If you’ve ever had to train a puppy, you’ve probably heard the term “bite inhibition”. In short, the term means training a dog to control the strength of their bite. Chomp down hard if you’re threatened, but keep it soft and gentle during playtime, is basically the message you want to send your dog. While all dogs can learn this behavior, and should, some are more well-suited for it than others.

Why soft mouth?

Another term for bite inhibition is “soft mouth”. When you talk about soft mouth breeds, you’re talking about dogs that have a knack for this particular exercise, due to their breeding and original purpose. First and foremost, this refers to bird dogs. Any kind of retriever dog has the very important job of finding their human hunter’s shot-down fowl, and bring it back to them unscathed. A too-strong bite may render the bird too damaged to preserve or eat, so a soft mouth is essential. Some argue that a bird dog without a soft mouth is as bad a bird dog being afraid of gunshots; it makes it impossible for them to be good for hunting. In contrast to soft mouth breeds, breeds that tend to bite down on things and grip tight are known as “hard mouth” breeds.

In order to teach a dog soft mouth, or bite inhibition, it takes a lot of training and a lot of patience. A common ― and highly effective ― method is simply yelping like a puppy whenever your dog bites a little too hard. The dog will immediately understand what it means, and adjust accordingly. After all, dogs really don’t want to hurt humans; they’re pretty much hardwired not to. So if you keep this up, and reward your pup when they go a little easier on you, you’ll have a patient, gentle dog in no time.

The versatile, ever-popular Labrador Retriever is one of the top soft mouth breeds.

Other uses for soft mouth

A more everyday upside of this particular trait is that it makes playtime a lot easier, as these dogs are much less prone to accidentally injure you. Dogs need to be taught that humans are very fragile, sensitive beings, and that they need to be much more gentle when playing with us than when playing with each other. Anyone not familiar with how dogs play with each other might interpret a lively wrestle as an outright fight, which says a lot about how rough dogs playing can get. Soft mouth breeds will have an easier time playing with humans. Not to mention, assistance dogs often put this skill to good use by helping to pick up or carry things when their human isn’t able to. And they manage to do so without leaving any scratches or marks. Some dogs are also just more nippy than others, which needs to be dealt with, both for playing and to keep them from playfully biting strangers.

Gentle hunters

The breeds on this list consist almost entirely of hunting dogs, more specifically, bird dogs. Near the top is the Labrador Retriever. This is overall one of the most popular breeds in the world, and it’s easy to understand why. They’re very versatile, hard workers, and highly intelligent, which makes them well-suited for hunting as well as family life. It has been said that a Lab’s bite is so gentle that they can carry an egg in their mouth without damaging it. While this is true, very few Labs possess the training and natural skill to pull this off. Still, though ― it’s pretty impressive.

Unsurprisingly, the Golden Retriever is also on this list. Just like the Lab, as well as the Chesapeake Bay Retriever and the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, the Golden Retriever is well-suited for fetching and carrying prey. Their soft temperament, intelligence, and friendly disposition also make them an excellent family dog. Even the Poodle belongs on this list, as this dog was also originally bred for retrieving shot-down birds for their hunter human. The Cocker Spaniel, the Springer Spaniel, the Irish Setter, the American Water Spaniel ― they all have a soft mouth. In fact, this goes for most, if not all, spaniels and setters. Just like retrievers, spaniels and setters were originally bred to fetch and carry back dead birds, making sure they remained completely undamaged, in the process.

The Irish Setter definitely belongs on the list of soft mouth breeds, just like other retriever, setter, and spaniel breeds.

The most tender of bites

Any dog can be taught bite inhibition, but some breeds are more adept at soft mouth training than others. When it comes to other hunting breeds, meant to chase and subdue, a hard mouth is much more common. This also goes for guard dogs and working dogs, where a soft mouth isn’t exactly a strength. And while your dog hates causing just the tiniest little yelp of pain from you, accidents do happen, and it’s important to make sure not too much damage is done, when they do. So make sure you teach your puppy bite inhibition, preferably before 5 months of age, and playtime and interactions with new people will go a lot smoother. And if you want to increase your chances of managing this, consider some of the breeds on this list.