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Many things can contribute to a dog’s fear of having his teeth brushed, starting with the plastic thing you’re trying to stick in his mouth, the weird-smelling paste you put on the plastic thing, and the way you’re trying to force his mouth open to get the plastic thing with the weird-smelling paste in! This problem can be solved by using a desensitization program and lots of patience. Here’s how:

Tips On Brushing Your Dog's Teeth

Select a Location

Pick a tooth-brushing place (like the bathroom) and start by making that room a place where fun things happen. As many times a day as you can, take your dog into the bathroom, armed with his favorite toys and treats. If he’s particularly food-driven, you can even start feeding him meals in the bathroom. By doing this for 10–15 minutes multiple times a day, you should see him relaxing and even enjoying his ti me in the bathroom with you.

Get Him Used to the Brush

The next step, done the same day but in a different session, is to desensitize your dog to the toothbrush with the toothpaste on it. Instead of keeping it in a cabinet, start moving it around the house. You can put it on the kitchen counter, on the floor next to his toys, even near his food bowl (with supervision). Eventually the smell and sight of the toothbrush and paste will become commonplace to him, alleviating his stress.

Touching the Teeth

Next, let’s work on your dog being OK with having his mouth handled. Note: If your dog has shown aggression when you’ve tried to handle his mouth, or is extremely fearful, seek the advice of a vet or behaviorist.

For this, sit on the floor with your dog on a leash. Make sure he’s hungry, and have a stash of his favorite treats. Start by petting him and slowly migrate the petting to under his chin. Feed him the treat, and repeat two or three more times. If your dog is relaxed and still interested, repeat, but after you’ve petted him under his chin run your hand up and over the top of his muzzle and feed. Repeat two or three times and end the session. Once your dog is calm and happy with you opening his mouth, the final step is pairing the toothbrush and the handling. Go slowly; don’t be afraid to go back a step if your dog looks concerned or frightened.

There’s so much more to the process than “open mouth, brush teeth.” With patience and great treats, you’ll eventually have your dog happily open wide—the saying ahhh part may take a little more time.
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This article was originally published in AKC Family Dog magazine. Subscribe today ($12.95 for 6 issues, including digital edition) to get expert tips on training, behavior, health, nutrition, and grooming, and read incredible stories of dogs and their people.
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