So lately, I’ve been working on a new goal: to brush my dog’s teeth daily. I’ve been doing pretty good at it, too; it’s hard to create new habits (for both us and our companions!), but I’m working on it!
As it happens, my dogs are really good about having their teeth brushed, but if your dogs aren’t, there are some things you should know (including how to make it happen).
First, dental cleanings are supposed to happen every two years, unless you brush your dog’s teeth. That’s several hundred dollars saved every couple of years — I like that!
Second, chewing rope toys (or toys with thread) brings a very slight chance that the threads will wrap around the base of your dog’s tooth and kill the tooth within six months. It’s a very slight chance — let me repeat, VERY SLIGHT — but since my dog, Lily, chews cloth and rope like it’s going out of style, it’s a chance I don’t want to take!
Now, teeth brushing for a dog is much simpler than for a person. You stroke each tooth 3-4 times with downward strokes; no scrubbing needed. (Though… I still scrub. If my dogs will tolerate it, and they do, I figure I might as well! I scrub the insides of their teeth, too, though I’ve never heard anyone saying that’s nesecary.)
If your dog is like most dogs and doesn’t want to tolerate teeth brushing, training them otherwise is simple, though it takes a few months and some patience. Each step should be completed at the dog’s speed: when your dog will tolerate step one, move on to step two, and so on. Let it take as long as it needs; in some cases, this could take weeks.
Step 1. Touching your dog’s muzzle.
If your dog really won’t tolerate this, start at the top of their skull and stroke downward, then give them a treat as you reach their muzzle or right after you’ve petted. When they’ll allow that, try rubbing the sides, and treat. When they’ll tolerate that, you can segue into the next step by rubbing their lips hard enough to lift slightly. Don’t expect this to work overnight; more like a week!
Step 2. Showing teeth.
You need to see your dog’s teeth before you can brush them. Once you can rub their muzzle, start lifting their lips to spot the teeth. Again, lift and treat. When they’ll let you lift, then work on lifting for longer. If your dog isn’t nippy, you can always try to hold their head somewhat still, but do so in a happy, laughing, having-fun kind of way. If they’re really determined to fight you, you’re pushing too hard and need to back off. Creating a real fight will only make the whole thing something your dog wants to avoid! You can also start putting toothpaste on the tips of their teeth; dog toothpaste tastes good, and it’s an instant treat and incentive to let you touch their teeth.
Once you can lift your dog’s lips enough to see canine teeth, you can start brushing! Use a dog toothbrush, your finger, or a little finger-cover. Stroke down over one tooth, praise and treat! Don’t worry about getting the gumline or anything like that; that can come later. By this time, you can start using toothpaste, and that’ll help in both cleaning and treating.
As your dog gets better about letting you stroke, stop treating for every stroke and start using the toothpaste as a treat. Lots of praise and love, and bit by bit work up toward the gumline and start including the back teeth.
Some things to remember: don’t start a fight. If your dog is truly uninterested, slow down to an earlier step or take a break. You can use some slight restraint, but as soon as your dog starts to really pull back, stop. Restraint makes a dog much more likely to fight! Use dog toothpaste; human toothpaste is bad for dogs. Dog toothpaste tastes like chicken or peanut butter, and it’s an automatic treat!
All that said… off I go to brush my dog’s teeth. Good luck!