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Looking after your hound's teeth
The recent rescue and rehoming of Sam, a ten year old greyhound highlights the need to look after a dogs teeth. Sam came in a most depressed boy and was immediately taken to the vets where he was diagnosed with chronic gum disease and being in constant pain. His teeth were in a dreadful state, reflecting several years of neglect that required three hours of dental surgery and the removal of many of his teeth. However, after the visit of the ‘tooth fairy’, he has made a full recovery, is back to being a ‘happy chappy’ and has been very happily rehomed in the Lampeter area. The cost of this neglect? Well the bonus from the ‘tooth fairy’ did little to reduce the £480 vet’s bill!
It’s funny: We share our homes with another species of animal, whose most dangerous feature is its teeth – and most of us know little or nothing about those teeth, other than the fact that we should probably be brushing them. It’s time to correct this situation.
First – some canine dental basics. Most animals (including humans) have teeth that reflect the diet they subsisted on as they evolved. Though we humans have a few mildly sharp teeth in the front of our mouths that we can use for tearing, most of our teeth are built for grinding plant-based foods so that we can better digest them. Conversely, most of the teeth in a dog’s mouth are built for tearing animal-based foods, with just a few teeth that crush their food before they swallow it.
Dogs’ teeth are not as sharp as cats’ teeth, but their teeth and jaws are much stronger. Their dental anatomy enables them to grab and kill prey animals that may be much larger than themselves, tear through thick hides, slice and pull flesh from bones, crack open small bones in order to consume the marrow inside, and gnaw on bigger bones to strip away and consume every bit of meat and connective tissue.
Most adult dogs have 42 teeth, though our genetic manipulation of the species has resulted in dogs with fewer or more. Reportedly, the gene that is responsible for hairlessness in the hairless breeds, such as the Chinese Crested, also modifies dentition, often leaving these breeds with fewer teeth. Doberman Pinschers often are missing molars.
Most adult dogs have six incisors (front teeth) on the top jaw and six on the bottom; two canine teeth (the largest “fangs”) on the top and two on the bottom; eight premolars on the top and eight on the bottom; and two molars on the top and three molars on the bottom.
The dog uses his front teeth – the smallest and most fragile teeth – for his most delicate operations. He uses these teeth to groom himself, pulling burrs and insects from his skin and coat. He also uses them when scraping edible tissue from the surface of bones. (This is likely the evolutionary basis for the behaviour that many dogs engage in when they strip the “fuzz” off of tennis balls. Some dogs do this so persistently that they wear down the incisors if not prevented from access to tennis balls.)
While the term “canine teeth” is admittedly somewhat confusing (aren’t all the teeth in a dog’s mouth canine teeth?) the appellation is somewhat understandable when you realize that the dog’s “fangs” are the most distinguishing feature of his species. Whether it’s a Chihuahua or Great Dane, a dog’s canines are the ones that look most impressive when bared, and leave the deepest holes in a person they’ve bitten.
Few of us look far enough back in our dogs’ mouths to appreciate this, but dogs’ premolars and molars are far pointier than human molars. Many of us imagine that dogs are chewing and grinding their kibble much as we chew cereal, but in fact, dog premolars and molars can’t actually grind. Grinding requires an animal’s jaws to move sideways; think about how a cow or llama grinds its food, with extreme sideways jaw action. Dog jaws can’t move sideways! Instead, the dog’s strong jaws and large peaks on the premolars and molars are used to crush large chunks into smaller ones. Not much more physical processing of their food occurs in the dog’s mouth.
As much as dogs can be said to chew, most of the chewing action is provided by the premolars. The molars, located at the far back of the mouth – where the dog has the most jaw strength, like the base of a pair of pliers – are mostly used for extreme crunching.
Here’s what most dog owners really want to know about their dogs’ teeth: “Do I really have to brush them?”
Although veterinary dental specialists would prefer that all owners brush their dogs’ teeth, the fact is that some dogs need it more than others. Whether it’s due to their genes, diet, chewing habits, and/or the chemical composition of their saliva, some dogs go to their graves with clean, white teeth and healthy gums with absolutely no effort put forth by their owners. Others develop tartar (also known as calculus) at an alarming rate.
The accumulation of plaque (a “biofilm” on the teeth that contains bacteria) and tartar (a mineralized concretion of plaque) is not just unsightly, it’s unhealthy. Tartar build up at and under the gum line enables the entrance and growth of bacteria under the gums. Most dogs that have bad breath also have gingivitis – swollen and inflamed gums, usually bright red or purple, and which bleed easily. Unchecked, these bacterial infections in the gums slowly destroy the ligament and bony structures that support the teeth (periodontitis). Because of the ample blood supply to the gums, infections in the mouth can also poison the dog systemically, potentially causing disease of the heart, kidneys, and/or liver.
