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How to keep your dogs teeth in top condition

08/02/2022 - Handling and Veterinary Care

How to give your dog the perfect smile?

Just like us, our dogs’ adult teeth have to last them a lifetime. This means it’s important that we take care of our pets’ dental health – the same way we take care of our own. Just like us humans, a lack of dental hygiene can lead to our dogs developing a build up of plaque, bad breath, tooth decay and gum disease. It is also not uncommon for dogs to develop painful infections which can even spread to cause potentially life-threatening illnesses. Tooth decay and subsequent loss of teeth can quickly affect our dogs’ quality of life, when they begin to struggle eating. Vets may also need to anaesthetise dogs to try to improve dental health, which are risky and costly procedures that can be avoided with proactive dental care.

So, how can training help ensure our dogs’ pearly whites stay white and pearly?
A vital part of canine dental care is brushing our dogs’ teeth! This is not an easy job for many dog owners, but a little training can go a long way in improving things. Training our dogs, rather than simply “winging it,” can help to:
  • Make brushing our dogs’ teeth easier, so we can do a better job of it.
  • Reduce stress for our dogs. Teeth brushing should be done regularly, so the last thing anyone wants is for it to be stressful – for dog or human!
  • Makes teeth brushing safer. A calm dog is less likely to become snappy and bite, and we are less likely to cause them harm by awkwardly trying to get a toothbrush into their mouth while they are wiggling around!
  • Makes it simple and easy to check how our dogs’ teeth are looking, so we can learn what is “normal” for our dogs – this makes it much easier to notice any abnormalities early.
  • Makes it easier to notice any signs of pain – if our dogs are usually happy and willing to have their teeth brushed, reluctance is an early sign of problems. If brushing their teeth is usually a fight, we can’t know if pain is the cause.
So, what are some simple things we can work on to make brushing our pups’ teeth a breeze?
  • Handling exercises: Teaching our dogs to be happy and comfortable with us simply handling them – touching their face, lifting a lip, and having a look at their teeth – is the perfect place to start. Handling is necessary both to check their teeth and to brush them, so this is integral.
  • Desensitising them to the toothbrush: Rather than just trying to fully brush a dog’s teeth the first time they see a toothbrush, we would do well to take the time to get them used to this new object. We can use doggy toothpaste as well as other tasty treats like peanut butter to begin getting them used to us waving this bristly brush in their face!
  • How to open their mouth: Teaching a dog to open their mouth on cue is a game changer when it comes to teeth brushing and dental checks! Instead of needing to wrestle with our dogs and try to get a look before they shut their mouth, we can keep everyone calm and comfortable by teaching them to open wide on cue. This is not only useful for us at home, but for our vets who may need to get a good look if there are any suspected issues.
  • How to say “I’m ready!”: We can use simple behaviours such as sitting on a mat or resting their head on a stool as a predictable “start button” to having their teeth brushed. This offers our dogs some predictability and a sense of control – if we only brush their teeth while they are sat on their mat, they know when the process will begin and they are able to say “yes I’m ready” or “no, I’m not too sure.” This is not only an amazing gift to give our dogs, but effectively installs a really early warning system that something might be wrong. Dogs are very good at hiding their pain, but they are likely to become more reluctant to hit that “start button” if they’re experiencing some discomfort.
Training isn’t just about what we can get our dogs to do for us. It can have a big impact on our dogs’ overall welfare and quality of life – these few simple exercises will make life much easier and less stressful for dog and human, as well as making it a much quicker job and allowing us to spot problems early; preventing pain, suffering, tooth loss and risky procedures involving anaesthetic. We cover handling exercises like this in our puppy and dog training classes which can be booked here

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