4 Clever Ways To Brush A Dog’s Teeth That Hates Being Brushed

We all know our dog will be healthier if we brush its teeth. Dental disease can cause tooth loss, bone loss, gum erosion— and worst of all, it can cause our dog to be in constant, chronic pain, without us knowing they are suffering. 

A few years ago I wrote an article about how to brush your dog’s teeth naturally, but it didn’t include any information about how to brush a dog’s teeth that hates being brushed.

So today I’m going to focus on that issue, one that many of us experience when we try to brush our dog’s teeth.

how to brush a dog's teeth that hates getting brushed

Why Does My Dog Hate Having Their Teeth Brushed?

If you’re reading this article, it’s most likely because your dog hates having their teeth brushed, and you are at your wit’s end. You know it needs to be done, but nothing is working.

Let’s face it. Most dogs don’t enjoy having their teeth brushed. 

It’s understandable. A human bends over them (having someone bend over them is very stressful and scary to many dogs), grabs their mouth in both hands, forces it open, sticks a foreign object in it, then rubs it against what are most likely pretty sore gums.

Your dog begins to associate tooth brushing with many negative things:

  • Being restrained
  • Having their mouth held open
  • Having something put in their mouth that may seem scary or obtrusive
  • Possible pain if gums are inflamed or if their owner brushes roughly

My dogs fall into this category, and I have decided this is going to be the year I take the time to desensitize them to tooth brushing and make it something they at least tolerate – or — (setting the bar high here) — even enjoy!

When I researched this topic, I was frustrated at how many articles titled “How to brush a dog’s teeth that hates being brushed” were NOT about that. At all.

Once I clicked and read them I realized that they were just a “how to brush your dog’s teeth” article— they didn’t even address the “dog hates having their teeth brushed” part.

Dog Gif GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

So, today’s article is devoted to giving you clever, out-of-the-box tips and tricks for turning dog teeth brushing into an enjoyable experience for you and your dog.

WARNING: Before we start, I want to stress one important safety detail: Do NOT use human toothpaste on your dog. 

Many human toothpastes contain xylitol, a sugar-free sweetener. My dog ate xylitol – just the amount in a small pack of sugar-free gum – and almost died from it. It does not take much xylitol to be fatal.

In addition, many human toothpastes contain fluoride, which is also poisonous to dogs – so don’t use them!

I found a great dog toothpaste made from natural ingredients that I will link to later in the article.

Dog Dental Disease (Periodontal Disease)

picture of dental disease in dogs showing why you need to learn how to brush a dog's teeth that hates being brushed

Periodontal disease is the condition in which the tissues surrounding the tooth (the periodontium) become infected and inflamed.

It begins with redness and swelling along your dog’s gum line where the gum contacts the tooth – this is called gingivitis. Many times this gingivitis will cause bad breath.

When left untreated, the infection spreads deeper into the tooth socket, ultimately destroying the bone.

Each stage of this process causes pain in your dog’s mouth.

And the sad part is, you won’t know your dog is hurting until the pain is so severe that your dog shows outward signs such as refusing to eat or carry/chew toys in its mouth.

How To Brush A Dog’s Teeth That Hates Being Brushed

So let’s get down to business and talk about how to brush a dog’s teeth that hates having them brushed.

Go Slow And Adjust Your Expectations

Before you try any of the ideas in this article, you need to set realistic expectations for how fast this will happen.

Clue: it’s not going to be fast. 

Gradual and slow is the name of the game for getting your dog to like teeth brushing.

Take a moment and reframe the process for yourself:

  • You want to be successful, right?
  • And you want your dog to enjoy it enough that they will be willing to do it for life, right?
  • So every teeny tiny step will be worth it!

Instead of focusing on frustration, your goal will be to find the most minute step that your dog will SUCCEED at doing.

And then each day, celebrate that step.

Choose An Approach You Think Your Dog Will Respond To

Remember: each dog is different.

There is no one right way to brush your dog’s teeth— ignore any article that tells you otherwise. You need to trust your dog, and listen to your dog.

