"Ask the Dog Guy" with John Wade

"Ask the Dog Guy" with John Wade

Puppy and Obedience Training Without Food or Fear

Dog is afraid of eating and drinking out of a bowl.

– Posted in: Anxiety, Behavior Problems, Columns, Fear, Sounds, Thunder

[intlink id=”2072″ type=”post”]Dog is afraid of eating or drinking from a bowl[/intlink]

Hello John,

Could you please help me figure out why for the last 3 years my 12 year old mixed black lab refuses to drink out of a bowl and now even a flat platter. She approaches her food bowl with fear as well. If there is even the slightest bit of noise or if her food drops on the plate (flat also) she cowers. She will eat snow, drink rain water off the deck and water from the bird bath.

Our vet said it was not uncommon for elderly dogs to do this. Because she has cataracts she explained it could be that she feels like she is going into a tunnel. I thought she would eventually get thirsty enough and succumb to the platter, but she circles around it and refuses, so I gave in and poured it on the floor where she lapped it up one glass after another. Is this just a bad habit? Should I just accept that she is old and continue with what I’ve been doing?


Dear Karen,

When I first read this I found it mildly amusing. To hear of a dog with even a speck of Labrador Retriever being afraid to eat and drink is like finding a couch potato afraid of the remote. After a bit though I got to thinking were I in her paws and something was making me afraid to do something critical to my very existence it wouldn’t be so funny particularly considering how often she must face it.

Certainly something triggered this but what is moot. I’m betting this dog has other issues. Eccentricities that indicate a predisposition for anxiety. Thunder, fireworks, hot air balloon phobias for instance or just a nervous dog that when something scares her it sticks. In this case, the fact  that it’s associated around one of the basic necessities of life makes it likely that this is a “wiring” problem more so then cataracts alone.

If we were able to make it impossible for her to eat or drink any other way then out of regular bowls she would eventually succumb. I have never known a physically healthy creature to avoid water. Even animals that know full well there are crocodiles in the water will in spite of their fear drink when they must. However with your dog, even if I were willing to wait her out by making it impossible to otherwise get sustenance, what’s the point? She’s likely a dog predisposed to anxiety now going on 13, you’ve coped with this for 3 years, why not for a few more? Why put either of you through it. Besides, at 13 her kidneys may not be as efficient as they once were and it may be dangerous to wait her out.

If you want to try a couple of more things, see f she’ll chew on ice cubes.  Slightly more convenient and less messy for you. Or buy another bird bath made with the same material as the one she will drink out of but where the bowl is removable. After she’s been drinking out of that in the yard for a while. Bring the bowl part in and see what happens.

Trying her out on an anti-anxiety medication for 12 weeks might be worth a shot as well. For most behaviours you’d have to form a behavior modification plan as well but if we could calm her mind, I should think that the pleasure of eating and drinking would be enough positive reinforcement.

John Wade – www.askthedogguy.com

Important Note: Much to my surprise, based on the comments and private emails I receive this problem is more common then I would ever thought. I’m beginning to develop a theory as to why. I need to see some video of dogs refusing to eat and owners attempts to encourage them. So feel free to send. If the file is to large send to my email by uploading to www.wetransfer.com. It’s a free service that works simply and well.

32 Comments… add one

Kimberly February 6, 2014, 4:03 pm

I have the same problem with my young 3 year old Shih-tzu. She is afraid to eat and drink from a plate/bowl of any material. We feed her straight on the floor. She even barks or growls at her water bowl. Sometimes she does get desperate and lap and then skit back. She will do that several times. Not sure what to make of it. Help?

John "Ask the Dog Guy" Wade February 9, 2014, 2:00 pm

How has she got by for water for 3 years? Does she have other issues?

Dale June 12, 2014, 6:30 pm

our 8 month old maltese that we got from a rescue all off a sudden has the same problem. He was eating and drinking fine from his bowls and now he is scared to death of them. He will eat the food off the floor with coaxing, and drink the water from a coffee mug and it takes a lot of coaxing for him to drink. Any sudden movement while he is eating or drinking and he freaks out. I don’t know what caused this or what to do. I wish I could send you a video of his behavior.

