When it comes to dogs and the terminology we use for them, there are a huge number of specific terms for different things, some of which only have meaning in dog circles and some that even beyond that, are rarely used outside of certain specific applications.
One of these is the term “soft mouth,” and whilst this term is one that is instinctively understood by some dog owners who may not even know now how or when they learned it, “soft mouth” is a phrase that doesn’t have a very obvious or clear meaning if you’re not in the know.
If you’ve been hearing the term soft mouth used in relation to dogs or have been told that your dog has a soft mouth, you’re probably wondering what this means, and if it is a good thing or a bad thing, or even a veterinary thing!
With this in mind, this article will tell you the meaning of a soft mouth in dogs, and whether or not it is good for your dog to have a soft mouth. Read on to learn more.
In order to fully understand what we mean when we say a dog has a soft mouth, we first need to understand what is meant in this context by “mouth.”
Obviously the dog’s mouth is the bit with the tongue and teeth in it, but in this context we’re not talking about the physical traits of the dog’s mouth, but how they apply them.
“Mouth” in the context of soft mouth, hard mouth, or something in between, means the lightness or heaviness of pressure a dog applies to their bite, using the force of their jaw.
A soft-mouthed dog applies a very light pressure with their teeth and can exert a very fine degree of control over how strongly or lightly they bite. You can read more about the dog´s teeth and bite here.
A hard-mouthed dog applies a strong, hard or sudden pressure with their jaws when they bite together, and this is sometimes sudden as well, as is the case when the dog snaps.
Whether a dog is hard or soft mouthed is ultimately a manifestation of the level of bite inhibition they exhibit, which we’ll explain more next.
As a simple standalone explanation if you’re already familiar with canine terminology, a dog with a soft mouth is a dog that displays a very high degree of bite inhibition and that is willing and capable of being very gentle in terms of the pressure they apply with their teeth via the strength of their jaw.
A dog with a soft mouth displays a high degree of bite inhibition and a very fine level of control over how hard they bite things, mouth at things, and hold things in their mouths.
Bite inhibition means the degree to which a dog can display control over how hard they deliver a bite. Part of this comes from the physical strength of a dog’s jaw, but even dogs with light jaws can bite incredibly hard, and so bite inhibition refers to the control and degree of a bite, not physical strength.
A high level of bite inhibition and a soft mouth are instinctive and natural for some dogs, and can be fine-tuned and improved by means of training for all dogs, including those that are hard mouthed from the get-go.
This control is in many ways both conscious and unconscious; the dog won’t actively be thinking to themselves “I need to apply a light pressure with my teeth here” when they hold something, but their decision regarding the degree of pressure to use isn’t wholly instinctive either.
It is somewhat like the way we as humans make decisions that are both learned and simultaneously unconscious when doing things like driving a car or riding a bike; we make appropriate corrections and are continually faced with decisions that we respond to, but these aren’t conscious thought processes once we’ve learned the key skills involved.
The level of bite inhibition or how soft a dog’s mouth is when they are tiny pups and first get teeth can be very variable from dog to dog, and puppies begin learning bite inhibition and to soften their bite in some situations from a very young age.
Puppies playing with their littermates from just a couple of weeks old will bite, nip and grasp each other and their dam as part of their exploration; a yelp or growl from the other party lets them know if the pressure they applied hurt, and feeling and experiencing the pain from a bite or nip that elicits a yelp from themselves in turn reinforces this, and is a natural part of the development of bite inhibition.
However, some pups learn this much more acutely, and develop and exhibit a much greater degree of bite inhibition, making them much softer mouthed, than others.
It is important to remember that a dog that has a soft mouth and a high level of bite inhibition can and may still be willing, and is fully able, to apply a lot of bite pressure; a soft mouth is not a physical trait, but a measure of control.
Soft mouthed dogs vary the pressure of their bite to suit the situation, and so they would carry something fragile very gently with an incredibly light biting pressure to hold it, but have no problems biting hard to crunch up their food!
A soft mouth is a positive trait for a dog to have because it demonstrates that they have a high degree of control, and willingness to exercise it too, over the bitey end!
This not only means less chance of accidental injuries or damage from bites, but also that the dog is thoughtful and good natured enough to control the pressure of their jaws to avoid harming things.
If you’re told that your dog has a soft mouth, this is a good thing!