(My column originally written for Hyde Park Living)
Do you feed your dog and then leave his food there, all day if necessary, until it is all gone? This is commonly referred to as ‘free-feeding’ and there are a number of reasons why I recommend not doing it.
Here are a few:
1. Free-fed dogs are more difficult to house train because there is no set scheduled input of food which means there is also no scheduled output either.
2. A loss of appetite is one of the first signs your pet gives that he is not feeling well, and this is much harder to detect when you leave your food on the floor all day. Also, if your dog ever needs emergency surgery, your vet will need to know when he last ate.
3. Free-feeding limits your dog’s motivation to learn for a food reinforcement, and it may lead to issues of weight control.
4. If you share a home with more than one pet, someone else who is not the intended recipient may be eagerly ready to eat from that bowl filled with food.
Tips for making a change:
If you are already free-feeding your dog, here are some suggestions for making the change.
1. Come up with a general schedule for feeding – for most dogs, twice a day is plenty. Puppies and small breed dogs may do better being fed three times a day.
2. Know your quantity. The food manufacturer will offer a suggestion. (Please consult your veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist with any questions.) When training, you also may want to cut back on the quantity since your dog will also be getting food during your teaching sessions. Additionally, you may want to feed a portion of the meals in an enrichment toy.
3. At your dog’s scheduled meal time, measure out the quantity and place it in the bowl on the floor for a set 15 minutes. If your dog does not eat the entire meal, no worries. At the end of 15 minutes, pick up whatever food is remaining. Measure it and subtract that from your first measurement.
4. Other than during training, do not give your dog food in a bowl until the next scheduled feeding. At the next feeding, simply repeat step 3.
If your dog is not finishing meals, it may be a sign that you are feeding too much; however, if your dog eats everything and still seems ‘hungry,’ know that your dog is absolutely normal. If your dog will not eat until you add some gravy or cheese to the mix, well, stop. Remember, humans are not the only trainers in the house! Your dog is teaching you to make meals over-the-top awesome. Instead, save that favorite food for training or occasionally add a little to the meal BEFORE he has stopped eating.