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Teaching a dog to eat "free choice"

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  • #21
    It is much easier to train a dog when it has a food drive, which may be diminished if it has a "magic food bowl" that's constantly refilled.

    I'd buy two crates, because Tobin's going to need one, and feed them both on schedule in their crates.
    ~Kryswyn~ Always look on the bright side of life, de doo, de doo de doo de doo
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    "Life is merrier with a terrier!"


    • #22
      Originally posted by Tha Ridge View Post
      I don't think it really matters how dogs eat in the wild, given that our dogs don't live in the wild and haven't for quite some time. If the dog eats well and is happy on a schedule, so be it, but I would never try to convert a dog who healthily eats free choice.
      Well, I agree that if a dog is healthy on free choice there is no big deal to that. I am only saying that I think it would be unusual to find TWO dogs that eat on the same free choice schedule (especially considering that eating everything in sight is sort of the way most dogs - wild or domesticated - eat).

      I think you're more likely to end up with one fat dog that eats from both dog and one that doesn't get enough. Sure seems easier to retrain the grazer to a couple of meals per day - because I don't see any benefits to free choice eating for dogs.

      My dogs eat nicely next to each other but they were crated for a long time while they ate, especially when my younger one was little. My older one would easily scarf down two bowls of food in a heartbeat if the other dog didn't guard it. Now they both eat fast enough that they finish about the same time.


      • #23
        I have always free fed my dogs - and my current dog was a rescue and he picked it up pretty quickly when we first got him. When he is boarded or my mom comes to visit, he's on the 2x a day schedule - and he catches on pretty quickly that he needs to eat or he won't get fed. I board him with my trainer who has several dogs and he learned after day one to eat or go hungry.

        But when we get him back home, he goes back on free feed and he's fine with it. He's a perfect weight and it's SO easy to not have to worry about feeding times. The only thing we have an issue with is that he won't eat unless we are home. And he usually eats in the evening. So sometimes if we go out and then want to go straight to bed, we have to take his food bowl upstairs with us bc he is the SLOWEST eater in the world and we don't want to be up 1/2 the night waiting on him to eat.

        So it can be done, I think - it just takes some training.


        • Original Poster

          For me, it is more of a convenience thing. If my hubby and I are late getting home from something, I don't have to worry about the dogs freaking out because they haven't been fed. Honestly, I have never had a dog that I had to feed on a schedule, even when I was a kid both of our dogs ate free choice and did very well with it. But all these are dogs that we got as puppies and I'm sure that it is easier if they are used to having food out free choice from day 1. I guess I'm actually going to have to look on the bag of dog food to see how much I really should be feeding
          Our cocker is actually not one that really eats a whole lot. And if we are not here and have a sitter come over to take care of her, she will literally not eat the whole time we are gone because she tends to eat when I'm in the kitchen with her doing something, like cooking OUR dinner. She does get 2 scrambled eggs every morning, so she is kinda used to getting something on a regular schedule. I think I can go from that to get her used to eating her dog food on more of a schedule.
          I'm definitely on the lookout for a couple of crates that I can use. I have 1 but think that it's too small for the new dog. I have a couple of friends that have mastiffs that they used to crate, but don't anymore, so I think I should be able to get something from them. The new dog is ALL legs, so she's pretty tall.

          I'm just happy that we made it thru the night with no incidents! She was actually pretty quiet and slept most of the night. I got up and took her out once and somehow found my Ball canning book on the floor. She hadn't done anything to it, just somehow pulled it off the shelf that it was on. Still trying to figure out that one.... 2 of my cats came out of hiding and slept on me all night


          • #25
            Originally posted by Mara View Post
            No kidding. My cocker's entire 21 year existence was one long search for something to eat. I have no doubt that, given unlimited access to food, he'd have eaten himself to death.
            Now, my Yorkie did eat free choice. I had to retrain him to eat 2x day after getting the cocker, though. (Serving up more tempting food did the trick).
            Twenty one? That's awesome. Mine is 15. When I adopted her last year she weight 37 lbs! She's down to a svelte 26 now. She'll eat anything, including dry alfalfa cubes. On free choice, she would be a blimp with legs.