Some dogs will prefer a toothbrush because they don’t like your fingers in their mouth.

Other dogs will be terrified of a toothbrush but like licking food off your fingers – so they may respond better to a finger toothbrush.

Some dogs may adjust to each step in a matter of days, while others may need weeks.

And that’s OK.

Before You Start: Tips To Help Your Dog Stay Relaxed and Happy While Getting Their Teeth Brushed

No matter which of the methods below you try, these tips will help your dog and prevent you from unknowingly doing something that makes toothbrushing painful or scary for your dog.

  • Don’t stand above your dog or bend over them – that feels threatening to dogs. Instead, sit next to or behind your dog or kneel down in front of them – this will help them feel relaxed.
  • Take a long walk before doing your teeth brushing training – a dog that is tired and happy is in a good mental state.
  • Use a toothbrush that doesn’t hurt!!
    I can’t emphasize this enough; many toothbrushes have stiff and sharp-ish ends that hurt your dog’s gums— if you’ve ever had that happen with a new toothbrush from your dentist then you know exactly what I’m talking about — scratched up gums hurt.
    I recommend this soft-bristle toothbrush:
best dog toothbrush

It gets 5-star reviews from all who use it and over and over again the reviews say how gentle it is on your gums. If you get whatever dog toothbrush is at the store you have no idea how stiff it is and if it will cause pain for your dog, especially if they have a red gum line (gingivitis).

  • If you’re not sure which method your dog will be most amenable to, do a little trial and error and watch your dog to see which method they seem most comfortable with.
  • As I said above, go slow. Brush for just a second or two at a time for many sessions and then work up to longer sessions over time.

4 Clever Methods To Brush A Dog’s Teeth That Hates Having Them Brushed

Let’s move on to 4 clever methods I found to use on a dog that hates having its teeth brushed.

Method 1: Break your dog’s teeth brushing into teeny tiny steps

The first thing I would try is breaking your dog’s teeth brushing process into steps that are so small that your dog has a good chance of succeeding and becoming used to each step.

For example, let’s say you are going to try and use a toothbrush to brush your dog’s teeth. Here are small steps and a timeline you could follow:

Week 1:

  • Get a toothbrush with extra soft bristles, especially if your dog has red gumlines indicating their gums are sore.
  • Smear a little peanut butter, liver sausage, or another yummy and sticky treat on the toothbrush and let your dog lick the treat off.
  • Do this 2 or 3 times a day for 1 week.

Week 2:

  • Do the same thing you did in week 1, but this time try gently touching/lifting their lip as they lick the peanut butter – in stages:
    • On the first day, simply touch their lip each time.
    • On the second day, touch their lip and keep your finger there a bit longer.
    • On the third day, lift their lip slightly.
    • On the fourth day, lift their lip and hold it with 2 fingers.
    • Continue this, lifting a bit higher and holding a bit longer each consecutive day.
  • If you find your dog is nervous at any one stage, go back a stage and stay at that stage until they are comfortable, then try to very gradually work up to the next level.
  • If you need to spend more than a week on this stage that’s fine, the goal is to have your dog be totally comfortable and not move too fast for them.

Week 3: 

  • Lift your dog’s lip and touch your dog’s teeth with the toothbrush.
  • Once your dog is comfortable with that, gently move the toothbrush a little. Start with just a slight brushing movement, and increase the time a little each day.

Week 4:

  • Each day, slightly increase the area of teeth that you are brushing.
  • Remember to end each session before the dog is uncomfortable – you want to create good associations by not having the session be too long.

It’s important to brush very lightly at first. Unless your dog is a puppy, it most likely has some gingivitis along the gum line and this part of the gums will easily bleed and get sore. 

Over time, the gums will become healthier and tougher.

Method 2: Use Clicker Training For Dog Tooth Brushing

If you have used clicker training to teach your dog tricks or commands – or if you’ve always wanted to try clicker training – you can use a clicker to teach your dog to open its mouth and accept/enjoy teeth brushing.

If you’re not familiar with clicker training, you will want to first learn all about clicker training your dog.

