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For some unfortunate dog owners, there’s a distinct, metal “ting!” sound, followed by a wet slosh coming from the kitchen that makes you drop your head into your hands. It’s the flipping of a water bowl, and while it may be a cute puppy moment, it quickly can become a nuisance as the dog grows and matures.
So why do dogs flip their water bowls?
Dogs could think something is wrong with the water, the bowl, or the location of the bowl. Some dogs will flip water bowls for fun or simply to get attention from you. On some rare occasions, the behavior could be compulsive or caused by dental pain.
As you can see, there are several reasons a dog may flip their water bowl. It’s important to understand why a dog may be flipping his bowl so that you can begin to address how to stop them. We’ll take a closer look at each explanation and help you understand which makes the most sense for you and your pup.
7 Reasons Your Dog May Flip his Water Bowl
Humans often struggle to understand what a dog is trying to say through seemingly random actions like flipping their water bowl. Let’s look at the common probable causes of the behavior.
Reason 1: Something Is Wrong With the Water
Dogs are very perceptive, and we often don’t give them the credit they deserve on that front. their senses are often heightened when compared to ours, so they often notice things that we don’t. If your dog has suddenly started flipping his water bowl and is seemingly refusing to drink it, it’s like something in the actual water that is causing them distress.
The Smell is Off
Dogs have heightened senses, and the most commonly known dog “superpower” is their nose. A dog’s sense of smell is thought to be hundreds of times stronger than our own. A slightly different scent to their water could potentially be powerful enough for your dog to refuse to drink, or even spill the water to remove the “dangerous” substance!
That strong smell can lead to all kinds of confusing canine situations from a flipped water bowl to a puppy refusing to cuddle. Understanding your dog’s nose is almost always a good starting point.
The Taste is Different
While dogs have an incredible sense of smell, their sense of taste is not nearly as strong. Humans have 9,000 tastebuds on their tongues, but dogs have a measly 1,700 tastebuds (and cats are only about 470!)
So how does a dog taste something in the water that even humans might? With special water tastebuds!
On the very tip of their tongues, dogs and most carnivores have tastebuds that are just for water. Dr. Stanley Coren has said that even though these tastebuds are always responsive, they are likely more sensitive to the taste of water after eating.
If it seems that your dog is avoiding the water right after they eat, it could be that they are more sensitive to the taste of the water. And they don’t like it which means that bowl is going to get flipped! When you consider to odd assortment of things dogs are willing to eat (from lizards to acorns to name just a few) this can seem to hard to believe but it’s certainly possible.
Believe it or not, your dog could be put off by their water bowl because it’s not the right temperature. A study in Australia shows that dogs prefer cool water over warm water. Humans often have preferences as well, so not all dogs may agree that cool water is superior, but it’s worth it to try to add an ice cube or two to change the temperature if your dog is constantly tipping his bowl.
Reason 2: Something Is Wrong With the Bowl
Your dog may be rejecting the physical bowl that is holding the water. Dogs heavily rely on their senses to navigate the world, and these senses often pick up more than what we as humans can. Because of this, dogs can be quite finicky about what they drink in many ways.
A common reason dogs reject water bowls is that they don’t like the material the bowl is made of. Plastic bowls are porous, so they often hold smells and bacteria even after washing which can be off-putting to your dog. Reflective materials like stainless steel could be instinctively alarming as well, as most water in the wild is not going to be crystal clear.
Even the sound of the clinking of your dog’s ID tags on the bowl could affect their perception of it. That’s just one of many reasons why it can be a good idea to occasionally remove your dog’s collar in the house (and especially at night).
If you have replaced the bowl recently, that could also explain the bowl-flipping behavior. It may have a “new bowl smell” or a different material than your dog is used to. Material can be a major factor for dogs that are more sensitive to their water bowls!
The location of their water bowl could also be causing them to reject it. Loud appliances, other animals, and unknown people can all be very scary for a dog, especially a naturally anxious dog. Having the water bowl next to a dishwasher, washing machine or dryer could be a cause for distress for a dog that doesn’t like loud noises or vibrations. Strangers in the home can cause discomfort in a dog.
Putting the bowl too close to the perceived territory of another animal could be setting off danger signals in your dog’s brain, even if the animal is a friend. With no other way of communicating this discomfort, your dog may resort to flipping its water bowl to let you know there’s a problem.
