The Science of Washing Dogs

Believe it or not, there is a science behind the art of dog grooming.  I wanted to share a couple of articles that really help explain what our role is as professionals who care for the canine skin and coat. A couple of my favorite professional groomers are Michelle Knowles (who I had the pleasure to work with and learn from personally), and Christina Pawlosky. I wanted to share some of the information they’ve already published, but it is such good information that it’s worth sharing.

This quote is from an article in the Grooming Business Magazine titled, The Science of Skin by Christina Pawlosky:

“When groomers are bathing, they must consider the fact that the skin is the largest organ on the dog’s body. They must also remind themselves that they are the caretakers of this organ. Groomers have contact with the skin of a pet more than even a veterinarian does, in most cases.

Being the keeper of a dog’s skin is an important job. The skin is the front line of the dog’s defense system, and often, it displays the first indicator when something is not functioning well internally. When the skin does not look normal, groomers need to share what they see with the owner and recommend a veterinarian visit for a proper diagnosis. However, on the flip side, they need to understand how the skin works so that they are not adding or causing issues for the pet…

Remember, any stimulus can speed up the cellular response and glandular production, whether chemical or mechanical. So, be gentle.”

The other article I wanted to share was written by my personal mentor and published in the Groomer to Groomer Magazine titled, Treating Skin Infections by Michelle Knowles:

“In order to understand how we can better help the pet with compromised skin, we must first understand how that skin functions in the first place. Once we understand how healthy skin functions, then we can modify our products and techniques in order to balance damaged skin.

All pets can be divided into three groups: short, medium, and long coat. These groups are categorized by genetics and not how long the hair is trimmed at the time. Short coats need more oil, medium coats need more minerals, and long coats need more collagen. All three types need all of those things—just in different proportions. Good skin care really is the key to a healthy coat, as hair is simply an extension of the skin…

I went to the dermatology classes at the North American Veterinary Conference a couple of years ago, and the title of the class was “New Techniques in Treating Dermatological Disorders.” The new technique was the fact that we should not be using dish liquid on our pets to degrease them. This year at the same conference, there was much talk about “Leaky Barrier Syndrome.” This syndrome simply refers to dry skin and that we should always use conditioners after bathing pets, even when treating damaged skin. Little by little, veterinarians are realizing the value of our knowledge as groomers and are proving it with “new” research every day.”

Just in case you missed it, I wanted to repeat something she said that I think is very important for dog owners to know. “The new technique was the fact that we should not be using dish liquid on our pets to degrease them.” I used to tell people that it was ok to use Dawn dish detergent as a degreaser because they are used to wash the ducks in oil spills. This could not be further from the truth. I asked Pam Lauritzen, founder of the International Society of Canine Cosmetologists (ISCC,, whether it was ok for us to use Dawn. Her answer was that those ducks in the commercials are in a life or death situation and they need to get the dirty oil off of them immediately. Once the ducks are cleaned and they are no longer in danger of dying, they can treat the skin for the damages caused by the oil and the Dawn. Dogs coming in for a bath and a haircut are not in a life or death situation, and we should not be using Dawn because it is too harsh on the dog’s skin. The pH is not right for the dog, and pH is everything.

I asked Michelle Knowles, CMG and Certified Skin Aesthetician, whether or not it was ok for us to use Dawn on dogs as a degreaser to hear her thoughts. She told me that using Dawn is very harmful to the dog’s skin, and because it is so drying it is imperative that we follow up the rinse with a good conditioner. We should also add oils to replace what was stripped out by the Dawn. She said that they should be adding conditioner and nourishing oils like Argan Oil, Advocado or Emu Oil back into the skin and coat after they wash them in Dawn. There is a much more detailed, science-based explanation of what happens inside the pores and what we can do to help in her training module. If you are interested in becoming certified as a skin care specialist, or just want to learn more, follow this link:

Washing a dog is so much more than just throwing them in a tub and lathering them up with soap. The dog’s skin is a living system, and we should be aware of what is happening at a cellular level before we start interfering. It is our responsibility to gather the right information and apply it in order to help our pets enjoy the best quality of life we can possibly give them. Love is action. When we groom our dogs, we are engaging in an action of love – we become Love in Action. Without us Love would have no other way of expressing itself in a way that provides our dogs with comfort and health. With our hands we create comfort and happiness. We are dog groomers. We truly are artists!

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