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Teaching a dog to eat "free choice"

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  • Teaching a dog to eat "free choice"

    I hoping that some of you guys can help me out with something. I just got a dog from a family member after they found out their son is very allergic. She is an 8 month old lab/hound mix. Our current dog, a 9yr old cocker spaniel, has always had food free choice and has never been one to over eat and she's in great weight. The new dog has always been fed 2x/day and eats everything in front of her like it's her last meal. I would like to somehow get to where this dog is fed free choice as well. Is there any good way to do this? I don't just want to put food down and let her go, because she just doesn't stop eating and the last thing I was to do is get her sick. The new dog is not overweight by any means, I actually think she's a little on the thin side.

    Any ideas? Right now I am unemployed so have a lot of time to spend with her. I've done some searches on here and Google, but can't really find anything.

  • #2
    Maybe others will have suggestions, but in my opinion - not possible. I have never had a dog that would have eaten "free choice". I have known a couple of dogs that eat that way, but think it is much less common than dogs that will gorge themselves like it's their last meal.

    I personally think it would be far easier to convert your "free choice" dog to a scheduled feeding than the alternative....but I'll be curious to see the responses!


    • #3
      I think it's possible but not with a lab/hound mix!

      My Great Pyrenees could be free choice, he has a small appetite...
      “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Stephen R. Covey


      • #4
        I tried it once and was unsuccessful. If you are going to try it, you might try increasing the food available gradually till the new dog doesn't feel the need to eat all of it.

        A caution: if the eats a large amount, you risk bloat with a deep chested dog.


        • #5
          PS: Bloat (just in case you are not aware) is an emergency, many dogs die of bloat in less than 30 minutes.



          • #6
            Originally posted by cowboymom View Post
            I think it's possible but not with a lab/hound mix!

            My Great Pyrenees could be free choice, he has a small appetite...
            This is what I was thinking. Labs and hounds tend to be voracious eaters.
            Since you are around a lot, can you retrain your older dog to eat twice a day? I would start with segregating the older dog 3 or 4 times a day, and then gradually reduce the amount of food in the meals during the middle of the day until she is eating twice a day. If you take the food away after 20 minutes, she will get hungry but you won't be making her too hungry if you start with more feedings and then back off to two meals a day slowly.


            • #7
              Originally posted by cowboymom View Post
              I think it's possible but not with a lab/hound mix!

              My Great Pyrenees could be free choice, he has a small appetite...
              That was my exact first thought.

              I have had a few husky mixes, a Doberman, and a couple other "working" breeds who could probably not explode free choice.

              But any of the lab/hound mixes that I've had? Absolutely not! It is a breed trait of labs to eat anything and everything in sight.


              • #8
                My old cocker spaniel as well I could have fed free choice. But never my lab or the hound. My new/old cocker spaniel will eat anything you put in front of her until she's ready to explode. Maybe you just got lucky with the cocker.


                • #9
                  I had a sheltie cross that I fed "free choice" his whole life. No Problem. When his bowl got empty I just added more. He was always in perfect weight his entire life.
                  Snowline Sport Horses
                  Breeder of Hanoverian horses


                  • #10
                    Our retrievers have free choice dry food. When other dogs, including a voracious eater lab, visit, I put out several bowls of food 3 or 4 times per day. After a day, they look at me as if to say, "are you feeding me again? I just ate and don't want more." Then,we resume free choice feeding uneventfully.


                    • #11
                      I've always grown up with free-choice fed dogs, so it's not surprising that my current dog (my first dog on my own) is also a free-choice eater. I wonder if it's something that has to be started in puppyhood?

                      I also disagree that it's easier to convert a free-choice feeder to a scheduled feeder. I've watched many dogs who eat on a schedule and it wreaks havoc on the free-choice dog. He ends up not eating at all because he can't seem to grasp that the food gets put away. (And why should he—it's always been available for 6 years of his life). He's in perfect weight, always has been.


                      • Original Poster

                        Yeah, bloat is what I was worried about. I do know what that is, a friend of mine had her dog die that way when I was a teenager. What I DON'T want to do is turn the old dog into a dog that hoovers her food up as well. Since this other dog eats so fast, I think that she will be done long before the cocker will and will then try to steal her food. The way my house is set up, it's hard to separate them for feeding times. Guess I will have to figure out a way to do that tho. This is going to be a huge adjustment for us, but I'm hopeful that things will settle down eventually....really...just have to keep telling myself that!

