When we think of mouthiness, we often think of people or most specifically the adolescent years/phase (cause let’s face it – some people seem to stay in that phase way longer than their teens!).
What I am talking about, however, is mouthiness in dogs. Retriever breeds in general tend to be mouthy – always wanting something (besides or with food) in their mouths. We’ve had two Golden Retrievers and one Lab – the goldens always had a toy in their mouth or carefully placed within reach for their entire lives. Lady had a stuffed toy one of the kids left out one day and The Pig had his Wubba. We did not experience puppyhood with Lady as she was a rescue but did with The Pig and his need to have something in his mouth extended to socks, underwear, baby blankets, gloves, hats, rocks and wallets. He was never a shoe or stick or (and here is an important distinction) human in the mouth guy. When the need to have something in the mouth moves from inanimate object to human being – the term moves from mouth to bitey.
All puppies go through a normal bitey stage and it helps them to learn to have a “soft mouth” (ie I can bite this toy hard but not this ankle/toe/face). It’s important that retrievers or any bird dog learn this – otherwise the bird they retrieve would be unusable. So why then, are Lab puppies so very, very bitey?
I have a few thoughts on that.
One: Labrador retrievers were not initially used as bird/hunting dogs. They were used to haul in fishing nets and were then selectively bred to become the dogs we know today. Now if you think about the difference between “retrieving” a heavy fishing net and “retrieving” a delicate bird, you can imagine that the force of the bite would be very different. The effort of pulling in the net and hanging onto it through the water would require a much stronger grip.
Two: Labs love their people. Labs love to be with their people. Labs would rather be with their people more than doing anything else in the world (except maybe eating).
Three: Lab puppyhood lasts a long time.
So if you have a dog that was born to have something in their mouth, have a strong grip/pull and have a Peter Pan puppyhood – the odds are in your favor that you will have months of bity-ness. I’m sure there are Labs out there who aren’t quite as bitey but Cricket wasn’t one of them. She still has a need to have something in her mouth- often things she isn’t supposed to like dish towels, rugs, remote controls, books, magazines,
mail, silverware, toilet paper
– well the list is pretty long… but the good news is, it’s no longer people!