Reason 3: Your Dog Wants Attention
Flipping their water bowl often results in you getting up, reprimanding them, and cleaning the mess. The naughtiest of pups may even play a game of keep away with you and the water bowl! Unfortunately, your dog has likely realized that flipping the water bowl is an easy way to get your attention, even if it’s negative attention.
Negative Attention is Still Attention
But why would your dog want to make you mad at them? For a bored dog, any attention is good attention! They simply want you to interact with them in any way, but often in our busy, we missed the “good” but often subtle behaviors they use to ask for playtime. As a result, the dog flips his water bowl because he knows that will get you to interact with him. And dogs are masters of coming up with unique ways to get our attention!
Reason 4: It’s Fun!
Some dogs just really, really, really love water. We’ve all seen the dogs that adore swimming and biting at the water hose, but dogs can also project this fun on their water bowl! They may enjoy the wet feeling of the paws or the sound the water makes sloshing out. Some dogs just love water, and some will even stay out during the rain just enjoy a good sprinkle!
Dogs that like to play keep away from you with the bowl after spilling are definitely trying to play a game. Even if they know you will likely be upset, they do it anyway because the fun outweighs the consequences. A flipping of the water bowl could be a fun way for them to pass the time for your dog.
Reason 5: Your Dog May be in Pain
Dogs are great at hiding their pain from their owners, and when they do show it we may not understand what they are trying to communicate. Pain can cause behaviors in dogs that they don’t in humans, like kicking their back legs out, flipping their water bowl, or lashing out in other ways.
Why Blame the Pain on the Bowl?
As humans, we know that any pain we may feel while drinking is not caused by the water or cup we are holding, but rather the water is just irritating the pain. Dogs don’t quite understand that concept, so they may displace the blame on the bowl in front of them. With this in mind, the only logical thing for a dog to do is to flip the bowl.
What Can Cause Pain While Drinking?
Dental issues are the most common cause of pain while drinking. Gum disease, infected teeth, or broken teeth are not uncommon issues in dogs, especially older dogs. Cool water can cause extremely sharp pain in open wounds.
Abdominal, head and joint pain are all reasons that your dog may be flipping their bowl, but these may be much more difficult to pinpoint. If your dog seems to be eating or drinking less, lethargic, or acting different in any way, it may be worth a vet visit to rule out plain.
Reason 6: They Feel Threatened
Our dog’s evolutionary instincts kept them safe for thousands of years in a world full of other predators. These instincts still reside in our canine companions, and drinking is a very vulnerable position for a dog to be put in. If your dog doesn’t feel comfortable in the area that their water bowl is in, they may flip the water bowl in protest to “protect” you from it.
If your dog’s water bowl is in the presence of another animal’s perceived territory, close to humans they don’t trust or can smell unfamiliar animals nearby, they may flip the bowl to let you and other family members know that it’s not safe to drink here.
Reason 7: It is a Compulsive Behavior
Compulsive behaviors refer to repetitive and irresistible behaviors that often interfere with the subject living a normal life. In humans, this is often referred to as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and it can manifest itself in different areas of the person’s life.
In dogs, it is called Canine Compulsive Disorder, and it has been shown to be genetic. Somehow, a connection was made in your dog’s brain that flipping the water bowl means something good will happen, and now the dog feels they must flip their bowl to have that same pleasurable feeling.
Compulsive behaviors are uncommon but do require professional help to work through. your dog likely can’t help the behavior, so owners must work with a behaviorist and vet to address the root problem.
How to Stop Your Dog From Flipping the Water Bowl
A dog that constantly flips its water bowl can be very frustrating for an owner tired of cleaning up puddles! Now that you’ve discovered why your dog is flipping his water bowl, let’s look into how you can get him to stop.
Method 1: Get a New Water Bowl
This method works if your dog seems to be reacting to the material or setup of your current water bowl situation. Changing the bowl to suit your dog’s preference or making it harder to flip does not address any potential underlying causes that may result in the behavior, but it is a great way to start figuring out what your dog is trying to tell you.
Wide and Sturdy
Many water bowls have a narrower base than their opening, making it very easy for a dog to flip. A bowl with a wide bottom has a much lower center of gravity, therefore does not flip nearly as easily. Bowls with a wide base often have an antislip rubber bottom or ring that aids in keeping the bottom on the ground. Some are even weighted!
Create a Water “Garden”
Think smarter not harder by surrounding your dog’s water bowl with something to catch the water! You can use something as simple as a larger bowl to set the water bowl in, or a towel or mat to absorb spilled water.
