Our Dog Owners Offer Their Top Feeding Tips:
Chat to Your Dog While They Are Eating
Annalisa Shah makes mealtime unique for her four Labradors by petting each of their sides while they eat. “I know it makes them happy because their tails start wagging so fast,” says Shah. Thought and care should go into the meals you serve your dog, as they do when serving your family. Every mealtime gives you the chance to provide nutrition and nurture that special bond while feeding your dog.
Shah makes sure she offers encouragement as the dogs eat: “I usually say things like ‘You are such a good girl or boy,’ since those words seem to make them happier.”
Mealtime comes soon after Shah’s alarm rings in the morning. “Anyone who knows Labs knows they love to eat,” says Shah. “They get fed in a specific order, and they wait until their food is poured. It’s very routine.”
Be Patient and Predictable When Feeding Dogs
With seven large dogs, Paul Caster’s feeding times can get a bit hectic. “One trick we learned a long time ago was to train each dog to sit and wait until it’s released before getting dinner. This has to be continually reinforced, but it saves a lot of trouble,” says Caster.
Caster knows senior dogs can be finicky eaters, so he was willing to adjust when his Irish Wolfhound stopped approaching meals with relish. “Frodo is a susceptible, 106-pound puppy. He just wanted me to hold his dish while he ate,” says Caster. “Moral of the story: Before you rush your pup to the veterinarian when it stops eating, give it a little extra attention, and you’ll see what happens.”
Spread out Your Dog’s Feeding
Monica Anthony separates food for her 10-year-old Labrador Retriever and 7-month-old Doberman Pinscher into portions throughout the day. “Both my dogs are fed meals three times a day, along with stuffed Kongs twice per day,” says Anthony. “Spreading out mealtimes helps keep the Lab’s weight in check since she is not as hungry. It also allows the puppy to digest the high volume of food required as she grows.”
Anthony works to keep consistent feeding times. After her dogs exercise, she makes sure they get an hour of quiet time before feeding them again. Access to clean water is a must. She keeps things neat by placing a shoe tray from a dollar store under the food. She also buys water bowls that are large enough to contain splashes and splatters.
Accommodate Your Dog’s Tastes
Truffles, a 6-year-old Havanese, enjoys drinking cold water. So her owner, Dr. Debra Jaliman, adds a few ice chips to Truffles’ water bowl at mealtimes. She also coats Truffles’ dry kibble with wet dog food. “I try to feed Truffles before I feed the family. Otherwise, Truffles gets antsy,” says Jaliman.
Make Meals a Challenge For Your Dog
Joan Hunter Mayer, a certified professional dog trainer in Ventura, Calif., makes sure her 8-year-old Chihuahua mix finds mealtimes stimulating. She suggests stuffing interactive food toys, such as Kongs, with your dog’s food. “This is an ideal way for your dog to have meals,” says Mayer. “These are toys that are meant for dry foods as well as wet foods. Instead of always feeding it out of a bowl, allowing your dog to engage in these productive, challenging, and enjoyable activities taps into your dog’s natural predatory drive making mealtime fun.”
Engaging your dog at mealtimes will allow you to feel closer, and it will make the experience more enjoyable overall.
10 Rules for Feeding Your Dog, from Lisa Peterson, a Spokesperson for the American Kennel Club.
Don’t Let Your Dog Guard its Food
Some dogs are like vacuum cleaners. Walk them, and you’ll notice: any scraps of food (or discarded chewing gum, cigarette butts, etc.) go straight from the sidewalk into their mouths. “You need to be able to step in and remove food from a dog when necessary for safety’s sake,” says Peterson. To help your dog tolerate your behavior, it’s necessary from puppy-hood to train your dog to let its food go. Feed your puppy, and then remove the food after a few bites. Replace the dish and remove it again. You can train your older dog in the same manner, rewarding it for sitting calmly until you replace the food.
