Why Won't My Dog Drink Water in Public?

young thirsty purebred labrador retriever dog puppy lying down and drinking fresh water out of dog bowl in forest during sunset
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Just like people, dogs have their own quirks and unique personalities. While some of your dog's behaviors say a lot about you as an owner, some of her idiosyncrasies might just be all her own. Not all dog behaviors are issues, although some of them can be on the annoying side. For example, when you are out for a hike or walk with your canine companion and she refuses to drink water in public. What is causing your thirsty dog to abstain from drinking water?

How dogs drink water

As any dog owner will tell you, doggy drinking is a very messy process. Water splashes everywhere and it often seems like more water ends out outside the bowl than in the dog's mouth. Interestingly enough, there is a reason for this. Dogs use their large tongues to lap up their water using a process that requires their tongues to curl backward quickly. This process relies on the rapid movement of the tongue, the fluid dynamics involved in creating a "water column," and the dog's quick "bite" to break off the water column into their mouth. A dog doesn't have cheeks like a human and can't suck, so drinking water is, well, more complicated.

Because a dog needs to stick his whole tongue into the water to get a proper drink, it is possible that any debris in the water can also get in his mouth. Having a wide water dish or bowl large enough for your dog might make drinking more comfortable. Also, always provide fresh water from a trusted water source. If you aren't sure one will be readily available when you go out, bring a bottle of water from home.

Bull dog cooling off in splash pool
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How often should dogs drink water?

It is important to always have fresh, clean water available to your dog to prevent dehydration. As a general rule, dogs need about an ounce of water per pound of body weight each day. Too much water and your dog can get very ill. Usually, your dog will drink when she's thirsty, especially after activity or to re-hydrate on a hot day.

So why won't my dog drink water in public?

Matt Beisner, dog behavior specialist and founder of THE ZEN DOG in Los Angeles, had some insights about the possible reasons a dog will choose not to drink in public.

"In my experience and knowledge, a dog may not drink from a public water bowl for any of the following reasons: fear of public places, social anxiety, under-socialized with humans, feeling vulnerable while drinking in a public place, projection of the owner's judgement about drinking out of a public bowl, previous unpleasant experiences while drinking (e.g. got sick, experienced dog aggression or startled by a loud noise while drinking) or the placement, cleanliness, temperature or smell of the water bowl."

Looking into the roots of the behavior not only may provide you with a solution, but can strengthen the bond you have with your dog.

Portrait Of Dog Drinking Water At Fountain
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Address your dog's fear or anxiety

Perhaps your pooch won't drink because he's afraid or nervous. If you suspect your dog might not be drinking due to discomfort or anxiety, there are some things you can do. For example, maintain your calm and speak to him in a soothing and gentle voice. Avoid areas where there is a lot of stimulation such as loud noises, traffic, or a lot of other people or dogs. If you are becoming agitated because he won't take a drink, this may also make his anxiety worse. If he's not drinking at that moment, simply pick up his water dish and try again later after he's calmed down.

Dog drinking water from a bowl outdoors
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Make sure the water isn't the problem

Dogs have an incredibly nuanced sense of smell. Far more sensitive than anything a human can imagine, your dog's nose might be sniffing something unpleasant in a public water source. If she doesn't want to take a drink at the dog park or from a spigot, try bringing a water dish and bottled water from home. Perhaps the taste of unfamiliar water or strange and different mineral compounds are enough for your sensitive canine best friend to literally turn up her nose and refuse a drink.

Socialization is key

If the problem isn't the water, putting in some extra time socializing your dog might do the trick. Since they are naturally social animals, dogs really do thrive on communal experiences. Without proper socialization, your dog might be timid in front of other dogs or people. Socialization will help her feel comfortable in a variety of situations, including letting down her guard long enough to grab a drink.

Two Golden Retriever Puppies Share Water Dish
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Prevent dehydration

It can be nerve-wracking for an owner when their pup is parched and dehydration is a very real concern, especially in hot or dry climates. If you know your dog isn't getting enough water when you go on outings, talk to your vet or try making an electrolyte water to help him replenish the necessary minerals and salts he needs to thrive.