So you just got a new dog or your puppy has grown up, you bought all the toys, the kennel…the works! You also bought a giant bag of dog food that might just weigh more than a small car. You tear open the bag and pour a scoop into the sparkling new food dish. Then it hits you: How much food should you give the dog? And more importantly, how many times a day?
This is a common question we hear from new dog owners and it doesn’t really have a “right answer”, at least not definitively – though we think there is a “best answer”. Once a day? Twice a day? Free-feeding? You’ll hear a lot of different opinions, but we think the best feeding schedule is once per day.
We opine that free-feeding is the single worst feeding method when it comes to dogs (and cats, for that matter). Basically, when free-feeding you just leave a food dish filled with food and let the dog indulge whenever hungry or bored. It’s convenient, but unhealthy. I mean, would you free-feed your children?
Not only is this the unhealthiest route to go, but it will also affect the dog’s behavior. It’s no secret that dogs are quite motivated by food. When you are training a puppy, you use treats to encourage a desired behavior or response. Food is not just the dog’s sustenance, but also its currency. Free-feeding will remove this strong motivation for food and create behavior problems. Your dog will be come lazy, lethargic, and disinterested. He will become increasingly more difficult to control.
Twice a day versus Once a day…
Humans eat three meals a day (at least) so why do we not feed dogs three meals a day? Well, simply put: people aren’t dogs. If you think about a dog in the wild, untamed and not domesticated, it is used to longer breaks between meals. Its digestive tract is accustomed to these longer breaks. We know free-feeding will not give your dog’s digestion the break it needs, but now do we do once per day or twice?
You can check your dog food packaging for the recommended amount, but take this with a grain of salt. The more you feed your dog, the more you food you’ll need to buy. This is what they call a “conflict of interest”. If you’ve ever seen a toothpaste commercial, showing giant (albeit well-shaped) globs of minty fresh paste squeezed onto the brush, then you know that manufacturers often times “recommend” more than is actually necessary. The dog food manufacturer will probably recommend free feeding (though some of the more trusted brands will give it to you straight). We recommend doing once a day or possibly twice a day depending on your personal situation.
Twice a day is a good option if your dog is very needy and obsessive about food. You can do smaller portions, just twice a day. This can still result in a well-behaved, healthy doggy, but ideally, if possible, it’s best to do once per day.
Once a day is the most natural feeding method for dogs, allowing the dog’s digestive track the time that natural designed. Also, the dog will be nourished, but still strongly desire food. As long as food is a motivator in the dog’s life, he will be much happier and easier to train.
Keep to a schedule
Whether you are doing twice a day or once a day, we cannot stress enough the importance of keeping a schedule and sticking to it. The more consistent you can be, the better. This will not only help in your dog’s digestion, but also help with the dog’s mental stability and behavior. Maybe feed your dog when you sit down for dinner. This way your dog is eating instead of bothering you while you eat. The family that eats together, stays together!
*This guide is for dogs that are around 4-months or older. Puppies will require more daily feedings than adult dogs.