From a health point of view, a scheduled feed is a good idea. One of the first things your veterinarian will ask you if you present a sick animal is, “When did the dog eat last, and how much?” If you are doing free choice feeding, you probably won’t have a clue. That’s zero help for the vet or for your dog.
Most dogs don’t get enough exercise as it is. Add to that eating out of boredom and guess what you have? Those of us who see lots of dogs see a majority of fat dogs. Yuck! All that fat is hard to drag around and puts unnecessary strain on the dog’s skeletal system, muscles, and organs.
From a training point of view, knowing when your dog is hungry is a big advantage. For Breanna (my own Smooth Fox Terrier), who had decided, after learning how to retrieve, that doing a nice retrieve was not on her job description, the rule became: You don’t get your dumbbell, you don’t get your dinner. The first day, I tried every 15 or 20 minutes. I would ask her to retrieve, and when she refused, I put the meal away. After about six of those trials, Breanna decided that retrieving was fun! To polish her drop on recall for the obedience ring, we did a drop on recall before each meal. Same with the moving stand. This may be a bit extreme, but with Breanna I found that that making each exercise and eating dependent on one another made a big different in her correct response ratio!
If you have kids at home, do you play short order cook all day, every day? Do you have meals sitting on the table all day, every day, just waiting for the moment those kids might be interested in a meal? I bet not. We have scheduled meals for our children, and for ourselves.
For many dogs, everything is their lives is free, free, free. Food is always available, love is always available, toys are scattered all over the floor and so on. When your dog sees you in control of the food—his primary need—they know you are relevant! A good non-confrontational way to show them who really is in charge is to schedule the feedings. Asking Spot to work for her meal teaches her that the way to all good stuff is through obedience to you. This is just what we want her to think!
This is what a scheduled feed looks like:
1. Divide the dog’s daily ration into two portions.
2. Place the first portion in the bowl.
3. Feed the dog…let’s say at 7 am.
4. At 7:15 or 7:20 am remove any unfinished portion. If your dog has inhaled the food in 3.2 seconds, that’s fine.
5. The same ritual is performed again at the evening feeding time.
If you are changing a dog from free-choice feeding to a scheduled feeding expect them to maybe not eat the whole portion right away. After all, they are used to having the food down all day. Stick to your guns. Within 1-5 days, you will have a dog that understands the concept of scheduled feeding.
Obviously if you have health considerations or a puppy, do what your veterinarian and breeder have recommended. Puppies between 3 and 6 months of age in my house receive 3 feedings a day; after that, 2 feedings per day.
If your dog is fat and untrained, use portions of his daily ration of dog food to train. Also, you may want to use low fat training treats. You can reduce the dog’s meal rations accordingly to accommodate for healthy training treats.
If you have a dog who will always go crazy for food, that is a trainable dog! It is so easy to “get their number” because food lends itself so well to being controlled by you, the trainer.
Please use scheduled feeding for training success!