8 Dog Trainer Tips for Brushing Your Pup’s Teeth (and the Best Products to Do It With)

…without losing a finger

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dog trainer tips brush dogs teeth
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Canine dental health is super important, and pet parents know it. According to a recent survey from WHIMZEES by Wellness, 77 percent of millennial and Gen Z pet parents said dental care for their dog is just as important as their own. We love to hear it! But brushing your dog’s teeth is challenging. Luckily, we know some stellar dog trainers with tips for brushing your dog’s teeth. Plus, trainer-recommended products like finger brushes and dental wipes can make the process easier. You got this—and your dog’s teeth will thank you.

Dog Teeth-Cleaning Products We Love At-a-Glance


Best Alternative to a Regular Brush

Wveroa Dog Toothbrush

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For the Beginner Brusher

TrueBlue Parsley & Peppermint Fast and Fresh Dog Dental Swipes

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For Between Brushes

WHIMZEES by Wellness Brushing Dental Chews

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Easiest Supplement

Mad About Organics Daily Oral Care

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Most Effective System

Vet’s Best Dog Toothbrush and Enzymatic Toothpaste Set

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Meet the Experts:

  • Nicole Ellis is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Pet Lifestyle Expert with Rover. She’s been training all sorts of animals for 15 years and detailed these experiences in her book, “Working Like A Dog.” Ellis’ own dog Maggie knows more than 100 commands and can ride a skateboard, so we trust this trainer knows how to get a pup to brush.
  • Kait Hembree is the Head of Training at GoodPup, a positive reinforcement training company. Hembree worked with a team of professionals to build GoodPup’s program. Her dog behavior consults are based on science and her many experiences training canines. 
  • Sarah-Anne Reed is a consulting holistic dog trainer at Healthy Paws Pet Insurance. She also owns Pack Dynamics, a holistic dog training practice in Bend, Oregon, that focuses on understanding dogs as individuals to better resolve behavior issues.

Why Should I Brush My Dog’s Teeth?

Plaque and tartar build-up in dogs can lead to periodontal disease, which means gingivitis, infection and gum inflammation. It can lead to tooth decay and even cause teeth to fall out. Vets do offer deep dental cleanings, but these can be painful for your dog and costly for you.

Unfortunately, VCA Animal Hospitals estimate two-thirds of dogs over the age of 3 have periodontal disease. Yikes. Brushing your dog’s teeth is the best way to prevent this. Yes, there are treats and treatments that can reduce plaque build-up, but brushing their teeth is way more effective. Plus, it’s a bonding activity.

“Teeth brushing is just as important as brushing their coat, and nail trimming,” says Sarah-Anne Reed, a holistic dog trainer who consults with Healthy Paws Pet Insurance. “It helps your dog learn to feel comfortable with their mouth being touched by people, it builds trust and a sense of safety with you. It also helps them feel comfortable when they have a vet appointment, and the vet needs to look in their mouth.”

8 Rules for Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth, from Trainers and Experts

1. Start Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth in Puppyhood

The sooner you start brushing your dog’s teeth, the easier it will be in the long-term (and this is a life-long practice). We know how sharp puppy teeth are, but introducing puppies to toothbrushes and toothpaste early establishes it as part of the regular routine.

“I start getting into the habit right away with all puppies,” Nicole Ellis, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Pet Lifestyle Expert with Rover, says. “Dental health can help prevent other health issues down the line.”

Reed says to give your puppy a week to acclimate to your home before starting the tooth brushing process. “They will have so many new things to learn, it’s important not to overwhelm them,” Reed says. “You also need to build up their feeling of safety and security with you, before you begin helping them adjust to something strange, like having the inside of their mouth touched.”

2. Get into a Comfortable Position

Dogs respond better to new stimuli if they feel safe. Being in a comfy position near you (or a favorite family member) helps with teeth brushing.

“If your dog is small enough, hold them securely on your lap, with their head facing away from you,” Reed suggests. “If you have a larger dog, it’s easier to comfortably reach and handle their mouth if you sit on a chair, with your dog sitting beside you.”

Never, ever, ever hold your dog down to brush their teeth. That would be traumatic and could establish a fear-based relationship between you two, which is the last thing we want!

3. Handle Their Mouths First, Before Brushing

Don’t dive right in with a toothbrush and dog-friendly toothpaste! Ellis advises starting slowly, by gently raising your dog’s lips on one side of their mouth, exposing their teeth and then giving them a reward. “Do this a few times,” she said. “[Then] work your way up to doing that and taking your finger and touching or rubbing your dog's teeth.”

You can also try Reed’s approach, which is to slather some peanut butter on a finger brush and hold your finger in front of their mouth. “Allow them to lick the nut butter off the finger brush,” Reed says. “Then calmly, and gently, touch your finger (not the finger brush) on their teeth and gums for a moment, touching a couple teeth, then allow them to lick the nut butter off the brush again.”

To access the bottom teeth, Reed says you may need to open the mouth slightly. “Do this by gently tilting your dog's head backward while holding onto their upper jaw with the thumb and index finger of your free hand.”