            • #26
              All my life, I too insisted restricted feeding is best for any dog.
              I still do, but now I make exceptions, as I have seen that free choice feeding, for the right dog and situation is really not bad, much less evil.

              My last two dogs, because of several reasons, have been on free choice food and doing fine on it, the current is now 7 years old.

              So, I say, best if you can feed on a schedule, but if there are other good reasons to free feed and it is working, being second best, that is ok also.


              • #27
                Our dogs were all fed free choice, including the lab-x. They never had anything else, and in those days I bought very cheap dog kibble which was not so palatable and it turned out fine. They actually seemed very healthy on this $9.00 a huge sack of farm-dog food.

                Then came the daschie who had to be on a diet because he was a garbage-guts, and then came the two we have now that we inherited which are also on a diet, so now it is measured out.

                I've also upped the grade of food somewhat - to Costco grain-free for the dog with a skin condition.

                But - we live on acreage, they are out most of the day and do run and exercise a lot.

                Free choice would not work, I doubt it anyway, if I put down yummy stuff like scraps or canned moist food.
                Proud member of People Who Hate to Kill Wildlife clique


                • #28
                  I don't understand why you would ever even WANT to try to feed a dog free-choice. How hard is it to just feed the dog twice a day?

                  Unless you feed some kind of unpalatable yucky dry kibble, the vast majority of dogs will rapidly become overweight if allowed to eat free-choice. Even if you feed yucky kibble, most dogs will still become overweight. They are opportunistic feeders, and most of them operate on the simple principle of eating any food or food-like substance that is available, as quickly as possible. I had a dog consume 10 pounds of puppy kibble once, at one sitting (left it on the porch. Whoops). They can eat incredible amounts of food at one time if the food is there.

                  And there are so many other reasons why not to feed that way:

                  It's an unhealthy way to feed a carnivore- unlike horses, who need to eat constantly, dogs are designed to eat meals and go without in between. Many people feel it is very healthy to "fast" their dogs at least one day a week. They did a study where one group of dogs was allowed to eat free-choice kibble, and the other group was given 25% less than the amount that was chosen to be eaten by the free-choice group. The group with the controlled food intake lived almost 2 years longer on average than the free-choice group. Interestingly, the controlled-fed dogs also had a much lower incidence of hip dysplasia (despite having the same genetic risk- they used paired littermates).

                  Feeding nothing but dry kibble dramatically increases the risk of the dog bloating and dying- adding wet foods to the kibble (canned, or table scraps, or hunks of meat) has been shown to cut the risk of bloat way down. If you try feeding free-choice with tasty wet foods, I suspect it won't work at all- your dog will freely choose to eat it all at once.

                  One of the first signs of ill-health in dogs is loss of appetite. If you don't track how much your dog is eating or not eating, you lose your first sign of ill-health. By the time you notice your free-fed dog isn't eating, it might be too late to save him.

                  If you have more than one dog, and have only one source of food, you risk triggering fights over the food- or you can have one dog keep the other dog from eating, or fear that the other dog will appear can lead dogs to frantically gulp down large amounts of kibble when they do manage to gain access to the food.

                  If you have more than one dog, what are you going to do if one of the dogs needs a special diet? Many multi-dog households end up having to feed different diets to different dogs, and if you started out with proper meals that is not a problem at all.

                  If your dog needs medications, and these medications need to be given with a meal, what are you going to do? if you had been feeding proper meals all along that is not a problem at all.

                  It destroys one of your best ways to train your dog- if the dog learns food comes from this magic bowl, then why would the dog want to have to work for you in order to get food? many people recommend that new dogs/puppies be entirely hand-fed for the first three months or so, doling out bits of food to the new dog as rewards for proper behavior. Thus the dog quickly learns the rules of the new household and is motivated to follow them. Once these behaviors become habitual, you can switch to bowl-feeding if you want. Or just keep making the dog work for a living. Many pet dogs are seriously bored, and making them work improves their behavior- instead of looking for things to do out of boredom, like garbage-raiding and barking, they are happy to just relax in between working sessions.