Once you are familiar with how clicker training works, you are ready to get started.

How To Get Your Dog Used To a Toothbrush With Clicker Training

I found a fabulous Youtube video online that shows how to clicker train your dog to get used to a toothbrush.

The video is by Jay Andors, author of the book Grooming Without Stress.

Jay has the GENIUS idea of turning your dog’s toothbrush into a “click-stick” by taping your clicker onto the toothbrush handle

He stresses the importance of using high value treats – your goal is that the mere sight of the toothbrush will predict that something your dog LOVES is about to happen.

Take a look:

Used with permission of Jay Andors of Perfect Behavior Dog Training

How To Get Your Dog To Open Its Mouth For Teeth Brushing Using Clicker Training

If your dog is especially resistant to having it’s mouth opened and held open, you can use the clicker training progression below to desensitize your dog to having its mouth touched and handled during teeth brushing.

If you haven’t clicker trained with your dog for a while, begin by clicking and treating for a few sessions to remind the dog that each time you click it means they will get a yummy treat.

Next, work your way slowly through the following steps. Each time you touch, lift, or open your dog’s mouth, click and treat. Be sure not to click right next to your dog’s ear – their hearing is very sensitive.

If you don’t have a clicker, use a marker word like “yes!”

Keep each session under 1 or 2 minutes long so your dog doesn’t get nervous or tense.

If your dog resists a particular step, go back 3 or 4 steps for several training sessions, then try again.

Here is the progression you will work through:

  1. Touch the side of your dog’s muzzle with your pointy finger
  2. Lift the corner of your dog’s lip
  3. Lift the corner of the opposite lip
  4. Put your pointy finger in your dog’s mouth (start with just a little, then a little more, etc.)
  5. Gently lift your dog’s lip for a moment
  6. Gently lift your dog’s lip and hold it up for increasing time
  7. Gently put your hand on the top of your dog’s muzzle. At first just barely touch, then increase to forming your hand around the muzzle lightly.
  8. Gently put your hand under your dog’s muzzle. At first just barely touch, then increase to slightly forming your hand so the muzzle rests in your hand
  9. Gently put both hands on your dog’s muzzle then click
    TIP: place the clicker on the ground and click with your foot so you can time the click to coincide with both hands touching the dog’s muzzle
  10. Place your hands on your dog’s muzzle and gently open the front of your dog’s mouth. Click (or say “yes!”) as you’re opening their mouth, then release and treat
  11. Repeat #10 and keep the dog’s mouth open for a moment before releasing and treating (still click as you open the mouth)
  12. Extend the time you hold the dog’s mouth open very gradually until your dog is comfortable for 2-3 seconds.
  13. Add a verbal cue: Before you begin to move your hands towards the dog’s mouth, say “mouth” or “open” (choose whatever word you prefer) then place your hands on your dog’s muzzle and open it.

Clicker Training Supplies and Treats

Here is a clicker similar to the one Jay uses plus some natural treat ideas for clicker training:

Another way to fight dental disease in dogs is to use training treats with healthy ingredients. Here are some articles with healthy dog treat ideas:

Natural ingredient dog treats

single ingredient dog treats

Natural & Healthy Dog Treats For Training Your Dog: Includes high-value single ingredient dog treats, homemade dog treats, and prepackaged dog treat options.

Soft pumpkin dog treats recipe

handful of easy homemade pumpkin dog treats

This soft pumpkin dog treats recipe is an easy way to make a high value treat with natural ingredients that your dog will LOVE!

Salmon skin dog treat recipe

picture of salmon skin dog treats for article that tells how to cook salmon skin for dogs

This homemade salmon skin dog treats recipe tells you how to cook salmon skin for dogs – a great high value training treat, plus it doesn’t cost you a thing to make it!

Method 3: Using a Bully Stick

When I researched this article, I found a genius idea on Youtube. The gist of it was, if you have a dog that loves bully sticks, get the dog chewing on a bully stick (wait until it starts to soften so they’re really into it), then brush their teeth as the dog continues to chew/bite the bully stick.

