Soft mouths are critical for hunting dogs. A hard mouth dog will tear into game birds and damage the meat. Many retriever breeds naturally will have a soft mouth but teaching hard mouth individuals to loosen their grip is possible through dedicated training. Numerous effective training toys and tools are available but the key is a consistent training program.
Certain actions unintentionally will teach your dog to hard mouth. Avoid playing tug of war with your dog and do not allow him to tear into toys. Do not use squeaky toys as they will teach the dog to bite harder for the noise reward. Train your dog using positive reinforcement for good behavior and never use punishment outside of a stern voice.
Train your dog from a young age with toys. Use fake ducks and game birds along with real wings from game birds. Make your dog sit and hold the toys without chewing. Take the toy away and verbally scold with a stern "no" for chewing. Make him hold the toy and release when you say "hand." Provide a treat reward when he softly releases the toy into your hand. Move forward to retrieval and follow with the same commands. Eventually, your dog will learn to return the toy with a soft mouth.
Combating Hard Mouths
Overcoming a hard mouth requires repetitive training. Wear a leather glove and playfully insert your hand into your dog's mouth. Hold the bottom jaw if he chews firmly and lightly scold for the action. Keep your hand in the mouth until he loosens the grip. Praise for the soft mouth and provide a reward. Repeat this action often until your dog has a consistently soft mouth. Move on to real bird wings and make him sit and hold with a soft mouth until you give the hand command.
Inserting a bare hand into your dog's mouth may cause scrapes and minor injuries. Always wear a glove to protect your hand.
Training hunting dogs to retrieve and use a soft mouth requires a regular training program. Your dog will develop good habits with a consistent approach to training. Work with him almost daily as a puppy and young dog to establish good habits. After the first few years, your dog will respond quickly to your commands and will perform in the field.
Zach Lazzari is a Montana based freelance outdoor writer and photographer. You can follow his work at bustedoarlock.com.