Preparing Your Puppy for a Lifetime of Good Hygiene

By Ryan Llera, BSc, DVM; Lynn Buzhardt, DVM

Who wants a dirty dog? Clean dogs are usually healthy dogs, but practicing good hygiene takes practice! If the “practice” starts during puppyhood, keeping your dog clean throughout his life will likely be easy.

Why is hygiene a concern?

In the wild, dogs maintain their own hygiene without human intervention, but this level of cleanliness is seldom adequate for human interaction. Humans and dogs have different ideas about what counts as “dirty” so the regimen we impose on our pets may be contrary to their nature. Dogs do not instinctively brush their teeth or take a bath, so must be oriented as pups to the hygiene requirements of domestic life with humans.

How do I get my dog used to being brushed?

Pups usually respond positively to a gradual introduction of brushing. First, get your pup accustomed to your touch. Hold your pup while rubbing your hands gently, but firmly, down his back in slow strokes which are more calming than brisk ones. Rub his tummy, legs, and feet. Then rub his neck and ears. Speak quietly to your pup as you massage him. Repeat 5 minute sessions several times a day. When your pup readily lets you touch him, try using a soft bristle brush and offer treats or food rewards as a distraction and for positive conditioning.

If at any point your dog resists, squirms, or cries, stop at once but do not release him. Continue to hold him and talk to him until he calms down. When he quiets down, reward him with praise or a treat and resume brushing.

How do I get my dog used to taking a bath?

Bathing should be a relaxing experience. As newborns, pups enjoy being licked by their mothers, so take a few pointers from mama dogs. First, make sure the water is warmed to body temperature (like mother’s saliva). Mama dog does not splash her pup, so neither should we. Gently pour water over the pup, starting with the torso and moving to the feet. Use a damp cloth to wash the face without getting water in the pup’s eyes. You may apply an approved ophthalmic lubricant to the eyes to protect them from irritation. Use an approved puppy shampoo and gently lather the coat with firm, slow strokes. Rinse the pup with warm water, making sure all the suds are removed.

"Bathing should be a relaxing experience."

If you bathe your dog in the bathroom, introduce her to the tub or shower prior to the actual washing. Place her in the tub or shower without turning on the water, speak to her calmly, and offer a treat to encourage positive feelings about the bathroom. A popular method is to put some peanut butter or other sticky reward on the wall (or on something suctioned to the wall) so your dog can enjoy the treat and be distracted during the bath. A non-slip mat will make her feel more secure in the slick tub or shower.

How do I dry my dog while keeping it positive?

Wet dogs shake, so if you do not want a shower yourself, step back when your dog exits the tub or shower. Warm a towel in the dryer and use slow, firm movements to dry your dog. To introduce your dog to an electric hair dryer, place it on the floor and let her investigate for a bit. Then place the dog a distance away from the dryer and turn it on low/cool setting. Gradually approach her with the dryer angled away from her face. Increase the heat setting when she feels secure.

How do I get my dog used to clipping/grooming?

Whether you groom your dog at home or seek the help of a professional, the experience can by scary for pups. The sight, sound, smell, and sensation of electric clippers can be frightful. Use the hair dryer introduction process for the clippers. When the pup tolerates the sight and sound of the clippers, turn them off before touching them to his coat. Let him feel the weight of the clippers as you gently move them along the growth pattern of the fur. Finally, turn the clippers on and trim a little hair. Keep initial grooming sessions brief.

How do I get my dog used to having his teeth brushed?

Although dogs clean some tartar from their teeth by chewing dry food, they simply cannot do enough to deter periodontal disease in the long run. Human intervention is required to postpone health complications (e.g., heart disease, kidney failure) related to poor dental health. As with most aspects of canine hygiene, brushing teeth does not come naturally for pups.

The first step involves acclimating the pup to having his mouth handled. Begin by gently rubbing your pup’s muzzle several times a day, followed by raising his lips and rubbing his gums with your fingers. Next, cover your finger with gauze or a damp face cloth and rub along the surface of his gums. Finally, when he is calmly allowing you to touch his gums and teeth, introduce a toothbrush and toothpaste.

Use a soft bristled toothbrush and an enzymatic toothpaste approved for dogs. Pups do not swish and spit, so toothpaste must be safe when swallowed. Human toothpaste can upset a pup’s stomach. Using a small amount of your dog’s toothpaste, brush the teeth next to the gum line in back and forth strokes (not up and down). Do the incisors (the small teeth along the front) first, then the left and right sides. Open the dog’s mouth and briefly brush the inner surface (tongue side) of the teeth. The tongue helps clean this side of the teeth, so minor brushing should suffice. Eating usually keeps the chewing surfaces of the teeth clean, so brushing here may not be needed at all. Brush your dog’s teeth every day to obtain maximal benefits.

What else to we need to practice?

You will also want to get your dog used to nail trimming and ear cleaning – please see the articles on these topics for in-depth information.

Related Articles