When I got Teddy, my black lab/golden retriever/irish setter
mix, I decided that I would free feed her. Free feeding means making food available to your dog all the time – as
much as they want. If you start when
your dog is a puppy, free feeding is really easy. I just put out a bowl of dry dog food and
filled it whenever I noticed it was empty. Teddy self regulated herself – never overeating. It helped that I made sure she got lots of
exercise. My vet warned me repeatedly
that with her lab genes she was going to get fat. I told him I’d watch her and if it became a
problem I’d change. (Ironically, Teddy
is now wasting away from kidney disease. She never was overweight though.)
The reasons I wanted to free feed were:
- I don’t like it when dogs fixate on food. You know the type, it’s dinner time and they are jumping and
slobbering all over. I had a roommate who had a cat who thought he ought to be fed at 6am every
morning. If she wasn’t home he’d gallop down the hall and slam into my door. Repeatedly. And he weighed 30 pounds.
- I knew I wouldn’t be home everyday at the same time and I didn’t want my dog feeling like she was starving.
- I figured she could self regulate and just eat what she needed better than I could regulate for her. On weeks where we went backpacking and 6 mile runs, she might need more food. On days where I spent all day in meetings and went out for dinner instead of running, she might need less food.
A couple of warnings or caveats:
- It’s much harder to start free feeding when your dog is already used to a
scheduled diet. You can try but for the first few days they are sure to stuff themselves. They may or may not even out.
- You should stick to dry food. Wet food shouldn’t sit out all the time.
- Introducing a new dog into the situation creates difficulties. I had to stop free feeding Teddy when
Chase joined us. She would gobble down all her food as if she was terrified Chase would eat it all and there wouldn’t be any more. Now we pretty much free feed both of them but Chase still insists on being fed at 6pm. If there’s still food in the bowls, we pick up the bowls, pour food from one to the other and put them back on the floor. Then he eats!
Photo by leff.