United Kingdom

We test the barking mad: Designer shampoo for dogs!

Delectable notes of Italian lemon and Turkish rose waft under my nose as I inspect the designer shampoo bottle in my hand.

With minimalist packaging and a hefty £20 price tag, it is a creation of the luxury French beauty brand Ouai and I’m looking forward to pampering myself. Then I feel a familiar lick on my leg and remember it’s not my hair that stands to benefit, but that of the furry friend by my side.

Since we acquired our labrador, Herbie, last March, I have become accustomed to sharing our sofa and sausages; and I accept that he’ll steal my shoes. One aspect of my life I did consider sacred, however, was my bathroom cabinet.

But an array of upmarket beauty brands have branched out to produce dog versions of their ranges that are swanky enough to make even the best-groomed owner green with envy.

Antonia Hoyle and her labrador, Herbie, (pictured) test a selection of the best upmarket shampoos for dogs

Ouai, co-founded by hairstylist Jen Atkin, who has tended to the tresses of stars including supermodel Gigi Hadid and pop star Gwen Stefani, brought out its dog shampoo, Fur Bébé, as a limited-edition product in 2018. It proved so popular, it has been put permanently on sale.

Eco brand Green People launched two dog shampoos this year, and beauty favourite Kiehl’s even has a hair conditioner for dogs.

In a post-pandemic world in which 33 per cent of UK households own a dog and sales of pet grooming products rose by 11.3 per cent in the past year, it was perhaps only a matter of time before beauty houses cashed in.

But can spending over £20 on a bottle of dog shampoo be justified? Yes, you need a product intended for pets — human skin is more acidic than a dog’s, so our shampoos can leave their skin dry and irritated — but the £4 version from our local supermarket that we lather on Herbie every couple of months seems to do the trick. Or are we missing one?

Vet Liz Shepherd, of mobile practice The Visit Vet, says most dogs ‘self-clean’ and rarely need a shampoo at all unless they get ‘physically filthy’ — and that ‘the sensitivity of the owner’s nose may be the tipping-point in terms of when they are washed’.

I expect her to scoff at the costly shampoos — but while she concedes there is ‘a degree of marketing’ involved, she says you may well see a difference in your dog’s hair if you splash out, thanks to superior fragrancing and moisturising agents.

‘The chances are it will feel really nice afterwards, just as your hair always feels better after it has been washed in a salon rather than cleaned with a cheap shampoo. So yes, it probably does make a difference.’

To find out how much, Herbie and I test some of the best. So as not to dry out his coat with repeat washes, I divide his body into six sections on which to trial each shampoo — his right and left shoulders, right and left back, head and legs — and start lathering.

FANCY FLORALS

OUAI Fur Bebe Pet Shampoo, (£20 for 474ml, cultbeauty.co.uk)

Antonia said OUAI Fur Bebe Pet Shampoo (pictured) left Herbie's coat feeling softer than ever and has a lovely fragrance that lingers 

As well as lemon and rose, the scent of Ouai’s dog shampoo — the same as the brand’s signature Mercer Street fragrance — contains jasmine, white musk, iris and lily, evoking (distant) memories of holidays abroad. After its 2018 limited release, the shampoo was brought back by popular demand this spring. ‘We have all bonded over the past year with our furry family and all pets deserve the best,’ explained founder Jen Atkin, ‘so we just had to make the product permanent.’

Containing rambutan seed extract to protect fur from pollution and vegetable protein for strength, the shampoo produces a moderate lather. A day later, Herbie’s coat is softer than ever, and the lovely fragrance lingers. 5/5

ULTI-MUTT TREAT

Aesop Animal, (£27 for 500ml, aesop.com)

Antonia said Aesop Animal (pictured) has a rich lather that left Herbie's fur superbly soft

Founded by Australian hairdresser Dennis Paphitis, beauty brand Aesop’s dog wash, Animal, is designed to be used by dogs once a week for ‘optimum care’. It can also be used as a handwash for humans.

The transparent mahogany bottle with ivory label is a sleek design and the pump dispenser means I can get to the shampoo with one hand while holding Herbie with the other.

Containing lemon rind, tea tree leaf and spearmint leaf to ‘leave animal smelling less animal’, the scent is scrumptious.

