Why Is My Dog Afraid Of His Water Bowl? 7 Unexpected Reasons!

Dog by water bowl illustration
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Dogs can be funny, peculiar, and unpredictable creatures. That’s part of why we, as dog owners, love them so much.  

Sometimes, they are completely fearless to the point of, dare I say, pure, unabashed stupidity. My own dogs have been guilty of this on many an occasion.

My puppy will jump off ledges far too high, sniff at hedgehogs much too spiky, and growl at dogs that are many times bigger than he is. I sweat in my boots beside him- yet he’s always his normal, unafraid self, tail wagging away with nary a care in the world.

Despite this Herculean demeanor, sometimes dogs can also be afraid of the most seemingly illogical things, at least on the surface.

The sight of their own water dish can send them scurrying, tail between legs, in the opposite direction.

That may cause you rightly to wonder, “Why is my dog afraid of his water bowl…?” I know I’ve asked the same thing.

Dogs can be afraid of water bowls for many reasons, it seems.

It may take some testing to figure out which one is causing their behavior, but here are some of the most common reasons that dogs are afraid of water bowls.

Reason #1: The Sound

Dog with perked up ears
Those ears hear everything.

“Why is my dog afraid of his water bowl when it’s not even that loud? This is something many dog owners have asked out of frustration, ignorantly.

The answer is that while the clanging, screeching, and clanking sounds that water bowls make may not be that loud for us, it sure as sugar can be ear-splitting for our best friends.

You may already know that dogs have far, far better hearing than us from the way that their heads perk up and look outside when our silly human ears haven’t picked up a thing.

What you may not realize is just how much better their auditory senses really are when compared to our own.

According to Headstuff, dogs can hear sounds four times further away, can hear higher frequencies, can differentiate between sounds and can pinpoint the exact location of a sound.

While most humans can’t hear sounds over 20,000hz (vibrations per second), dogs can hear sounds up to 50,000hz.

Knowing these facts, maybe we should cut our dogs some slack when it comes to loud, irritating noises.

Stainless steel bowls often produce ringing sounds when placed on the ground or touched, and this can frighten puppies as well as grown dogs.

If you’ve ever caused a huge commotion by tripping on a water dish or dropping it on the ground, you most likely startled your dog and made it wary of future noises. Remember, sounds are much louder to dogs than they are to us.

If someone suddenly struck a gong in your face without warning, wouldn’t you be terrified? I thought so.

Dogs will even be startled by the sound of kibble crashing into their food bowl or the metal parts of their collars striking the bowl. The sound of clinking can send their mind into a state of panic and disarray and result in a fear of their water dish or food bowl.

Solution:

You can minimize the offending sounds of a metal water dish by replacing it with a different type of bowl, such as plastic or ceramic. Plastic and ceramic bowls make much less sound when touched than metal ones.

It would be even better if the bowl has sound-dampening properties, which will significantly reduce the chance for banging and clicking noises to frighten your dog.

Reason #2: Reflections

Dog reflection in the water at the beach
Am I me, or is my reflection me? – philosophical dog

Dogs can also be startled by reflections in metal bowls. Bursts of light and shadow, images of your funny-looking mug, or even their own handsome reflection can shock them and make them worry about a possible intruder or water/food thief.

“Why is my dog afraid of his water bowl reflecting a bit of light?”, you may ask. There are a couple of reasons for this fear.

Firstly, dogs don’t understand the concept of light, shadow, images and reflection the way that humans do, so they’re understandably scared of what they do not know.

Secondly, in contrast to human eyes, canine eyes are much less evolved. Though they do not see in black and white as is popularly believed, they do have fewer color receptors in their eyes than humans do (3 cones vs. 2) and see things as if it was dusk all the time.

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According to Psychology Today, dogs are also very near-sighted. They are thought to possess only 20/75 vision on average, which means that what they can barely make out at 20 feet is actually visible to human eyes at 75 feet.

No wonder then that they’re afraid of reflections! As blurry as their vision already is, any reflected moving images on their water bowl would only make them even more flighty.

Picture it from an evolutionary perspective: If a dog in the wild went to drink water at the side of the river only to see movement around or underneath the water, they would jump away quickly in fear of predators and be extremely wary to drink from there again!

When they’re afraid of reflections, dogs often take quick, short sips and then move away from their bowl, further reinforcing their own avoidance behaviors in one fell swoop.

Solution:

Just like the previous problem, replace the metal bowl with something opaque and non-reflective.

Also, try to minimize the chances that there will be any reflections in the water. You may need to move the bowl to a darker part of the house.

Finally, try not to sneak up on them while they are drinking! No matter how much they love you, they will probably still receive a fright if they see something from the corner of their eyes.

Reason #3: Location, Location, Location

4 dog water bowls together
Probably just a bit too close for comfort

There’s an experiment that you can try with your dog next time you get a chance. Move the water bowl from its usual location to a new, quiet area where your dog hasn’t had an opportunity to lap H2O before.