A pattern of positive reinforcement shows your dog that when you handle their mouth and teeth, good things happen. This makes moving on to actual toothbrushes much easier.

4. Practice Once Per Day for a Few Weeks

Repeat the above processes once every day for a few weeks to get your pup acclimated to having her teeth, gums and mouth touched. Eventually, she’ll associate the routine with rewards and cuddles (both of which you should give after every session, along with lots of praise and positivity).

“Every dog will learn to feel comfortable in their own time,” Reed says. “Pay attention to their body language and behavior and let that be your guide as to if you should move to the next step.”

It’s also OK to take breaks. Reed told us that if your dog pulls away a lot or resists, taking a break for a few days is okay. Then, start at the beginning of the process again.

5. Introduce the Brush When Your Dog Is Acclimated to Your Finger

Once your dog is pretty chill about having your finger in their mouth, you can begin using a finger brush and a dog-friendly toothpaste that smells good.

Rather than try to brush their teeth like you would your own, Reed recommends gently moving the finger brush bristles over their teeth and gums. “As your dog becomes accustomed to the feel of the brush, you can begin brushing their teeth,” she said.

6. Move Front to Back on One Side, Then the Other

Kait Hembree, Head of Training at GoodPup, recommends starting on one side, top or bottom, and moving from the front to the back. “Try to focus the movement of the brush mostly on where the tooth connects to the gum line to help remove any plaque buildup,” she says.

Reed agrees and encourages slow movements, back and forth. “As sessions progress, gradually increase the number of teeth you touch,” says Reed. “Stay on the outside surfaces of the teeth to avoid being accidentally bitten.”

Start with a few teeth, then work up to the whole mouth. Reed says it’s OK to skip the insides of your dog’s teeth. “Your dog’s tongue tends to remove a lot of the plaque from [those] inner surfaces.”

7. Spend 30 Seconds on Each Side

About 30 seconds on each side is Reed's go-to time limit. This is enough time to clean well without completely overwhelming your dog. You’ll probably have to work up to this time, so be patient. It’s a process!

If your dog simply cannot handle this length of time, focus on the large, long canine teeth in the large cheek area, as those are the ones that typically have the most plaque and tartar build-up.

8. Don’t Rush Senior Dogs New to Brushing

If you’ve missed the boat on brushing your puppy’s teeth, it’s not too late to begin brushing for your adult or senior dog. You’ll just have to adjust your method.

“How you approach getting a puppy used to teeth cleaning is very different from the approach that would be used on an older dog,” Hembree says. It will likely require a lot more time for them to get used to you handling their mouth. Focus on simply handling their muzzle first by placing your hand under their chin for a brief period of time and then rewarding them.

Finally, here are some products to help you brush your dog’s teeth!

5 Dog Teeth Cleaning Products We Love

Hand using finger brush to brush dog's teeth

Best Alternative to a Regular Brush

1. Wveroa Dog Toothbrush


This finger brush is great because it has gentle bristles covering it all over (as opposed to some finger brushes that only have one section for bristles). It’s made of soft silicone and comes with a safety storage case.

Product image of dental wipes for dogs

Ellis says these dental wipes are “amazing.” All you have to do is take a pre-moistened wipe and rub it along your dog’s teeth and gums. “This is often an easier and still effective measure for pet parents,” Ellis says. Organic and hypoallergenic, these wipes could be game-changing. Note: You’ll still have to establish a routine of touching your dog’s mouth. So keep all our trainer tips in mind, even if you don’t use a toothbrush every day.

dog trainer tips brush dogs teeth whimzees

For Between Brushes

3. WHIMZEES by Wellness Brushing Dental Chews


Dental chews definitely cannot replace regular brushing, but giving your dog one of these to gnaw on can help loosen plaque and tartar build-up. Grain-free and long-lasting, they are made with deep grooves that rub against your dog’s gums as they chew. Be sure to buy the correct size for your dog’s breed.

Jar of dog oral hygiene treats.

Easiest Supplement

4. Mad About Organics Daily Oral Care

Mad About Organics

Reed says this powder is a great way to supplement oral health care for your dog. “It’s a powder that you can mix with your dog’s food,” she says. “When combined with your dog’s saliva, as they eat, it helps fight plaque. This product also helps existing tarter become porous, it loosens by itself, and then can be easily removed with brushing.”

Green dog toothpaste and brush

This set is a favorite among dog parents. The vet-formulated toothpaste soothes your dog’s gums as it cleans, so it’s a good option for dogs who may already have some gum issues. The brush has a triple-sided head so it can effectively clean in hard-to-reach spots.

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Sarah Ashley is a Chicago-based freelance journalist. She has covered pets for PureWow for six years and tackles everything from dog training tips to the best litter boxes. Her cats, Foxy and Jacques, make appearances in her work, as do her own struggles with mental health and infertility. Sarah has a Certificate in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Chicago and is working towards her Masters in Journalism at NYU.

SAshley Headshot PureWow

Freelance Writer

Sarah Ashley is a Chicago-based freelance journalist. She has covered pets for PureWow for six years and tackles everything from dog training tips to the best litter boxes. Her...