How to Train Your Dog to Eat at Certain Times

Medium
2-14 Weeks
General

Introduction

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.

Defining Tasks

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.

Getting Started

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

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Step
1
Brief chance
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.
Step
2
Food time
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.
Step
3
Resist temptation
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.
Step
4
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.
Step
5
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.
Recommend training method?

The Group Pressure Method

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Step
1
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.
Step
2
Bowls down
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.
Step
3
Better eat
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.
Step
4
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.
Step
5
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.
Recommend training method?

The Food as Reward Method

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Step
1
Earning food
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.
Step
2
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.
Step
3
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.
Step
4
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.
Step
5
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.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Picasso
Toy Fox Terrier
13 Years
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Question
0 found helpful
Picasso
Toy Fox Terrier
13 Years

I have always left dry food out all day and Picasso could eat freely all his life. He had 3/4's of his teeth removed and now eats canned food. Picasso whines and will not stop until he is fed at 4am then whines and will not stop to go out at 6am. He goes out on a leash. Evening same 4pm eat 6pm go out will whine or bark to let me know. Eats all canned food. Give 1/2 in the morning and 1/2 in afternoon. Challenge how to move him to a more reasonable time to eat in the morning. His whining wakes me up and I cannot ignore because I cannot go back to sleep.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
392 Dog owners recommended

Hello Karen, First of all, make sure that he is getting enough to eat. Since the canned food is mostly made of water, compare the fat, protein, and carbohydrate amounts to the previous dry food that you were feeding and make sure that it is comparable amounts. Also, keep an eye on his weight. When you look at him from the side he should have a bit of a tuck-up at his abdomen. He should not have a line going straight across from his chest to his rear end without any tuck at his abdomen. He also should not have an extreme tuck. Run your hands over his ribs and back. You should be able to feel his ribs easily but they should not protrude and you should not be able to easily count every single spinal column along his back. There should be a little bit of padding. First, check that the calorie content is comparable to what he was eating before. If the amounts are good, then move onto my next suggestion below, but over the next month also keep an eye on his body fat to make sure that he is not gaining or loosing too much weight on the new food. If you determine that he is getting a similar amount of calories, then you can assume that he is asking for food simply because he likes the taste a lot more. It is time to play hard ball with him. He needs to be crate trained and to sleep in a crate in another room at night. He should be able to wait to eat just as well as before as long as he is getting enough food to eat calorie wise. His whining needs to be ignored. He has learned by you getting up to feed him, even just a couple of times, that if he is persistent that you will give in and feed him. If he is in another room, then his whining should wake you up less, he will be less motivated to continue the whining because he cannot see you, and he will learn to go back to sleep when he wakes up. Once he has learned to sleep through that early morning wake up time, then you can try moving him to your bedroom again. When you move him back into your bedroom, expect a couple of nights of early morning wake ups at first. Keep him in the crate in your room at first, and ignore the whining. Since you already taught him that whining will do him no good by having him sleep in the other room, he should give up much sooner and go back to sleeping in the morning in a couple of days. Bring a book or something to read when you transition him back to your room and maybe do it on the weekend so that you can take a nap later in the day. If he is not already crate trained, then follow one of the methods from the article that I have linked below. You can do all of the methods, but focus on the "Surprise" method the most. https://wagwalking.com/training/like-a-crate If you do not want to bring him back into your room once he is trained to sleep in the crate in another location, that is fine also. You can continue having him sleep somewhere else. You can also try getting up with him at 4am and taking him out, but then going an unpleasant activity with him afterwards and not feeding him until the usual time. This method is less likely to work but I have seen it work rather quickly before. The unpleasant activity does not have to be something punishing. You might pull him into the bed with your and make him cuddle if he is comfortable cuddling but it is not what he wants right then. You could also give him a bath or make him work on his obedience. Anything that he does not like enough to wake you up for that is not feeding him. Either way, do not feed him until it is within an hour of when you want to be feeding him in the long run. If you want him to wait until 8am to eat, then do not feed him before 7am. If you do feed him, then his body will come to expect food at that time and will biologically wake him up every day. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Nico
Yorkie
3 Years
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Question
1 found helpful
Nico
Yorkie
3 Years

We get up really early before work. Nico has been in the habit of waking us up before the alarm to have breakfast. He sleeps in the bed and will lick and wine until he's fed. Is there anything we can do to update his feeding schedule?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
392 Dog owners recommended

