Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Free Feeding vs. Meal Times

This has been a long time argument between dog owners. Free Feeding or Meal Times??

Some believe that you should fill the dog's food bowl and it will eat when hungry. This is called Free Feeding. My parents do this with their dog and it works pretty well - except when other dogs come over for visits. Sometimes their dog will guard the food, sometimes she will eat it all regardless of whether it is too much for her or not, sometimes she will ignore it and let the other dogs eat it (not good for the other dogs).

Others believe that you should measure out exactly how much the dog is allowed to eat at any given meal and the food only stays down for 30 minute intervals. This is what I call "Meal Times". I'm sure there's a better word for it, if you know it, let me know! Set Meal Times allow for a measure of control and you always know if your dog is off their food. It may be a warning that your dog is unwell.

Personally, I use Meal Times and don't Free Feed my dogs. I find that Free Feeding leads to Resource Guarding in multi-dog households as well as overeating. As we all know, overeating can only result in one thing - an obese dog.

What do you do? Do you Free Feed or have set Meal Times?

Why do you feed the way you do?


Minnie-Moo (Rescue Lab) said...

We have meal times here - twice a day. There are multiple dogs here and Muzzle (my mum) wants to make sure we all get the right amount of food for our size etc. She wonders when people free-feed in a multiple dog household, how they know each dog gets the right amount?

Our food is gone in minutes though, we all eat it straight up and then swap bowls to see if someone's missed a bit (they never have!).

I like the idea of free food though :-)


2halves said...

Set meal times here. As you mentioned, you will know immediately if someone’s not eating. Set meal times also make for set poop times. As someone who works for a living, I want to know that no one is going to be in a panic to poop at 1PM.

I also want my dogs to be food motivated. I don’t want food to be something that’s just always hanging around. I want them to want to eat. No blas√© attitudes toward food here.

Feeding 2x a day also provides me 2 great opportunities everyday for training and bonding.

GoLightly said...

Free feeding is just wrong.
Gives the wrong impression to the dog.
2.5 meals a day, when I say, 'cause I boss the food around..

Hy husband's ex does the same free-feeding, has with all her dogs. All with issues...

That GSD bitch up the road? Maybe pregnant? Carries her food bowl around, and talks to it. Nothing ELSE to do:(
Ignored, outside in a kennel, or loose, 24/7.
Husband ranted at owner again.
zzzoooom, right over his head.

OldMorgans said...

When I had dogs, they were fed twice a day. They all cleaned it up in minutes. I would have had fat dogs if I did free-feeding.Also would have ended up feeding rodents and bluejays. Can't free-feed my Morgans either. Or my cats. I do free-feed myself however--5 meals a day or else I am in trouble!--laughing at myself


Thoughts said...

We have meal times for the dogs and both free feed and wet meal time for the cats. The cats arent overweight and need to snack during the day where as the dogs need to lose a few pounds so we're strict about their food limit.

CraftyDragon said...

We have a Jack Russell and a doxie. Our Jack has always maintained a healthy weight and she's on free-choice. Our doxie is a little bit overweight so we give her a strict amount at a specific time every day.

It's a little tricky doing it this way because we have to be careful of our Jack's "snack times" so the doxie doesn't sneak some too. :)

melgeo126 said...

For the most part I free feed and it works great. One Shar Pei and my lab mix are fine with free feeding, my other Shar Pei might eat a little bit too much so I watch while he eats and if he starts eating too much I will stop him.
The other two only eat as much as they need and always leave some for the next day.

Sully said...

I feed the large breed dogs first thing in the morning and as soon as I get home from work. They eat it all within 15 minutes or so. I work all day and this works for my schedule. These are primarily outside dogs and I like to monitor their eating just to make sure they don't have any aggression at meal times. All three of these dogs are at a good weight or could stand to lose 5 lbs. Oh they love to steal the little indoor foster dog's food when I let them in the house.

I foster one small dog (15lbs and 15 inches tall minpin mix). He is a thin little thing so I keep food out for him all the time. He is pretty active and only eats a tiny amount at a time.

So I use BOTH methods and both work well for the situations that I use them in. I do have to put the food up when I bring the big dogs in because they really don't need MORE food.

Calsidyrose said...

Set meals at our house, no what my 15-hear-old calls "the open bowl". As my husband says, the min-pin's favorite meal is his next one.

We feed morning and evening--and the min-pin has to do sit-stay to get his food. My other dog only has to sit. Each gets a different food (min-pin is on vet-prescribed kibble to keep kidney issues in check).

Set times help with watching for health changes and helps with poop regularities!

Good topic!

Murphy Dogg said...

