We tend to talk about dogs having soft mouths as being a positive thing, which can in turn lead to the assumption that a hard mouth in a dog is a bad thing in contrast.
Whilst it is certainly true that being overly hard mouthed can be a problem, it does also have a number of useful applications too, particularly if the dog displaying the trait can actively control it.
This has led to a number of vital working roles for dogs being filled by dogs with hard mouthed tendencies, which is a key skill required for the roles in question.
In this article we’ll talk about how a hard mouth in a dog can actually be useful, and how this trait has historically been harnessed for important working roles, which is still the case for some dog breeds and roles right up until the present day! Read on to learn more.
A dog having a soft mouth is widely considered to be a notable positive trait, and something that is a compliment if said about your own dog, and a good thing generally. The reasoning for this should be obvious; but does that mean that being hard mouthed is bad?
Well, that sort of depends! If your dog is so hard mouthed that they can’t take a treat without also taking a finger, if their toys are destroyed within seconds, or if they inflict teeth marks just when mouthing in play, then this level of hard mouth is undesirable.
However, being hard mouthed and displaying the tenacity and willingness to inflict a hard bite and hold onto things very firmly does indeed have a number of useful applications, which has historically seen dogs we tend to associate with having hard mouths being used in a number of specific working roles…
So, what are the applications for a hard mouth, what are hard mouthed dogs useful for, how does being hard mouthed help dogs in certain working roles, and what sort of breeds fulfil these roles?
Dogs that are trained for high-level guarding, police and military enforcement work (the type of elite dog training that would have severe legal repercussions if performed by private individuals and applied in the same way in the UK!) need to be able to exhibit hard-mouthed tendencies.
This applies to dogs that would be expected to pursue a criminal or target and be willing to latch onto them and bite with enough force to stop them or bring them to the ground. A dog might also be trained to defend a person or property as strongly as possible, up to and including biting as hard as they can and inflicting as much damage as possible.
Whilst being willing and able to do this shows a hard mouth in action at the time, it is highly controlled; and such dogs are intelligent and biddable enough to also be able to be very soft mouthed on occasion and when directed too.
Many would even be able to take a command that tells them to latch on but not bite, and another command telling them to bite as hard as they can!
Ergo, highly intelligent and bold dogs properly trained for such purposes can display a hard mouth, but also a soft one. This might include members of the German Shepherd, Rottweiler and Belgian Shepherd breeds, all of which are commonly used in elite police and military roles worldwide.
All three of the above-mentioned breeds were historically used for combined herding and herd guarding roles too, and would have been expected to face up to and fight potentially large and bold flock predators, like wolves.
Some other dogs that historically used to defend flocks as well as to shepherd them include the Boerboel and the Rhodesian Ridgeback, either of which might well have taken on lions rather than wolves on their native continent of Africa!
As you might expect, such dogs needed to be fearless, but not all of them would need to be able to display the same level of potential to control their bite as breeds like the Rottweiler, German and Belgian shepherd do in their modern guarding roles.
This is why the very intelligent guarding breeds like those three make the cut for high-level training, whilst less intelligent breeds like the Boerboel, most other Mastiff type dogs, and the Ridgeback, tend to be limited to working roles that require a hard bite and fearlessness but not a lot of control or the ability to soften their bite on command.
There are also some dog types and specific breeds that tend to be naturally hard mouthed, which are those with a very high prey drive and particularly, those that were historically used for hunting and pest control.
Dog breeds that were used for pest control (like ratting) tend to have naturally hard mouths; like the Jack Russell. This is because the purpose of pest control was to kill the pest in question, requiring a hard, firm bite to deliver a quick killing blow, keep a firm hold on the struggling prey, and reduce the chances of the prey getting away or biting the dog back in its own defence.
Dogs of this type, which includes most terriers like the aforementioned Jack Russell, tend to be naturally hard mouthed, and difficult to train to the contrary. The same is true of the Dachshund, which was originally used for hunting badgers, which could be very aggressive when cornered!
Some other dog breeds and types that tend to be naturally hard mouthed include those that were historically used for now-illegal pursuits like fighting and bull baiting; like the English bulldog and some mastiff type dogs, among others.
Obviously this is no longer a useful application for such dogs and is of course highly unethical and outright cruel, but historically, reflects another perceived positive application for hard mouthed dogs.