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How To Train Your Dog To Clean His Teeth

Updated on April 1, 2014

How do you teach a dog to brush his own teeth?

Dogs are born with a natural instinct to chew on things. Chewing is a natural way to keep their teeth clean and their gums healthy.

Dog owners often discourage chewing behavior when their puppy chews on things they shouldn’t.

When you catch your dog chewing on something they shouldn’t chew on, say, “No,” in a firm voice and replace the object with a toy they are allowed to chew on. When they start to chew on the appropriate toy praise them and let them know that is good behavior.

Make sure they have several toys to chew on in a variety of materials. Puppies need softer rubber toys, ropes and fabric toys to chew on. Their teeth are smaller and they can't get their mouths around large chew toys.

As they grow and get older they will need tougher chew toys that can’t be eaten.

Make sure to always give them something they are allowed to chew on and when they start to chew praise them and let them know that chewing is okay it’s just the object they had before that is bad.

Bad Chewing Habits

Some dog owners make the mistake of giving their dog an old shoe or other discarded item to chew on. Your dog can’t tell the difference between a good shoe you are still wearing and an old one. They smell the same to him.

Never allow shoes, an old football or tennis ball become a chew toy or they will go for your good ones thinking they also belong to them.

Throw away worn out toys

Fabric toys or ropes eventually start to come apart and your dog will bite off pieces and eat them. This isn’t good for your dog. They can choke on loose pieces and some can become stuck in their esophagus or colon. When you notice they are starting to fall apart take the toy away. This is usually best done when they aren’t watching because they get attached to their things and don’t want to part with them even when they are disintegrating. Try to distract them with another toy, maybe a new version of the same one if you can find it. Then when they aren’t looking throw the old one away.

Even tough rubber toys eventually start to deteriorate and pieces will come off. You don’t want your dog to eat these so try to keep an eye on their toys so you can replace and discard them when worn out.

How to get a dog to chew on toys

If you get a dog when he is young it is easier but an older dog can usually be encouraged to chew on toys. Play with them with the toy for a few minutes and before they get too tired let them have it. They will usually chew on it for a little while. When you see him chewing praise him and say something like, “Good chew” or whatever you decide just be sure to be consistent. Using the same words all the time helps him understand what you are saying. Dogs learn words but using too many can confuse him so be consistent in your vocabulary.

Dog breeds that chew

Some breeds tend to be more into chewing than others but they all have that instinct. I had a Boston terrier that lived to be 14 ½ years old. He kept all of his teeth until the end and they were very clean. The veterinarian always thought I brushed his teeth but I never did. I told my vet my dog loved toys and enjoyed chewing so he kept his own teeth clean.

Safe Toys

I buy toys from a reputable shop like PetSmart or Petco. I've read there have been toys from China that had lead in the paint. As long as you purchase toys from a good company like Kong or others you recognize you should be fine.

Most of our goods are made in China so just because it's made in that country doesn't mean it's bad. It's the company that sets the standards so keep with good names and you should be fine.

Putting Food or Treats in Dog Toys

Be careful when you do this. It's a good way to encourage chewing but if your dog can't get to the food and it stays in there for days it can go bad and make your dog sick. Some dogs have a harder time getting to the treat and can become frustrated.

Personally, I don't do this but if you decide to buy those toys or try hiding treats watch for spoiled food or a frustrated dog. If he becomes too discouraged he won't want to play with that toy at all no matter how much you paid for it.

Cheap Toys

Your dog won't know the difference between an expensive toy from PetSmart or a cheap piece of rope you bought at the hardware store and tied knots in.

There are even instructions online for homemade toys you can make from recycled items around the house.

Chew Ropes

I buy polyester rope by the foot at Lowe's or Home Depot and keep the extra on a hook out in the garage. I cut off about six feet and tie knots in it. Then I take a candle lighter, a cigarette lighter, a gas burner will also work, and light the ends to melt them together. Don't burn it too long, just enough to seal the ends. This will keep it from fraying too soon and lengthen the life of your dog's chew rope. Relight the ends if you notice they start to fray.

Children's Toys

When your puppy is young you can buy used toys at a second hand store for your puppy to chew on. Most are safe since they are made for children and your puppy won't care if it is used.

Baby chew toys, rubber toys, balls and even small stuffed toys make good choices for your puppy. Just watch for signs of wear and when they start to come apart toss them out.

Some dogs aren't as hard on toys so even when they get older this may still be a good option for inexpensive toys.

Bones from the Butcher

Never give your dog poultry bones because they splinter and get caught in our dog's esophagus as well as intestines causing internal bleeding.

Bones that are good for your dog are beef and buffalo bones. There are others but these two I know are safe and my dogs have all enjoyed them over the years.

Make sure they are size appropriate. A smaller bone will be best for a little dog. When they are small they can make a bone last a long time but when they grow up they can eat bones much faster.

