August 21, 2015 by The Dog Rules
I was asked to take care of a couple of little, toy breed dogs while their family is on vacation. Fortunately for me they are to stay in their own home and the schedule is pretty much that to which they are accustomed.
In going over any special instructions or care with the owner I learned that these dogs are accustomed to having food available all the time. Feeding them sounds so simple doesn’t it? All I need to do is scoop that dog chow out of the bag and into their shared bowl. Put down a bowl of fresh water and they’re all taken care of. What could be easier?
Free feeding could be considered the easiest method of all. Simply keep the food bowl topped up and allow the dog to eat as much and when he chooses. Other than taking him outside a few times for a walk or a potty break, this is easy peasy dog care. Why then is there such a controversy about Free Feeding versus Scheduled Feeding Times?
What are the advantages of Free Feeding?
Food is freely available so that the dog can eat whenever he is hungry.
The theory is that dogs will only eat as much as they need according to whether or not they are hungry; however, this does not apply to all dogs.
Feeding feeding is more certainly more convenient for the owner as they simply need to top up the food bowl when it is running low.
Some advocates of free feeding believe that this method reduces or eliminates food related aggression. I have never seen a study proving this theory.
Free feeding can lead to obesity and obesity related diseases. Some dogs are gluttons and others will overeat when/if they are bored. (Like some people I know.)
Owners are not truly aware of the dog’s eating patterns. They may not notice that a dog has not eaten. If you have multiple dogs, one dog may eat excessively while the others do not get adequate nutrition. When dogs are fed at scheduled times it is easy to see if and how much they ate. Lack of appetite is usually the first indicator of illness.
Free feeding puppies can make house training a difficult and lengthy process as it is difficult to predict when the puppy eats and needs to go out.
Food may become less motivating when used in training. What makes you think that food you are offering makes you more interesting than that squirrel over there that needs chasing?
Free feeding only works with food, like kibble, that will not easily spoil when left out for a period of time. Also, leaving food out in the open might attract insects and other pests.
If you have multiple dogs and someone leaves you a “gift” in the hallway, how are you going to know who was the culprit? And even if you think you know who is the guilty party, it is too late to give any reasonable correction. Canine memories are short. You may think that your pooch looks or acts guilty upon your discovery of the “crime”. He is likely just responding to the anger that is radiating off you at that moment and really doesn’t have a clue why you are upset.
So back to my two tiny charges. They start their day with a 30 minute walk. Each does their doggie business. They get a 15 – 20 minute potty break at lunch time, another 30 minute walk before dinner and another 15 – 20 minute potty break before bed.
It ought to be safe to leave them, for a short time, in their pen on the lino floor with their day-bed, toys, food and water. This isn’t necessarily so. When I returned a mere 4 hours later one of them has left a “gift” on the lino. The first time this happened I was willing to put it down to anxiety (they’ve been left behind by their people and now there is this stranger) and the fact that my schedule is slightly different from that of their owners. The second time it happened I was thinking that they were not entirely trustworthy and that this is why they are penned rather than given the liberty of the house.
Now I watch them like a hawk because I suspect that they may sneak off into a corner or under a table and do something that I will not appreciate. When I let them off leash after their walk they charge through the house in the general direction of their pen. The third “gift” brought me to the conclusion that they are not really house-trained and that this free feeding method is what contributes to their (for me) unacceptable behavior.
Now the question is: do I put them on to a scheduled feeding time while I am taking care of them or not? What do you think? What would you do?