I'm a big dog guy. I like them large, or, at least, that’s what I’ve ended up with by default. And with a house full of eight big, mud-wrestling dogs, I long ago succumbed to a life in which I’m followed by a cloud of swirling debris, reminiscent of Pigpen in the old Peanuts cartoons. Small dogs, I imagine, can be easily rinsed off along with the evening’s dishes. But truly dog-sized dogs — labradors, velvety pit bulls, rottweilers, shepherds, and all their mixes — can be a challenge to keep clean. My first dog, Brando, was a fully grown dog at the shelter who continued to grow to three times his shelter size. When he neared a hundred pounds, I started dropping him off at groomers, telling them, "Be sure to clean under his mud flaps." "His what???" they asked. I meant the webbed area where his thigh met his torso.
While the image of children washing a dog in an old tub on the porch makes a great ad for iced tea, it isn’t a very accurate portrait of how dogs actually get clean. Here are the real options: tossing your dog into the tub (and throwing your back out in the process before having to clean the tub, too); hosing your dog down in the yard (and inadvertently creating a mud pit for him to roll in); loading your dirty dog into your car to drive to the groomer or a self-service dog wash, followed by loading your damp dog back into the car to return home (and, yes, having to clean up your car after all that).
Inevitably, the BarkBath ads crept into my social media feed and captured my curiosity.
The brilliant thing about Bissell’s BarkBath Dual Use, a caddy-sized wet-vac that gently cleans and rinses your dog without making another, greater mess, is that it bypasses all of those options to give you everything you need to clean up after your beloved pet (no matter its size), without any of the hassle.
Was I skeptical? Always. Do I have dogs so dirty that I’ve given up on keeping them tidy? Yes, I do. (Disclaimer: I do wipe them down occasionally.) Inevitably, the BarkBath ads crept into my social media feed and captured my curiosity. BarkBath looks like a small carpet or upholstery cleaner, with a small tank for clean, warm water and another to collect the dirty water. There’s a long vacuum hose that alternates between applying the special no-rinse shampoo and sucking the dirty backwash into the tank. This, I decided, was either the best or worst thing ever invented.
Essentially, the BarkBath is an upholstery cleaner, but with permission for use on the "upholstery" that covers your favorite dogs. The latest model acknowledges this with its "dual use" upgrade, which includes an upholstery and carpet-cleaning attachment that adds a sturdy scrub brush to the application tool and carpet shampoo in addition to the dog shampoo, for you to use on your carpet, not your dogs. I tried this non-dog function first after a storm decided to come through my bedroom ceiling and spoil my bed. (So disgusting!) The BarkBath did a great job of sucking up the dirt and plaster dust that had settled into the mattress. It was also a great way to get comfortable with the machine before convincing my dogs to submit to it.
The system itself is surprisingly lightweight, with a sturdy handle that makes it easy to carry from room to room, even with the water tank already filled (it has a capacity of 68 ounces, enough to clean an 80-pound dog; obviously, this device also helps to conserve water!). It comes with a special mat to place between the base of the device and the floor to help muffle the motor noise for your dogs, and an eight-foot hose so you can put the machine in one room and bring the hose and application to another room, which is particularly useful if your dog has a fear of vacuums. The shampoo is loaded into a flask installed next to the water tank, and the tank itself has a setting for applying the shampoo and another for applying a clean water rinse. As you pull the applicator across the surface of your dog, it sprays on and then sucks up the excess a few inches later. After applying the shampoo and water combo, you can rinse and suck up the dirty water, and repeat if necessary.
Rooney was clearly skeptical, but reluctantly willing to participate.Rooney was my first victim: He’s a yellow brindle pit bull who never hesitates to get messy. He digs holes, chases neighborhood cats (and occasionally gets cornered by them), tries to squeeze through and under fences. He’s my Dennis the Menace. He will also let me do almost anything to him. He was clearly skeptical, but reluctantly willing to participate. His patience began to wear thin midway through as I continued "vacuuming" him, and I worried that we might end up with a dog who was only half-clean, like Solomon Grundy on Sesame Street. It must be a strange sensation for a dog: just a few inches getting wet at once, then vacuumed up. Rooney seemed to be expecting something more to happen. But we got through. Rooney was still damp enough to warrant a final buffing with a bath towel, but overall, the process of getting him clean was easy and mess-free.
For another test, I selected his partner in crime, Tonga, who is delightful but a bit of a maniac who never stands still. This was a challenge for both of us. In another bathing situation, she would get a spray down, a quick shampoo, and a rinse. With the BarkBath, she needed to do the impossible: stay still enough for the applicator to make direct contact with her. But we did it! I followed the well-worn method of acclimating a dog to a novel object or noise: dispensing treats while the device hummed nearby, then rewarding her with small treats to maintain her focus. Because the cleaning nozzle can be operated with one hand, that leaves one hand free to distract or restrain, so even if you are the only one in the house, it's still possible to get the job done.
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At $199.99, the BarkBath may not be in every dog owner's budget, but when you consider the cost of grooming, which can run you $50, $75, even $100 a session depending on where you live, or renting a slot at a dog bath station, which is often anywhere from $12 to $20, it more than pays for itself pretty quickly, and it has the added bonus of helping you clean other parts of your household. My next goal: figure out how to clean the dogs and the couch simultaneously!