Does Size Affect How You Feed a Dog?
"Only when feeding puppies," says Melissa Carreker, DVM, owner of Leland Veterinary Clinic in Mableton, Ga. Puppies should eat four times a day.
And speaking of feeding puppies, Wendy Winquist, a certified trainer and dog behavior specialists in Austell, Ga., suggests you start out feeding them by hand. "That way," she says, "the dog identifies you as the food provider."
Winquist, who is an active member of the International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP) and owner of Pups in Progress dog training, says that feeding a puppy by hand is also a bonding mechanism. "It's intimate, and it lets you and the puppy get to know each other better." It also helps prevent future development of problems such as food possessiveness and aggression.
The general recommendation for adults of all breeds is that they be fed twice a day. "Of course, as dogs get older," Carreker says, "they may make the decision for us how many times they should be fed. Some dogs don't want to eat twice a day."
Is It OK to Put Food in a Bowl and Leave It Out for the Dog?
Leaving food out for a dog to eat whenever it wants is called free feeding. Most experts recommend against it for several reasons.
"Especially when you start out with a puppy," Carreker says, "we recommend that you feed it on a meal schedule." That means feeding the dog at the same times every day and leaving the food down for only about 20 minutes. Then you should pick up the bowl whether your dog has eaten or not.
A meal schedule, Winquist says, teaches a dog that when you put the food down, it's time to eat. "If you pick your dog's food up before she eats it, you can be pretty sure she'll eat at the next feeding."
Carreker says that a meal schedule also makes housebreaking easier. "When you're training a dog to go to the bathroom outside," she says, "it helps to know when the dog will need to go." Typically, a puppy needs to go 20 to 30 minutes after eating. "If you know when the dog has eaten, you'll know when to take her out," Carreker says. "That makes it easy for her to succeed."
Another problem with free feeding is that it can lead to health problems related to obesity. "Some adult dogs," Carreker says, "can handle their food being out all day. And it might be all right to leave it out if you measure the food and know how much you're giving. Other dogs, though, won't stop eating, and many owners don't measure and even refill the bowl throughout the day. They have no idea how much food their dog is eating."