You have probably read dozens of articles telling you the benefit of brushing your dog’s teeth. However, if you have never attempted the feat, you may quickly find yourself wrestling a toothpaste-covered snapping dog while you withdraw a bloody finger. Let’s face it, most of us spend our lives avoiding putting our hand in our dog’s mouth, which means your dog is probably not used to this behavior. Follow the below guidelines to ensure brushing your dog’s teeth is effective and safe, for both human and canine.
Steps to Brushing your Dog’s Teeth
1. Handling. Get your dog used to your fingers in his mouth by doing some simply handling exercises. Start by just putting your hand near his muzzle, without touching, and giving him a treat when he does not move his head away. Progress as your dog is comfortable, until you can lift his lips on either side without movement. You should be able to get to the point here you can move all four lips (top and bottom, both sides) and touch his teeth and gums with no problem.
2 Bite Inhibition. Then, put some Peanut Butter on your finger (I recommend peanut butter because your dog can consume more of it safely for the sake of training than the toothpaste) and allow your dog to lick it off, while you slowly move toward his teeth, holding up his lip. This will help your dog associate a finger in his mouth as something good, but not something to bite. If your dog goes to bite you, go back to step 1 and practice on handing more.
3. Tooth Brush. If you have a little dog and are using a finger brush, you can probably skip this step. However, if you dog is larger and you are using a toothbrush, repeat steps 1-2 with the toothbrush.
4. Brushing. There are several flavors of toothpaste. Chose a few and put some on your finger to test which flavor your dog likes better; the more she enjoys the taste the easier this will be. Then, put the paste on the brush, and carefully start brushing your dog’s teeth at a 45 degree angle and in small circles – optimum for removing tartar and plaque. Do not brush too hard!
5. If your dog is new to this, just do a little bit the first time – don’t worry about doing his whole mouth. Just like everything else you do with your dog, you want it to be a positive experience. So, maybe the first time you just do the front top teeth, and then the next day the top side left, and so on. Once your dog is used it, you can do the whole mouth at one time.
There are lots of products out there. Aside from choosing a natural toothpaste made in the USA, use the one that your dog likes the taste of, as I mentioned above.
I personally use an electric toothbrush because they clean better. It was not hard to get any of my dogs, including my “scaredy cat” used to it, so don’t be daunted by that. Make sure you are using a pet brush though, because they are shaped differently than the human ones.
Another good product to have on hand is a natural mouth wash to combat bad breath. Ark Naturals has one that uses natural enzymes, is made in the USA in a FDA/USDA approved facility and is colorless, odorless, and tasteless.
About the Author
Based in Wilsonville, Ore., animal lover Kristina N. Lotz is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) and works as a full time trainer. She is the founder of, A Fairytail House, a unique all-positive all-sport dog training facility that helps rescue dogs in her area and provides free seminars and training classes for the community. In her spare time, she trains and competes in herding, agility, obedience, rally, and conformation with her Shetland Sheepdogs. She smartly married a Veterinary Technician, who helps keep the fur kids happy and healthy, and provides a quick resource for articles.
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