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How do dogs drink water?

Wow, this sure is counter-intuitive. Watching Po the other day, I was pondering more efficient ways for a dog to drink water. I mean, why doesn’t he just hold his breath, stick his snout in the bowl and suck? OK, it might take a leap of faith for a dog to do that due to inconvenient nostril placement. ;-)

Meanwhile, I’ve always assumed that dogs and cats scooped up the water in their tongue like a bucket. Turns out that was right, albeit backwards… in the slow-mo video below, you can see that dogs actually use the back of their tongue as a scoop, not the front (which is the way I would do it)!

Update: After some encouragement in the comments, Dusty sent along a video of Sarah (a six month old Gordon Setter) drinking through her snout like a straw! It may not be slow motion, but you can still clearly see her unusual approach to the problem towards the end of the video. Check it out:

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  1. I don’t think many creatures can cut off the flow of air through their nostrils when they breathe through their mouths. Not sure about that.

    But if you could train the dog to hold it’s nose with one paw and maybe use a straw I think we’d be getting somewhere.

  2. I have a dog that actually does close to what you describe, she sticks her snout all the way in and as near as we can tell she starts swallowing with her mouth all the way underwater rather than sucking it in. We think she blows bubbles out her nose while doing this but it’s hard to tell, there’s a lot of water splashing going on. It’s pretty bizarre.

  3. Dusty, I also want to see slow motion video of your dog drinking water.

    Did not expect to be saying such a thing today, heh.

  4. I’ll see what I can do for still-shots and/or a Powershot “pocket camera” video but that’s all I have so slo-mo unfortunately aint happening. I don’t have any hosting right now tho, can I email to

    I tried to sneak up on her earlier and got one quick action shot at a bad angle and a decent post-shot of her snout all wet but she’s a 6mo old puppy so as soon as she realizes I’m nearby it’s playtime. Ever tried to get a dog, let alone a puppy, to drink on command? NOT easy…

  5. @Dusty: If you can’t do rapid shots with your camera, I reckon the video approach might be helpful — at least some of the frames should indicate what on earth is going on. ;-)

    (You’re welcome to mail me at “jdub” at this domain.)

    • Woo, Dusty has sent me a video of Sarah drinking… as soon as I get permission, I’ll whack it on YouTube and post it here. :-) Thanks for satisfying our curiosity, Dusty!

  6. This is just unfounded assumption, but it’s possible that they lick backwards to prevent errant water droplets from ending up going up their nose. They are basically tossing the water into their mouths, so if they toss it close to the nose it becomes likely that some will get in.

  7. There are only a small set of mammals that can control their breathing as humans can and all of them that I know of are aquatic. (Whales, Dolphins, Seals, Otters etc)

    This is one reason some scientists suspect that humans are actually evolved to fish and swim (aquatic apes) rather than hunt on the prairie as in traditional explanations.

    Sucking requires breathing control, you have to use your lungs to suck in liquids and sometimes solids and then redirect them into the digestive tract… dangerous. Thank Darwin for coughing then.

  8. Hi
    I think wolfs suck water, and dogs scoop it. That’s what i was told when I was a kid.
    I’m trying to find internet reference to confirm, but can’t find it.

  9. This comment thread is pretty weird.

    All mammals can suck from birth – think about it.

    When we suck we use our tongues as a pump, so we can breathe at the same time.

    I am not sure that dogs can hold their breath, but as they can swim and hunt in water, I suspect they can.

  10. Not only can all mammals suck from birth but also sucking has nothing to do with lungs… it uses muscles in the mouth.

    I wonder if the downward flick is more to do with eyes than noses. The wolf in the wild needs to be able to see while it drinks otherwise it would be vulnerable to attack… no good if you have to close them to drink?

    • Not only can all mammals suck from birth but also sucking has nothing to do with lungsā€¦ it uses muscles in the mouth.

      What about a platypus? Wikipedia says they lap the milk from grooves in the mother’s abdomen where the milk pools, but this is not really “sucking”, IMHO.

  11. My German Short Hair Pointer would stick his complete snoot into a full water bowl and use his mouth to suck water. He’d run out of air and have to stop drinking to gasp for air. I stopped filling his bowl to the top after seeing this, it forced him to drink by lapping.