Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Need for Soft Mouths

One trait Labs are famous for (among many) is their soft retrieving mouths.

Oh, yes, we Lab owners know all-too-well how destructive those very same mouths can be, especially during the need-to-chew-everything-in-sight-years of puppydom. But when Labradors retrieve game, they return the catch softly to us, almost tenderly, so that no injury comes to the carcasses they carry.

Their releases at our "drop" commands are just as soft.

Apparently, Labs aren't the only mammal with soft mouths.

While hiking back on an in-and-out trail above Laurel Falls in Great Smoky Mountain National Park on our vacation two weeks ago, we found ourselves within twenty yards of a mother black bear and her brand new cub. The pair dallied about the base of an old growth tulip tree abutting our only path down the mountain. We couldn't go farther without posing a threat to the young family and, with the unpredictable nature and behavior of black bears in the wild, it wasn't a risk we wanted to take.

[FYI, dear hubby or I took all of the pictures you see in this post (zoomed, of course). You can see, Mamma Bear wasn't anyone to mess with.]

Mamma made herself at home, lounging beneath the tree or strolling a few yards up and down the trail when she felt inclined to do so (the cub always within a few feet of her; note cub hanging on her back leg in photo above), but otherwise napping, nursing, and giving the cub tree-climbing lessons.

We waited her out (the only thing we could do). And we watched the interplay between mother and offspring.


The cub behaved like a toddler: tumbling here and there, testing his limits, showing no fear until he found himself stuck, became hungry, needed help, or couldn't see Mom.

The little tyke must've tried to climb that same tree at least five times in the two hours (yes, two hours) we waited for the bears to move far enough away from the trail for us to safely pass.

And every time, without fail, he'd get part way up the towering tree, freeze, and start screaming for Mamma Bear. I've never heard a bear cub scream before; it's incredibly like a blend of human infant howls and screeching birds of prey.

Ever the faithful nurturer, Mamma Bear would climb the tree, gently take the cub in her mouth, and carry her progeny in those powerful jaws tenderly down the trunk again.
Baby Bear couldn't have weighed more than seven or eight pounds (if that); Mamma Bear had to top 300 pounds. But watching her nudge and prod Baby Bear off that tree and into her mouth, you would've thought she was handling hand-blown glass.
She, of necessity, used a soft mouth to retrieve her cub.
A Lab's soft mouth is essential for safely and cleanly retrieving game.
I suspect we human mammals, too, face circumstances necessitating soft mouths, particularly when our target, like a baby bear or downed fowl, is fragile or easily broken.
  • Perhaps we want to reach a wayward child
  • Maybe we're "rescuing" a crisis-entrenched friend.
  • Maybe the target of our soft retrieve is fellow-worker or peer who finds himself lost or in trouble.
  • It could even be that we need to reach ourselves--talking ourselves through issues or our responses to things.
Whatever our targets, though there is a time for tough love and strong accountability, even the toughest of us could afford to be soft-mouthed now and then.
It may be the only approach that works without injury.
'Til next time,


Author Mom with Dogs said...

What a walk in the woods! Glad there were soft mouths all around.

FleasGang said...

That was amazing. I love taking walks in the woods but if I had come across that, I think I would have soiled my pants!

"Sunshine" said...

This was beautiful!!

"There are two kinds of light--the glow that illuminates, and the glare that obscures." - James Thurber

Thanks for being a "glow that illuminates."


Anonymous said...

All I can say is WOW!...

Great shots..and wonderful story...

No black bears yet in our backyard...but lots of baby rabbits and squirrels this side of the Alleghenies..

Huggles of love

Anonymous said...

How do you train your Lab to "drop".Our lab, 4yrs old, loves to fetch the things we throw but part of the game is for us to try to retrieve the ball or frisbee from his mouth. He just refuses to "drop". ANy tips or is it too late for this 4yr old?