Bones give them calcium as well as help clean their teeth.

You can sometimes get them free or for a cheap price at your local butcher shop. Sometimes they are labeled “soup bones”. If you get the kind with a bit of meat still on them it is best to cook them first. Some people don’t since dogs have strong enzymes in their stomachs that can digest raw meat but if they don’t eat the meat quickly enough and it spoils it can cause them to get sick as well as have an unpleasant odor.

Most Dogs Love To Chew

Chewing is a natural instinct they enjoy. It gives them something to do as well as helping keep their teeth and gums healthy. If you don't discourage this behavior and encourage good chewing your dog will keep their teeth well past their senior years keeping them healthier.

Next Video

This girl is a bit goofy but she makes a really cool dog toy that is easy and uses items you already have around the house.

Cheap Easy Homemade Toy For Your Dog


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    • rousho profile image

      Abu sahadat md ayeat ullah 

      22 months ago from Dhaka,Bangladesh

      Nice wriiting Pamela N Red.

    • Romanian profile image


      3 years ago from Oradea, Romania

      Sometimes dogs are like babies, they like to chew al kind of toys. The hub it's very good..

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Interesting. I used to give my dog sticks to chew on and eventually he did this by himself. A useful and informative hub.

    • Pamela N Red profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela N Red 

      4 years ago from Oklahoma

      It is good for their teeth and gums and helps keep them clean. Thanks for reading.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      4 years ago

      I remember how much our dog loved chewing on rawhide toys. They really do help to keep teeth clean. This is such an interesting read and its full of great tips for pet owners.

    • Pamela N Red profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela N Red 

      4 years ago from Oklahoma


      My first Bostie didn't like milk bones and would only eat treats that were meat based. A healthy diet is very important.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 

      4 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Hi Pam…

      I can’t believe that puppy owners would give them an old show to chew, but they do. My dog, Sunny, used to head for my shoes when she was a pup, and it took a while for her to understand that this was a no-no! Poultry bones were a huge no-no as well. Sunny hated dog biscuits, so good kibble was always part of her diet, along with an appropriately sized bone from the butcher shop.

    • Pamela N Red profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela N Red 

      4 years ago from Oklahoma

      My veterinarian is better than most so I trust her judgement. As far as my dog's teeth I keep a close eye on my dog's health.

      I'm still not giving my dog poultry bones.

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 

      4 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      I can tell you hundreds of stories from Chihuahua, Maltese, and other small dog owners: all of them had periodontal disease since 2 years of age, and when they required extractions and antibiotics they all complain "the vet said nothing at his last exam". There is good reason for that. Periodontal disease is the norm for older dogs, and you should be taking care of your dogs and not expecting your vet to see it all day long and point it out on every dog.

      Take some of that "high quality" kibble and put water on it. You will noitce that it turns to mush. That is the same thing that happens when your dog eats it. The mush sticks to his teeth.

      Do you believe yourself more than what you read or your vet tells you about chicken bones? Take a raw bone and split it in half. Look at the edges. Do the same thing with a cooked chicken bone. The cooked bone has rough edges and the cooking makes it hard. That is why it is dangerous to give COOKED bones.

    • Pamela N Red profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela N Red 

      4 years ago from Oklahoma

      I'm not going to delete your post. We all have our opinions and I am open minded to allow those comments that disagree.

      Giving your dog a dry healthy dog food helps as well. Canned dog food will cause your dog's teeth to decay as well as giving them unhealthy table scraps. I feed mine Blue Buffalo grain free. My last dog was on Nutro Natural Choice. The only table food mine get are meat, vegetables, fruit and a little rice.

      When you take your dog to the veterinarian for their annual check-ups the doctor will let you know if your dog's teeth are healthy and clean or not. If chewing alone isn't keeping them clean then yes, you do need to brush your dog's teeth.

      My veterinarian as well as many articles I've read say not to give your dog poultry bones. I'd rather be safe than sorry.

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 

      4 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Hi, I read this the other day and wanted to leave some comments but my PC has been messed up. You can deny these comments if you want (I do not mind at all), but I thought this was well written so I wanted to dispute a few points.

      First, your Boston was an exception to the rule. Most dogs of that breed/type cannot get by with chewing, and by that age will develop periodontal disease. The best thing to suggest is plenty of chewing with daily brushing. Think about a teenage human with malocclusion. No amount of chewing is enough.

      Also, chicken bones do not splinter if given raw. Beef bones, if cooked, will cause problems, so they are not as safe as raw. Raw bones will not make a dog sick. If you are worried about the smell, just give smaller bones---for a Boston a chicken leg would be great for chewing. They also contain glucosamine, a nutraceutical that helps control symptoms of arthritis.

      Your dog will thank you for it.


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