                        The poor cocker (Lucy) is sooo pissed off right now. She's 9 and this new one(Tobin) is an 8 month old bundle of energy! Tobin keeps wanting to play and Lucy doesn't want to have anything to do with her. We have both been keeping an eye on them. No one wants to hurt the other, but the new one is so big that she could hurt Lucy without meaning to. And that doesn't even count the cats. I suspect that I won't see them for the next week or 2 Luckily they have plenty of hiding places thru out the house, so they are able to get away from her pretty easily. I see some doggy gates in my future tho! Worse comes to worse, she is somewhat used to being outside in a kennel, so she could become an outside dog pretty easily.

                        Thanks for all the quick replies everyone! I truly appreciate all the ideas and advice, even tho it isn't really what I wanted to hear Sometimes life is like that!


                        • #13
                          So when we adopted our first cattle dog mix, Maya, we wanted her to be a scheduled eater and she insisted on being a free choice feeder. By insisted, I mean, didn't eat per schedule and lost weight and we didn't really care that much so we caved. Anyways, when we adopted our second cattle dog mix, Jasper, who was described as a food vacuum, we figured Maya would have to learn to go on a schedule after all.

                          Completely wrong, after 3 days, she had converted Jasper from a vacuum into a free feeder. So it can be done! Although maybe a more alpha dog has to do it? Maya is clearly in charge in our house and Jasper follows her lead in all things, including eating habits.


                          • #14
                            I have a question: What is so important about making a dog a "free choice" eater? What is the problem with feeding a dog once or twice a day vs. leaving food out all the time?
                            Visit Sonesta Farms website at www.sonestafarms.com or our FaceBook page at www.facebook.com/sonestafarms. Also showing & breeding Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.


                            • #15
                              It would sure be easier!
                              “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Stephen R. Covey


                              • #16
                                Originally posted by Sonesta View Post
                                I have a question: What is so important about making a dog a "free choice" eater? What is the problem with feeding a dog once or twice a day vs. leaving food out all the time?
                                I agree. I don't think that "wild dogs" (aka wolves) graze throughout the day by choice. (Sure, the coyotes near us live on moles, but if they could get something bigger they sure would, and gorge themselves in the process). They are sort of designed to eat that way....although obviously there are many variations of "normal".

                                I don't know that a dog that "grazes" is really the norm...(or even "normal")....of course it could be normal for some dogs, but it seems that most dogs could be fed twice (or maybe 3 times) per day rather than allowing "free choice".

                                I am positive that my dogs (brittanys) would NEVER be satiated and stop eating unless they were obese.

                                ETA: an older dog and a new puppy -- is bound to cause issues. And the older dog might show their displeasure of the new addition by not eating. But that doesn't mean that issue is really free choice v. two/three meals per day.

                                When we got our last puppy (now 3), my oldest dog (now turning 12) would not come in the house. He very stubbornly stood, alert, in the backyard, voicing his disagreement to the new addition. And then after a stressful couple of days, he got really hungry, resumed his normal routine of living inside and devouring his food, and the two are best buddies today.

                                It definitely takes some time for an older dog and a new puppy to comes to terms with sharing a home.


                                • #17
                                  I think transitioning to scheduled feeding it WAY easier and healthier. Your cocker self monitors but it can be hard to track when they go off food (especially with more than one dog in the house). Going off food (for a normal dog) is usually the first indicator something is up. I am sure your cocker spaniel will not be happy but long term I think it makes more sense. It also reduces the likelihood of a food induced fight while they are unattended since with schedule feeding you can put the food down during a 5 minute block where you can give them your undivided attention until you are confident they have their dynamic totally worked out.


                                  • #18
                                    For those that want to separate dogs at meal time, put one or the other or all in crates with their food and leave them for a while, until all had time to eat their fill.
                                    Dogs get used to new routines easily.

                                    We used to feed twice a day for adult dogs, but the last years, alone, it is better to have free food, in case something happens and don't get back to the house, or someone doesn't realize I didn't, for long time.
                                    The current 10 lb dog has always a full bowl and two water bowls full, just in case.
                                    She is fine fed that way, doesn't overeat.


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by Sonesta View Post
                                      I have a question: What is so important about making a dog a "free choice" eater? What is the problem with feeding a dog once or twice a day vs. leaving food out all the time?
                                      Well, if you have a variable schedule, it means you don't have to rush home at 6 p.m. or whenever to feed the dog. I've always found it to be a pain to have put down a specific amount of food at a specific time.

                                      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.


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by LauraKY View Post
                                        My old cocker spaniel as well I could have fed free choice. But never my lab or the hound. My new/old cocker spaniel will eat anything you put in front of her until she's ready to explode. Maybe you just got lucky with the cocker.
                                        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).