John "Ask the Dog Guy" Wade June 17, 2014, 5:28 pm

Hi Dale,

Here is the link for sending me videos. You will have to enter my email address, john@askthedogguy.com

I’ll have a look and get back to you.


Ashley June 17, 2014, 9:32 am

My chihuahua has the same problem he’s about 3 years old, we adopted him and have been trying to feed him out of different bowls or plates and the rattling noise seems to scare him and refuses to eat on his bowl.

John "Ask the Dog Guy" Wade June 17, 2014, 5:29 pm

Hi Ashley,

Did you just get him? Where? Did they have similar issues?


Chelsea September 13, 2014, 1:01 pm

My brother and his wife have a dog who is terrified of everything. Anxiety ridden. She is afraid of the water she drinks but will drink after much resistance. She also will urinate at the drop of a hat because of different fears and noises around the house. They refuse to seek the help of a trainer because they don’t believe in it. I have to live with the dog and want to help but am at a loss of what to do. I would hate living in fear like that and I’m sure it’s not enjoyable for her. Any advice? She is a rescue.

John "Ask the Dog Guy" Wade September 15, 2014, 12:29 pm

Hi Chelsea,

I agree that living in fear is not a state one should leave a dog when there are treatment options. This sort of problem requires a lot more background information before and advice can be provided. Did the rescue not provide any resources?


Lauren January 11, 2015, 7:13 am

My Maltese Shihtzu x has started doing this too. I bought a self filling bowl, which made bubbling noises. This frightened her, so I switched back to her original bowl… But now she’s afraid of that too! She gets so thirsty I’ve found her drinking water from the shower floor (so unlike her). I’ve resorted to leaving different bowls all around the house. I hope this works. Do you have any ideas?

Kerrylee October 16, 2015, 6:21 am

My 9 year old Maltese shihtzu chopper” is frightened of both food and water bowls. He barks at both bowls, and is scarf to walk past them. Water bowls outside he is also afraid of, but quickly drinks from it. What do I do??

John "Ask the Dog Guy" Wade October 17, 2015, 11:38 am

Please send video.


Michael McKee April 6, 2015, 4:35 pm

My female Border Collie will not drink from a bowl outside but will drink from the same bowl if I put it in the house. She is 18 months old. She will drink from a small mud hole in the back yard.

John "Ask the Dog Guy" Wade April 6, 2015, 5:44 pm

The ambience of where one’s victuals are consumed is more important to some connoisseurs then others. Your dog may have been a cat in another life.


Renata K May 24, 2015, 9:45 am


I have a three year old rough collie that has been having a similar problem for the past year. First we started out by changing the location of his water and food bowls and that helped for a while. One day while drinking from his bowl something fell and our dog got very scared from the noise. Since then I have changed the bowl from a round metal one to an oval plastic one and it helped a bit but still he can go without drinking for a long time . He will come up to the bowl stand over it might take one or two licks and will run away as if he is very afraid of something . I want to help him get over this because I can see that he goes through this fear all every day. Usually I hold the bowl of water for him and he will drink that way without a problem. Please advise on what I can do . Thank you

John "Ask the Dog Guy" Wade May 24, 2015, 5:02 pm

Hi Renata,

Are his tags clinking against the bowl?


James June 6, 2015, 11:44 am

I am very surprised that searching the internet it seems like there are no “experts” that have any idea what is going on, despite this being a common issue. My Schnauzer is exactly the same way, terrified of any bowl of any material shape or size. She stands there contemplating approaching what is terrifying because she is very thirsty. A few laps and then you hear nails scuffing at the ground as she is trying to run away as fast as possible. There are no bugs, ants etc that could set her off… nothing. Yet she goes outside and drinks from the planter water trays with her face pressed up against the pot to get in there… none of this makes any sense whatsoever.

