"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.

45 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.

Jackson December 19, 2015, 9:31 am

My dog Blanket is a 8 year old chihuahua terrier mix I adopted from an unknown but clearly abusive life 5 years ago. He has always been afraid of bowls, but it has usually resulted in him waiting a long time to eat or drink and then finally getting the courage to nervously do so.

Over the summer, our cat, who had been his companion the whole time I’ve had him, passed away, then we welcomed two new cats into our home, the head to get most of his teeth extracted due to bad and worsening oral health that has been an ongoing problem.

Somewhere in the midst of those changes, he switched from being able to work up the courage to eat and drink on his own eventually to not. Instead, he will bark at us until we hold the bowl at a specific tilted angle and even then he will only sometimes drink. We changed the food/water locations many times, but it has not helped. Sometimes if we put the water in the middle of the bedroom doorway he will drink on his own but obviously that is not a practical place to put it since we keep stepping in the bowl or slipping on the water around it.

His food we were able to manage by putting it in a large silicone bowl and placing the bowl outside when we put him out there (bringing it in when he comes inside so slugs don’t get in the bowl). We have not tried this with the water but I know that he can sometimes find areas in the backyard where there are little bits of water. We also don’t have a sillicone bowl for the water because I got the other one years ago and have had trouble finding a second.

It has gotten to the point where he spends half the night barking at us to let him in and out or to hold the water bowl so he can drink. We live in an apartment so letting him bark is not an option.

I’m also having trouble determining whether it is a factor of either of the changes in cats or the fact that the cats (try as I might to stop them) eat his food and drink his water, or a factor of pain related to the now two month old tooth extractions or if it is a maladjustment to having no teeth or something else, since it started in the midst of a lot of big changes.

I should also mention that I have spoken with the vet about this a little less than a month ago and we decided to put him on some herbal anxiety treats (composure) that we give a couple times a day. Haven’t noticed any changes and if anything he is continuing to get worse at the same pace. Yesterday I also went to brush his teeth for the first time since surgery and noticed his gums were bleeding BEFORE I actually put the toothbrush in his mouth. Made me wonder if he is having pain related to the extractions and wondered if dogs can get dry socket or anything like that, as I know my partner’s dry socket took a long time to recover after he got 3 teeth pulled at once in the spring.

Jeanine December 20, 2015, 7:03 pm

I have an 11 yr old Chihuahua that I adopted from a rescue 7 yrs ago. He would never drink out of his water bowl. I assumed it was became he didn’t like having the water splash on him. I put water in his food, so he gets plenty of it that way. He also will not eat out of a bowl, so the moistened food I have to hand feed him. I bought a hamster water bottle and finally he will drink water out of that. He’s smart, he let’s me know when he’s thirsty. I wonder if as a puppy he may have used a water bottle in the cage, I’m thinking one of those Amish puppy mills.

Katherine Nicolson December 28, 2015, 7:23 pm


I just reading all the above comments and it seems that I am experiencing the exact same issue with my 4 year old Chihuahua. He will only eat his food if it’s put on the floor. In fact if the food is left on a plate he will run over to us and start jumping up and down to grab our attention and for us to follow him to the plate. When I first got him he had a little bowl and would eat out of this then all of a sudden one day he was too scared to eat out of his bowl. We then started using small saucers and however he ended up running away from it. Another recent development is that he won’t drink out of his water bowl unless one of us stands next to it!!!! It’s absolutely ridiculous but he needs to eat and drink being a small dog. He has always been quite a timid dog; for example he won’t walk down certain roads, and will refuse to walk past certain large breeds. Can’t afford to pay for advice but if you still looking into hypotheses I’m happy to send a video to demonstrate this behaviour

John "Ask the Dog Guy" Wade January 5, 2016, 4:07 pm

Yes please send video. I’ve had a few sent to me so far. If enough people send enough video we may collectively figure out this puzzling problem so I can provide some guidance.


ed allen January 21, 2016, 9:56 am

I wanted to volunteer that our 8-year old black lab suffers from this issue. I am convinced of the cause if not a major contributing factor. Originally his stainless steel bowls were on a wrought iron stand and I twice observed where his dog tags got caught in the stand and when he backed off, the stand followed, and when he then freaked out, the bowls and stand went flying halfway across the kitchen. We remove his collar in the house now, and switched to ceramic crock bowls on the floor but he hasn’t forgotten the haunted feeding station incidents.

