Brushing a Reactive Dog’s Teeth

As you know, reactive dogs are afraid of many things. Oreo is afraid of ANYTHING new. I reward her when she explores new things without growling, barking, etc. However, if you put anything new near her face, she’s very likely to back away, run away, or if continuing to put it near her face, snap at you. Why worry about brushing your dog’s teeth? Dog’s teeth need to be brushed just like ours do-they get tartar and have problems. If you’ve ever had to get your dog’s teeth cleaned-it’s also very expensive. Recently the vet mentioned Oreo is getting tartar so I need to brush her teeth. Whether your dog is reactive or not, steps should be taken to familiarize your dog with toothpaste and a toothbrush. (*FYI-don’t use regular toothpaste, there are special dog toothpastes. Don’t use adult toothbrushes either, stick to children and soft bristled.)

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Here are some tips that helped Oreo love toothpaste & her toothbrush:

  • Most important FIND A TOOTHPASTE FLAVOR THEY LOVE!!! I can’t stress this enough-I have tried a few brands/flavors with Oreo and she hates certain ones and tolerates others. However, the CET Poultry flavor-she LOVES! I pull that toothbrush out and her tail wags and she runs towards me-sometimes she is licking it so much it’s hard to get to her teeth to brush!
  • Take baby steps-Don’t thrust the toothbrush at your dog’s face right away.
    • First familiarize your dog with the toothpaste. Put some on your finger and see if your dog likes it. If not, try another toothpaste. If your dog won’t take from your finger or let you near them, don’t worry about brushing their teeth right now-work on building a relationship and working with a professional positive trainer. If your dog won’t let you touch and manipulate their muzzle and mouth-work on that (touch their mouth, lift a lip-click treat! Teach them good things happen when you are touching their face/mouth.)
    • At this step you can either skip to the next step, or if your dog really doesn’t like things near/in their mouth, use your finger or a finger brush (you can find them at pet stores near the toothpaste-they fit over your finger). This will familiarize them with brushing their teeth without sticking a toothbrush in their mouth (it could be scary!)
    • Next you can put the yummy toothpaste on the brush and let your dog lick it. Depending on how scared your dog is you may want to do this a few days so your pup knows the toothbrush brings good things. Some dogs may need more time for this step, while others don’t.
    • Use the brush in your dog’s mouth to brush the outer sides of the teeth-don’t brush hard, be gentle. Do this for weeks. You may want to treat your dog in the beginning to reward them. Don’t keep the brush in their too long-start small at first-a few seconds if that is suitable for your dog. If your dog is happy, continue longer but stop in the beginning to reward them.
    • If your dog isn’t comfortable with you opening their mouth wide, and clamps their mouth shut when brushing their teeth, work for weeks (or days) on opening their mouth (NOT FORCIBLY).  Treat your dog when you put your hand on their snout (not over their nose-behind it). Work your way to opening their mouth gently and treat them each time. When your dog is comfortable this is when you can brush the inside of their teeth (I haven’t worked up to this yet with Oreo-but am working on it now).

It’s really up to you-how to pace introducing the toothbrush and toothpaste & how often you can brush their teeth. It is recommended that this is done daily, but if not a few times a week. Just remember-baby steps-for some people their dogs will love it right away-for others you may work on it for weeks or months-or perhaps never perfect it. However, remember your dog needs their teeth brushed so it’s important to work on this with your dog. Do you brush your dog’s teeth? How often?

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4 thoughts on “Brushing a Reactive Dog’s Teeth

  1. Great post! Cotton was also very reluctant to allow us to brush her teeth or go near her face (to trim the hair blocking her vision) but after many months and conditioning her that what comes after the torture (for her) is treats, she’s getting much better! And yes I agree totally about the good flavoured dog toothpaste! It makes brushing so much easier! They inch closer and closer even though they hate the toothbrushing because they love the toothpaste 🙂

  2. We brush Max daily, alternating between front teeth one day and the back teeth the other. He likes the poultry flavored toothpaste and he is such a sweet tempered little guy that it’s no problem at all.

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