John "Ask the Dog Guy" Wade June 7, 2015, 4:53 pm

Hi James,

I don’t think it’s common at all. That’s one of the factors contributing to why in those rare instances people like yourself encountering this are struggling to get to the bottom of the why and what to do about it. It’s also unlikely that “nothing” sets her off. I’d be curious in your case to see what happened if you used a planter water tray in the exact same area her current water dish was. If she spooks does she stop using the outside water tray. I’d also try removing the outside water tray and put an identical water bowl as her inside bowl in its place and see what happened.


Suzanne Brookman June 19, 2015, 8:32 am

Have a Lhasa Apsa she is 9 years old and has just started this I have to pour her water on the floor for her to drink it and just started thinking her eye sight is getting bad and can not see the bowl good???

John "Ask the Dog Guy" Wade June 20, 2015, 4:17 pm

Hi Suzanne,

Possibly but does she eat out of a bowl without problem?


Sue July 2, 2015, 1:46 am

My 12-year-old Maltese is also afraid of his water bowl and his water bottle. The only way he will drink is if I stand next to the bowl with my foot next to it or my hand touching the bowl. He will eat but he’s kind of skittish of that too. I have thought of everything you have said above. We have tried everything! This has been going on over a year now. He’s had these fears off and on but it seems like this past year has been really bad. Now he has decided that during the night he wants to sleep with his face right next to my face or my husband’s face and he used to love to sleep under the covers but he doesn’t want his head covered up anymore. He wants his head on the pillow touching my face. He also wakes up all throughout the night barking because he wants to get a drink but I must be standing touching the bowl for him to drink. It is really driving me crazy and interrupting our sleep so much that it is upsetting me!!!

John "Ask the Dog Guy" Wade July 5, 2015, 4:09 pm

Hi Sue,

That’s a pretty late onset for this sort of thing. I’d have him thoroughly vetted. Blood work, xrays, detailed dental etc. If it’s not physical it likely is a relationship based problem. If he’ll drink with you touching the bowl then it’s possible that bit by bit he’s become manipulative and you receptive to his machinations.


Maria Kuczer July 9, 2015, 8:51 am

My 3 year old rescue has become afraid to drink from her metal raised bowl. Vet said could be her reflection. Suggested seeing a behaviorist. I can’t afford that. She eats from the same type of metal bowl right next to it even when her tag hits it. She has always be a anxious dog. Afraid of other things (Fireworks, storms, quick movements, noises). I have tried different bowls outside and inside. She will drink from the floor and my hand and puddles. But needs coaxing each time to come and drink. I’ve tried milk in the water and chicken broth but sometimes she drinks it and sometimes she doesn’t. Vet said not to let her drink from my hand. I’m so afraid of her becoming dehydrated. It’s been a week and so far physical came back fine. May do blood work. Vet doesn’t think meds will help. Any help you can provide is appreciated.

John "Ask the Dog Guy" Wade July 9, 2015, 10:58 am

Hi Maria,

Please send video of the dog on its own refusing to drink and your attempting to encourage it to drink. Videos are usually too large to send as email attachments so here are instructions on how to use a simple to use, free service: http://www.askthedogguy.com/send-video-andor-pictures-dogs-behavior/


Ashley July 16, 2015, 9:14 am

My dog will drink out of the bowl part for water and won’t eat or even touch the food I get really worried because she goes around eating the cats drive and canned food.
We have tried everything wet,canned,dry but none will she eat.

John "Ask the Dog Guy" Wade July 16, 2015, 12:27 pm

This isn’t that uncommon. Cat food is often more palatable to dogs then their own food apparently because the protein content is significantly higher. The protein quality is often higher as well. Separate feeding times or separate feeding areas where the dog can’t access the cat’s food (up higher) may help. It may take as much as 4 days of stubbornly missing served meals before your dog caves and goes back to it’s own food. I would also check the quality of the food. Send me the brand name and a picture of the list of ingredients and I’ll offer an opinion.


ADELE ARONSON July 21, 2015, 10:25 am

Dear John: This summer, I started to give my Lab water in a metal bowl from the outside hose. He drinks it up in a sec. Now he will not drink from in house metal bowl . Comes,the winter and I won’t have access to the outside hose. I am afraid he will not drink at all.What to do?

