Feeding a dog should be simple. Toss some kibble in a bowl, set it down and you are done. Right? Feeding a dog is simply not that simple. There are many things to consider when feeding your four legged friend. This article covers free feeding and feeding in pack order.
Free feeding or allowing your dog to eat whenever he wants can be convenient but it can also be a recipe for disaster. Most experts agree that dogs should never be able to decide when they eat on their own. The only possible exception would be an elderly, well-mannered dog who lives as an only pet. Otherwise it is time to put the gravity feeder away and do it right.
- Dogs are pack animals. If left on their own they would get up in the morning, greet one another, go to do their business and then begin the hunt for food. If they are being free fed there is no incentive to move around first. Dogs who free feed can become overweight quickly.
- Dogs who free feed essentially feed themselves. This behavior takes the pack leader out of the equation. Pack leaders need to be in charge of their dog’s needs, particularly food.
- Food aggression begins with free feeding. By taking the leader (you) out of the loop, you have put the dog in charge of their food. In charge of eating it and protecting it, even from you.
If you have more than one dog, feeding in pack order is essential to the harmony of your group. Food is one of the major components of a dog’s life. In the wild, dogs and wolves naturally establish a pack order. The leader of the pack eats first and the others join in as allowed. At home you have the option of picking your pack order and enforcing it by how you feed your dogs.
A word about pack order: The lead dog can be the oldest, the smallest, the smartest or the best listener. If you have a dog who has anxiety or is pushy, it is best to put them somewhere in the middle of the pack, this reduces anxiety and increases pack harmony. A good order would be an older dog or a stable little dog as the lead dog, then an anxious dog, and finally a dog with solid confidence or younger dog.
When feeding your dogs begin by gathering food bowls and assembling their food. Adding a little water will slow down food consumption and help to keep the dog hydrated. After putting their food together take a quick break to sip a drink or check your phone. Wait until your dogs have stopped doing the “food is coming” happy dance before you begin to feed them.
- Have your dogs sit in their spot as you place the first food bowl on the floor (or on a raised feeder). Release the lead dog to eat. The other dogs are expected to stay and wait. This does take practice so be patient if they don’t understand right away.
- Immediately pick up the second bowl, have the second dog sit, place the bowl and release the dog. Continue this until everyone is eating. In the beginning you may need to have another person help you but your dogs should catch on pretty quickly.
- Always feed your dogs in the same order and in the same room, together. This also promotes pack cohesion. Imagine being the only person at the kids table, in the living room, year after year during Thanksgiving, now imagine if this happened twice a day, every day! Eating together strengthens pack bonds.
Dogs have their own understanding of how the world works. By using common sense and applying available information to your situation, you can create harmony between the two of you and any other family or pack members.
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