If your dog’s teeth are free of plaque or tartar, and his gums are tight and free of any signs of inflammation, you are one of the lucky ones. If, however, his gums are noticeably more red at the gum line and he has any visible tartar build up on his teeth, you need to have his teeth cleaned by a veterinarian and then maintain the health of his teeth and gums with regular brushing and veterinary cleaning.
If you are one of the unlucky ones, and your dog’s teeth and gums need your intervention to stay healthy, how often do you really need to brush your dog’s teeth? Put it this way: the more you brush, the less frequently you’ll need to pay for a veterinary cleaning. Whether you would prefer to invest your time in patiently training your dog to enjoy having his teeth brushed or would prefer to invest in your veterinarian’s time is up to you!
A few tooth brushing tips:
Start out slow, and be patient. Don’t try to brush all of your dog’s teeth on the first day. Use a circular motion, gently scrubbing plaque away from the gum line. Reward your dog frequently and richly with treats and praise.
The “brushes” that you wear on your fingertips don’t tend to work as well as brushes with softer bristles – and they make it much easier for your dog to accidently bite down on your finger. Look for very soft-bristled brushes with long handles, so you can make sure you reach the molars. For larger dogs, soft brushes meant for adult humans work fine; baby human toothbrushes work well for smaller dogs.
If your dog will tolerate it (or you can positively and patiently teach him to accept it), electric toothbrushes work great! For some dogs, however, these whirring, vibrating brushes are a deal-breaker, no matter what kind of treats you offer.
Use toothpaste designed for dogs. They come in flavours that are meant to appeal to dogs (meaty, not minty) – and they are free of fluoride, which can be toxic to dogs. (Remember, dogs don’t know to spit the toothpaste out!) Look for products that contain antibacterial enzymes, which help discourage bacterial growth and resulting gingivitis.
Dip the brush in water frequently as you brush, to help rinse the plaque away from your dog’s teeth, and to facilitate a thorough application of the antibacterial enzymes in the toothpaste.
Get Thee to a Veterinarian
It can be painfully expensive, but the value of having your dog’s calculus-encrusted teeth cleaned at your veterinarian’s office is incalculable! The only way all of his teeth (even the molars) can be scrubbed completely of the tartar, above and below the gums, is under general anaesthesia. This must be done at a veterinary clinic.
Whether due to the cost or the perceived risk of anaesthesia, people want so much to believe that there is another way to get the dog’s teeth clean. Once a dog has a lot of tartar on his teeth, though, the only effective treatment is a professional cleaning under anaesthesia. Once his teeth are clean, you can prevent the need for further veterinary cleaning only through scrupulous home care (brushing) – but you just can’t brush a tartar-encrusted mouth back to health. For one thing, you can’t (and shouldn’t try) to brush under the dog’s gums; this area is cleaned at the vet’s office with sterile instruments and with the use of a fine mist of water, which washes the bacteria out of the dog’s mouth. The ultrasonic (vibrating) tools available to the technician are also much faster and more accurate than any tool you would have access to.
What about “anaesthesia-free” cleaning? Witnessing a veterinary cleaning, with the dog under anaesthesia, is pretty much all you need to realize that no one is capable of doing what needs to be done to get a fully conscious dog’s teeth really clean. The most cooperative dog in the world just isn’t going to lie down on a table under necessarily super bright lights (so the technician can thoroughly examine the teeth for any signs of chips or painful fractures) and allow a vibrating, misting tool to be employed on his molars.
While there are many technicians and groomers who may be capable of removing some dental calculus from your dog’s teeth, only a veterinarian is qualified and equipped to recognize, diagnose, and treat any related (or unrelated) conditions the dog may have, such as fractured teeth or oral cancer. If his periodontal disease is advanced, x-rays will be needed to evaluate the supporting structures of the teeth.
Of course, in order to safely anesthetize your dog, your veterinarian will likely require a blood test in advance of the cleaning appointment, to evaluate your dog’s kidney and liver function. If his function is reduced, extra precautions and perhaps a different anaesthetic protocol can be used.
Depending on your dog’s age and condition, your veterinarian may also administer intravenous fluids to your dog during the procedure, which can help regulate the dog’s blood pressure. The presence of an IV catheter and proper hydration levels also make it possible for a veterinarian to immediately administer life-saving medications in case of an adverse reaction to the anaesthesia. In an emergency, the use of calcium, epinephrine, and/or atropine needs to occur as quickly as possible; having an IV in place makes this possible.
