I remember years ago growing up we had a sheep dog. A huge, white, fluffy thing and she was anything but well behaved. The fault rarely lies with the dog and in this case I can definitely say that we -my parents and I- were the primary cause of all the canine behavior issues that “Leia” displayed. We didn’t know any better- I was just a kid at the time. Thinking back on it, one of our most basic mistakes is still one that is very common among many dog owners that I have met. That mistake was allowing her to feed herself. That means that we would just keep the bowl full of kibble and top it up as needed.
Leia -named after the intergalactic princess- could eat when she felt hungry, could eat as much as she liked and she was anything but princess-like. However she would do one cute and sweetly funny thing. She would mostly eat only at family meal times. She would go to her bowl, pick up some kibble in her mouth and then bring it to the table. She would then drop it on the floor and eat with the family, return to her bowl and repeat.
Self feeding used to be very common and still is among some of the old school dog owners but thankfully this trend is changing. Many don’t feel it’s a problem and for some it’s not an issue but there are several good reasons to put your dog on a scheduled feeding time and not let them graze at their leisure.
The first and probably the most common sense reason of the bunch is that not regulating your dog’s food intake can easily lead to canine obesity. A few extra pounds on your dog can easily shave several years off their life. Extra weight makes them old before their time and very often leads to diabetes or even cancer. Owners of larger breed dogs -who are prone to joint problems- should also be very conscious about their dog’s weight and overall fitness level.
A slightly less obvious reason to keep your dog on a feeding schedule is so that you know if the dog has a sudden change in appetite. This can be the very first sign of a serious health problem. I know our dog Luna is so food oriented that if she were to pass on a meal I would immediately take her to the vet because she’s telling me there is something seriously wrong. If she were allowed to eat when she felt like it we could potentially miss the change in appetite for days. That could be fatal.
Another reason to maintain a feeding schedule is the simple fact of nature that what goes in must come out. If it goes in on a schedule it often comes out on a schedule. I’m talking about the big number 2. That means that not only is house training much easier but your dog will have a routine that can match your walking schedule. Dogs thrive on routine and it’s much more convenient for us as well. Also, related to the reason above is that if your dog has a routine schedule for bowel movements you will more easily notice if they get constipated.
One of the most common objections to the reasons given above is that they’re all health related. Meaning the dog does not currently have a weight problem, gets lots of exercise and has the run of the back yard so house training is not an issue. There is still a very good reason to keep your dog on a strict feeding routine and I will sum it up in one word – Loyalty.
Loyalty? yes that’s right. As the pack leader the dog must look to you as the provider of all things and work for your approval. Now you might think that Spot knows who fills his bowl but that is not the same as him waiting daily for you to do so. We people like to think of dogs in human terms of love and loyalty and I’m no exception as I feel I’ve a very strong bond with Luna. But I do know that a big part of her loyalty to me comes from the fact that I am the one who feeds her. Actually my wife and I take turns feeding just to make sure that Luna sees us both as providers.
Do our dogs love us? Yes, I’m sure they do but only as long as we fulfill our roles in the pack. The sad truth is that a biscuit will get you more loyalty out of a hungry dog than years of love and affection. It’s just the way the dog mind works. The dog must look to you as the source of their meals. If you allow the dog to “Auto-feed” they look at the bowl as the source and you’re more of a bystander. Training is so much easier too when the dog does not see food as something that is always at hand. They must see that food comes from you and only when you’re pleased with them. Treats used in training can easily be just bits of kibble. If the dog is never hungry a treat is not good motivation to work. Switch to a regular diet plan and get a better behaved dog. I’ve seen the change first hand and it happens in as little as a few days. A dog who must wait for you to feed them is much more interested in you and is more keen to make you happy.
Now before I get a call from PETA please know that I am not advocating that you starve your dog. You need to feed them enough to keep them lean and healthy. First I would recommend that you do not follow the directions on the dog food bag to the letter. Your dog will get fat almost for certain. Feed them twice per day, morning and evening. Measure the amount you give them. Use a proper measuring cup so that it’s consistent and you can regulate how much your giving them. Monitor weight gain or weight loss over time. Don’t guess, measure. That goes for their weight too. You should get your dog weighed at least every vet visit which should be at minimum once per year but every 6 months is closer to ideal. The vet can tell you if they need to eat more or less. Usually more exercise is advised but diet is the foundation of health.
We all love our dogs – if you’re reading this article I can assume that you do too. Keep them in top shape with measured amounts of premium food and regular exercise. If you’re too busy and can’t get them out regularly or feed them regularly you can hire a dog sitter or dog walking service. I just happen to know a very nice one.