Teach your puppy to have a soft mouth

It is very important to work with your puppy to teach him or her to have a soft mouth. Dogs don’t naturally understand to be gentle around people unless they are taught the correct way to interact with us. 

I currently have a client that has a wonderful 9-month-old Labrador Retriever puppy. He is in no way “aggressive” in his behavior, but has the roughest mouth I have ever worked with.

Each time I give him a treat or a toy, I have to remind him to be gentle or he gives me painful, bruising bites. He is not trying to hurt me, he just wasn’t taught properly when he was a puppy to be gentle around hands. My client was not thrilled to learn that she can continue working with him and he might improve, but he might not. 

If a puppy never learns to have a soft mouth when he is really young, his “default” bite will be rough.

It is related to their physical development and also the history of their behavior. Try and change the way you do something after doing it for a long time. It is sometimes very difficult. 

Another reason to put time into these exercises now is insurance against the time that your dog might bite out of fear or pain in the future. If a dog has a soft mouth, he can control his mouth and warn someone with a less damaging bite if he is under duress. Even the simple act of grooming a dog can result in a snagged mat and pain for the dog.

A dog with a soft mouth might just grab your hand to tell you to stop, a dog with a rough mouth might send you to the hospital. 

You can do some very simple exercises to increase the chances that your puppy will have a soft mouth when he gets older. Practicing a few minutes a day is a good investment to help prevent painful bites. 

Keep in mind also that it is not a good idea to only toss treats to a dog. This creates a dog that is used to snapping when treats are around and doesn’t teach him to be gentle.

Soft Mouth Exercise

Practice during one meal per day with your puppy.


  1. Take a piece of food and put it in your fist
  2. Move it towards your puppy
  3. If he sniffs or licks your hand, say, “Yes” and open your fist and give it to him
  4. If he bites it (even if it doesn’t hurt) say, “Ouch!” and move your fist away
  5. If he gets too excited when you say, “Ouch!” say it much quieter


  1. Take a piece of food and put it between your thumb and forefinger
  2. Move it towards your puppy
  3. If he bites it (even if you just feel teeth – it doesn’t have to hurt) say, “Ouch!” and move your hand away
  4. If he sniffs or licks your hand or gently grabs it, say, “Yes” and give it to him
  5. Do these exercises for one meal per day to practice
I also recommend that you teach your puppy the rules of tug as well as how to drop things on cue.
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