Check it out on this video, I can’t wait to try this with my dogs:

Used with permission of https://djangobrand.com/

Method 4: Use a Lickimat Splash For Dog Tooth Brushing

This is similar to the bully stick method. Put some peanut butter or other yummy treat on a Lickimat Splash and stick it to your frig. While your dog is licking off the peanut butter, gently brush their teeth.

I would work your way up slowly. The first time they lick the Lickimat, gently touch their lips. Over the following Lickimat sessions, work your way up to gently lifting their lips, gently touching their teeth, and gently brushing their teeth.

What Dog Toothbrush and Toothpaste Should I Use?

There is no one “right” dog toothbrush or toothpaste to use when brushing your dog’s teeth. 

I do think it’s important, however, to make sure your dog toothbrush has soft bristles.

Dog gums are no different than human gums. Think of your own brushing habits: if you brush your teeth with a stiff toothbrush, over time your gums get sore and brushing your teeth hurts like heck. 

You can also cause receding gum line damage by brushing too hard with a stiff brush.

So I recommend one of these two toothbrushes. The first one has review after review commenting on the soft bristles, and the second has rubber nubbies. I would try each, your dog might resist less with one or another.

Natural Dog Toothpaste

For toothpaste, the main advice I have is to read the ingredients. If you can’t pronounce an ingredient, or don’t know what it is, it may not be the healthiest thing to give your dog.

Pawtitas is the only dog toothpaste I found that did not contain glycerin. I did not find any testing data from this brand, but its ingredients have been studied for their efficacy in preventing dental disease. It does contain Stevia, which according to everything I could find online is safe for dogs (and apparently has antibacterial properties that reduce bacteria in the mouth).

Dog Tooth Brushing Alternatives: How To Clean Dog Teeth Without Brushing

If your dog resists a toothbrush, you can try dog dental wipes or gauze instead. They won’t do as well as a toothbrush but are a good way to get your dog used to having something rubbed against its teeth. Once your dog accepts you wiping their teeth, then you can work your way up to one of the toothbrushes.

Dog Dental Wipes

Many of the dental wipes I found were full of synthetic ingredients. These TrueBlue wipes use baking soda and organic peppermint to fight plaque and bacteria to promote a healthy mouth, as well as organic parsley to freshen your dog’s breath.

You can also use gauze, it just won’t have the beneficial anti-plaque anti-bacteria ingredients of the TrueBlue Dental Wipes:

Are Dental Chews (Greenies) Safe For Dogs?

A lot of dog owners whose dog hates teeth brushing get tempted to use dental chews for their dogs. It’s tempting— soooooo much easier and less hassle.

But, you need to be aware of some safety concerns that I read about while researching this article.

This CNN article told story after story about dogs dying of intestinal obstruction after eating Greenies or other dental chews. In the article, Dr. Brendan McKiernan, a veterinarian at Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital, said “I would never give a dog a Greenie.” He said he has seen many dogs made sick after eating Greenies because some dogs just can’t digest them.

Dr McKiernan explained what the danger is from. If you take a dog biscuit and put it in warm water to soak, it turns to mush, similar to what will happen in your dog’s stomach. But when he soaked a Greenie for the same amount of time, he said it did not dissolve.

This example illustrates why intestinal obstruction is a risk.

I personally don’t give my dog dental chews anymore, if they gulp it down for whatever reason, the risk is too great.

You CAN Brush A Dog’s Teeth That Hates Being Brushed!

I know brushing your dog’s teeth can seem like A LOT. But, as someone who received a quote from my vet of $1300 for a dog dental last year, you could save a TON of money by brushing your dog’s teeth.

And more importantly, it will save your dog a lot of discomfort and pain that you won’t realize they are experiencing until it’s so severe they stop eating or chewing.

If you have a dog that hates having their teeth brushed, share what worked for you so others can try it on their dogs!

Until next time-


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Karen Pedersen Written by:

Karen is an independent copywriter who loves dogs and everything about them. She is married to Scott, has 4 kids, and likes to take a natural and holistic approach to living and pet ownership.

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