How to Clean a Dog’s Teeth

Dental health is important, and can significantly enhance a dog’s quality of life. There are several ways to ensure that our dogs have clean teeth –

  • Regular teeth brushing at home.
  • Safe dental chews.
  • Yearly professional teeth cleaning by a vet.

The amount of tartar buildup on a dog’s teeth, can vary significantly from dog to dog. For example, I provide exactly the same home dental care to all of my dogs, but Shiba Inu Sephy is the only one who has significant tartar buildup. All my dogs go for yearly vet check-ups, but Sephy is the only one that has to get his teeth professionally cleaned every year.

February is Pet Dental Health month, therefore, it is a great time for our vet visit. My vet gives a $20 discount on teeth cleanings during this month.

I brush my dog’s teeth 3 times a week. Do not try brushing a dog’s teeth if he has a bite history, or has other behavioral issues that make him likely to bite on people. In those cases, it is best to address the bite issues first, preferably with the help of a professional trainer.

How to Brush a Dog’s Teeth

This is the process I use to brush my dog’s teeth

  • I get my dog to lie down on his side before brushing his teeth. He fidgets less when he is lying on his side.
  • I put some dog toothpaste on my finger and let my dog smell it, and lick it. Repeat this for several sessions, until our dog is comfortable with the above routine. I try to find a toothpaste flavor that my dog likes. Currently, I am using the Petrodex Poultry Toothpaste.
    Note – DO NOT use human toothpaste on dogs. Human toothpaste contain chemicals that are unsafe and inappropriate for them.
  • After my dog gets accustomed to the taste and smell of the toothpaste, I try putting my finger in his mouth, and lightly touch his teeth. I treat and praise him, for letting me do this. Repeat over several sessions, until our dog is comfortable with the exercise.
  • Once my dog is comfortable with the finger touch, I put some toothpaste on a very small toothbrush, and lightly touch the brush to his teeth. I treat and praise him for staying calm. Go slowly and keep sessions short, positive, and rewarding. I start by touching just one tooth, and then work my way up from there.
  • I always start with a small toothbrush. Later on, when our dog is comfortable with the teeth brushing routine, we may try different brush sizes to see which one is most effective and appropriate. Most dogs will prefer a smaller toothbrush, because it is less intrusive. However, a small brush will require more time and effort, to get rid of all the stains.
  • If our dog clamps down and refuses to open his mouth, it may be difficult to properly brush his back teeth. To get my dog to open his mouth, I get my brush ready, feed him some food, and then brush while he is chewing on the food.

An alternative to using a regular stick toothbrush is to use a finger toothbrush.

A finger toothbrush can give us better control, however, it keeps falling off my finger during brushing.

A glove toothbrush (e.g. Petrodex Finger Toothbrush Gloves) is a better alternative. However, the bristles of both the finger and glove toothbrushes are not very deep, so the regular stick toothbrush still does the most effective job of cleaning my dog’s teeth.

In addition to regular teeth brushing, I also give my dog a Greenie every night, before he goes to bed. Make sure to get the right Greenie size for our dog, based on his weight.

When I first introduce Greenies to my dog, I supervise closely, make sure that he chews properly, and does not try to swallow any big pieces.

There are also additives, such as Plagueoff that can be added to our dog’s food to help fight bad breath, tartar, and promote dental health. In addition, there are a variety of dental gels and mouth sprays. According to a dental specialist that I visited, however, brushing our dog’s teeth is the best way to keep them clean.

Brushing, together with yearly professional cleanings, seem to do a good job for my dogs. As a result, I have not tried any of these additives, sprays, or gels. Before adding anything to our dog’s food or spraying his mouth, make sure to check the ingredient list carefully. It also does not hurt to discuss the various options with our vet.

Dental care is crucial if we want our dog to enjoy a long and happy life.

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  1. Kelsey Stout says

    Hi! First of all, I love your website. I am picking up my 9 week old puppy next week and am preparing. When did you first start brushing your dogs’ teeth? I want to start early so that she will be used to it, but not so early that it scares her or if it’s unnecessary with puppy teeth. Any tips??

    She is a 9 week old german short haired pointer named Almondine (but I’ll call her Ollie most of the time. Almondine when she does something wrong maybe).

    Thanks, I look forward to your advice!

    • shibashake says

      Congratulations on your soon to be new family member!

      In terms of teeth cleaning, I don’t remember exactly when I started. I think I waited a while until Lara mostly finished with her teething phase. Her gums were more sensitive during this phase, so I did not want her to have a negative experience with brushing. It also gave me some time to bond with her first and gain a little bit of her trust.

      In the beginning I focused mostly on simple obedience exercises (Sit, Look, and later Down), potty training, and bite inhibition training. Keeping a young puppy positively engaged with structured games and such was also very time consuming. šŸ˜€

      My first 10 days with puppy Lara.
      Some things that I did to train puppy Lara.
      What I did for bite inhibition training.

