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‘Free feeding’ – friend or foe…

Making food available for your dog at all times is known as free feeding.  It is true that some dog owners measure out a portion of their dog’s food and leave it out all day, and others fill the bowl buffet style or like those bottomless coffees you see in American diners.

It’s important to be aware of your dog’s appetite in case they ever fall ill.  An animal’s desire to eat is one important indicator of health.  You’ll also be able to tell the vet when the dog first turned his nose up at his food. This is so much easier to monitor when you have set feeding and for healthy body weight you know you are giving the correct portion of food.

Feeding at regular intervals also makes it easier to predict your dog’s bathroom habits.  In other words, if you know when food went in you can estimate when it’s going to come out.  In addition to this, if you were feeding your dog twice a day (more regularly for puppies under 4 months please) it’s not necessary to feed at a set time.  You can feed them within a window of time to avoid doggy ‘clock watching’. If you find your dog does better when fed once a day that’s fine.

Free feeding makes food not just free for your dog, but also free for ants, rodents and flies who will all be attracted to this buffet.

Some owners free-feed with the thought that constant access to food may discourage food resource guarding, however this can increase stress for a dog feeling the need to guard. If such a dog is fed twice a day he/she is feeling the need to guard as two mealtimes.  If food is left out permanently that’s a 24/7 reason for such a dog to feel on guard. Yes, even if there are no other dogs around.

In multi-dog households everyone should have the right to eat in peace.  (Free feeding can hinder this plus it makes it almost impossible to monitor portion intake where there is more than one dog.)  Let each dog eat from its own bowl (if you bowl feed that is).  If it is necessary to separate your dogs at feeding time, then do so.  Eating in peace means your dog won’t feel pressure to eat at supersonic speed due to onlookers. Prevention is better than cure and that is why hand-feeding around half of a young puppies food rations over several times a day helps prevent food guarding.  

When we are more in control of their dog’s food we can easily use a portion of their set quota for training.  Let’s face it, if a dog can grab an easy meal any time of the day, why would he be motivated to work for it?  Meal times and food in training are excellent opportunities for teaching impulse control.  We want your dog to see humans as pretty wonderful and the source of all things good, however if you free-feed and just keep topping up the bowl, ‘tis the bowl that looks pretty wonderful in their eyes. 

Leah & Angela OMeara

Hound Dog Day Care (Specialists in Dog Minding & Dog Boarding, Pet Sitting Brisbane & Doggy Day Care Brisbane)