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Is it Time to Eat?

Author: Greg Raub | Date: February 25, 2013

Before I was a dog trainer, I worked in corporate communications. It was my job to take the ideas and words of management and put them into employee newsletters and emails. This blog is a little like that. The ideas and thoughts that follow are not just mine. They come from a recent Facebook discussion among a number of dog trainers about “free feeding.”

Free feeding means you put down your dog’s food bowl in the morning (or whenever) and leave it until your dog decides to eat (maybe hours later).

That’s the opposite of “scheduled feeding,” which is what most trainers recommend. That’s when you feed a certain number of times a day (often two) and you only leave the food bowl down for a certain length of time (typically 15 minutes). If your dog doesn’t eat, you pick the food bowl up.

Why do we think scheduled feeding is better? Well, my favorite two reasons that came up during the Facebook discussion were these:

  •  If you have little kids in the house, they may end up getting into (and eating) the dog’s food.
  • You could end up with a trail of ants leading to the food bowl.

While those are valid concerns, here are some other benefits to putting Fido on a regular feeding schedule:

  • Improved “regularity.” Scheduled feeding leads to a more predictable potty schedule.  If the food is going in all day, it will also be coming out all day (or night). This one is especially important for puppies!
  • You’re the leader. Putting the food bowl down (and taking it up), shows you control the resources in your house… not your dog.
  • Built-in training time. You can use feeding time as training time. Just ask your dog for some sits or downs before putting the food bowl on the floor. Food is a resource that needs to be earned.
  • Health check. A loss of appetite is often one of the first signs of illness. If you’re free feeding you may not notice that there is anything wrong until the condition has worsened.
  • Weight check. Obesity is a very common health problem with many breeds of dogs. Free feeding can contribute to the problem because you don’t always know exactly how much food your dog is eating. (And if you have two dogs, you don’t know who is getting more of the food!)

One other thing about all of this… pisometimes we free feed because we feel sorry for our dogs if they don’t eat right away. I personally have experienced this. It always seemed like my dog was sort of a picky eater. I would put his food down; he would sniff it and walk away. So when I picked up the bowl, I felt bad because I was depriving him of his food. One day, however, it occurred to me that maybe he just didn’t like the same old kibble I had been giving him.  So I started trying different kinds of food. Different brands. Different flavors. I finally found two flavors that he really seems to like. I alternate them, and with few exceptions, he always gobbles up his food as soon as the bowl goes down (after a sit or two) twice a day.

He’s happy. I’m happy. And maybe that’s the bottom line with scheduled feeding.

Does your dog eat on a schedule? Does he seem to like his food? Have you had other eating issues with your dog?


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