      Puppy socialization classes were also very useful for my dogs. I specifically picked classes that focused on structured play and teaching good social interaction. I also make sure that they check for vaccination records so that there are no sick puppies.

      Have fun and take lots of pictures! Give puppy a big hug from me when you get her. šŸ˜€

  2. Jackie Wright says

    Our Shiba-Pekoe-will be 13 years old. She is a super, wonderful dog! The only issue we have is she does not care to travel-this started 2 years ago-before that-she was comfy traveling for hours. We do put her in her kennel & stop several times to walk her -but she shakes continuously-even talking to her-petting does not work-but when we get to our destination she is fine. Last year-we left the top of the kennel off so we could access her easier when she was shaking and that
    did not make a difference. Any ideas for us?

  3. Hannah says

    Great advice on this post and the whole site!

    Me and my partner are looking to have a Shiba pup by next year, once we’ve got a good 6ft fence up! I’ve been quite worried recently as my sister’s boxers had a bad experience when coming a across two Shibas, but your site has cleared all my worries.

    We both work full time, but my partner will be returning home at lunch everyday to checwe’ll him/her and we’ll also take 2 weeks off work and help the pup learn to go mess outside or on the pads in the enclosure whilst we’re not home. Another post which was extremely useful.

    Do you find there is a lot of difference between the temperament of male and female Shibas? Of course they all have their own personality. Ut I have read that females can be a bit more reserved. Although I’m sure it can vary with the pup’s own developed temperament.

    It will be a while before we get our pup yet and it will be a lot of work and patience, but I have no doubt that it will all be worth it! If you have any other general advice for first time Shiba owners I’d love to hear it. My previous dog was a very calm and loving greyhound/saluki and i’m sure a Shiba is going to be a lot different!

    A big thanks to you for your site and all the helpful posts, I’m so glad I found you!

    Hannah x

    • shibashake says

      Thank you Hannah. Congratulations on your soon to be new family addition!

      Do you find there is a lot of difference between the temperament of male and female Shibas?

      When I got Shiba Sephy, his breeder told us that females are generally more adventurous and more likely to escape. Here is an article on whether males or females are more alpha. šŸ˜€

      In my experience, getting a more submissive puppy makes things a lot easier. I specifically picked more submissive puppies for my 2nd and 3rd dogs (Sibes), because Shiba Sephy has a more dominant personality. In my experience, more submissive dogs are easier to train and more affectionate. They also get along with more dogs.

      Just more submissive though, not fearful or nervous. For example Husky puppy Lara was happy to come and meet us, and she wasn’t afraid of new people. However, she didn’t try to launch herself at the enclosure fence, and was a bit less hyper. She is a bit scared of new things and loud noises, so we were careful to properly build her confidence and slowly socialize her, so that does not become nervous and fearful.

      The breeder can usually tell which of her puppies are more submissive and which are more bold.

      If you have any other general advice for first time Shiba owners Iā€™d love to hear it.

      With Sephy, two things were really important – being patient and being calm. If I got angry or frustrated, Sephy’s behavior became worse. Things got a lot better once I was able to always stay calm and find humor in his Shiba hijinks. šŸ˜€

      Forceful techniques also did not work well with Sephy because he would just fight back. Instead, I would just ignore him or take away one of his treasured privileges, e.g. his freedom. Sephy really calmed down a lot after I stopped using forceful methods.

      Here is my early Sephy story. We had a very difficult start, but things are a lot better now. He is not perfect, but he is quite well behaved, fun, and occasionally, even comes over to ask for affection! šŸ˜€

  4. Carlton Northern says

    Great post!

    I’ve tried giving my Shiba Inu Greenies and Dentastix but he can’t seem to figure out how to eat them. It’s the same thing with Pizza Crust. Basically, he will sit there with it in his mouth whine very loudly but not chew on it. I suspect he doesnt know how to chew on them? He has done this since he was a puppy. He chews on other hard things like toys but for some reason doesnt chew on food. He will chew his kibble when he eats, but I suspect he does that because it is bite size.

    Any ideas?

    • shibashake says

      I am not sure if this is the same thing, but Shiba Sephy also did not eat his Greenie when I first gave it to him. He would whine, get stressed, and run around the house trying to hide it. The only time he eats his Greenie is inside his crate. I give it to him at night, and I close and lock his crate door. Then he feels safe enough to eat it.

      He acts the same way with bully sticks, and other high priority food items that he can’t finish quickly. My guess is that he is afraid he might lose it, so he wants to find a really good hiding spot for it. Meanwhile, he is too stressed to eat, because he is not sure what to do with his ‘gold’.

      When his crate is locked, he feels safe that nobody else can get at his Greenie, so I guess that is the only time he feels relaxed enough to eat it. šŸ˜€

      Shiba Sephy is definitely more on the high strung side of things.

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