Food Bowl Control – What You Need To Know

Leaving the dogs food out

“But he never finishes all of his food, so I just leave it out so he can eat whenever he wants.” There are many reasons why I don’t agree with free-feeding:

  1. If my dog ever has a health problem, I cannot accurately say what kind of eating history he has had recently.
  2. If you have more than one dog (or even cats, for that matter – I have seen cats eat dog food) you cannot regulate who is eating what.
  3. For puppies, good potty training cannot happen with a pup who eats whatever/whenever s/he wants.
  4. Dogs who have free feed never realize where their food comes from.

The first three reasons are fairly self-explanatory. It is reason number 4 we will discuss here.

Resource Control

Part of good leadership and respect habits branch from the control of resources: food, water, rest areas, and access to outside. A good leader provides an adequate amount of each; not too much, and definately not too little. Leaders in the canine pack let the others know when they can eat, drink and sleep. We, as human leaders of dogs, don’t need to be so strict, but letting dogs know where the food comes from does help with leadership symbolism. As you will discover through reading these leadership articles (yes, there are more to come) a lot of what dogs know and understand is through many symbolic actions.

By starting to feed a puppy 3 times daily for a specific time period (usually 20 minutes or so) and then removing the food, we are setting a pattern for both:

  1. You need to eat when it is offered to you and
  2. You cannot have any more until next time.

Soon, the puppy will understand the concept of mealtimes and look to you at feeding time.

Dogs Don’t Need A Set Mealtime

Contrary to what you may think, dogs do NOT need a set mealtime. This may actually be a blessing to those busy owners with erratic schedules. Dogs do appreciate routine, so feeding within a certain block of time is best (in other words, although you don’t need to feed your dog precisely at 5pm, s/he should be fed somewhere between 4 and 8pm). NOT feeding at a specific time will benefit owners of “pushy” dogs – those who insist by pacing, getting underfoot, nudging, or perhaps barking to you that “It is time to EAT! FEED ME NOW!”. You, as the benevolent leader, stop the pushy pattern of pacing, etc. by telling Spot to go to his place and “chill out” (all dogs should have a place they can go to – more on that later). You can offer Spot a chew, or better yet, teach him to find it for himself – “Where’s your bone?! Go find your bone!”

Many trainers feel owners should eat FIRST (remember, leaders get to do everything first) before the dog(s) are fed. This is a good time to work with “no begging”. Dogs are opportunists, and pushy dogs will insist you feed them from the table.

“Spot, NO – go lie down!” – or crate him during your meal.

Since you, as leader, now control the food resource, you also control the food bowl itself. The food bowl is on loan to your dog. This means you can set down or pick up the bowl whenever you want – without a quarrel from your dog. In some instances, this may be easier said than done. Some puppies and dogs are naturally very protective around their food and will guard it from other dogs, animals and humans. This can be a potentially BIG problem. If you, a child, or another dog invade this dog’s “personal space” around the food bowl (perhaps, just by walking by) the dog may attack. Some people believe a dog should be fed by itself in a separate room. This is fine, unless the routine is broken (“I forgot! I was supposed to fast the dog before surgery tomorrow!”) and someone attempts to take away the bowl.

The biggest rule in my house is; a dog is NEVER allowed to growl at me, let alone snap or bite – under ANY circumstances! I don’t care if I am standing with all my weight on his foot – NEVER allowed to bite!

How do you achieve this with the food bowl?

Start with an empty bowl in your lap, or on the floor by you. (If your dog won’t tolerate even that without a growl or a snap, then STOP reading this and get your dog to a behaviorist FAST!) Have the dog food in another container that only you can reach. If the dog is pushy or unruly, then have another person enforce a “SIT”, so the dog isn’t jumping on you. Dribble a few kibbles into the bowl, remove your hand, and let him eat. If he growls or stares hard during this stage, please stop and see a behaviorist. Dribble a few more kibbles into the bowl and let the dog eat. Then add more, until he has eaten his whole meal – provided by you. Do this for the next several days, or up to a week or more, before moving to the next step. With the next step, you let your hand linger in the bowl a little longer after putting in the food, then longer still after a few days, until your hand is in the bowl while the dog is eating. You can even modify your approach by feeding the kibble from you hand – near, in or over the bowl – until you are feeding kibble from the bowl. At any time during these excercises, if the dogs growls or snaps, take a step backward in the feeding process and work on it for several more days before moving forward again.