You can also get creative and convert a planter to a pet-safe garden your dog can help water! The video below shows a great way to do this easily and on a budget.
Try Something New
Some dogs are extra sensitive or picky about their water bowls. As someone that feels like they can only drink water from my “emotional support water bottle,” I totally get it! Sometimes dog owners have to get creative to solve a problem for a stubborn dog.
If your dog is flipping the water bowl, it may be time to change your whole setup of their water area. A raised water feeding is a great place to start. Not only does it securely hold the water bowl in place, but it is more comfortable for larger dogs than bending all the way to the floor.
Another less often considered option for a finicky water drinker is a pet fountain. The fountain constantly filters and cycles the water. This is a great option for pets that simply prefer running water, which tended to be the safest water to drink in the wild.
Method 2: Give Them a Safe Space to Drink
Dogs are hardwired to protect themselves, especially the neck area where most predators attack. Bending down to take a drink puts your dog’s neck in a very vulnerable position, and it also makes it difficult for them to spot danger coming. For a dog that is feeling threatened, moving the water bowl to a more secure location could make all the difference in their pup.
Where Can I Move It?
So where can you put the water bowl that would make them feel safe enough to leave it on the ground? a crate, an x-pen, or a spare bedroom or bathroom away from other animals, loud noises, and people is a great start.
If you have moved the bowl recently, put it back where you had it if possible. If it’s causing an issue there, try moving it just a little bit each time you refill the bowl until you get it to the desired location. Fresh water should be a great reward and make a positive association with the new bowl location, but treats at water refills speed up the process!
Method 3: Pay Attention to the Water Quality
The quality of your water may be something that you have not considered when thinking about why your dog would flip their water bowl. Something as simple as dust from the first use of a heater could have blown into their bowl, or their furry brother may have left just a little too much drool for their taste. But it could also be something much worse contaminating their bowl that they are trying to avoid.
Invest in a Filter
If you are using tap water to water your dog, you’re not alone! Most of us give our dogs water straight from the tap, but did you know that our drinking water is not always the best? Consumer Reports tested tap water from 120 locations across the US, and 118 of them were found to have levels of contaminates of arsenic, lead, or other substances above the suggested “safe” levels!
For this reason, everyone in my family, including my dogs, drinks water from our filtered water pitcher! sure, it may take longer to allow the water to fill when you fill up their bowl, but it’s worth it to keep your pups safe and healthy.
The Importance of Daily Bowl Cleaning
Water bowls should be cleaned daily, if not more! In a 2016 study, it was found that pet bowls are the third most contaminated object in a household. Water bowls especially develop something called a biofilm along the surface, which can be filled with both good and bad bacteria!
Biofilm needs to be cleaned off daily to ensure that bad bacteria don’t have a chance to breed. It also requires that the pet owner use their hand, a sponge, or some other physical force to clean, as simply spraying it with water does not remove the film.
Method 4: Give Them Plenty of Attention, Training, and Exercise
Dogs that don’t get enough mental or physical exercise in their day often get bored, and a bored dog is often a destructive dog! Dogs also have varying needs throughout their life, and you may have to be adaptable during certain periods of your time together. Flipping their water bowl could be a sign of boredom, so to avoid boredom be sure to give your dog plenty of attention, exercise, and training.
Of course, dogs love toys too! Puzzle games, lick mats, stuffed Kongs, and edible chews are all great ways to enrich your dog’s life easily. If toys don’t seem to do the trick, check out our amazing ideas for entertainment for dogs that don’t like toys!
Method 5: Give them Other Options
Sometimes flipping over the water fulfills a “need” that your dog thinks he has, so as owners we have to direct our dogs to find an alternative for this! To find an appropriate alternative, you’ll need to understand why your dog is flipping his bowl, as discussed above, and try to find something similar to that feeling to offer instead.
For example, if your dog is flipping the bowl to lay in it on a hot day, offering them a small pool of their own would likely fix the issue. A small play pool also helps cut down on the dogs that dig in the water bowl for fun! You can also teach your dog how to ask for attention when they want it, rather than misbehaving and flipping its water bowl for attention.
A dog flipping over a water bowl is not an uncommon thing, but you see that there are many reasons why they are doing this. They’re also not always the reasons that explain flipping a food bowl either!
Be sure to address this behavior as soon as it starts so it doesn’t get worse!