Saturday, May 30, 2009

Dog-Friendly Toothbrushing Techniques

Just like with us humans, doggy dental work can be shockingly expensive, which is all the more reason to make sure your pup gets used to getting her teeth brushed while she's still youngish. The trick to making this a calm, fun, and well-received ritual really all lies in the introduction.

Unfortunately, many well-intentioned pet parents approach toothbrushing in a way that's actually quite terrifying for the dog. It goes something along the lines of this: 1) Chase dog, 2)Grab dog, 3)Hold dog down, 4)Shove toothbrush in dog's face, 5)Force dog's mouth open, 6)Struggle while dog flinches and squirms. This is not fun (not fun for the human, and not fun for the dog, either!) Can you imagine if you were chased, grabbed, held down, approached with some freaky object, and had your mouth pried open? That's some scary stuff!

Happily, toothbrushing doesn't have to be a struggle. I like to introduce toothbrushing in baby-steps. In the beginning, it's as simple as putting a blob of dog toothpaste on your fingertip and letting your puppy lick it off while you praise. Find a toothpaste your dog thinks is yummy (they come in lots of flavors like beef, chicken, peanut butter, etc.) Stick with the simple licking once a day for a few days, or even weeks, depending on your dog's temperament. Once your dog is comfy with the routine, start to gently touch the teeth and gums a little. Remember, there should be absolutely no forcing, holding down, and whatnot. Keep things really casual and easy breezy. Work your way up to gentle circular massage movements for a minute or two. This daily practice on it's own will be a great help in preventative care, but if you want to, you can gradually work your way up to using a small washcloth or a little dog finger brush (you can buy them at pet supply shops, and they look like nubby, rubber finger puppets.) Lastly (if you want to), you can baby-step your way into using an actual dog toothbrush (also available at pet supply shops.)

Daily (or even just weekly) at-home toothbrushing can help cut back the amount of times your dog will need to get professional vet cleanings, and it can help you avoid more costly surgical dental work, too. My very favorite perk is actually behavioral: if your dog is used to being touched kindly in the mouth every day, it helps to build a bond of trust between you and your pet. A dog who is familiar with having her mouth touched also finds vet and groomer visits much less stressful. Such dogs are less likely to snap at curious, face-poking kidlets, too. It's a win-win-win-win situation!

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