All-you-can-eat buffets are a huge temptation. Using rational judgment about the amount of food you really need flies out the window when you’re faced with all those yummy goodies. Who doesn’t leave the buffet having stuffed–or over-stuffed–themselves? So why should we expect our dogs to limit themselves when all the food they could want is available at their very own personal all-you-can-eat buffet? Well, it’s time to close that buffet and feed your dog regular meals. Not convinced? Read on for some good reasons to make the switch.
A schedule can make life easy
But you say “It’s so convenient. All I have to do is top up the bowl when the kibble supply gets low.” Measure that convenience against the convenience of established potty habits. What goes into a dog on a schedule will come out on a schedule. Planning meal times will help create and maintain good potty habits because your dog will need to go out at more regular times.
Your dog can stay slim and trim
Delivering a measured amount of food will help maintain your dog’s svelte figure. Carrying extra pounds can cause just as many problems for dogs as it can for people. When you’re controlling the amount your dog eats, it’s easy to make sure he gets the proper amount to maintain a healthy weight. If you see the number on the scale moving up or down, it’s also easy to make small adjustments to counteract unintended gains or losses.
Something that’s wrong becomes obvious
A loss of appetite is often the first signal that there’s something wrong with our canine friends. While it’s fairly easy to notice if a dog has completely stopped eating when the dog is free-fed, it’s much easier to catch those more subtle changes in appetite when the dog gets a measured amount of food on a regular basis. This observation becomes more challenging if you’re free-feeding more than one dog. It’s very difficult to determine which dog ate how much or which one isn’t eating as much as usual. If a visit to the vet is warranted, you’ll also have the information to answer questions such as “how is his appetite?” and “when did this start?”.
Avoid feeding the neighborhood
Keeping food on the floor all the time is an invitation for bugs to help themselves to a meal. Bugs and other visitors are like little ninjas when it comes to finding those tasty morsels. Need we say more?
Mealtime does double-duty
Being dog trainers, this is our favorite reason to have established meal times–training opportunities! Your dog can learn better self-control by holding a quiet sit or down/stay while waiting patiently as you prepare his bowl. He moves out of position? That means that dinner prep might be delayed by a few minutes as he remembers the appropriate spot. A meal with lots of pieces of kibble also presents lots of reward opportunities. Pull a small handful of kibble pieces from the bowl and have a short training session. When you’re done, the bowl with the rest of his meal becomes the jackpot for the last skill your dog practiced.
But change is hard
Actually, your dog will transition fairly easily from free-feeding to eating regular meals within a day or two. Experts recommend that adult dogs be fed twice a day. (Puppies may be fed more often based on your veterinarian’s recommendation).
Start with picking up the food by bedtime the night before you make the change, and plan specific times for meals (like 7 am and 7 pm). In the morning, measure the food and put the bowl down in front of your dog. Set a timer for 15-20 minutes. When the timer goes off, pick up the bowl. If your dog didn’t eat much, that’s okay. He won’t starve to death before dinner, and he’ll be hungry then and more likely to eat when the bowl is presented. At dinner time, repeat the process–the bowl goes down for 15-20 minutes and then gets picked up again. Most dogs get the hang of the new program within a couple of days.
With a little time and a little patience, your dog will understand that the all-you-can-eat buffet is permanently closed. But he may also discover that meal times can be wonderful!