Dogs need water to live and as a responsible pet owner you work hard to ensure he always has access to a fresh bowl of H2O. While he appreciates the water, he may put his paws in his bowl, which of course creates a mess and decreases the amount he can actually consume. While baffling and perhaps frustrating, the behavior is quite common. His reasons for playing in the bowl may vary, and each reason has an easy enough solution. Take heart that the behavior will not go on forever and your pup can be trained that water bowls are for his mouth, not his paws.
The Root of the Behavior
You come home from walking your dog and he runs to the water bowl. After a few laps, he then puts his paws right into the bowl. Was it hot outside? There is a good chance his paws are hot and he knows the water will cool them off. He does not care that he will then drink from that same water that his feet were just in; that might even be a bonus for him. All he cares about is that he has to cool down. Given the type of bowl you have and where it is placed, he might be pawing at the water because he sees something in the bowl. He could be pawing at his own reflection, ripples or bubbles made from him drinking, or even an object that may have found its way into the bowl. He may simply be playing in the water because he is bored or because he loves water. A large number of breeds are water-loving, so if you have a Retriever of any kind, a Newfoundland, a Poodle, a Portuguese or Spanish Water Dog, a Lagotto Romagnolo, an Irish or American Water Spaniel, a Barbet, an Otter Hound, or a Boykin Spaniel there is a great chance his paws are in the water because he simply cannot help amusing himself with water.
Some dogs prefer moving water, as if they are drinking from a stream, so they put their paws in the bowl to get the still water to move. It does not register that in splashing in the bowl to get the water to move, he is making a mess. Dogs also take any attention as reinforcement of behavior. If the first time he put his paws in the bowl you laughed because you thought it was cute, he took that as a sign to do it again because you paid attention. If you yelled and said ‘no, stop’, he took that attention as a good sign and will likely put his paws in the bowl to get your attention again. Finally, your dog may be putting his paws in his water bowl because he cannot help himself and he feels a compulsion to do so. Getting his paws wet makes a connection to his sense of sound, sight, touch, and even taste. He may have a compulsion to splash in all water forms, or in all bowls. If you have worked with him and made changes to stop the behavior and it continues, there is a good chance he is struggling with a compulsion to splash.
Encouraging the Behavior
A hot dog needs to cool off. If you keep finding your pup’s paws in the water bowl after long walks when it is warm out, consider giving him his water outside where he can make a mess. Even better, find a kiddie pool that is hard plastic that he can splash around in. Avoid the inflatable kind that will invariable pop the minute he gets a claw or tooth anywhere near it. A kiddie pool can also help with a dog that is bored and a dog that is a water lover. A dog putting his paws in the water bowl because he is playing with his reflection is cute, but can certainly cause a mess. If your bowl is metal, try switching to a ceramic or heavy BPA free plastic that will decrease the chances of him seeing double. You can also put his water in a spill proof container. Putting his paws in the water for entertainment gives you several options other than the kiddie pool. Longer walks, training sessions, and food release toys such as the Kong will all provide him with enough stimulation that he will not feel the need to play in his water at the end of the day. A pet water fountain, which will provide fresh moving water, is one way to stop your dog from putting his water in his bowl. He will be so excited to have the moving water come from the magical spout, it will not even occur to him to splash about.
Paws in the bowl for attention does require more than a bowl change, but is completely within your control. Begin by ignoring the behavior. If the splashing continues, provide less water in the bowl so that he cannot make as much of a big mess or a big deal with the water that is in the bowl. Before he puts his paws in, praise him for his good behavior, shower him with attention and even offer a treat. The minute he puts his paws in the water, stop the attention and leave the room. If his splashing persists, discuss with a trainer alternative methods to eliminate the behavior. Do not withhold water from your dog as it is essential to his health. If you have tried everything else to no avail, or inherently feel he is suffering from a compulsion, speak to your vet about options to help him. It is important to address compulsive behavior as soon as possible as it can generalize into other situations and become more of an issue for your furry friend.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Puppies play with everything and can quickly develop bad habits. From the beginning, place your pup’s water on a newspaper to limit ‘fun’ puddles, and make sure the bowl is non-reflective, solid, and heavy enough that he cannot flip it. You can even place the bowl in an elevated stand so it can really only be reached by his snout, not his paws. Stay near him when he drinks, and make a loud sound or distract him if he starts to put his paws in the water. Be sure to provide him with lots of toys, exercise, and other forms of stimulation to diminish his need to find excitement in the water bowl.
Dogs put their paws in the water bowl because they are hot, bored, reacting to a reflection, looking for attention, prefer moving water, are compulsive, or just because they are puppies. Giving them other ways to cool off, lots of toys for stimulation, proper training, and alternative bowls and water fountains can eliminate his need to splash in his bowl. If all efforts seem to fail, speak with a trainer and your veterinarian to eliminate any chances your are unintentionally rewarding the behavior or dealing with a compulsion.
By a Black Lab lover Zoe Byer
Published: 03/07/2018, edited: 01/30/2020