Don’t Feed Your Puppy at the Same Time as Your Adult Dog
If you’ve got multiple dogs, the older dog will most likely want to be treated like the king. “I tell people with an older dog to feed the dogs separately until the puppy is a year or so,” says Peterson. “The puppy should be trained to eat food in his crate.” The puppy needs to learn its place, and this feeding style will facilitate the process.
Don’t Tease a Dog When it’s Eating
While you may not be tempted to pull your furry friend’s tail during dinner, your toddler or young child might. “Parents need to be aware that children shouldn’t be near the dog when it’s eating,” says Peterson. The child may jar the dog or get in its face. This disruption can lead to a dog choking, gagging, or merely becoming frustrated enough to lash out at the child — not a safe situation for your dog or toddler.
Don’t Walk Your Dog After Dinner
Your dog should not have a walk right after a meal. Peterson advises waiting at least 15 to 30 minutes after feeding to exercise your dog. “Just a little time to digest,” she says. This delay after meals is essential for all dogs, especially for deep-chested dogs such as German Shepherds, Great Danes, Boxers, and Dachshunds. All of them are prone to bloating, a dangerous condition that can have severe health consequences.
Don’t Give Your Dog Human Food
A begging pooch can be hard to resist (that sweet face, those sad eyes), but your dog doesn’t know how dangerous the meal you’re eating can be. Grapes, raisins, chocolate, and onions: each of these can be toxic to your dog in large enough quantities. Sometimes excessive fat in meats or dairy products can cause digestive distress. Given that it’s hard to know how your dog will react to human food, the best rule to follow, says Peterson, is no table scraps whatsoever.
Don’t Prepare Your Dog’s Food Yourself
Commercial dog foods are prepared with the right amount of calories and the necessary combinations of vitamins, minerals, and proteins. Achieving that combination yourself is unlikely. Dogs are carnivores. Their bodies are made to assimilate protein. Says Peterson, “Prepared kibble or canned food is balanced nutrition.”
Don’t Mix Prepared Foods
Are you trying to save money on your pet’s food? Don’t do it by mixing high-quality dog food with a lower quality one. Often, premium foods are packed with nutrients and require less food to be fed, making them a good buy.
Don’t Feed On Plastic
Casual observation has demonstrated that dogs prefer ceramic bowls, followed by stainless steel. Plastic bowls are too easy to chew, especially for puppies, likely to gnaw on anything in sight. The bowl should not be a part of your dog’s meal. Plastic dishes can also harbor bacteria and retain odors, leading to allergic reactions, or even your dog’s rejection of its food.
Don’t Over-Treat or Over-Supplement
Too many treats will lead to unhealthy excess pounds. Too many vitamins can also have unintended consequences. Ask your veterinarian about whether your dog needs any extras before starting it on a regimen of supplements.
Make Mealtime Fun for Your Dog
Treats to a dog can be like dessert to us. Treats, by their very nature, are a tasty reward associated with good behavior and good times. Kathy Miller, director of ForPaws Corgi Rescue Online, advises that you buy nutritious treats, formulated especially for dogs, instead of feeding people food. Better yet, “We use the dog’s regular food as their primary treat!” Peterson also does this with her pets.
Feeding time can be training and playtime all at once. Miller, for example, begins by asking her dogs if they want a “yummy dinner.” Her dog Bart knows what this phrase means “and goes nuts.” Miller then runs him through a small battery of basic commands, such as sit and lie down, before Bart gets to chow down. The routine reinforces good behavior with good food, which benefits both dogs and owners.
To avoid boredom, Peterson also sometimes hides her dog’s kibble around the house. “I place it under the sofa, behind the TV, just anywhere where my dog can easily retrieve it but will face a little challenge finding the food.” The edible hide-and-go-seek serves as behavioral enrichment, stimulating your dog’s natural food-finding skills.
Should I Leave Food Out For My Dog All Day?
Free-feeding is when food is freely made available to your dog, and they then decide when they will eat. According to Peterson, this is another no-no. When you have a feeding schedule for your dog, you are providing them with an essential routine.