John "Ask the Dog Guy" Wade January 21, 2016, 11:51 am

Thanks for the input. Every little bit helps. Is your dog sensitive by nature? Does he suffer from separation anxiety and/or is particularly clingy. Afraid of thunderstorms, fireworks or other loud over head sounds?


christine January 31, 2016, 7:37 am

I have a very healthy 4 year old golden…..who has eaten out of the same bowl for the 4 years Ive had her….just recently we lost our other dog whom she knew since birth….but still, eating was fine….we recently brought home a new puppy…she was definitely a little aloof at first but has accepted the new puppy just fine…..its been 3 weeks since we’ve had the pup…and eating has been fine..until 3 days ago…..cowering away from the same bowl…same food…I tried changing food and she will only eat out of my hand….which is literally in the bowl…..she hasn’t had an ounce of anxiety since we’ve had her…this is totally new…..Im not sure she’s had any water either!!! like you said, I sort of have the mindset….she knows where it is, so when she’s dying of thirst she will get water!!! but its so frustrating and worrisome at the same time!

John "Ask the Dog Guy" Wade February 2, 2016, 4:52 pm

Hi Christine,

You may have noticed on this thread it’s mostly tiny dogs. I suspect there’s something different going on in your dog’s case. Perhaps a sensitive tooth. Get it checked out at the vets.


Alyssa February 20, 2016, 10:27 am

I have a 10 year old terrier mix that we adopted back in September, 2015. He was a stray so not sure what he was up against in his ‘previous life’. He has pretty severe separation anxiety to the point that he hasn’t been left alone since we adopted him. We hired a behaviorist to help us with his anxiety and was making good progress. But now, he won’t eat.

He used to eat and drink no problem – we would feed him 1 cup of mixed wet and dry food with his arthritis medicine mixed in in the morning and night. He would eat it up, no problem, would even sit and wait for it patiently as we got it ready.

We had to leave him for 2 weeks to visit family across the country. He was with another smaller dog that he has met before, but when we came back, his food issues sprung up.

We can’t get him to eat. It’s been like this for 2 months, and has gradually gotten worse. At first, it would take a couple tries to get him to eat out of his bowl, then he refused. We moved to a plate, and same thing, would eat off that a day or two and then refused. Over time, we’ve moved to hand feeding. Now – he won’t even eat out of our hand. He’s shaking the whole time and cowering in the corner whenever we bring the food near him.

We’ve been to the vet, done blood tests, and the only thing we’ve found is his thyroid wasn’t working right, so he’s now on thyroid medication. Other than that, he’s as healthy as he can be (after 4 repeat blood tests per the vet).

We’re at a loss as to what to do!

John "Ask the Dog Guy" Wade February 20, 2016, 5:21 pm

I’d like to see some video. I’d like to help however while the description of the behaviour is in keeping with the experience of many others with regards to eating and sometimes drinking the time lines don’t make sense. A dog that refuses to eat or drink simply dies and these dogs are obviously not dead. In fact in the images I’m sent they don’t look even underweight. I’d like to know more about the times they do eat or drink. It might provide some clues.


Elise April 9, 2016, 10:52 pm

I have a chi mix who is 3, and has had bowl/plate issues since we got her. She was about 12 weeks old from a pet store. She was with other puppies bigger than her and she wasn’t as assertive as the others. We figured they always beat her to the food bowl so she learned to stay away or else get beat up. She does drink water out of the water bowls however. Food? Most of the time, we become impatient and just hand feed her. Although if really hungry, she will eat ONLY carrot pieces off of a plate..and will growl if any other animal tries to get near her. (Only carrots on a plate – nothing else will she go near). Hand fed, she loves her kibble, meat, a variety of veggies and some fruits. She also watches tv, barks at cats and dogs (only) on the tv.

Rachel Steele May 8, 2016, 10:47 pm

Hi there!
So glad to read this post but sad there are still no answers. We have a 2 year old lab mix who ate out of bowls fine when we got him a year ago (he was near starved) then got sick from eating something bad outside, during that time he stopped eating and drinking so I ended up hand feeding him. Since then he has been indifferent to food except when I hand feed him. He will lick food off a spoon with gusto but completely ignore his bowl. He won’t even approach his food bowl when we first put it down, he refuses to come eat, only later will he eat some food but typically he pulls it out of the bowl to eat off the floor. This is a lab we are talking about here! Who runs several miles a day and doesn’t seem anxious as a rule (he is super friendly and confident) I sure do hope we can get insight! Happy to send a video.


John "Ask the Dog Guy" Wade May 9, 2016, 12:19 pm

Hi Rachel,

Thanks. I have a feeling if enough people can send videos it will help unravel the mystery in time.


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