Chances are, it will happily drink water from the bowl- much to your confusion and befuddlement.

Why is my dog afraid of his water bowl being in a specific spot, you may wonder?

Dogs prefer drinking water in quiet areas that are free of other distractions.

Problems like vents blowing air in their faces or unusual smells from different regions can keep dog minds heavily preoccupied. In cases like these, dogs aren’t afraid of their water bowl so much as they are unable to focus on it.

If there is more than one dog in the house, they may be prone to a negative behavior called resource guarding.

Animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell, Ph.D. defines resource guarding in dogs as “possessive aggression”, where it will guard things that it finds valuable from others that might want to use it.

Often, they will simply guard or hold onto an object or piece of food without actually playing with or eating it. While this is less common with water, it is still possible.

Especially when there are many dogs vying for one water bowl, there may be some inherent competition for the resource.

A dog may then again not be scared so much of the water bowl itself, but of the effects of going near it (i.e. getting bitten).

Solution:

Simply move the bowl to another part of your house.

Check the new location for airflow, noise, and smells. Remember, dogs rely on their noses far more than humans do, with some scientists estimating their smelling abilities to be as much as 10,000 to 100,000 better than ours.

Therefore, any negative smells in the area of the water bowl can be a real problem.

If you have many dogs in your home, you may need to monitor when each dog drinks or set up multiple bowls in different locations. This way, they’ll be able to be kept apart from each other and will not be as competitive.

Reason #4: Negative Associations

Why is my dog afraid of his water bowl? If this was your water bowl, wouldn't you be scared too??
If this was your water bowl, wouldn’t you be scared too?

Dogs are extremely good at single event learning, which is the ability to create an association between two things through just one event. This is called episodic memory, and it’s why your dog always seems to know exactly when dinnertime is every single day without fail.

Fear is a particularly influential teacher for dogs, so they’ll often avoid water bowls that they’re afraid of, especially if they have another water source.

That can mean your dog will prefer to drink out of buckets or divots outside that catch rainwater- or even the toilet bowl.

It is possible to teach dogs that their water bowl is safe, but you may need to give them a different bowl, with a different color and material, to help them feel safe again. Putting the bowl in a different place also helps.

Solution:

Changing the bowl is usually easier than reprogramming a negative association.

Get a bowl of a different material, with a different shape, to the one you already have and put it in a different part of the house.

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Encourage your dog to drink from it and praise them when they do. This should help form good, positive associations with the bowl.

Reason #5: Pain

Chihuahua drinking water out of water bowl
“It sure is painful to know that I am so small that I can fit right into this water bowl”

Just like fear, pain is a potent teacher for dogs, and your dog could be associating its water bowl with pain if something had happened previously.

For example, an old dog may have neck pain when they lower their head to drink, or have tooth pain that drinking from the bowl can irritate.

Dogs can get cavities from eating too much sugar among other things, and they are particularly likely to avoid water bowls just after they have dental extractions.

Solution:

If you suspect your dog is in pain and you don’t know why, contact a veterinarian as soon as possible. Only a trained vet is qualified to properly diagnose these issues.

There are myriad potential causes of pain, ranging from organ damage, to stomach bloating, to illness, to a bit of food stuck in their gum line.

At the same time, remember that pain is not necessarily a sign of a life-threatening problem. You should be concerned about the wellbeing of your dog, but try not to panic too much.

If you know the source of the pain and expect it to go away in time, such as if it is lingering pain from a tooth extraction, ask your vet if you should give your dog any painkillers. Vets can provide additional advice and instructions for caring for your dog while they recover.

Reason #6: Depth Perception

This is another problem that is caused by dogs’ vision issues.

If a dog has poor depth perception, they can have trouble seeing the exact surface of the water. That can result in plunging their nose into the water, which can make them inhale water choke.

While some dogs enjoy blowing bubbles with their nose, this can be a painful and often frightening experience for most dogs unless they’re used to the sensation from diving into pools or the ocean.

Issues with depth perception are most common in older dogs. Even if they’ve been happy with a specific water bowl for a long time, issues like this can lead to developing new fears and problems.

Solution:

Try different water bowls to figure out which of them your dog finds easiest to use. We recommend starting with a shallower bowl that they can’t dip their nose too far into.

In extreme cases, you may need to find an alternative solution. This could be anything from giving them wet food with lots of water in it to letting them drink from a fountain that they don’t have to put their entire head into.

There are no universal answers here, so be ready to get creative and experiment.

Reason #7: They Simply Dislike It

grumpy looking pup lying on the floor

Simple dislike is a little harder to pinpoint, since we aren’t able to just simply ask our dogs what they don’t like. Moreover, dislike often looks similar to fear from the outside.

