How do you brush a dog’s teeth that hates being brushed?

Many dog owners struggle with brushing their dog’s teeth, especially if the dog hates having its teeth brushed. Proper dental care is extremely important for a dog’s health and wellbeing. Poor dental hygiene can lead to periodontal disease, tooth loss, and even heart, liver and kidney problems. However, brushing the teeth of a dog that hates being brushed can be challenging. This article will provide tips and tricks for making tooth brushing easier and more pleasant for dogs that hate having their teeth brushed.

Why is brushing a dog’s teeth so important?

Brushing helps remove plaque and tartar that accumulate on a dog’s teeth. Tartar buildup leads to gum inflammation and periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is the most common dental condition in dogs, affecting over 80% of dogs by age 3. Periodontal disease is painful, causes tooth loss and can spread harmful bacteria through the bloodstream to vital organs like the heart, liver and kidneys.

By brushing your dog’s teeth daily, you can help prevent periodontal disease and keep your dog healthy. The American Veterinary Dental College recommends daily tooth brushing as the most effective way to maintain good oral health in dogs. Proper dental care can extend your dog’s lifespan by avoiding disease. So while your dog may hate having its teeth brushed, it is vitally important for its health and well-being.

Getting your dog comfortable with tooth brushing

The key to making tooth brushing tolerable for your dog is taking things very slow and making it a positive experience. Here are some tips for getting your dog used to having its teeth brushed:

Start with your finger

Begin by rubbing your finger along your dog’s gums and teeth. Use a soft, massaging motion so they become accustomed to having something touch their teeth and gums. Reward and praise them for tolerating this step.

Introduce a toothbrush

Next, trade your finger for a soft-bristled toothbrush designed for dogs. Let your dog lick and chew on the toothbrush to get used to it in their mouth. Reward them during this introduction phase.

Apply dog toothpaste

Apply a dog-safe toothpaste to the toothbrush and allow your dog to taste it. Dog toothpastes come in yummy meat and poultry flavors. Give your dog positive reinforcement for licking the toothpaste.

Brush just the outsides

Once your dog tolerates you rubbing its teeth with your finger and seems comfortable with the toothbrush and toothpaste, try lightly brushing just the outside surfaces of its teeth. Go slowly and gently. Reward your dog for cooperating.

Gradually increase brushing time

Over multiple sessions, gradually increase the amount of time you brush and how many teeth you brush. Work the toothpaste around all surfaces of the teeth. Eventually aim to brush for 2-3 minutes twice a day.

Make it a pleasant experience

Throughout training, give your dog lots of praise, petting and treats for tolerating brushing. This will help make it a positive experience rather than something to dread. Be patient and go at your dog’s pace. Daily brushing may take weeks or months of training before your dog accepts it willingly.

Tips for easing your dog’s anxiety about brushing

Here are some extra tips for making tooth brushing more comfortable if your dog is anxious or fearful about having its teeth brushed:

Use calming signals

Use calming signals like slow blinks, yawns and Turning your head to help reassure your dog and reduce anxiety during brushing. These signals communicate to your dog that there is no threat.

Try a calming pheromone

Diffusing a calming dog pheromone like Adaptil in the room can help take the edge off. Pheromones reduce stress responses.

Ask for assistance

If your dog is very resistant, ask someone to gently hold and reassure your dog as you brush. This may help your dog stay calm and tolerate the process.

Brush in a soothing location

Brush your dog’s teeth in a comfortable, familiar location where they feel at ease, not an anxiety provoking area. Their crate or a rug they like can help reduce stress.

Use lots of treats

Giving high value treats like small pieces of cheese will help reinforce that brushing is a positive experience. Treat frequently during the process.

Keep sessions very short

At first, brush for just 30 seconds or a minute to avoid overwhelming your dog. As your dog relaxes into brushing, gradually increase session length over many days or weeks.

Brush after exercise

Your dog may tolerate brushing best when they are tired out after exercise. The increased endorphins and oxytocin can reduce stress.

Try massage first

Massaging your dog’s gums, lips and cheeks before brushing can help them relax and prepare for having something in their mouth.