                  • #29
                    If you worry about the dogs going crazy over not getting food at a certain time in the evenings, I would never feed them at the same time in the evenings. I do this purposefully with my dog so she doesn't "expect" her evening meal at the same time every day, because realistically, there are some days its going to be early, and some days its going to have to be later. She does fine on this schedule. She knows she's going to get fed, and she does get her morning meal directly after she goes out, at approximately the same time every day.
                    "Choose to chance the rapids, and dare to dance the tides" - Garth Brooks
                    "With your permission, dear, I'll take my fences one at a time" - Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey


                    • #30
                      It was a matter of time until that popped up....

                      I prefer to feed the dogs twice a day.
                      It is easier to tell if/when they go off the feed so to speak.
                      and even then it can be tricky if you have a quiet, invisible dog.

                      They don't have to be fed at the same time every day. 6PM or 10PM....should not matter much.

                      BTW, my mom feeds hers in the PM only, one meal. It works best for her, I could never make it work for mine.

                      we used to have one foody at one time: she would eat until she barfed, then return to eat some more. I think she would have literally eaten herself to death on free choice!

                      but OMG, crappy kibble

                      Wendy, really?!


                      • #31
                        For people who think that free-fed dogs "graze" constantly, I'll have to disagree. When I free fed my dogs (6 of them), topping off the bowls, I'd notice that they still wouldn't eat while I was gone. I came home in the evening and they would eat, but not voraciously, and no competition between them.

                        Now I feed twice a day and meal time is definitely an event! Dancing, barking, growling if one comes near another's food bowl. Frankly, free feed was much less stressful for all concerned. I stopped because my giant schnauzer mix was getting fat, in part I think because I fenced in the yard and she was no longer running in the hills. The new dobie is very food-oriented, and I'd have to really ease him into free feeding if I went back to it. Right now he's crated to eat and has a rock in his food bowl to slow him down.



                        • #32
                          I free feed my 3 Pugs. They don't eat all day long. The kibble is always available, but they all have their preferred time of going to the kitchen to eat. Pippen is food aggressive, and this prevents any issues. There's nothing to fight about because food is always available.

                          Weight isn't an issue. Once the 2 rescues gained the needed weight, they self regulate. Everyone has maintained the same healthy weight. Food just isn't a big deal, so there's no bolting it down, no fights, no stress.

                          Originally Posted by JSwan
                          I love feral children. They taste like chicken.


                          • #33
                            As usual, Wendy and I are on different thought-planes. I did feed cheap kibble, but the dogs were very healthy on it, good coats, energetic and kept their weight down -- so it may have been "yucky dry kibble", it worked.
                            It worked for us just fine.

                            Nowadays, because of the dogs I have right now, we feed a measured amount.
                            Both work. I don't go for all these studies - if it works for us, after a lifetime of owning all sorts of dogs, that's all I care about.
                            Proud member of People Who Hate to Kill Wildlife clique


                            • #34
                              Originally posted by StGermain View Post
                              Now I feed twice a day and meal time is definitely an event! Dancing, barking, growling if one comes near another's food bowl. Frankly, free feed was much less stressful for all concerned. I stopped because my giant schnauzer mix was getting fat, in part I think because I fenced in the yard and she was no longer running in the hills. The new dobie is very food-oriented, and I'd have to really ease him into free feeding if I went back to it. Right now he's crated to eat and has a rock in his food bowl to slow him down.


                              My dogs have meals, and there are rules to mealtime if you're a dog in my house:

                              1. Mealtimes are approximate - somewhere between 5 and 9 am for breakfast, and somewhere between 4 and 9pm for dinner.

                              2. My fixing food means that you go to your assigned spot and wait, quietly. (The Lab goes in her crate and waits there 'til I say ok -I don't close her in, she sees me pick up the bowl and she goes in and stays put 'til released w/ a word. The new rescued dog is still learning and is shy about food with people around, but still inhales everything she can get to in case it's her last meal. She goes in my office and waits, and I lean a gate across the door because she hasn't learned "wait" yet.)