John "Ask the Dog Guy" Wade July 21, 2015, 2:15 pm

Is he healthy? How old is he? Has he been playing catch the water coming from the hose? If he’s old enough to rigorously exercise do so then take him to his water bowl in the home and video what happens and send to me. If he drinks stop worrying.


ADELE ARONSON July 21, 2015, 8:31 pm

Dear John: Thanx for your reply. My rescue Lab is now about 6/7 yrs and I have had him for about 51/2 yrs. He is healthy but is very, very lazy & a couch potato. He was bred to be a hunter but did not want to hunt as the breeder did not want his lazy genes mixed with his hunting dogs and make them lazy so he put him in the shelter; I got him the very same day. From day one my Lab “Sonny” never jumped, kissed or cuddled. He just lolls around. When I take him to the dog park, he lays on the cement while all the other dogs are frolocking. A friend suggested I take the outside water bowl and fill it with the hose water but bring it into the house. I did this and “Sonny” followed me into the house but would not drink from the raised metal ‘hose’ water bowl. When I went out to get this water, I fell down and twisted my right knee and could not walk….”Sonny” has now stopped eating his reg. food too. It has been three days, no food, no water and I am on a walker laid up. Now I am really worried. ….Adele

John "Ask the Dog Guy" Wade July 21, 2015, 8:51 pm

It’s unlikely he’s not drinking for three days. He’d be near death. Food possibly. Either way take him to the vets. It’s possible he’s drinking somewhere (toilet maybe). When you take him to the vet – mention his life long lethargy and get some blood work. Thyroid may be off.


ADELE ARONSON July 22, 2015, 11:56 am

Thanx John for your reply. When I saw how lazy he was, I did take him to the vet and checked his thyroid which turned out just fine. All in all, he is very healthy and used to gobble his food. Now that I am laid up, he is not eating nor drinking nor does he have access to the toilet. Thank you for your insight. …Adele

Donna Everhart August 5, 2015, 10:43 am

Well. I’m glad I’m not the only one with a quirky eater/drinker. We adopted our small Yorkie when he was three, back in Dec 2012. When we first got him, he ate/drank – no problem. He will be six in Nov, and for the past 1.5 to 2 years, he’s become nervous about eating, more so with the drinking. Like many of the others above, he approaches his water bowl, same one he’s had all along, (color is pale cream/with little black bone designs) and growls or barks at it, and I have to “encourage” him by saying, “noooo, drink your water. Drink your water.” Bark. Bark. Bark. RRRRR. RRRRR. “Noooo, drink your water, that’s GOOD water!” Like the others, if I approach his bowl and act like I’m going to fill it up more, he’ll drink a few laps. Sometimes I just tell him to drink, and eventually he will. I’ve tried ignoring this, and he’ll give up and not drink at all, and I KNOW he’s thirsty. Even if I’m not in the house, i.e. if I’m outside, I can hear him barking at it. My husband’s conclusion – he’s not doing it to get attention, he’s truly thirsty, and he wants it, but…

The food is weird too. He’s better about that than the water. I had to sort of “re-train” him to get him to eat. I put one piece of kibble down at a time, and then he “circles” me while I sit on the floor. More than one piece? He won’t eat. It’s like it screws his little head up.

Since he was “normal” when we got him, I have tried to figure out what went wrong and where. I fed him a homemade diet and he at that off a plate. To be honest, I think his first trip with us (a long 13 hour ride) back a couple years ago was the turning point. Getting him to eat in that strange environment where the noise level was much higher (my in-laws house – they are old and talk loud and have the TV loud, etc) might have been the trigger.

Somehow, we’re getting by.

Jon September 22, 2015, 1:17 am

It’s really funny my dog that is 12 yrs old started not drinking water out of her bowl. My wife bought gravity feed water bowl so we never noticed she wasn’t drinking water. Then she started whining every night 2 to 3 times in the middle of the night to go outside. At first we thought she needed to go to the bathroom but after awhile I’ve noticed the dog licking the water off the grass. So we thought maybe it was due to the gravity feed water bowl so we went back to the metal bowl but she still refuses to drink. So now I have to put water on a plate or out of my hand even off the floor she will drink but not out of bowl.

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