Dog Dental Care

August 9, 2011

By the tender age of three, more than 80 percent of dogs show signs of gum disease, according to the American Veterinarian Dental Society. It’s no surprise, then, to learn that two-thirds of dog owners aren’t giving their pets the recommended dental care.

If left untreated, gum disease leads to tooth decay and tooth loss. Other problems, such as a chipped or fractured tooth, can cause infection, which may necessitate extracting the tooth. Worse still, untreated problems can have a domino effect on overall health, leading to heart, lung, and kidney disease.

While it may not be a priority for most owners, dental care is serious business for your dog, especially since he so often uses his mouth to interact with the world.

Fortunately, dental care is one area where dog owners can have a significant positive impact without too much effort. To tell the truth, it’s a lot like taking care of your own teeth: simple steps taken now can prevent many problems (and expenses) down the road.

When it’s time to see a vet

Regardless of your diligence with your dog’s dental care, it’s important to have your vet examine his teeth and gums at least once a year. This is the best way to catch problems before they become too serious.

If there’s a problem with your dog’s teeth, the first sign is often bad breath, caused when bacteria begin to multiply in food trapped between teeth or at the site of an infection. Other signs to watch for:

  • Drooling more than normal
  • Reluctance to chew food or toys
  • Misaligned teeth
  • Missing teeth or failure to develop adult teeth

What’s next

Treatments for your dog’s dental problems will vary, depending on the source of the trouble. Solutions range from simple brushing at home to get rid of bad breath to medication or surgery for more serious problems.

1. Make it easy for your dog to get it right.

When you let a dog who hasn’t pooped all day have free, unsupervised run of the house, you’re asking for a mistake that can turn into a bad habit. When you start practicing the “come” command in a dog park, where there are a million distractions, you’re asking for a mistake that can turn into a bad habit.

Train slowly, starting in a quiet, familiar place with no distractions, and gradually make it more challenging for your dog. Don’t progress to the next step until your dog has mastered the current one.

2. Keep your cool.

Yelling, hitting, and jerking your dog around by a leash won’t teach him how to sit on request, pee outside, or do anything else you want him to learn. It will teach him that you’re scary and unpredictable. Fair, calm, consistent training is the best way to get your dog to obey and respect you.

3. Go to school.

In-person guidance from an expert trainer is the best way to get a well-trained dog. Obedience classes are relatively cheap, a great way to learn how to train, and they get your pooch used to being around lots of other dogs and people–good for all dogs, but especially important for raising safe, friendly puppies.

4. Keep practicing!

Don’t expect that once your dog has learned something, he’s learned it for life. Your dog can lose his new skills without regular practice.

Tailor your training to your dog

Every dog is different and will respond better to slightly different training styles. Some dogs are so sensitive that a sharp tone of voice or even animated praise can rattle them; they need calm, quiet guidance. Others are thicker-skinned and need lots of repetition to learn all the rules. And some smart pups will try to feel out what, exactly, your rules mean: Is it only in this house that I can’t sleep on the couch, or in all houses? There are also those dogs who occasionally push back when you push them, rather than give in to what you’re asking for.

Your dog’s behavior, not breed, is the best indicator of his personality. Remember that although different dogs thrive on different training approaches, they all need a benevolent leader. Yelling, hitting, and other techniques that inflict pain or fear are never the solution for any dog–they can create a behavior problem or make an existing problem worse.

Bottom line

Training is the best investment you can make in your relationship with your dog. You’ll need to do your homework first, though, to learn how to communicate what you want in a way that your dog will understand. Stay consistent and patient, reward your dog for getting it right and remember: you can train a dog of any age.

1. Be consistent.

Use the same cue for the same command, every time. If you use “come” one week, “come here” the next, and “come here, boy” the following, you’ll confuse your dog. If your dog is allowed to pull on the leash sometimes but is jerked by the collar when he pulls at other times, you’ll confuse him. Make sure everyone who’s around your dog follows the same rules and uses the same cues.

2. Use praise and rewards.

Almost all modern dog trainers believe that dogs learn better and faster when we praise and reward them for getting it right, rather than punishing them for getting it wrong.

The best motivator is usually a combination of a small food treat–especially if you train before mealtime–and enthusiastic praise. Don’t worry that you’ll wind up with a dog who’ll only work for food. Once your dog gets the idea of what you’re asking him to do, you’ll begin rewarding him sporadically, and eventually you can phase out the treats entirely.

If your dog isn’t that interested in food, try offering praise without the treat, or a favorite toy, or a physical reward such as a good behind-the-ears scratch or tummy rub.

3. Time the rewards right.

The praise and reward need to come immediately after your dog does what you want if he’s going to make the connection–“Hey, whenever I pee outside, I get a treat. I’m going to do this more often!”

4. Keep it short and sweet.

Training works best if it’s fun and you stop before either of you gets bored or frustrated. Keep the mood upbeat, not drill-sergeant serious, and make the sessions short. Five to ten minutes is plenty to start with, or you can do many mini-training sessions throughout the day, especially if you have a puppy–like kids, they have shorter attention spans.

Training Your Dog

August 1, 2011

No dog is born with good manners. Pooping on the carpet, leaping enthusiastically onto guests, pulling so hard he practically yanks your arm out of the socket when on walks–that’s all perfectly acceptable in the canine world. It’s up to you to teach your dog to behave the way we humans want him to. Not training your dog and expecting him to be pleasant to live with is like never sending your child to school and expecting him to ace the SATs.

As well as making life with your dog more enjoyable, training is the best gift you can ever give your pup; friendly, housetrained, well-behaved dogs are less likely to be surrendered to shelters or put down. Plus, training is a great way to bond with your dog or puppy.

Despite the adage about old dogs and new tricks, there are no age limits to teaching dogs: puppies as young as three weeks old can learn, as can adult dogs of any age. And whether you’ve got a brand-new pup or a senior dog, the first step is the same: learn how to be a good teacher.