14

I grew up having dogs as pets, and feeding them always seemed to be pretty simple: put food in the bowl, and when it was gone, put more food in the bowl. This usually wound up being roughly every day, although not always. My memory as a child was pretty much this: just make sure they always have food in their bowl and they'll be fine. I remember that my dogs always seemed lean and healthy and energetic.

Edit: for context, this was out on a 100+ acre farm where both I and the dogs spent a lot of time playing outside and exploring and running around. My childhood dogs spent very little time in their pens.

Now as an adult, I'm trying to make sure I do the right thing for a dog, and I'm wondering if that's the right approach.

Will a dog tend to eat the right amount on its own, or do I have to regulate the amount of food more carefully than that to make sure it doesn't overeat?

18

The answer is the same as it is with people. It depends on the dog.

I grew up doing the same thing you did. We'd simply refill the bowl when it got empty. It was fine with our first lab. She was leaning more toward heavy than skinny, but was a decent weight. My second lab turned into a butter ball. I had a knock down drag out with my parents at the time, because she'd been hit by a car and as she got older, the arthritis took a toll. It was made much worse by the extra weight. She should have been about 73lbs according to the vet, but she was more like 93lbs. My parents still wanted to feed her all kinds of table scraps.

I'd come home from college for the summer and put her on a vet recommended feeding schedule and walk her a mile or so several times a week, as well as regular weekend trips to the river. I'd get her down to 75lbs or so and she'd be running around and playing like her legs didn't bother her. Then I'd go to school and they'd fatten her back up the 90s. She'd limp around and not do much. I finally convinced them to quite and she did much better.

Now I have a Jack Russell and a Keeshound I inheirited. I feed them a measured amount twice a day, but they often leave some in the bowl till the next feeding. I could leave it in the bowl for them 24/7 and they'd eat the same amount.

Basically, you need to monitor your dog. If he's getting fat, then you either need to exercise him more, cut back on his feed, or both. Either way, I'd recommend doing it gradually. Consult your vet to see what a proper amount of food is for a healthy dog of his size and breed. Then buy a higher quality dog food. You don't have to break the bank, but you'll see a noticeable difference in coat condition and other areas if you feed a higher quality.

4

Another consideration is that, if you are training the dog, giving him unrestricted access to food may make training harder by lowering the value of food rewards. A dog who always has food available will have no incentive to perform tasks in order to get food. You will have to use either tastier and probably more fattening treats, or alternative rewards (praise, petting, playing). These other rewards may be effective in some cases, but food rewards are one of the most effective overall (across a variety of dogs and training goals).

  • That's a good tip, although in this instance I'm not training. – Ben Collins Feb 10 '15 at 22:36
  • While it's true that a hungry dog will be much more motivated by food rewards than a satiated one, pretty much all animals actually prefer working for their food (apart from cats, that is) – ThomasH Feb 17 '15 at 22:27
4

This is affected by breed, individual temperament, rearing and environment. Cocker spaniels will eat until they explode (breed). Dogs that are bored will eat for something to do, just like people. Dogs that have had to compete for food will eat at every opportunity (environment).

I had a German Shepherd who joined our family with compete-to-eat habits (rearing) who learnt very quickly from our other dogs that food would be provided daily and on demand, and she lost her fear of hunger and stopped gobbling food on sight.

My sister's dog, a musclebound moron aptly named Hercules who never wanted for anything in his entire life, would clean out all four food bowls within ten minutes of his arrival (temperament).

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