You are here:

Canine Behavior/My dog won't drink from a bowl


QUESTION: Last summer, I was given a 5 year old German shepherd by a neighbor, she is a wonderful dog, but has a special fear issue: she is afraid to drink from a bowl. I live on a 300 acre farm and during summer she was drinking off the stream...  even though I was filling out her bowl, she never drank out of it. Until recently thank to the mild winter, the stream was not frozen. Now she only relies on snow... which she eats, but her pee is really yellow and I am concerned. So I have started to pour water in my hands to make her drink, and lower the hand until she drinks from a flat saucer that I fill with a water bottle... it is the best I have been able to achieve, any suggestions to what else can be done?

Thank you very much

ANSWER: Please answer the following questions since I need more info:

1.  Does your dog eat from a bowl?
2.  When did this behavior begin?  Did she do this immediately?
3.  Can you ask the neighbor THE REAL REASON he gave you this dog?
4.  Does she reliably drink from the flat saucer WITHOUT your intervention?
5.  Can you be contributing to her refusal by "babying" her?
6.  Have you discussed this problem with your veterinarian?

I'm especially interested in the TRUTH regarding why a neighbor would give up a beautiful GSD bitch at only age five unless family situation required it; people do not give up "great" dogs, they dump dogs with problems.  

It is possible she acquired this fear in her former home.  It is possible to correct it.  Veterinarian should be advised ASAP since concentrated urine indicates dehydration and that can lead to all sorts of very serious issues.  Please talk to the vet, talk to the neighbor (if possible) and answer the questions.  Use FOLLOWUP feature to answer them!  TY!

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: She had accepted the dog for her son but never really liked dogs, she was feeding her and giving her physical care, but had very little interest in the dog which was left alone very often. She was going to have it euthanize, and said if you want to have her... you can...  which I did.  I do not have all the details as she will not be very specific!
Yes my dog eats from a bowl, but recently the bowl disappeared, she hid it and I used a different bowl until I found where her old bowl was hidden. During the time she had that black plastic bowl, she would eat only half of her daily ration. After I came back to the initial bowl, she started to eat normally again.

Yes as soon as I got her, she never drank from the bowl, always drank in the stream which is clean and on the top of a mountain.

I always have to insist for her to drink, if I just leave the saucer next to her and do not point at it and show her the water, she is not drinking.

Well as far a babying her, I don't know... I have seen so many of Cesar Millan videos and tend to stand my ground with her, but it is very hard to judge when we are involved. I don't think so, right now she drinks about a 25 oz bottle of water per day, with snow that she eats, I am afraid it is not enough, this quantity is split in 5 or 6 times a day. Sometimes she does not finish the dish.
I did not check with the veterinarian... should I
I do not know what is in her past that may scare her, I just know that if I put the bowl down, she shies away from it and refuses to come close to it.
My plate is a red ceramic plate, I thought that may be the color helped, but frankly, I search my brain for a solution, she does not seem to be sick except for her dark yellow pee....
She does not have hip dysplasia and still runs 25 miles an hour.She is very mild with children and kind of dominant with other dogs, but looks like a coward with humans, she is now used to me and my husband and seemed to have come out of the depression she was in when I first got her. She loves to walk and follows me without a leash everywhere I go.

Throw everything you ever learned from the so-called "expert" whose name you used directly into the toilet.

This dog is not socialized with Humans, per your description.  She has been neglected in all areas.  What she requires from you is not "standing your ground" but "promotion". This is what goes on in the dog "culture" and in the behavior of the domestic dog when a dog considers its Human to be very high in social hierarchy and herself quite low:

The dog can refuse to eat.  The Human may encourage the dog and the dog receives this encouragement as: it is the Human's food; the Human is interacting with the food; I cannot have the food.  Regardless of the Human's INTENTION (caps used for emphasis, not shouting), the dog RECEIVES the only "message" it can from its predetermined genetic response.  Same thing can be true of water bowl.  If you hover over the water bowl (out of concern), the dog immediately reverts to the "culture" of its species: it is YOUR bowl, if dog is self perceived as quite low in social hierarchy, dog will not drink from bowl.  Eventually, dog acquires a superstitious behavior around THAT bowl and then EVERY bowl, being this:  bowls in general are "bad" and to be avoided.  You are trying to teach your dog to USE the bowl, the dog has now learned ALL bowls are to be avoided since they ALL belong to YOU.

Yes.  You must take the dog to the veterinarian.  She requires a urinalysis (urine can easily be extracted from her) and the veterinarian needs to know how much she is drinking and advise you regarding what she requires.

Next:  You must promote this dog socially.  Throw OUT all the misinformation you have acquired, it's garbage.  Go to  This is Dr. Ian Dunbar's internet site.  He is one of the world's leading veterinary behaviorists.  On his site are all sorts of articles and videos (be sure they have been written or made by him) regarding positive reinforcement training and problem behavior solutions.  I'd like you to start with the following, his discussion of the fallacy of the term "alpha" in the domestic dog:

Now to promote your dog in social hierarchy: everything you have been doing to maintain some sort of "command" must STOP right now.  FREE attention that does not involve food or water must be lavishly given.  The dog will, at first, most likely shy from this (as she has been convinced of her very low worth in her former "home" and is not certain of her place in yours).  Ignore that.  Do not bend over her (too dominant), do not pat her on the head (too dominant), do not make direct eye contact with her and do not approach her in a straight line.  Instead, approach her on a curve (routinely), turn your head away from her as you get closer, lick your lips (calming signal), scratch her on the chest or under the chin, praise her quietly, walk away.  Once she  has begun anticipating your approach as being "good" and rewarding, every third time pop a tiny treat into her mouth, then every fourth.  Within about two to four weeks, you should see a difference in her approach toward you and her confidence level should rise considerably.

During this time, stop coddling her around the water bowl.  In her presence, using a cereal bowl, drink from it and PUT IT DOWN on the floor and LEAVE THE ROOM.  Leave a bowl like this in every room after doing as I suggested.  Do NOT go near the bowls to remove them or examine how much (if anything) she has drunk from them WHILE SHE IS OBSERVING YOU.  What we are attempting to do here is to convince her that you have drunk, you have surrendered the bowl(s), they are not at her disposal.  The same is true of her food bowl.  Feed her twice daily, put the food down, leave the room.  

When you put water into the bowl(s), use a measuring cup.  When you empty the bowl(s), use a larger bowl for the water from each and then measure the total amount to see exactly how much water she has actually consumed. It may seem to you she is not drinking sufficiently, but dehydration can be extremely dangerous and a dog will demonstrate symptoms of it that you can't miss.  She may actually be consuming a sufficient amount of water.  Many dogs eat snow, this does not mean they are dehydrated.

So:  vet visit; and, counter conditioning; and, social promotion.  Use followup feature to report back in one week!

Canine Behavior

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

©2017 All rights reserved.