For me, anyway. Although a dog’s sense of smell is far keener than ours and studies have shown that fragrances including vanilla and coconut can reduce canine stress, Herbie seems more interested in chasing a fly than enjoying the aroma. The rich lather leaves his fur superbly soft — but he may have to fight me for it.5/5

VANITY FUR

Burt’s Bees for Dogs Natural Itch Soothing Shampoo, (£22.06 for 473ml, amazon.co.uk)

Antonia said Burt’s Bees for Dogs Natural Itch Soothing Shampoo (pictured) left his coat glossier

The brainchild of American beauty company Burt’s Bees, this ‘itch-soothing’ shampoo contains honeysuckle to ease irritation, plus avocado and grape seed oil. Fragrance-free, the clear liquid lathers easily and feels easier to rinse off with our garden hose than other brands — all of which makes for a happier Herbie, who has shaken himself dry and fallen asleep before I’ve even put the bottle away.

With identikit packaging to Burt’s Bees human products, it wouldn’t look out of place in my bathroom cabinet — and although Herbie doesn’t have itchy skin, which can be caused by dryness or allergies, his coat seems glossier afterwards.

For his needs, this is perfect, although at this price I’d like some sort of added extra — a pledge that it will prevent him rolling in smelly fox poo, perhaps.3/5

TOP PEDIGREE

John Paul Pet Oatmeal Shampoo, (£13 for 473ml, amazon.co.uk)

Antonia said John Paul Pet Oatmeal Shampoo (pictured) has a strong smell of almonds, but left Herbie squeaky clean 

John Paul DeJoria, co-founder of John Paul Mitchell Systems hair care, founded ‘luxury grooming and care system for pets’ John Paul Pet to offer ‘the same high-quality ingredients’ to dogs as to their owners. The animal range contains extracts of spearmint and lavender, while the oatmeal shampoo that I choose for its moisturising properties also contains aloe vera and sweet almond oil.

Famously ‘tested on humans first’, all products have the right pH balance for mutts — a dog’s skin is more alkaline, with a pH of around 7.5, while a human’s pH is about 5.5.

The shampoo has a strong and not entirely pleasant smell of almonds. However, Herbie is not bothered, and the clear liquid certainly leaves him squeaky clean.3/5

PAWSH PAMPERING

Green People allPaws Sensitive Dog Shampoo Scent Free, (£14 for 200ml, greenpeople.co.uk)

Antonia said Green People allPaws Sensitive Dog Shampoo Scent Free (pictured) left Herbie clean and content 

Eco-friendly beauty company Green People launched its range of pet grooming products in January.

‘We’re a nation of animal-lovers but there’s no doubt that the past year has underlined the importance of the role our furry friends play in our lives,’ says founder Charlotte Vohtz.

The allPaws sensitive shampoo that Herbie and I try contains ‘dog-friendly plant actives’ chamomile, marshmallow and pineapple. Scent-free and made out of sugar cane packaging, it lathers up easily and leaves Herbie clean and content — admittedly in part because included in the price is a packet of chicken, duck and sweet potato dog food, which he wolfs down.4/5

CALMER CANINE

Bondi Wash Dog Wash, 500ml, (£24, alittlefind.com)

Herbie said Bondi Wash Dog Wash (pictured) made Herbie smell divine and left his back squeaky clean 

Containing paperbark oil to remove germs, repel insects and apparently calm a dog down, as well as lemongrass essential oil, Vitamin E and aloe vera, the honey-coloured Bondi Wash Dog Wash smells like something I’d find in a spa.

All Bondi Wash’s dog products — evolved from the Australian company’s natural fragrance and beauty lines — are at least 99 per cent plant-based and are tested on people with sensitive skin before being tested on animals.

I’m excited to try this on Herbie but he has grown weary of our washing project and dashes off to chew a flowerpot, casting doubt on the calming properties of the paperbark. When I regain his attention, however, I realise it’s worth the wait — he smells divine, and the part of his back I tested it on is squeaky clean. 5/5

NOW CONDITION!

Kiehls Cuddly-Coat Grooming Rinse, (£20, libertylondon.com)

Herbie said Kiehls Cuddly-Coat Grooming Rinse (pictured) left Herbie's fur soft 

Shampoo alone not indulgent enough? Cuddly-Coat Grooming Rinse, by cult favourite American brand Kiehl’s, is one of an increasing array of dog conditioners to add some extra gloss.

This is a light cream that contains chamomile to soothe and plant-derived glycerin to soften, along with a scent reminiscent of men’s aftershave. I apply it to Herbie after shampooing and leave it on for three minutes, as suggested, for ‘a little extra conditioning’, wondering if this is the height of luxury or the depths of madness.

I have to rinse his coat twice afterwards, but his fur is so soft I can’t stop stroking him. 4/5

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