Hello Brittany, Crate train Nico using the "Surprise" method from the article that I have linked below. Once Nico can handle being in a crate and stay calm, when he licks you and whines to eat in the morning, then take him potty and as soon as you bring him back inside, put him into the crate until it is the time that you want him to eat at - decide what your ideal time is and stick to that time and don't give in sooner - so that you can can achieve that time of day. You want him to stay in the crate for at least an hour - longer if your ideal time is later. If you want to, go back to bed after you put him in the crate! https://wagwalking.com/training/like-a-crate You want to stop feed at that particular time (he can wait an hour or two just fine) and you can do this right away - as soon as he gets used to a crate in general. You want to stop feeding at that time so that his internal clock will reset. You also want to take the fun out of waking you up, which is why I suggest putting him into the crate when he wakes you up. It does not harm him, but it is boring, is not food, and will encourage him to go back to sleep. He will likely bark or whine in the crate to eat the first couple of days. Don't give into the barking and let him out early! If you do, then the training will just take longer. Consider it a test. You can also correct the barking if ignoring him is not an option. To do this you can use a small canister of pressurized air, called a Pet Convincer, blown briefly at his side (near his chest or rib-cage) through the crate (not in his face, and it should be unscented air - NOT citronella). If you have neighbors or a reason why you cannot ignore the barking, then you can correct it if he barks. Otherwise, simply ignore the barking for a few days. If the barking doesn't stop after three days, then start correcting even if you don't have neighbors to worry about. Since he is already used to waking up at that early time due to habit right now, you will have to take him potty to avoid an accident, but his body will likely adjust to waking later to potty eventually so that the potty trips at that time stop on their own once he is not being fed at that time. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Jun Jun
chihuahua mix
5 Years
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Question
0 found helpful
Jun Jun
chihuahua mix
5 Years

Hello, my name is Michelle and I have a problem. I have a chihuahua mix dog who is 5 years old and he is overweight. He's recently gained 4 pounds and he now stands at 23 pounds. I feel like his should weigh at least 10 pounds because he's the size of a pug or so and he's no where near the size of my other dog who is full chihuahua. I really want him to lose weight and I am unsure how to start this. My family and I would never had time before to give him food at a certain time because we would either have to go to work or school at different times, so we always left food out for him to eat whenever he wanted. But, now things got better for me and I now do classes online and my work time is 9am everyday so I get up at 8am for that. The latest I come home now is 6:30 pm. I really want to feed him to lose weight but I am not sure how to start the process. I started trying to feed them at a certain time but I also dont't know what time I should feed my chihuahuas, how much, and how to get them to understand that feeding time is at a certain time now and not any free time from the moment we wake up to when we got to bed. Also, is it okay to feed my dogs before bed time? That's basically the time when my other chihuahua decides to eat.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
392 Dog owners recommended

Hello Michelle, The first step is to find out how much food her day he should be eating. Most dog food companies have recommended amounts according to breed or what size the dog should be. Look on the food bag or the dog food company's website. For example, my 75 lb retriever eats slightly less than 3 cups per day. Half in the morning and half in the evening, so 1.5 cups per meal since I feed her twice a day. Pick times that are convenient for you at least two hours before bedtime and no later than two hours after you wake up with the dogs. This is not a hard rule but some dogs need to eat within two hours of waking up because of metabolism (others could go all day), and some dogs need to eat two hours before bed to give them a chance to poop before bed (or they might wake up needing to go in the middle of the night. The exact times do not matter and as long as it meets those requirements the time does not have to be exactly the same every night. (Think about your dinner, you probably eat within two hours of the same time every night but it's not always at 6:35pm on the dot. Decide generally what time you want to feed and how much food the dog food company's recommends (if it goes off weight you will have to base your feeding amount off of what Nathan should weight approximately and not what he does weight right now). Once you have decided those things, I suggest feeding two times per day. You can add a third meal during the transition if you feel the need. You will split that daily recommended food amount between the number of meals though, so that he is not getting any extra even if he has a third meal. To get him used to eating at a designated time, call him over to you, set the food down, leave it down for fifteen- thirty minutes, then take it up again. At lunch time if you are doing three meals at first, put both his leftover breakfast and lunch amount into a bowl, call him over, and put the food down for 15-30 minutes. If he is not eating it, remove it after 15-30 minutes. At dinner time, give him his dinner plus whatever was left from breakfast and lunch. If he doesn't eat all of it until dinner that is fine. Some dogs prefer to eat more in the morning and some at night. As long as he is given the total calories it is not important when he eats it in most cases. Take up his dinner after thirty minutes. If he is only picking at it you can leave dinner out until two hours before bed, then take it up also. Some dogs don't eat much at breakfast or lunch, but then make it all up at dinner at first. Others take about 3-5 days to figure out that they should eat every meal in thirty minutes or it will be taken out. As long as he is eating at least some of the meals and not showing signs of feeling sick from not eating, this is normal and he should transition over the next couple of days and improve. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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