing. A pin brush would be better for shih tzu with longer hair and for brushing all but the shortest haired dog after bathing. Double sided brushes with bristles on one side and pins on the other are the most convenient for grooming shih tzu.
A double sided shih tzu grooming brush.
ID: 53876025 kitchbain | Depositphotos
  • Shampoo – Do not use your shampoo on your shih tzu, it will most likely contain chemicals that will completely strip your dog’s coat and skin of it’s essential oils, leaving the coat flat and the skin dry and flaky. You can get away with baby shampoo but it’s a much better choice to use a dog specific shampoo with natural ingredients and vitamins. Shampoo with oatmeal among its ingredients is particularly good for dogs with dry skin. If your shih tzu has allergies then choose a dog specific hypoallergenic shampoo. These tend to be a little thinner with less lather, so only use them if needed. Look for the word “tearless” on the label. If a tearless dog shampoo comes into contact with your shih tzu’s eyes it will not sting, making bath time a more pleasant experience for him. Beware, though, as it may sting your eyes or those of any non canine pets you may have.
  • Conditioner – Again, do not use your own. Go for a good quality, pet or dog specific conditioner and, if necessary, hypoallergenic. Applying a rinse through conditioner after the shampoo phase will help prevent and repair split ends, sealing the hair shaft. It will also replace essential oils to moisturize and help prevent the skin from becoming dry and itchy.
  • Leave-in conditioner spray – This is not strictly a necessity, but spraying a leave-in conditioner onto your shih tzu’s coat after the drying phase will reinforce the strengthening actions of the rinse-through conditioner as well as providing an extra fluffy bounce to the coat and offering protection from the sun’s rays, dry air and wind.
  • Rubber shower or bath mat – This is to place at the bottom of your sink or bath to reduce the chances of your shih tzu slipping on the wet, shiny surface and preventing a nasty accident. If you do not have this, you can use an old tea towel or hand towel instead.
  • High quality bath towel – You will need an absorbent towel to soak up the excess water as you pat your shih tzu dry. For this reason, buy the highest quality, softest bath towel you can afford. Towels made of combed cotton, Egyptian cotton or Turkish cotton are a good choice.
Soft and fluffy rolled up cotton towels ideal for drying shih tzu.
ID: 14872988 Oliver Le Queinec | Dreamstime
  • Thin face flannel or washcloth – This is for wiping clean around your shih tzu’s face and eyes. The thinner and softer this cloth is, the better.
  • Small bowl – You will need some diluted shampoo to clean your shih tzu’s face. As a rough guide the dilution should be around 10 parts water to 1 part shampoo, but consult the label first.
  • Cotton wool balls – A shih tzu’s ears are very sensitive, the inner ear canals are narrow and deep. If water gets into them there is a high chance of an infection developing. To keep the inner ears dry and stop water coming in, it is important to insert a cotton ball, or half a cotton ball, into each outer ear canal prior to bathing.
  • Soft bristled, children’s toothbrush – You will only need this if your shih tzu has prominent, brown tear stains below his eyes.
  • Blow dryer – If you keep your shih tzu’s hair quite short, you can just pat him dry with your high quality towel. If his hair is longer, the use of a blow dryer will help reduce the chances of tangles and knots. You can use your blow dryer as long as you are careful and have it switched to its lowest heat setting. It would be ideal, however, to use a pet specific blow dryer.
Shih tzu extreme blow drying.
ID: 67430593 0sArt | Depositphotos

Preparing Your Shih Tzu For Bathing

Shih tzu have two coats, an outer one and an inner one. When they shed hair the dead hair tends to get trapped between the two coats, which is why you may only see the occasional strand of shed hair about the house.

Before you start to bathe your shih tzu, you need to brush out this dead hair, along with all of the tangles, knots and mats. You may have to tease out the more stubborn ones with your fingers helped with some spray on conditioner or water spray first.

When brushing your shih tzu it’s best to start with his legs and feet, brushing downwards, then his body from behind his head working back towards his tail and finally his head, face and ears.

Once you have successfully brushed your shih tzu’s coat completely tangle free, you need to gently place a cotton wool ball, or half a ball if it’s a small ear, into each outer ear canal to prevent water entering the inner ear. With the cotton wool balls in place, your shih tzu is now ready for his bath.

How To Bathe A Shih Tzu Dog

First, put in the plug, place your rubber bath mat or tea towel flat on the bottom and fill your sink or bath to a depth of 2” to 3” (5 cm to 7 cm) with lukewarm water. All water you use for bathing your shih tzu should be no hotter than lukewarm. To clarify, by lukewarm I mean 98F to 105F (37C to 40C), a temperature range a degree or two below and above your shih tzu’s blood temperature.

After testing the water is not too hot, with your elbow as you would a baby bath is fine, pick up your shih tzu and place him in the water, making sure his paws are on the mat. If, as my Charlie does, he puts his front paws on the side of the sink or bath, that is perfectly okay.


