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You probably already know that you should be brushing your dog’s teeth… but how do you accomplish that when she hates letting you do it?

Well, remember when you were a kid and you had yummy strawberry toothpaste that you learned to apply with a toothbrush that sang the Barney theme song?

Do the same for your dog!

Make brushing fun. Make it tasty. Make it a game.

Brushing doesn’t have to be a struggle.

Learn how to care for your dog’s teeth so you can avoid painful infections, expensive surgeries, and extend your dog’s lifespan.

Tools You’ll Need To Brush Your Dog’s Teeth

Before getting your dog, make sure you have everything you need laid out for her. I typically just load up the toothbrush and go to wherever she happens to be lounging.

Toothbrush

For most dogs, a child’s soft bristled toothbrush works perfectly. However, for small, especially toy breeds like the Chihuahua, even a kid’s toothbrush is too big and will not allow you to reach the molars.

Oh, and those finger brushes are too big, too, a lot of the time. And they have awkward rubber nubs that don’t seem like they’ll actually clean teeth. You may as well use a tissue wrapped around your finger.

I currently use this Japanese toothbrush I found on Amazon.

You can also use a q-tip, just dispose after use.

Toothpaste

The only dog toothpaste I recommend at this time is Virbac CET Enzymatic Toothpaste for three reasons:

  • My dogs love the taste (we’ve only tried Poultry, but they also have Beef, Vanilla Mint, and Seafood)
  • It contains enzymes that continue breaking down plaque after brushing
  • It actually seems to work

Break It Down

You know all those fun tricks I write about?

Teaching your dog to paint, roll up into a burrito blanket, and play basketball?

Those fun tricks ONLY work when you break them down into steps.

Brushing your dog’s teeth may not be a fun or impressive feat, but it’s way more important than teaching your dog to play basketball.

So, you really need to set aside the time to break brushing down into easy steps.

  1. Teach your dog to place their chin in your hand
  2. Teach your dog to allow you to lift their lip to access their teeth
  3. Teach your dog to allow you to simply touch their teeth with a fingertip
  4. Brush the canines, brush the incisors, brush the molars!

But What Should I Do While My Dog Is Learning?

It can sometimes teach weeks to teach your dog a skill like allowing you to to brush her teeth.

How do you keep her teeth clean in the meantime?

If she’s not terribly afraid of letting you near her mouth, you can squeeze some toothpaste onto your fingertip and quickly, gently swab her canines. Just getting some enzymatic toothpaste into her mouth will help.

The enzymes help break down plaque even without that scrubbing action, although you will need to eventually add some light scrubbing when your dog is ready.

How To Hold Your Dog For Brushing

Depending on the size of your dog, your relationship to her, and how she feels comfortable being held, you’ll have to find a position that works for the both of you.

For Matilda, it can be hard to see into her tiny mouth, so the position I use most is having her lie on my chest while I’m lying down. I know it sounds a little odd, but it works, and I can peer up into her mouth pretty easily.

You can also have your dog sit or stand on a table, or on the couch while you sit on the floor so she’s above you.

This serves two purposes: it elevates her mouth so you can see better, and you will not have to hover over her.

Most dogs do not like it when you hover over them. It can feel threatening to them.

If you have a helper, you can also just have them hold your dog close to their chest while you brush.

Either you or your helper should gently massage the dog while or between brush strokes.

Rewarding Your Dog For Brushing

Treats and other edible rewards can actually change your dog’s state of mind when it comes to a potentially annoying treatment like having her teeth brushed.

But what can you give your dog as a treat when you’re trying to brush their teeth?

I find that the best thing to use is a spoon with a little bit of coconut oil on it.

Matilda lets me brush a tooth, she gets to lick the spoon. Repeat.

Coconut oil has antibacterial properties which makes it ideal for giving during or after brushing.

A tasty dog toothpaste also works as a reward. You can let your dog lick the brush. There’s no need to load it up with lots of toothpaste.

Don’t Forget To Praise Your Dog

When it comes to brushing, clipping nails, and other precarious tasks, I would often find myself holding my breath, being very quiet, and saying absolutely nothing to my dog.

This created tension that my dogs could certainly sense.

Brushing teeth is not fun or exciting… until you decide that it is.

Always praise your dog as though they’re doing something awesome.

You can even sing a little song. I find that just chatting with my dog, singing, and constantly praising her makes a huge difference in her mood. It seems to keep her mind off having her teeth brushed.

What About That Crazy Flicking Tongue?

If your dog’s toothpaste is yummy, she’s going to flick her tongue out trying to lick it up.

This is inevitable, and there’s really nothing you can do to teach her to control that wild tongue.

Do your best to brush around that tongue.

It’s also fine to take “licky breaks” to allow her to lick the brush for a bit. There is bacteria on your dog’s tongue, too, so licky breaks are important.

Remember, even if you’re not great at brushing your dog’s teeth, simply getting some toothpaste in her mouth is helpful.

Enzymatic toothpaste will help break down bacteria even if it’s not perfectly applied to the teeth.

How To Brush Your Dog's Teeth Even If They Hate Brushing

How Often Should You Brush Your Dog’s Teeth?

I need to preface this with: I don’t brush my dog’s teeth often enough either.

Ideally, we would brush our dog’s teeth every day.

Dogs eat daily, just like us, and food gets stuck to their teeth. Brushing daily breaks down plaque before it hardens and turns into yellow tartar, which then becomes very difficult to remove without a professional dental cleaning.

I try to do it before bedtime, as that’s when Matilda has finished eating. She usually has visible bits of food between her teeth that I must remove.

When I forget, I usually give her a raw meaty bone for breakfast the next morning.

Alternatives To Brushing

Every veterinarian I spoke to about dental health says that there is no alternative to brushing.

Water additives, chews, and dental treats can certainly help, but they will not provide the same abrasive, cleansing power.

Still, something is better than nothing.

Plus, these things can (and should!) be used in conjunction with brushing.

Even when you get good at brushing your dog’s teeth, you may not be able to reach the molars effectively. Chewing helps a lot with that.

My all-time favorite “dental treat” is fresh, crunchy carrots. Use baby carrots to eliminate the need to peel and chop.

Carrots, apples, and celery are all good sources of fiber, and the chewing action massages the gums, helping to remove plaque along the gumline. These foods also stimulate saliva production to help wash away bacteria.

Lindsay Pevny
Lindsay Pevny lives to help pet parents make the very best choices for their pets by providing actionable, science-based training and care tips and insightful pet product reviews.

She also uses her pet copywriting business to make sure the best pet products and services get found online through catchy copy and fun, informative blog posts. She also provides product description writing services for ecommerce companies.

As a dog mom to Matilda and Cow, she spends most of her days taking long walks and practicing new tricks, and most nights trying to make the best of a very modest portion of her bed.

You'll also find her baking bread and making homemade pizza, laughing, painting and shopping.
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