Finally, veterinarians can prescribe and dispense antibiotics to help your dog fight off any bacteria that was dislodged by the cleaning and absorbed into his bloodstream, as well as provide any sort of consultation or aftercare needed. The price tag of all of this can be large – and it can vary a lot from vet to vet – especially if the dog requires tooth extractions.
After all this, you’ll probably be motivated to give that tooth brushing a try. Do it now, while you’re good and motivated; it could add years to your dog’s life.
Communicating with your dog
Click here to read our PDF, all about the fundamentals of dog psychology and how they learn.
How To Handle Fear & Fear Aggression In Dogs
By Mark Nunez
When most people think of aggression, dominance aggression typically comes to mind, especially these days when some popular trainers feel as though every abnormal behaviour is a result of a dogs struggle for dominance and “pack” status. Fear aggression, however, is MUCH more common. There are actually about 21 different forms of aggression. Not all fearful or fearfully aggressive dogs bite, they may only growl or bark aggressively in situations that upset them. These dogs generally react inappropriately when they sense an intrusion and worsen if they feel cornered.
Many people feel that fearful or fearfully aggressive dogs have been abused or have otherwise suffered from some extremely traumatic event. While this logic is reasonable and understandable, more times than not it is because something did NOT happen. That something is socialization. Improper socialization can make accepting new things difficult when dogs become adults. Anything from a blowing leaf to hats to men to only men with beards, etc…. Socialization is SO important!
Signs of fear and fear aggression include head held low, wrinkling of the nose, lips curled with many teeth (front teeth and back teeth) showing as the corners of the mouth are pulled back, ears are back and usually pinned to the head, raised hackles, tail tucked, body lowered, and possibly fast panting. The body language with dominance aggression differs in the following ways: head held high, just the front teeth (incisors and canines) show when lips are curled, ears are up and forward, tail is upright and stiff or with a slight stiff wagging motion, stance is upright and stiff, and usually the mouth is closed (no panting). It is paramount to differentiate between these 2 forms of aggression because they are treated VERY differently. If you approach a fearful dog the same way you approach a dominant dog, you will likely end up with a fearfully aggressive dog that will eventually bite. Teeth motivate people. Once a dog figures this out, it can be really difficult to teach them otherwise, not impossible, but very difficult.
There are many triggers that can cause a fearful response. Approaches from dogs and people are very common triggers. Many dogs show a fearful, or excessively submissive response to people they know all of their lives. I must say, in all fairness to dogs out there, that many people just bring this response on themselves. A large number of people greet dogs in a very threatening and unnatural way when looking through the eyes of the dog. Picture the scenario, you see a dog that you think is cute, you get excited and make a beeline towards him, making eye contact, arms stretched out, high pitched/excited tone in your voice, reaching and leaning over him as you come up to him. I’ve seen people go right up to strange dogs and try to kiss and hug them! Guess what folks, a dog that is fearful in this context is displaying normal canine behaviour. Dogs that are taught that this approach is how we humans do it, may be okay and tolerate it, but even many of them show signs of stress when approached this way (turn their heads away, lick their lips, avoid eye contact, or lick faces excessively).
For comparison purposes, I will discuss a proper/normal canine greeting. When one dogs sees another one and BOTH want to meet, the approach will not be a direct beeline, it will occur in more of an arc, or c-shaped direction. Next is the doggie hand shake. You know what the doggie hand shake is, don’t you? That’s right, they sniff each others butts! Nose to butt, not nose to nose. There is a greater chance of the greeting not going so well if it starts nose to nose in two dogs that are tense and excited. Next, they sniff each others flank area (side of the body just in front of the rear legs). NOW, it’s time for the nose to nose part of the greeting. See the difference between how 2 dogs greet each other compared to how people greet dogs? Most dogs bites are the fault of people, the law doesn’t see it that way, but that’s the simple truth.
Children will often trigger a fearful response for several reasons. Children don’t always make the best decisions and will occasionally pull ears or tails and poke eyes. Their movements are uncoordinated and clumsy, and older arthritic dogs commonly display pain aggression because of this. Children can also be at eye level with many dogs and make direct eye contact and stare, which can be viewed as a treat by any dog. Speaking of children making bad decisions…. I remember a story from a few years back (can’t remember how many years, they are all kinda running together these days). There was a young to mid age St. Bernard, no issues ever, a family dog. I can’t remember how many kids, but I know there was one because suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, the dog attacked the kid, and killed him. It was all over the news. People freaked out and wanted to give away or euthanize their St. Bernard’s because they were afraid that there was some genetic defect that the was causing them to snap and kill kids (talk about mob affect). Well, come to find out, the kid had jammed a pencil into the dogs ear. Moral of the story? Don’t EVER leave children alone and unsupervised with any dog. Things may happen that are not at all the dog’s fault, but tragedy is the outcome nonetheless.