The above training is BEST done while the dog is still a puppy! Older dogs can be MUCH more protective and have a lot less inhibition about protecting what they feel is theirs. CAUTION ALWAYS is key when working an excercise like this with an older dog. You may even need help in starting. If so, a professional trainer can guide you through the process.

8 Responses to Food Bowl Control – What You Need To Know

  1. Jene'e November 18, 2015 at 5:37 pm #

    So I have the exact opposite in this case…two weeks ago I inherented my grandmother’s dog (a 7 yr old female whippet) she has always been a very shy finicky dog even from when she was a young dog. We got her when she was @ 1 yr or so, I don’t think she came from the best upbringing. Well my grandmother had her on a free feed g method that caused her to be really underweight so I decided to give her a routine for meals…well I’m trying to fatten her up so I’m mixing wet and dry kibble in the am and in the pm…she doesn’t get excited about food. She eats it but very slow cause she is so concerned on what’s going on around her or scared by my 3 yr old. I’ve tried putting g her in a quiet room by herself but she just sits at the door wanting to be let out. I am having to waste food cause its wet and dry mixed and am wondering if Im missing something that I could he doing to get her interested in eating when it’s down or just keep doing what I’m doing…
    Thanks so much!

    • Shauna March 14, 2016 at 11:14 pm #

      Have your dog checked by a vet asap a dog that’s not eating can be a sign of illness.

  2. Tania December 14, 2015 at 9:23 pm #

    I dont let my dogs eat untill i say ok. So if i have there bowls in my hand i can put it down without an excited squabble. Id let the puppie out this morning to do his busness as hes not sleeping outside yet. And iv noticed hes wonderd over and pooped in his bowl! Why? He eats nutrishous hes not eatting the poop lol so why would he poop in it? There is no poop near his bowl (untill this mirning that is.Dont I

  3. Christina Grover January 21, 2016 at 7:38 pm #

    I didn’t realize that dogs do not need a meal time. I try to feed my dog once a day around the same time so that he has an idea when he gets his food. I’m sure this helps makes him healthier. Is there any type of food that is better for them to stay healthy?

  4. Victoria February 28, 2016 at 11:57 am #

    I have a ritual with my dog that we do before he eats (criminals poison dogs a lot in our area so its to let the dog know if he’s allowed to eat from this person). Basically, what I did with my previous dogs was that I would let them know it was feeding time, they would carry their bowls to me, then after I put food in the bowl and they would have to give me both paws and I give the command “eat!” before they were allowed to eat. Now that I’ve got this dog (he’s 8 months old) I’m trying to train him to bring the bowl ( the thing with the paws and the command he already does very well) but he absolutely refuses to carry it. He’ll play with it and chew it when I’m not around but then when I try get him to carry it, he would rather die than do it. Please please please help, I really want to know why he doesn’t want to carry his bowl.
    (By the way, this dog and my two previous dogs are german shepards)

  5. Janice Day April 26, 2016 at 6:24 pm #

    My puppy won’t eat the food he as been having since we had him 3 months ago. Other food gives him loose bowels. It’s James wellbeloved. Do you think if I leave it out he will eat it eventually . I worried that he should eat as he us a 5 month old pup. Thankyou

  6. Kathleen De Moya May 8, 2016 at 2:43 pm #

    I’m trying to train my puppy that she needs to eat before I go to work so she can eliminate before my daughter leaves. Some days I can’t get her to eat so Monday through Friday she has to wait until we get home for her next meal. SHOULD I do this on weekends too?

  7. S Hamrick May 13, 2016 at 4:52 pm #

    Hi Victoria-good idea you have. Do you have a backup plan if there is ever an emergency that you cannot be there to feeding? Curious, so I could know how to follow up on my training.

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