6 easy steps to make toothbrushing fun

By the time they are three years old, 80 percent of dogs show signs of gum disease, caused by a build up of plaque and tartar on the teeth. Regularly brushing your dog’s teeth is a great way to prevent this problem and help his teeth and gums stay healthy and it can be an enjoyable reward for your dog.

Small breeds in particular are more susceptible to gum disease as they live longer so there is more time for disease to take hold and they have the same number of teeth crowded into a smaller jaw. You need to introduce your dog to toothbrushing very gradually, ensuring that he learns to really enjoy the experience. It is essential to remember to praise and reward your dog for any positive responses. Choose a suitable time and place to carry out this training, for example, when you and your dog have returned from a walk or playing and he has had the chance to release some energy. A quite area that is free from distractions is best.
The necessities

  • Dog toothpaste (never use human toothpaste as this can upset your dog’s stomach).
  • Clean hands and short nails (this is essential for the safety of your dog).
  • A ‘finger’ toothbrush.
  • A pet toothbrush (soft bristles, do not use firm bristles as this can cause damage to the gum tissue).
  • Water.
  • A quiet area, with little or no distractions.
  • Patience!

Steps to introduce toothbrushing
Each of the following stages should last for no longer than five minutes and should be repeated on five separate days before moving on to the next stage. If your dog appears unhappy with any stage then return to the previous stage until he is ok.
Stage 1
The first stage is to introduce your dog to the taste of the toothpaste so that he starts to look forward to his toothbrushing sessions. Wash your hands and smear a small amount of toothpaste on to your index finger. Allow the dog to lick the toothpaste from your finger. Repeat this process for a few minutes rewarding your dog for licking the toothpaste.
Stage 2
The next stage is to get your dog used to having has mouth handled and the feel of something in his mouth. Smear your index finger with toothpaste and then gently slide it into your dog’s mouth letting it glide over the surface of the teeth and gums. Only go as far into the mouth as your dog is comfortable. Re-apply toothpaste to your finger and repeat this process for approx 6- 8 times. Remember to praise and reward your dog for any positive responses. With your other hand start to gently touch your dog’s muzzle and nose, bridging the nose with your hand ensuring your fingers and hand do not interfere with your dog’s eyes. Gently lift your dog’s lips whilst your finger is in the dog’s mouth. Repeat this for the remainder of the session.
Stage 3
Place the finger brush on to your index finger, wet it with water and smear some toothpaste onto the bristles. Let your dog lick the toothpaste from the bristles. This will feel different to him so repeat this a few times allowing him to get used to the feeling. When he is happy to do this, re-apply toothpaste to the bristles and gently slide your finger into your dog’s mouth and allow it to glide over the teeth and gums. With your other hand, bridge your dog’s nose and lift the lips as you slide the finger brush over the teeth and gums. Only go as far as your dog is comfortable and happy and remember to praise all positive responses. Remember to always end the session on a good note.
Stage 4
Wet your dog’s toothbrush with water and smear the bristles with toothpaste and then allow your dog to lick the toothpaste from the bristles to let them get the feel of the bristles. Put some more toothpaste on the brush, bridge your dog’s nose and, lifting the lips, start to gently brush his canines, using an up and downward motion; start with the toothbrush angled towards the gum line and move the brush away from the gum to the tip of the tooth. Finish the session with the finger brush and toothpaste exploring all areas of the teeth and gums.
Stage 5
Your dog should now be happy with having his canines brushed with the toothbrush. You can now move on to cleaning his other teeth. Prepare his toothbrush and paste and start by brushing his canines, as before, using an up and down motion. Slowly move along to the teeth behind the canines using a circular motion, (remember to slightly angle the bristles towards the gum line), and slowly proceed to the back of the mouth. Only go as far as your dog is comfortable and happy with – remember this should be an enjoyable activity for your dog. Concentrate on the top teeth at first and work along both sides of the mouth in turn. When your dog is happy with his top teeth being brushed, start to brush along the bottom row behind the canines, moving towards the back of the mouth (take your time as it is usually more difficult to brush the lower teeth – this is the part of the jaw that moves!).
Stage 6
Providing your dog is happy with having the rest of his teeth brushed you can start to brush his front teeth. Prepare his toothbrush and paste and start by brushing the canines and then move along the teeth behind on both sides of the mouth in turn, brushing top and bottom teeth. Now for the front teeth – with your other hand, carefully bridge your dog’s nose placing your middle finger across the top of the nose. Place your index finger under his nose, ensuring you do not block his nostrils. Place your thumb on the top of your dog’s bottom lip and gently part the lips with your index finger and thumb. This should reveal the front teeth. Gently brush the front teeth using an up and down motion (as for the canines). This may feel quite strange to your dog so you may need to repeat parting the lips a few times before using the toothbrush. Gradually build up the amount of time spent brushing.
When you have repeated Stage 6 several times you should be able to confidently brush your dog’s teeth every day. Remember this should always be an enjoyable experience for your dog.