How to Open a Dogs Mouth [Follow These Simple Steps]

owner attempting to open their dogs mouth

The best way to open a dog’s mouth is to place one hand over the muzzle, with your thumb and forefinger behind the canine teeth. Place your other hand under their chin. Use both hands to gently open the dog’s mouth. Be sure to give plenty of praise and positive reinforcement during the process.

Have you ever tried to pry your dog’s mouth open? It’s not an easy task. Your dog’s jaw is extremely powerful, and if he doesn’t want to open his mouth, he won’t. 

Add to that the fact that some dogs will become frightened when you are aggressively trying to open their mouth. 

A fearful dog with your hands near his mouth is a recipe for a dog bite, unless you learn to approach it calmly and train your dog consistently to open his mouth for you when told.

Why You Might Need to Open Your Dog’s Mouth

There are many reasons you might need to open your dog’s mouth. But they usually boil down to two main reasons:

  1. Your dog has something in his mouth
  2. You are trying to keep your dogs oral health in check

Something is in Your Dog’s Mouth

More often than not, you’re going to be opening your dog’s mouth because of reason number one, which is (unfortunately) the more difficult scenario. 

If your dog has something in his mouth that he shouldn’t have, chances are it’s something he really wants and will not give up easily.

It might be a health concern. Maybe he’s grabbed something that’s not edible and could be a choking hazard, like a child’s small toy or a bunch of small rocks. Or perhaps it is edible, but still dangerous. Many dogs like to grab food or table scraps when they get the chance, but not everything we eat is good for our dogs. It could be toxic for him like raisins, or a choking hazard like small bones from cooked meat.

It could even be a concern over the value of the item your dog has in his mouth. Dogs don’t understand the difference between a cell phone and a chew toy until they’re taught. Your child’s favorite stuffed animal looks a lot like a plush dog toy, and he doesn’t understand the sentimental difference. 

You Are Maintaining Your Dog’s Oral Health

Another reason you might want to open your dog’s mouth is to check his oral health. It’s a good idea to periodically inspect his teeth and gums for excessive tartar buildup or signs of disease. 

If you train your dog to peacefully let you open and check his mouth, it will make your vet’s job much easier the next time he has a checkup.

You also need to open your dog’s mouth to brush his teeth. Although, with the flavorful doggie toothpaste on the market now, many dogs are more than willing to behave for this routine. Many of them see it as a game and happily try to chew the toothbrush as you do your job.

Depending on how reluctant your dog is to take medicine, this might be another scenario where you are forced to open his mouth. 

Even though some dog owners can hide medication in treats or cover them in peanut butter to trick their dogs into eating them, not everyone is so lucky. 

Some clever dogs will take the treat and just spit the medicine back out. In this case, you might have to open your dog’s mouth to place the medication far back enough on his tongue to make sure he swallows it.

How to Safely Open a Dogs Mouth

Know The Dog

The first (and most important) thing is to know the temperament of the dog. If you’re going to open your dog’s mouth (or the mouth of your friend’s dog), you want to know how they’re going to react. 

Never try to open the mouth of an aggressive dog that you’re worried might bite you. If the dog has aggression issues, focus on resolving those before you work on opening its mouth.

Touch Your Dogs Mouth During The Day

Start by practicing with your dog when he doesn’t have anything in his mouth. The last thing you want to do when handling your dog is to scare him or make it an unpleasant experience.

Get your dog used to you handling and touching his mouth. Don’t do this during playtime because it could lead to mistakes and some accidental bites if your dog confuses your hand for the toy.

Lots of Praise

Praise your dog for calm behavior and give him plenty of treats after the exercise. Start out just by placing your hand over his muzzle. Don’t try to open his mouth. Just let him get used to the feeling of your hand on his nose.

Then work your way up to a simple oral inspection of his teeth by lifting his lips to expose the teeth.

Use Two Hands If You Need To

Once your dog seems comfortable with your hands around his mouth, you can try to open his mouth. 

Place one hand over his muzzle, with your thumb and forefinger behind his canine teeth. Place your other hand under his chin. Your second hand is there for support and to give you more control if you need it.

Use the two fingers around your dog’s muzzle to lift his mouth open. If you need to, use the same fingers on your lower hand to more firmly hold his lower jaw in place. 

Don’t be too rough or forceful, but you might need to make this a little uncomfortable for him the first time to get him to comply. 

Using a bit of pressure and pressing your dog’s lips lightly into his teeth will usually be enough to get him to open his mouth.

If you’re in an emergency situation where your dog just grabbed something he shouldn’t have, you’re probably going to want to use both hands. 

In this scenario, your dog has something that he thinks is really great, and he will not give it up easily. You’re going to need all the leverage you can get.

On the other hand, if you’re working on training your dog to politely open his mouth for you, try doing this with only one hand since it gives you more freedom and is less intimidating for your dog.

Teach the “Leave It” and “Drop It” Commands

The best commands that you can teach your dog or young puppy to avoid an emergency situation where you need to open his mouth are “leave it” and “drop it.”

Leave It

This command is intended to avoid the situation altogether. If you can train your dog to not grab off-limit items, you won’t have to take urgent actions to remove something from his mouth.

Again, start out slowly and work your way up. Drop or place a food item or treat on the floor, far out of your dog’s reach, and give the command “Leave It.” 

If your dog leaves the item alone and doesn’t make any attempt to grab it, praise him and give him treats. 

You can also try this with a tether if you think he might be too quick for you. But make sure to never allow your dog to grab that item off of the floor. If he attempts to grab it, pick it up before he gets to it, then correct him.

Drop It

This one is necessary for when you’re not around to tell your dog to leave it. If your dog runs inside with a dead bird in his mouth, the “Leave It” command will not help you. You need to tell your dog to “Drop It.” This avoids you having to open his mouth to actively remove the item.

Practice this command with toys. While playing, if your dog has a toy in his mouth, grab the toy in one hand, with a treat in the other, and tell your dog to “Drop It.” 

As soon as your dog releases the toy, take it out of his mouth and give him the treat. Do this several times with different toys throughout your play. Follow up each time with lots of praise.

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