How to Make Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth A Habit

Cleaning our dog’s teeth. We all know it’s important. But for some of us, it’s something that seems hard to do regularly.

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to do a better job of taking care of Baxter’s teeth. Now, it’s time for me to report on how I’m doing.

The answer?

Not great.

Argh.

I have brushes and paste and chews and rinses. I have a relatively cooperative dog. I had a few nights in a row where I brushed his teeth right after dinner. But then I stopped.

I’ve decided that what I need is a habit.

I’ve heard it takes something like three weeks to establish a new habit.

I also know that goal setting isn’t enough on its own. I need a plan. So here is my plan to establish our new dental cleaning habit over the next three weeks.

How to make brushing your dog’s teeth a habit

Timing

I liked brushing teeth after dinner. We weren’t pressed for time, Baxter was pretty relaxed, my husband was home so we could tag team if we needed to. But then Baxter started going to bed before we finished eating. He ate his dinner, did a lap around the kitchen to make sure we hadn’t dropped anything and walked down the hall to the bedroom.

Getting him up or getting down on the floor to brush his teeth while he’s laying in bed are not ideal scenarios.

New plan: Brush teeth in the morning.

How to make a habit of brushing your dog's teeth

Equipment

Mr. B has more brushes, flavours of toothpaste, sprays and rinses than I do. The regular toothbrush is easiest to maneuver around his mouth as opposed to the finger brush, and he seems okay with the taste of the dog toothpaste.

However, he has some tartar buildup on his teeth that’s too hard for the brush.

New plan: Add a tartar-softening rinse to his drinking water and find a scraper to try to remove the tartar.

Brushing your dog's teeth

Extra help

The comments on my last post and my own experience with Baxter confirm the biggest help for clean teeth is raw bones. We don’t feed raw (yet), so once a week we try to give Baxter a soup bone to chomp on.

The issues are we’re not consistent with every week, and I prefer he have the bones outside where he can lie down and chew for an hour or more. When he’s inside—like in the winter—he brings the bones to his bed. Yuck.

Baxter chewing on a raw soup bone

New plan: I’m not sure what I’m going to do here. Honestly, I may wait until the weather warms up to officially add bones to our routine. Spring is less than a month away now.

What else should I consider in my tooth cleaning plan?

How do you take care of your dog’s teeth?

Julia Thomson is a regular writer for That Mutt. Visit her blog Home on 129 Acres where she writes about her adventures of country living and DIY renovating.

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22 thoughts on “How to Make Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth A Habit”

  1. My husband failed to take proper care of his dogs teeth. She’s 15 now and in relatively good shape except for her teeth. We are constantly battling tooth infections and have to give her soft food because her teeth are so bad . So when I got my dog I swore I would brush her teeth regularly . I started by just putting the toothpaste on my finger and letting her lick it and then move to rubbing my finger on her teeth and after about four or five days introduce the brush . it helps that she really enjoys the taste of the toothpaste. We brush probably 2 to 3 times a week but I also gave her fairly regularly bully sticks that also help with the teeth cleaning.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      One of our cats had to have some teeth pulled since his poor teeth were so rotten and painful. The vet encourages us to brush our cats’ teeth but of course that’s just a really difficult habit to get into.

    2. Sharon McGuigan-Baki

      I still brush Hannah’s a few times per week even though she is now raw fed. I started when she was a pup so she got used to it

    3. Yes. That is what I do with Smoke. Brush 3-4 times a week then give him bully sticks about 3 inch for a 19 of dog. Two to 3 hours after his meal.

  2. I have 3 big dogs and brush their teeth 3-4 times a week. When they hear me brushing my teeth in the morning, they come in the bathroom (not every dog comes in the bathroom every day), wait patiently until their turn. I have a regular toothbrush and use a small amount of my toothpaste (I know- the vet says I should use dog toothpaste but they don’t like the taste). When it’s their turn, each one sits patiently while I brush their teeth and I sing to them while I’m doing it. It’s a fun together time.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Aww, that’s great you’ve found a way to make it a habit. I’m sure you know, the reason vets don’t recommend human toothpaste for dogs is because it’s not good for them to swallow it (people spit it out) due to ingredients like fluoride. But since it’s such a small amount, probably no big deal and they’re getting the benefit of healthier teeth.

  3. With raw bones, I just have Ace chew his on a towel in the kitchen. Not sure if Baxter would be motivated to stay on a towel or not, but that’s what we do.

  4. I started brushing our 3 terriers’ teeth regularly after getting our 3rd furry guy. I didn’t want them to have to go through a major dental cleaning with anesthesia at the vet’s office. So I began slowly with just introducing toothpaste on my finger, then on a brush so they could lick it off. And then I started moving the brush around in their mouths. 2 out of 3 do super well with this technique, and love it when I come at them with a brush. However, our older terrier doesn’t appreciate the brush in his mouth. Just loves to lick the paste. But we continue anyway. I never miss and do it every night. I also have a bone for each of them in with their own toys. It is a sterilized bone that I got at the pet store. However, they do enjoy chewing on it from time to time. In addition, I take long scraps of fleece from blankets that I make and braid them into a heavy chew toy. They all like them and chew often. Moral of the story for us is start them young and they will always enjoy their “tooth” time.

  5. Emma Lou hates when I brush her teeth.Tried everything,the finger brushes seem to be best for us.It`s only been about 3 months of brushing every day.I hope she will learn to let me brush her teeth with out giving me problem.

  6. Hi, Lindsay! My family never brushed our two previous dogs’ teeth and they had a lot of dental issues. When I adopted my own dog two years ago, I started brushing his teeth daily! He still doesn’t love it but he’s used to it and I feel better seeing his healthy-looking teeth! I’m very interested in the rinses you can put in water bowls, though. I think I’ll try one of those next! Thanks for the great article and advice!

  7. Sandy Weinstein

    i brush the girls teeth everynite, sometimes in the am as well. my dental vet demands that you brush their teeth. my girls have had fillings, gum graphs, root planing, crowns, etc. the dental vet is 180 miles away but he is fantastic. i brush their teeth, and use a small dental brush to get between the teeth, like a pick. i also use gum conditioner.

  8. I’ve had three standard poodles and they all were and now our new puppy is very good while I brush or scrape their teeth. The doggie scraper can get tarter close to the gum. My two 13 year old poodles had beautiful white teeth and had all their teeth when they died. Poodles are used to getting groomed all the time so it’s easier I think with them.

  9. My older Shibas are total angels about tooth brushing. I even use the electric tooth brush on them. They always look a little indignant afterward but the lick and feel their clean teeth and seem to understand I am cleaning their teeth. I take lots of breaks to praise and treat them when they are young and they all seem to accept it as part of weekly maintenance.

  10. The comments are inspiring and I am going to give it another try to establish a teeth brushing routine.
    A question. Do you brush the under side as well as the front side? Probably a silly question but getting the back side of my dog’s teeth when I find it challenging just to get the front side has me wondering how much gets brushed.

  11. I am lucky. I say…brushy brush and Spirit comes running and sits by the sink. I brush his teeth 3-4 times a week. He loves it.

  12. After our Vet told me that Emma Lou would not have much of her teeth left when she get`s older if I do not start brushing her teeth.She was three years old then and now she is four. I have to come clean I have not done a good job. She is still catching the tennis ball( she can catch a ball at 50 yards easy) which is sanding her teeth down and I am not cleaning her teeth often enough. After reading all who have written about this subject. My new year`s resolution is to do my very best to get and keep Emma Lou`s teeth in great condition. I feel really bad.Sorry, Emma Lou. Daddy is going to do a lot better.Thanks for all the great information.

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