Noises and noise phobias can certainly create a fearful response. Many dogs are just naturally timid and fearful and will have difficulty accepting new things. Again, socialization can help to either avoid or at the very least decrease the degree of fear that a dog experiences.
Your veterinarians office is another place that can elicit a very strong fear response. We vets (in the eyes of your dog), I tell ya, are up to no good. We are always poking and prodding and sticking with needles and sticking long plastic things in ears and trimming nails and squeezing anal glands, etc… No matter how many times you or I try to convince your dog that we have his best interests in mind while I’m doing all these things to him, the message usually doesn’t get through. Hell, it’s hard to get that message through to my head when I’m at the doctor’s office . The best way to help your dog is NOT to freak-out and say “it’s okay” over and over and over again for the entire appointment. That goes for “you’re a good boy/girl” too . This is application of human psychology at it’s finest. What your dog sees is a change in you from a relatively relaxed body posture to one of concern. You are concerned for him and his mental well being, but he thinks you are concerned about what he’s concerned about, me! . The best thing to do is remain calm and avoid eye contact with him. Absolute silence also helps TREMENDOUSLY. I NEVER speak a word while examining an extremely fearful dog. This is a big reason why I can examine dogs that many other vets need to muzzle without a muzzle. Plus I know how to speak to them with my body language .
When fear turns into fear aggression a bite is the next logical progression. Many fearful dogs go though years of giving fear signals and warning signals only to have them ignored, challenged, or suppressed. A common way that fear aggression develops through the suppression of warning signals such as growling and baring of teeth. Most people misinterpret these two displays as a threat or challenge that the dogs is giving them. Our egos kick in and we essentially say “Oh no you don’t! I’m not gonna let you get away with that,” and we either tell them to stop or punish them for doing it. So, the dog is doing it’s best to say to the person that he is scared and uncomfortable and the human (inadvertently) tells him to shut it and stop giving warnings. What’s a dog to do? What’s left to convey that he likely fears for his safety, or even his life? You got it, a bite. This is why dogs “bite out of nowhere” or “turn on their owners.” Plain and simple.
When fearful dogs bite, the mechanics of the bite/contexts are very predictable. They will often choose escape if that is possible, but if they also have territorial/protective aggression, they may not. These dogs often bite from behind, as you are turning to walk away or as you are walking away. It is usually a “snap and retreat” type of motion, but there can be several bites involved or they can latch on and not release. They also often will bite when they are cornered or when they are hiding under a chair or table and are being reached for to be pulled out.
There are many signals that dogs give us when they are uncomfortable. These signals are called displacement behaviours, or calming signals. They are very subtle, and many of them are either missed or misinterpreted.
- Head Turning – The turn can be to either side, right or left. It can occur in a number of contexts, such as an approach from another dog or you pointing a camera at your dog. It can occur quickly (and he looks forward again) or the turn can be prolonged and held.
- Squinting – This is a way of looking in the direction of something, someone, or another dog without making eye contact.
- Turning Away – This is just a further progression of head turning that involves turning of the entire body.
- Licking of The Lips or Nose – This will be quick, often missed, and is very common. It is like a flick of the tongue, but can be more deliberate.
- Freezing – Stopping all movements
- Walking Slowly – Movement continues here, but they are in slow motion and are very deliberate.
- Play Bowing – When a play bow is used but the dog who is bowing has a relatively stiff or otherwise motionless body he is trying to convey a bit of discomfort, not necessarily “lets play.”
- Sitting or Lying Down – Either with or without giving you his back (turning away).
- Yawning – Most people associate this with being tired.
- Sniffing – Sudden sniffing either of the air or a spot on the ground. This one is almost always missed or misinterpreted because this is what dogs do! Right? They like to sniff things, but in the context where something is making them uncomfortable, it is displacement behaviour.
- An Arc (C-Shaped) Approach – A direct approach is more of a challenge or assertion of status. A C-shape approach is less threatening.
- Lifting of One Paw – This is often used in conjunction with other signals, either while sitting or standing.