For example, there could be some soap remnants in the bowl, causing the water to taste odd. In these cases, dogs will often avoid the bowl because it seems too suspicious, and, like most animals, don’t want to risk poisoning themselves.

Alternatively, your dog may dislike having wet fur or whiskers after drinking. Some breeds are more susceptible to this than others.

Solution:

Determine the exact thing they dislike and resolve that issue. This often takes some experimentation.

In many cases, it’s best to start by thoroughly cleaning the bowl, then washing it off. You can try to put a little flavoring into the water to encourage your dog to drink it and form positive associations with the water bowl.

Why does my dog bark at his water bowl…?

Puppy photographed mid-bark
Ollie the puppy, caught mid-bark

Sometimes dogs will bark at their water bowls for what seems like no good reason. It can be hard to determine exactly what is causing them to be hostile towards their water bowl, but all of the above reasons in the article could be a possibility.

The most likely answer would still seem to be the reflections that it sees in the bowl itself. If it is a stainless steel or metal bowl, the moving images that are reflected will be skewed due to the circular shape of the bowl and may be unrecognizable by your dog.

This is probably frightening for the dog as it doesn’t understand why something moves in the bowl, and their response (as with other things that frighten it) will be to bark at it.

If the dog is getting older and starts to consistently bark at its water bowl, it may unfortunately be a sign of a neurological disease such as dementia. Another sign of dementia involves your dog licking the floor constantly. Dementia may cause a dog to forget what their water bowl looks like and become scared of it, resulting in barking.

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Another reason a dog might bark at its water bowl is if it doesn’t agree with the contents inside.

If the dog takes a few sips, then backs away and starts barking, it could be because the water tastes funny! In these cases, check if anything has gotten into the bowl such as insect larvae and wash it out thoroughly, then replenish it with clean, fresh water.

Regardless of whether it is actually the reflection, or some other factor such as old age, or taste of the water, the reason a dog will bark at its water bowl is because it has developed some kind of negative association to it and is voicing its objections.

My Dog Is Scared Of Water Bowl Bubbles…

If you’ve bought your dog one of those fancy schmancy water dispenser water bowls, it may be scared by the bubbles that are created when the bowl automatically refills.

The moment those bubbles start rising to the surface and the contraption gurgles, your dog runs away like it’s the end of the world.

Unfortunately, in my experience- once a scared dog, always a scared dog.

It is possible to retrain your dog and get it to drink out of the automatic bowl again. However, it will be a very slow and painstaking ‘desensitizing’ process with many, many setbacks.

It may be worth the time and effort… but for such a simple task- probably not.

The easiest solution (though hard for your wallet’s pride to swallow) is simply to replace the automatic bowl with a good ol’ fashioned regular one that doesn’t come with sparkly bubbles attached.

If you continue to use a water bowl that your dog is afraid of, it may be hesitant and refuse to drink water from there except in short spurts. This can lead to dehydration and eventually a whole host of other health issues.

Therefore it is vitally important to make sure your dog gets to drink as much water as it needs.

Why Is It Important For Dogs To Drink Plenty Of Water?

Dog drinking water straight out of hose

Water prevents dehydration- it’s really as simple as that.

Water is essential for a dog’s organs to function properly, and necessary in order to maintain an optimal body temperature.

Some common signs of dehydration include:

  • Weakness and lethargy
  • Dry mouth and pale gums
  • Vomiting and loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Heavy panting
  • Dry nose and wide eyes
  • Sticky saliva

Without proper water intake, a dog can fall ill relatively quickly and in the most serious of cases can lead to seizures and eventual death.

How Do I Get My Dog To Drink More Water?

There are 5 ways that you can make sure your dog drinks enough water:

  1. Make sure that fresh, clean water is easily accessible for your dog.
  2. Making the water tastier can entice your dog to drink more.
  3. You can try substituting or mixing dry food with wet food.
  4. Ice cubes, especially on hot summer days, can help to increase your dog’s water intake.
  5. If your dog is sick or unable to move to reach water, consider feeding it with a syringe or turkey baster.

For a more in-depth look at the methods you can use to help your dog hydrate, check out our post on How To Get A Dog To Drink More Water (After Surgery) here!

In Summary

Phew! That turned out to be a lot bigger of an article than I expected it to be.

Nevertheless, when it comes to why a dog is afraid of his water bowl, it really comes down to the 7 reasons listed above:

  1. The sounds of the water bowl
  2. The reflections of the water bowl
  3. The location of the water bowl
  4. Any negative associations of the water bowl
  5. Any pain associated with the water bowl
  6. Depth perception issues with the water bowl
  7. They simply just dislike the water bowl for their own reasons!

Regardless of the specific reason, it really is a big deal that you solve the issue as quickly as possible so that your dog gets back to drinking the amount of water it needs to be healthy.

Otherwise, it is very possible for it to become dehydrated especially in hot climates, which will then lead to bigger issues that could otherwise have been easily prevented.

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