5 Reasons Why You Should Never Free Feed Your Pup
As a new dog owner, you are probably doing tons and tons of research to ensure that you are raising your dog in the best way possible.
This is great! As you've probably found out, one of the most important factors to raising a healthy dog is their nutrition.
You may have even searched “the best type of dog food,” or something along those lines as you've gone about educating yourself.
However, what most new dog owners do not know is that what you feed your dog is just as important as the way you feed your dog.
I'm going to repeat this point again to reiterate its importance: what you feed your dog is just as important as the way you feed your dog!
What feeding strategies are there for you to choose from?
There are 3 main ways that you can choose to feed your dog:
1. Free Feed (aka Choice Feeding)
Free feeding is simply the act of leaving food out for a dog so that the food is available at all times and the dog chooses to eat whenever he or she wants.
2. Portion Limited
Owner gives the dog a specific portion of food and the dog chooses to eat it whenever he or she wants.
3. Time Limited
Owner gives the dog a specific portion of food for only a certain amount of time and takes the food away from the dog after the time is up, giving the dog only a small window of time to eat the food.
Now, with these three choices in mind, depending on the dog, either portion limited or time limited feeding may work best as a feeding method. With that being said, I am going to elaborate on why free feeding should never be the way you feed your dog.
Despite what you may read on (often) uncredible internet sources, and what you may hear from people who say you should free feed your puppy so he “gets as much food as he needs”, please be advised that this advice is detrimental to your ability to effectively train your puppy, and to foster a healthy maturation process for them.
The simple answer is that free feeding isn’t beneficial for your puppy’s health, or for you in establishing a potty routine for your pup.
Yes, free feeding is the easiest and most convenient option for dog owners. However, the easiest method typically does not correlate with being the best method, and in this case, that couldn’t be any more true.
Still not convinced? Challenge accepted.
Here are 5 concrete reasons why you shouldn’t free feed your puppy:
1. It puts your puppy at risk of becoming overweight
Many puppies have eyes that are larger than their stomachs.
When Juneau was a puppy, I swear she would have eaten the whole bag in one meal if I would have let her!
Puppies typically do not have the self control to tell themselves: “Ok, I am full. Stop eating.” They will eat and eat and eat! Often times, dogs, just like humans, will eat when they are simply bored.
This can lead to obesity and as I am sure you know, obesity can lead to serious health issues.
2. When food is always available in the crate, it makes the food and the crate much less appealing
One of the key points that I teach to properly crate train your pup and associate his or her crate with positivity is to feed your puppy his meals in the crate.
For owners who choose to free fed their pup, it can drastically upset this important step in the foundational stages of dog training.
Think about the situation like this. If something is always present and available to you, it makes it much less appealing, and you probably aren’t going to want it as often—even if it's something that you typically love.
For example, if your favorite meal on Earth is pizza, and you had access to a pizza buffet 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, I almost guarantee that the pizza would become less appealing after a few days (I realize that some people reading this may think not, but trust me, nobody is that pizza obsessed).
On the contrary, when something you love (i.e. pizza) is only given to you at certain times, it is just about guaranteed that you will be more excited for it and find it more appealing than in the first scenario.
The same goes for dogs! Free feeding allows for the dog to have access to the food at all times, making the food less appealing.
However, if you only feed your dog in the crate at certain times of the day, and do not allow your dog to free feed at their convenience, he or she will look forward to going into the crate to eat and will be more excited about the food!
You want your puppy to get excited for meal time and to get excited about going into the crate in order to eat. Win-win!
3. It prevents you from keeping track of how much you are feeding your puppy at each meal to ensure the puppy is getting the right amount to meet his nutritional needs.
For people serious about their puppy’s health, free feeding makes things a lot more stressful and unorganized, because you aren’t able to monitor how much your puppy is eating.
For instance, if you end up having to cut down on your puppy’s food intake due to a health reason, how will you know how much your puppy has to be fed now when you are free feeding him?
When you are free feeding, this conundrum leaves you in a very tough position.
4. It will most likely lead to more accidents in the house
Well think about it— when your puppy has a routine including timely feeds, you know that you can expect your puppy to have to poop about 30 minutes to an hour after eating.
However, if your puppy is constantly eating while being free fed, you will not know when exactly he needs to go out, which will lead to A LOT more accidents in the house.
5. It sacrifices your ability to monitor your puppy’s healthy habits.
One might ask, how so?
When your dog is not eating, it should be a blatant red flag to you as a dog owner; loss of appetite is one of the best indicators of illness in dogs.
However, when you are free feeding your puppy, you can’t really tell if your puppy skipped lunch that day or not.
Since I regulate my dogs’ portions, if one of my dogs ever skips a meal, I am immediately on high alert of watching for any other symptoms of them not feeling well, because it is very abnormal for my dogs to not be excited about their food at every meal.
However, I would've never been aware of this fact if I left a consistent mound of food available for my dogs at all times.
A bonus point for why you shouldn't free feed your pup is that it's incredibly expensive to do so!
If you're feeding your dog high quality food (which you should be), this doesn't come at a cheap price!
Therefore, on top of the detrimental health and training consequences described above, free feeding your pup will also lead to significantly higher food costs over the duration of your dog’s life.
Ultimately, when it comes down to it, all of these reasons come back to validate the point that your puppy needs to have balanced meals in order to stay healthy, happy, and well-trained!
As you move forward on your puppy parenthood journey, experiment with limiting your dog’s portions, feeding times, or both, until you find the feeding plan that works best for your specific pup.