Choosing the right brushing tools

Having the right toothbrush and toothpaste for your dog can make brushing more pleasant and efficient. Here are some guidelines on choosing products:


  • Small brush head to fit dog’s mouth
  • Super soft bristles
  • Double headed brush to clean both sides at once
  • Long angled handle to reach back teeth
  • Finger brush style for very small dogs


  • Poultry, meat or fish flavor
  • Enzymes to break down plaque
  • Does NOT contain fluoride
  • Brushless gels work well for dogs who dislike foaming

Finding products your dog likes can make brushing more tolerable. It may take some trial and error. Introduce any new products gradually.

What if my dog won’t let me brush certain areas?

Some dogs are fine with brushing the front teeth but won’t tolerate the sides or back. Here are some options if your dog refuses to allow brushing of certain teeth:

Use dental wipes

Wipes allow you to quickly clean teeth without needing to insert a brush into your dog’s mouth. Wipes formulated for oral care can disrupt plaque and reduce bacteria when rubbed on the teeth and gums.

Try an antiseptic rinse

An oral rinse can reach areas a toothbrush can’t. Rinses often contain chlorhexidine to reduce bacteria. Place a small amount in your hand for your dog to lap up.

Use a finger brush or gauze

Purchase small finger toothbrushes or wrap gauze around your finger. Then use your finger to gently brush problem areas.

Let your veterinarian scale the teeth

If certain teeth become badly coated in tartar, your vet can scale and polish the teeth to thoroughly clean above and below the gumline.

Focus on gently brushing the areas your dog does allow access to. Any brushing is beneficial. Introducing alternative cleaning methods can help reduce plaque on hard-to-reach teeth.

Are there any alternatives to brushing my dog’s teeth?

If your dog truly will not tolerate brushing, there are a few alternative options to help maintain dental health. However, veterinary dentists agree that daily brushing is most effective.

Dental diets

There are specialized diets made to reduce plaque and tartar. The kibble texture scours the teeth. Ingredients like polyphosphates bind to plaque. These diets can reduce buildup by up to 50%.

Dental chews

Chews made with anti-plaque ingredients can scrub teeth and freshen breath as your dog nibbles them. They should not replace brushing but can provide some dental benefits.

Water additives

Additives containing anti-microbial ingredients can be added to your dog’s water to kill bacteria in the mouth when they drink. Rinsing with chlorhexidine oral rinses works through a similar mechanism.

Dental toys

Some toys are designed with grooves and indentations so chewing scrubs plaque from teeth. Make sure to select sturdy toys made specifically for dental use.

Annual cleanings

If brushing is impossible, having your vet professionally clean your dog’s teeth at least once a year will help prevent periodontal disease. Cleanings are done under anesthesia.

However, at home brushing provides the most complete care for reducing plaque bacteria and tartar buildup. Work slowly and patiently with negative reactions to make tooth brushing more acceptable to your dog.

How can I tell if there is a dental health problem?

Monitor your dog’s oral health between vet visits to spot any concerning signs. Contact your vet if you notice:

  • Bad breath
  • Red, inflamed or bleeding gums
  • Broken or loose teeth
  • Pus around teeth
  • Yellow-brown crust on teeth
  • Loose or detached teeth
  • Cysts or swelling under the eyes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Drooling or dropping food
  • Reluctance to chew hard treats or toys

Your vet can perform a thorough oral exam, dental x-rays and teeth cleaning if disease is suspected. Don’t delay seeing your vet if your dog has dental issues. Tooth and gum infections are extremely painful and can spread bacteria to other body systems.

How can I make tooth brushing easier on myself?

Here are some tips to make the process smoother:

  • Use toothpaste in a pump dispenser so it’s easily accessible.
  • Purchase multiple soft brushes so you always have a clean one ready.
  • Set up your supplies ready to go ahead of time.
  • Place non-slip mats down so your dog stays in position.
  • Aim to brush after walks rather than before meals.
  • Brush while giving your dog a chew stick for distraction.
  • Play calming music during brushing sessions.
  • Brush your own teeth at the same time.
  • Train your dog using positive reinforcement methods.

Brushing is quick and easy if you prepare everything you need in advance. With time and patience, regular brushing will become habit for both you and your dog.


While some dogs dislike having their teeth brushed, oral hygiene is too important to neglect. Periodontal disease and tooth loss is painful and avoidable with proper home care. Be extremely patient introducing brushing to a resistant dog. With creativity, positive reinforcement and the right tools you can make the process more pleasant for dogs that hate their teeth brushed. Partner with your veterinarian to ensure your dog’s teeth and gums stay healthy for life. Consistent, gentle brushing will benefit you and your dog enormously.

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