                              3. Begging, barking, whining or coming to see what I'm doing only delays your meal.

                              4. Going to 'help' the other finish is not allowed, and I will growl at you if the other dog doesn't.

                              In some respects I'd love a free-feed kinda dog, just like I'd love not to have to do canned meals for the cats most nights. But too often the meals - or someone's lack of interest in them - are the reason I've caught an illness early. Especially with an older dog, I think meals are the way to go. No matter how hectic my day, I have to tune in to them at least twice, however briefly.

                              Then again, Labs are my breed of choice, and they tend to eat anything that doesn't eat them first and get fat as ticks on not much, so free-feed probably isn't ever going to be an option.
                              Last edited by saje; Apr. 8, 2013, 06:33 PM.


                              • #35
                                Originally posted by wendy View Post
                                I don't understand why you would ever even WANT to try to feed a dog free-choice.
                                I'd stop right after the first sentence - for what reason would you want to feed free choice? (especially if it won't be easy...I will agree that if you have a dog or dogs that already eat this way and it works for you I might not change anything.)

                                If it's food aggression, crates will work better. If it's because the dog is picky and won't finish a meal, I'd look into different types of food and/or medical reasons it is picky. If it is for human convenience, I'd avoid that as the sole reason to do things related to the health care of animals (and kids).

                                I feed my dogs twice a day, and they don't go crazy if they are fed late. They might be hungry, but they don't go crazy. It happens from time to time. The only time I would try not to let this happen is with a young puppy.


                                • #36
                                  My Shiba Inu has been free fed all her life, and she's not even remotely overweight. She eats when she's hungry, and doesn't when she isn't.

                                  And lest I get accused of feeding her "yucky" kibble, she's on Acana, TYVM, and has been on one or another of the "premiums" her whole life.

                                  Some people seriously need to get a grip - why does it matter to you what time I feed my dog?
                                  "Are you yawning? You don't ride well enough to yawn. I can yawn, because I ride better than you. Meredith Michael Beerbaum can yawn. But you? Not so much..."
                                  -George Morris


                                  • #37
                                    Umm, why does a discussion of meals vs free feed = an accusation of feeding crap dog food?

                                    If one looks hard enough for insult, one usually finds it...

                                    Your dog, feed it what and how you want. TYVM.


                                    • #38
                                      Originally posted by saje View Post
                                      Your dog, feed it what and how you want. TYVM.
                                      When looking at the post above yours, I was thinking TYVM was a dogfood abbreviation (like TOTW) and was wracking my brain to think of what kind it was!



                                      • #39
                                        Originally posted by SaturdayNightLive View Post
                                        My Shiba Inu has been free fed all her life, and she's not even remotely overweight. She eats when she's hungry, and doesn't when she isn't.

                                        And lest I get accused of feeding her "yucky" kibble, she's on Acana, TYVM, and has been on one or another of the "premiums" her whole life.

                                        Some people seriously need to get a grip - why does it matter to you what time I feed my dog?
                                        Ditto. My free-fed dog has always eaten premium food (no "yucky kibble" here) and has always been at perfect weight.

                                        You'd have to be a huge moron to not notice a free-choice dog going off their food. Just because my dog always has food down doesn't mean that he doesn't have his own routines—I know what time he generally eats throughout the day and I also know how often I have to refill his bowl. It's not hard to figure out if either of those things are off.

                                        (If you want to throw insults though, couldn't we just say that all dogs who don't eat free-choice are just fat pigs with no self-control? )


                                        • #40
                                          I guess I missed the insults being thrown around. I don't think anyone really cares what other people feed, but if someone asks for advice they are sure to get it.

                                          My dogs would eat an entire bag of yucky, dry kibble. And yes, they have no self-control and would be fat pigs.