Any dog can theoretically be trained to have a soft mouth, and any dog at all can most certainly be trained to improve their bite inhibition and so, soften their mouth.
However, the trait of being soft mouthed comes much more naturally and even instinctively to certain breeds and types of dogs than others, and this in turn went a long way to establishing these dogs within one of the best-known working roles dogs can have, which we’ll outline in more detail later on.
Within this article we’ll provide a brief explanation of what it means for a dog to have a soft mouth, and then cover in more detail what type of dogs tend to have a soft mouth, and why. Read on to learn more.
A soft mouthed dog is a dog that displays a high degree of bite inhibition; that is, a dog that can and does consciously alter the strength of their bite by means of the pressure applied by their jaw, as is relevant to the situation.
This means that a soft mouthed dog can decide that something they want to pick up and hold with their mouths is fragile and they don’t want to harm or damage it, and they are then capable of holding it very, very lightly, exerting just enough pressure with the jaw to allow the teeth to keep it secure, but without damaging or likely even marking it.
If your dog “mouths” at your hand or arm, and you can feel their teeth when they do but this does not cause any pain or even feeling of pressure nor leave any mark (other than slobber) your dog is displaying acutely well controlled bite inhibition and the application of a soft mouth in practice. You can read more about soft mouth on dog's here.
A soft mouth is the pressure a dog applies with their jaw; not the pressure a dog is capable of applying with their jaw.
Different breeds and types of dogs have quite different jaws in terms of the maximum degree of pressure they can apply with them, and this can be very variable, but even very tiny dogs with comparatively fragile jaws like the Chihuahua can apply a lot of pressure with their jaw and so, teeth, if they wish to.
A soft mouth is not an expression of a dog’s physical strength or the potential pressure of their jaw, but their control over it, and so a soft mouth is not a physical trait; however, despite this, it is more common to some dog breeds than others.
A soft mouth is widely considered to be a desirable trait in a dog, because it demonstrates their ability and willingness to control themselves in a very important way; their ability to inflict, or keep themselves from inflicting, damage to another animal, person or object.
This isn’t just a desirable personality trait, however, but one that has a huge range of potentially useful applications for us humans!
A dog that has a soft mouth will not only be less likely to inflict harm with their teeth, but they can also carry and hold things without damaging or hurting them. This in turn has led to a number of dog breeds that tend to produce dogs with an instinctively high level of bite inhibition, a naturally soft mouth, and the thoughtful and kind nature to apply it, being widely used within a number of working roles for which a soft mouth is useful if not essential.
So, this being the case, what types or breeds of dogs tend to have a soft mouth?
There are a large number of soft mouthed dog breeds, which are breeds we tend to associate with having a soft mouth and which have been used historically and today in working roles which demand this. This does not of course mean that dogs of other breeds might not have a soft mouth too!
However, the dog types and breeds that we associate with soft mouths are dogs that retrieve (like the Labrador retriever and flat coated retriever), which were originally selected to bring downed birds and other small prey back to their handlers without damaging it.
As these birds were light, delicate and generally intended for the table, and a dog biting too hard or damaging them would ruin them for this purpose! This means that all dogs within the gundog group and breeds with “retriever” in their name, as well as other breeds with associated skills and working applications, tend to have soft mouths.
This trait is not only useful in dogs in the field, however, and is one of the reasons that make retrieving dog types one of the most popular groups for a range of other working roles today too; such as serving as assistance dogs for people with disabilities.
Dogs that can carry anything from a TV remote control to a leather purse to their owner without damaging it are very versatile and useful, and once trained for such purposes, can make a huge difference to the independence and quality of life of a person with a physical disability.