Mama serves us breakfast and dinner, mostly to keep our pooping schedules regular. And because if she left food out all the time my fat-ass sister Trudy would be a fuzzy 2 tons.
Murphy Dogg

Shari Thomas said...

We have a 5-dog pack and they're on free choice kibble, with treats during the day. They're fairly active with a big backyard to run. A couple are allowed to go out for "chores" as long as they behave off-lead.

We rarely have issues at the food bowl. If there is, it's between the big black lab and the small Finnish Spitz. The lab thinks she's in charge, and the Spitz says "prove it". Lots of noise with no real action.

shane rocket said...

With seven dogs- we have to have meal times. twice a day.
Not everyone is on the same food. Three different types of food for different issues.

It would be nice for free meals but then your right how would we know who has a "bad belly", as we call it when someone does not eat. and we have a chubby that would eat until she exploded!!

They know when the time is close and will remind us often if we try to fudge the minutes. they get up, potty, eat, poop, then become extremely lazy. then they have the same ritual later in the evening. they all sit patiently for their food and then get a single command for them all to eat. such good goobers! It does them good to have this routine. and with seven any resemblance of a routine is just great!

Sharkbytes said...

With every previous dog I've owned as an adult(quite a few over a lifetime!) we have put food out all the time and they would just eat when they were hungry. The dog I have now is the first dog I've every owned that will overeat. It's a constant struggle to keep her weight down even with regular meals because she seems to find her own "treats" outside. So she gets regular mealtimes, a very small serving in the morning and a larger meal in the evening when I eat.

manindo said...

Hi...first time visit.
Nice blog. Care for link xchange ?

DogsDeserveFreedom said...

Great comments everyone! Seems like we have lots of different feeding styles out there.

A lot of you have commented about multi-dogs and how it is difficult to free feed together, but it does sound like there are some out there that have overcome any issues. I would be curious to know if those who are able to successfully free feed in a multi-dog environment ... are they rescue dogs or have you had them from puppyhood?

I have found that it is more difficult to teach a rescue not to obsess over their food bowls than it is to teach this same lesson to a dog you've had from puppyhood (whether they learned it from puppyhood or not).

Like I mentioned in the post, at my house we do have set feeding times as much because we always have a minimum of one "in-transit" dog around as because it is easier to monitor the eating habits of the perma-dogs. We may know exactly what will happen with our own guys, but we can never assume to know what will happen with the latest problem-child.

I really enjoy hearing your comments! Keep 'em coming!

Angus said...

Free feeding would not be a good idea for sheepdogs - they would be there every hour of the day munching away. Strict meal times are the only way of controlling middle age weight - why it doesn't work for me I'll never know!

Shari Thomas said...

Here's the break-out on our 5 dog pack.

The oldest gal is a big black Lab, who has thyroid issues. She is lazy, until she thinks get can get a "free run" to do chores. Then it's hunting time. She only shows up at the feed bowl once a day, right after I go to bed (the bowl is near my bed).

The next is a shepherd/husky mix who was a rescue pup. She has grown up with the black Lab. She has a happy-go-lucky attitude, and prefers hanging out anywhere around food, except at the bowl, which she hits a couple times a day.

Third dog is a chocolate lab/red bone hound mix. She's totally lazy, and laid back. She will munch a couple times a day. We got her as a puppy.

Fourth dog is a GSD/Border Collie mix, who's a big fraidy-cat. She's totally spooky. We got her at about 4 months, and we're sure she was abused. She likes to "grab and go". That's get a mouthful of food and head elsewhere to eat it.

My dog, the only purebred of the bunch is a Finnish Spitz rescue. She has an auto-immune issue, and couldn't be shown, even though her parents are both national champions. She is the smallest and feistiest of the pack. She is also the last to arrive. She waits her turn.

It's a rare day when there's an issue at the big food container. The only one to ever "guard her food" is the big, black Lab, who is far more show than go.

"Mom" is good for treats at least three times a day. I give a bed-time treat.

Meds (for the lab and the spitz) are given twice a day, with all the dogs getting half a marshmallow. No pills or with pills.

We live quite remotely, in the middle of a desert and rarely have company, so human socialization is a bigger problem than food issues.

Michelle said...

Dinglehopper has meal times.

There are times when I'd like to free feed him... because it takes him so damn long to eat. I described his eating habits a little in one of my blog entries.

I can't free feed him though, because my boyfriend has 2 dogs (both pug mixes and hearty eaters... I swear they'd eat a whole bag of food in one sitting, puke it up and re-eat it... if you'd let him) and they'd eat all Dingle's food if it was left out.