I raise several varieties of bantam chickens, either kept in large, walk-in breeding pens, or roaming free about the place as they see fit. As I go about my chores twice each day, feeding, watering and collecting eggs (in season; they basically only lay in the spring and early summer), my Irish wolfhounds, wolfhound-malamute crosses, and one Caucasian Ovcharka follow me from pen to pen. Any rat that makes an appearance at this time is quickly dispatched, usually by Grizzly, one of the wolfhound-malamute crosses, who is so quick that I usually only have time to register the rat in my mind before it is dead in Grizzly powerful jaws.
I have a practice that is frowned upon 100% by old-time farm folk. I feed my dogs eggs still in the shell (thus producing what would be called an “egg sucking dog” by old-time farmers (my mother told me my grandfather used to say, “There ain’t nothin’ worse than an egg-suckin’ dog.”). But what surprises me is that these dogs, which could hardly be considered soft-mouthed, especially Grizzly and Czara, the CO, will take the eggs from me gently, and carry them across the yard to a grassy spot on the lawn where they’ll drop the egg and then gently break the side of the shell and lick up the liquid.
I also have Raven, a 3/4 wolf, 1/4 Alaskan malamute in a very large kennel (roughly 80 x 40 feet surrounding a beautiful stand of tall spruce trees), and when pressed for time while moving from one chicken pen to another, I will simply toss some eggs over the kennel fence to him, one at a time. Raven will leap into the air to catch each egg, his hind feet often being four feet or more off the ground when he makes the catch, yet he’ll land with the egg un-cracked in his mouth, and trot down to his favorite spot in the kennel before he, too, cracks the egg and laps up the liquid.
Another thing I’ve noticed about Raven is that when I toss him the carcass of a chicken that has been killed by a weasel or some other predator, but is basically still intact, he’ll often carry it around his kennel for a considerable amount of time without ruffling a feather before he actually begin to eat it.
From what I’ve seen comparing our two old Labradors to the other dogs, it appears they don’t so much have a “softer mouth” (less hard bite) than the others (they usually go through their foot-long, rolled-rawhide chews even faster than the other dogs), they just tend not to chew up or worry (shake and shred) whatever they are retrieving.
Our local Golden Retriever club had a fun game called The Order of the Egg. Each dog had to run out to an an egg placed on the ground about 10 yards away, pick it up and retrieve it to hand. Cracked eggs didn’t count, nor did dropped eggs. Passing dogs were awarded The Order of the Egg. One time, some sneaky person substituted eggs hardboiled and without the shell. Still, two dogs retrieved the eggs without putting a mark on them!
It’s both chicken and egg.
The first dog I remember, my family’s Springer spaniel, used to retriever the neighbor’s hens, live, and bring them back to us, unharmed…though the experience did put them off laying for awhile (also embarrassed my parents). Had a similar experience when walking Labbies. A loose hen crossed the road. One of my girls, an untrained bitch from working lines, grabbed the hen almost instantly, with a bite that clenched down both wings but did no damage and brought her to me.
I’ve seen Goldens retrieve live mice, newborn rabbits, baby birds, a skunk (that cleared the field in a hurry!) , garter snakes, turtles, and more, without harming them. One Golden retrieved a goldfish that had jumped out of its tank.(the fish survived). Then there was the Golden that spent an entire afternoon while his folks were busy elsewhere, retrieving spawning catfish from the creek behind the house, and piling them all on the back porch. . . more than 3 dozen of them.Those did not survive, but became fertilizer.
Wish our Golden/Lab had inherited or learned that trait! We are finally getting her to the point where she doesn’t take fingers with treats, but God forbid she has something in her mouth I have to get out. (She loves to raid trashcans for kleenex.) She doesn’t bite, but won’t open her mouth without some force used to get them out! Haven’t been able to break her of nipping during play time either. The worst is when she brings in damp, slightly chewed fledglings every spring. Yuch! Our other Lab is extremely dainty about taking things from your hand. They are both death on any chew toys, even the unbreakable ones! We have an old basketball that is a shredded rag that is the favorite retrieving toy and it’s a hoot to watch the Lab beat it on the ground before she lets you throw it!
My spaniels will hold vienna sausages in their mouths and deliver to hand and the skin won’t even have a dent on them. What I think is amazing is that these same dogs will play tug as rough as my JRT, but will hold and retrieve other items with the softest mouths.