Dogs are not naturally grazers. In the wild, wolf packs must consume whatever meat they can capture as soon as it is available, as there is no guarantee of another meal later in the day. Feeding your dog on a schedule has big benefits in terms of setting a routine and assisting in basic training techniques. That being said, some families and dogs may find that free feeding, or grazing, is the right feeding method for their schedule and needs. You can teach any dog to free feed, but it may take some special training sessions.
Assess your dog’s personality and breed to determine if free feeding is the best option for you. For example, working breeds may benefit from scheduled feeding as it works as a training reward, while low energy pups generally do well with free feeding.
Fill your dog’s bowl with food and allow him to start eating. If your dog eats too quickly, try using a slow eating bowl to encourage calmer consumption or holding the bowl up to his face level to force him to turn his head and slow down.
Call your dog away from the bowl. When he comes, reward him with a small treat. Have him sit or play with you for a while, then let him return to the food bowl. The key lesson to be learned in free feeding is patience; the dog must understand that it’s OK to wait for food or to leave it behind.
Call your dog away again, then reward him with a treat or praise. Repeat this process for a few minutes to help your dog get the gist of walking away from the bowl and taking a break from his snack.
Distract your dog from the food bowl by taking him for a walk, playing outside or engaging in a quick game in the house. Let him return to the food bowl at the end of each distraction.
Reward your dog whenever he leaves the food bowl and comes to you. It may take a few training sessions, but your dog eventually will learn that he doesn’t need to scarf his food down in one sitting.
Free feeding poses a few notable problems: You can’t track your dog’s food consumption, it’s harder to feed medication and dogs without proper training will eat themselves into obesity. Always consult a vet if you are planning any big changes to your dog’s feeding habits.
When you first start training for free feeding, do not top off your dog’s food bowl. Start each day with the correct serving for the day and encourage your dog to take it in multiple sittings. This helps prevent overeating in the early phases.
Free feeding a dog doesn’t mean ignoring his dietary needs and exercise requirements. Try to keep a measure on the food you serve and make sure it’s appropriate for your dog’s activity level.
If your dog is food-obsessed, a leash can help with the initial training phase. Simply lift the leash slightly to get your dog’s attention if he zones out and starts chomping down.
Items You Will Need
- Dry dog food
- Dog treats
- Slow eating bowl
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