Next, with your water spray or mug of water, again testing the temperature first, completely soak your shih tzu’s coat through to the skin from the neck backwards and downwards, leaving his face dry for now.

Check the directions for your chosen shampoo to find out if it needs to be diluted before applying. If it does, find a suitable jug or pitcher and dilute as described.

A soapy shih tzu being scrubbed in the bath.
ID: 161134322 edu1971 | Depositphotos

Apply the shampoo to your shih tzu’s coat from the neck backwards and downwards, concentrating on one section at a time. Massage the soap in well with your hands and fingers but avoid making circular motions that may tangle the hair. Make sure you clean inside where his legs meet his body, underneath his paws, around his genitals and his rectum area.

Now you will need your bowl of clean, diluted shampoo and thin face flannel or washcloth. Dip the cloth in the soapy water and wring out the excess drips. Proceed to gently scrub your shih tzu’s face.

Give the corners of the mouth, the ears and eyes special attention. For the eyes, start on the nose side and work your way carefully out, over the eyelid. Always rubbing away from the eyes, try to scrub away any brown tear stains under the eye. If the stains are particularly bad, you made need the help of the soft bristled children’s toothbrush, dipped in the diluted shampoo and, again, scrubbing gently away from the eye.

Shampooing completed, it’s time to rinse it out. Thoroughly flush out the shampoo using your water spray or mug. When rinsing your shih tzu’s head, place your hands over his eyes to prevent soap getting into them.

Make sure all of the soap is flushed out. If you don’t do this, the conditioner will not be effective. You will know when all the soap is out when the water runs from the coat clear of suds.

If during the rinsing session, or at any time, the water in the bottom of the sink or bath becomes too deep, let some out.

Should your shih tzu’s coat have been excessively dirty and matted, you may need to repeat the shampoo and rinse phases one more time.


Having now thoroughly cleaned and rinsed your shih tzu’s coat, it’s time to apply the rinse through conditioner. Again, follow the directions on the label and dilute if required. Apply the conditioner in the same way as the shampoo, working it well into the coat. Leave the conditioner in for as long as stated on the label. If there is no time stated, leave the conditioner in for around five minutes.

Once the conditioner has done its job, rinse it out just as thoroughly as you did the shampoo. If you leave any conditioner in, it will weigh down the coat.

Drying Your Shih Tzu

A shih tzu being towel dried.
ID: 84945756 belchonock | Depositphotos

Pick your shih tzu up with both hands, let some excess water drain off of him over the sink or bath and then place him on your super absorbent, luxury cotton towel. Wrap the ends around him, making sure you cover his head but, of course, not his face.

Be prepared as you take your hands off your shih tzu to grasp the towel. He is most likely to shake off more excess water, giving you a mini shower in the process!

Dry your shih tzu by going over him with the towel using a firm, patting motion. Do not rub, as this will cause his coat to tangle and develop split ends. In fact, if you were to rub excessively it would cause irreparable damage to the coat.

Once you have your shih tzu damp dry you can now spray on your leave-in conditioner should you decide to use one. Again, cover his eyes with your hand to prevent conditioner entering his eyes. Hold the spray 6” (15cm) from his body and spray to just above the roots unless otherwise directed by the manufacturer.

If your shih tzu’s hair is short you can now either let his coat air dry or, if you’re in a hurry, you can blow dry it. If his hair is long, then you will need to use the blow dryer.

Either way, it is now time to brush your shih tzu’s coat as it dries. Use the pin side of the brush, if it has one, brushing from the head to the paws to the tail. Brush in sections using an upward stroking motion from root to tip. It’s easy to concentrate on the body, so make sure you pay attention to the head, ear flaps, legs, paws and tail.

Don’t forget now to remove the cotton wool balls from his ears.

Is That All?

A shih tzu in the sink anticipating a scrub.
ID: 29630652 George Kroll | Dreamstime

Following the above steps will go a long way to keeping your shih tzu’s coat and skin in a tip-top, healthy condition and a healthy shih tzu is a happy shih tzu.

For further shih tzu bathing information, see my post “How Often Should You Bathe A Shih Tzu?”.

I recommend performing one more act of grooming at this time, though. Shih tzu have notoriously sensitive ears that are prone to infection. It would be appropriate to initiate a regular ear cleaning session for your shih tzu after he has been bathed.

I walk through how to clean your shih tzu’s ears in my third and final post in this mini series, “How To Groom A Shih Tzu Dog”. I also walk through how to clean your shih tzu’s teeth without poisoning him and how to clip his nails without hurting him. Plus, if you are interested in finding out more information about home grooming your shih tzu, I show you where to find it.

If you have any thoughts or questions about this post or shih tzu in general, please comment or use our contact us form.

Bye for now.

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