Why we don’t free feed our dogs (part 2 on the joys and foibles of feeding your furry canine friend)

Free Feeding vs. Scheduled Feeding.

It’s the debate that’s been around at least as long as dry dog kibble. That’s not a coincidence.

Free feeding, especially with a dog who happily maintains their weight without intervention, is incredibly convenient for the human. Just keep that big doggy bowl full, and it’s one less daily chore on the list. Right?

Kinda. Normally, we’re big fans of decisions of convenience which simplify life, due to living with chronic pain and executive dysfunction.  A simple two minute task for someone without disability can be hard for someone living with disability. We know.

At the same time, we realize we have to balance our needs with our responsibility in caring for our service dogs and ensuring they’re in their best health. While a high quality kibble is great for dogs as it provides ideal nutrition and helps keep teeth clean, free feeding kibble, even quality kibble, has some potential pitfalls:

  • Your dog controls its weight. Some dogs do well this way. Others joyously gambol down the path to obesity, crunching all the way.
  • Free feeding can lead to stomach torsion.  And that can be deadly.  Some of the best breeds for service dogs are also breeds prone to torsion.
  • Food becomes less effective as a training device. A hungry dog is a dog ready to learn.
  • You lose the status of He/She Who Controls The Noms. Control of Noms is a huge factor in status to dogs.  If you want your dog to look to you for leadership, you want to be the giver of food. A dog won’t necessarily associate you with giving of food if you only refill an overflowing bowl every now and then.
  • You don’t know when your dog has last eaten, and that means that you don’t know when your dog is going to need to poo. (Like we said yesterday, this can put a real crimp in your day when you have a service dog, especially a small one with less intestinal capacity.)

Scheduled feeding doesn’t mean giving up the kibble, even for dogs who don’t particularly like kibble and will put off eating if the meal is dry food.  Make the food available for 10 minutes at a time. If the dog hasn’t eaten in 10 minutes, don’t worry. Just take the food away and offer it again at the next feeding time. Eventually, your dog will learn that when the food goes down, it’s time to eat, because it won’t be there later.  If your dog eats too fast, reduce the serving size and increase the number of feedings per day to prevent over-eating in one sitting (which can also lead to torsion).

It’s up to every owner to decide how to feed the dog, but for owners who want their dogs to look to them as the unquestionable authority, learn eagerly, and empty their bowels predictably, scheduled feeding is a clear winner over free feeding.

There is a little more work involved for the human, but ultimately, that work pays off in a more connected and predictable dog.  Scheduled feeding is also THE way to go when you serve your dog home made dog food, which needs to be eaten fresh.

More about that tomorrow.


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