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Maybe it used to be fine for your only dog to take her time nibbling from her bowl as she chose, but now you have a new puppy who will scarf down whatever he sees, including your older dog’s food. Maybe your dog has always been a finicky eater, and you are sick of catering to her desire for kibble at four in the morning after she has refused to eat all day. Perhaps your vet has advised you that your dog is too heavy and that unless she loses some weight she will begin to have issues with her hips, heart, or other serious issues.
There are many reasons why we may want our dog to eat reliably at specific times, but getting her to do so may prove challenging. After all, you can lead a horse to water, but can’t make it drink, right? When it comes to dogs and their kibble, there are some reliable ways to make sure your dog eats when food is offered.
It is essential that you take full control of your dog’s eating schedule, if you are to convince her to eat at certain times. Have a serious talk with you family about how important it is that no one feed the dog, no matter how pitiful and hopeful she may seem. Do not give into your dog’s demands, even if she barks incessantly and paws her food bowl across the floor. Tell her you know she wants to eat, but that she will have to wait.
If your dog refuses to eat at the set time, you must remove the food and not allow access to it again until the set time, no matter how much your dog might beg and demand later when she gets hungry. Check with your vet to be sure of safety for your particular dog, but in general, a dog can go a day or a day and a half without eating with no ill effects. So, no matter what your dog might have to say about it, she is not, in fact, starving.
Make sure your dog’s food is both nutritious and delicious. Adding incentives like a little bit of wet food juice over kibble, or carrots and sweet potatoes mixed with the kibble, can encourage an unenthusiastic eater. Freezing chunks of food or adding water and heating kibble can make boring foods more interesting. Adding green beans can stretch out the food for dieting dogs.
Feeding out of food toys or spreading kibble over a clean hard floor to be searched out can slow down eating and make feeding time more interesting. Giving green beans, ice cubes, or rawhide chews between meals can help hold over the hungry pup. Never reward demanding behavior, but wait until your dog is calm to give her anything.
The Now or Later Method
About an hour before the desired feeding time, put your dog’s food bowl down for only a minute or two, whether or not she eats from it. This will introduce the idea that feeding will not last forever.
At your desired time, put down the food bowl and allow your dog to eat until she stops eating. If she doesn’t eat, leave the bowl down for about fifteen minutes before removing it.
Do not give in to your dog’s demands for food. If she acts demandingly, sternly tell her that it is not dinner time. If she still seems bothered, wait until she is behaving and give her a hold over snack like ice cubes or green beans.
Food time again
Give your dog an opportunity to eat for brief periods between established food times, but always make them brief. This way your dog will learn that only during the designated feeding times does she have ample opportunity to eat.
Remove additional feeding times
Remove snack times between feedings, only giving your dog rawhides, green beans, ice cubes, etc. between meals. Your dog should have understood by this stage that feeding times are designated times.
The Food as Reward Method
This method teaches dogs that food is not a guaranteed possession bestowed upon them reliably when they want it, but rather a reward for work well done.
Tricks for treats
At the time you would like to feed your dog, divide up the food she should be getting. Ask her to do a fun easy trick and give her several kernels of food.
Mix it up
Give your dog a bunch of kernels of food for one trick, and only a few for another. Add in some really yummy treats, but also occasional carrots, green beans, or sweet potato.
More food, fewer tricks
Add more food per trick until your dog is eating her entire bowl at the designated time for a simple trick.
Tricks for treats in between
If your dog is hungry or bored in between meals, just ask her to do a trick and give her a snack. Soon she will be accustomed to the schedule and need fewer snacks.
The Group Pressure Method
Everyone is eating
If everyone is eating, it is harder for your dog not to. Feeding your dog around other eating dogs will entice her to eat, just like seeing other people eat entices us to eat.
At the designated feeding time, lay bowls down several feet away, one for each dog. Stand guard and prevent anyone from eating each other’s food.
If your dog is not accustomed to group feeding she will likely take longer than the other dogs, especially since she may not have wanted to eat right then and expects to take her time. Guard her and her food unless she walks away, even if she isn’t eating. Eventually, the pressure of the other dogs wanting her food will encourage her to start eating.
Missed your chance
If your dog walks away from her less than empty bowl, remove the food and don’t offer it again until next feeding time. She will learn that she better eat when the other dogs do or not at all.
Remove the pack
After your dog is competently eating at the same times as the other dogs, you should be able to feed her separately and have her eat reliably at the designated time.
By Coral Drake
Published: 12/21/2017, edited: 01/08/2021