So, what to do, oh what to do? Not so fast! I want to talk about what NOT to do first. Many people feel that all you need to do is bring the dog to the object or place him in the context that causes fear and keep him there until he is no longer afraid. This is called flooding and, more times than not, has disastrous consequences. It can be very difficult to prevent a dog from escaping when he fears for his life or his safety. If you fail, and many more times than not people do fail, to will have taught him to be even more afraid than he already was AND you have damaged the trust he had in you. Trust in a fearful dog is like gold, expensive and hard to come by. Don’t chance losing it with flooding.
The cornerstones of treatment are desensitization and counter-conditioning (DCC). During the DCC program it is important to NOT expose your dog to any of the stimuli that he is afraid of unless you are controlling the presentation. Basically, this involves exposing your dog to the fearful stimuli, one at a time to begin and then in combinations, in a CONTROLLED manner, to a degree that does not illicit the fearful response. Then, you reward your dog for remaining calm. Start by carefully analyzing the situation that you want to work on. Think about it step by step from start to finish. As you do this, be very aware of what triggers your dog. You want to be aware of the trigger as early in the process as possible. Say your dog is relaxed, ears down (but not pinned to his head), panting normally with a relaxed jaw, and tail level. Then, all of a sudden he looks up, stops panting, ears go up, tail stiffens and goes up OR tucks, and then the fearful behaviour begins. In the beginning, have the stimulus at a distance that causes your dog to just look at it/be aware of it. Duration is the next variable. At first let him see the stimulus, reward him for being relaxed, then make the stimulus go away or distract your dog and reward him again if he focuses on you and not the stimulus. Over time, first allow for a greater duration of exposure, then start to close the distance. When you close the distance, GO SLOW. It is important not to rush because if he gets really frightened during the process he can loose ground. If it happens, it’s important to remain very calm and go back to a distance that doesn’t frighten him. Repeat the distance/duration process until he can be relaxed next to the stimulus or at least is manageable around it.
General Rules to Follow
- Avoid all situations that lead to aggression during the behaviour modification process. Dogs are very intelligent and they are masters at reading body language. They will learn things from every interaction. We do not want a dog that is learning to trust to have a reason to regret trusting. It will be that much more difficult to get it back after something like that.
- Never reach over a fearful dog, especially if he is cornered or has no escape. Instead call him to you as you squat down, turn your body sideways (so you’re not facing him), avoid eye contact (look at the floor near him, but not at him), and stretch out your arm with your hand held nearly at ground level, palm up and open.
- Never disturb a fearful dog when he sleeping. Instead, call him from a distance, whistle, or make the “kissy” sound.
- Ask company to cooperate with you and avoid situations that make your dog uncomfortable. This can be very difficult when dealing with family members that think they know better. In these situations, it would be better to keep him in a crate in another room and just avoid the whole situation in the first place.
- Put a bell on his collar so you can know where he is without seeing him.
- Never pet him and tell him “it’s okay” or “you’re a good boy” or anything else in a soft calming tone while fear and/or aggression is being displayed. Instead, wait for him to relax, then pet him and tell him he’s a good boy. If the reaction is so severe that he will not relax, calmly remove him from the context. Reward him when he does finally calm down.
- Never physically correct or punish him. Any kind of harsh treatment will only serve to confuse him and damage the bond between the two of you. Remember, trust and the bond are paramount with a fearful dog.
- Never leave fearful dogs (or any dog for that matter) alone with children.
- Do not allow strangers to approach your dog. Instead, allow your dog to approach them, but only after you have instructed them to stand still and not look at him or speak to him in the beginning. If petting is attempted, only pet under the chin and chest, never on top of the head or the back. DCC is paramount in this context.
- Minimize sudden movements and loud noises. Instead, keep it cool, calm, and collected .
Fearful dogs are challenging. They take time and patience, two things that many of us in this busy world are often short on. A good number of people want quick fixes, kind of a “give it to me in pill form” type thing. Create a way to loose weight that doesn’t require you to do anything different/require no effort, and you will be so rich you won’t need my advice . Unfortunately, there are no short cuts. In most cases great strides can be made, but many will never be normal. Expecting an extremely fearful dog to turn into a happy go lucky stereotypical lab is unrealistic. What is realistic is variable degrees of improvement.
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Click here to read our PDF about how to stop your dog pulling on the leash.
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Click here to read our PDF about how often you should bathe your dog.
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Click here to read our PDF about why some dogs whine.
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Click here to read our PDF about teaching your dog the ‘come’, ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ commands!
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Click here to read our PDF about how to prevent your dog from jumping on people.
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Click here to read our PDF about how you can prevent your dog from chewing your clothes and furniture.
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Click here to read our PDF on how to control your dog’s barking.
Great games you can play with your dog
Click here to read our PDF with some ideas of great games you can play with you dog!
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