Why Do Puppies Act Scared of Their Bowls?

Puppies act scared of their bowls because the water or food bowl may have some features that may appear intimidating. In most cases, puppies are frightened by metal bowls because metal bowls are likely to have more of these frightening features. Fortunately, there are several ways to help a puppy overcome his fear of the food bowl.

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Puppies may be scared of metal bowls for a variety of reasons

The  Sound of Metal Bowls

Metal bowls are particular in the fact that the sounds they produce can prove to be frightening to puppies. It may seem like no big deal to us humans, but puppies are sensitive to noises and can get easily startled. 

One example is the noise of the kibble being dropped in the food bowl or the noise produced by the bowl when an owner trips on it or the puppy happens to move it around upon eating. These sounds are often enough to frighten a young pup and cause a reluctance to want to eat from the metal bowl.

Some puppies grow fearful of bowls when their collars or tags make contact with the bowl, startling them. Not to mention the fear a puppy may develop should a metal food bowl be accidentally dropped to the floor. 

Did you know? Dog breeders often purposely drop a metal food bowl on the floor to get young puppies habituate to sudden noises. 

The Look of Metal Bowls 

Metal bowls look appealing to us humans, and the shinier the better, since that proves to us they are clean and easy to wash. However, to a young puppy, the reflections seen on the metal bowl can be intimidating. 

While humans have the cognitive ability to understand why reflections happen, dogs aren't blessed with rational explanations for what they see. Dogs,indeed, do not understand reflections, and therefore, they react by getting startled upon detecting any movement in the bowls. 

The puppy may therefore lean over the bowl to eat and then startle upon seeing his reflection. This often leads to the behavior of puppies grasping a few pieces of kibble quickly and then eating the kibble in another area away from the "scary bowl."

With water bowls, dogs may see their reflection in the water or in the metal and this may cause them to startle. These dogs will often take quick sip and then move away. Of course, not drinking enough is a concern in a young puppy, so this issue needs worked on quickly. 

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Now That You Know...

The above are just some general assumptions as to why puppies act scared of their bowls. Of course, there may be several other possible reasons.

 For instance, perhaps something scary not specifically related to the features of the bowl (like the dog felt pain upon chewing or a car backfired) occurred while the pup had his nose deep down the bowl. 

In any case, what can be done to help puppies afraid of the bowl? Following are some tips.

  • During meal time, remove your dog's collar. 
  • Try out a ceramic bowl. Sometimes, it's best to just switch bowl than worry about trying a variety of solutions to fix the problem. Another option if your dog is afraid of the water bowl, is using a pet fountain.
  • Use a shallow container rather than deep so that the sides don't touch your pup's whiskers or long ears. Some pup owners have success using a baking sheet,
  • Try a non-skid bowl with rubber at the bottom. With less movements, the puppy should feel more secure in eating.
  • Try to change location. It may happen that an overhead light might get reflected in the bowl or the area is too noisy or full of distractions.
  • Remove the tray. Many owners place a tray under bowls for the purpose of collecting messes. However, sometimes pups may hit their toes there upon eating/drinking causing a startling effect.
  • If your puppy is afraid of reflections at the bottom of the food bowl, try to ensure that you cover the bottom of the bowl with a generous layer of food.
  • Offer a clean bowl with fresh water. Sometimes, an invisible biofilm may build up on water bowls changing the flavor or smell of the water and making the dog reluctant to drink. Make sure any residual soap is rinsed out. 
  • Make the food in the bowl more appetizing. You can do this by adding some warm water to it to increase the aroma, or top it with some canned food or other enticing toppers. If this helps, then gradually, as your dog gets more confident, over a 2-week period you can use less and less of what you add resulting in your pup slowly being transitioned without him knowing it.
  • Remove the food bowl after your puppy eats and present it only at mealtimes. This will make the food and food bowl more valuable versus free feeding, leaving the food out and available all day. 
  • Replace the food bowl with an interactive toy. Who said that dogs should be fed in food bowls? Nowadays, there are many interactive, food dispensing toys that turn a puppy's dinner time into a mental workout. Examples include the Kong Wobbler and Buster Cube. 
  • Consider fear periods. Puppies go through fear periods during which they are more skittish then usual. Puppy fear periods generally take place between 8 and 10 weeks and then between 6 and 14 months.
  • Consider a medical evaluation. There may be cases where the reluctance to eat from a bowl may stem from some sort of pain such as neck pain or tooth pain or perhaps a vision problem.
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