How to Train Your Dog to Eat at Certain Times

How to Train Your Dog to Eat at Certain Times
Medium difficulty iconMedium
Time icon2-14 Weeks
General training category iconGeneral

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.

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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.

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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.

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The Now or Later Method

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Food as Reward Method

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Group Pressure Method

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

By Coral Drake

Published: 12/21/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Sparky & Kenji

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Shih Tzu

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10 Years

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Question

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Sparky is my 10 year old shih tzu cross & he has always luckily had perfect weight and a free range feeding schedule. Kenji, my 5 year old Shiba Inu is 10 pounds overweight & so we have decided to put them both on a feeding schedule crating them for 15 minutes twice a day with their measured portion of food. They've both been eating very little and it has my husband and I concerned. Trying to be consistent but also a few days ago tried feeding them in separate rooms with little success to get them to eat much. Have tried and gotten them to eat a bit by placing a few pieces of kibble in front of them at feeding time. But they both are refusing to eat for the most part. I'm especially worried about Sparky given that he is not overweight to begin with. Any advice would be so helpful! Should we just be consistent, let them be kenneled for 15 min 2x per day with their food portions leaving them mostly alone? Should we stop the coaxing and begging them to eat?

Feb. 27, 2021

Sparky & Kenji's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Karen, First of all, try to act a bit more nonchalant and confident about the whole thing so that pups aren't picking up on your nervous body language, which can be distracting for them. Second, I would extend the crate time to 30-45 minutes at first. If your schedule will allow, I would also add a third lunchtime meal until they are eating better, then go back to 2 meals later. That simply gives them more opportunities while learning. If your schedule won't allow, that's not completely necessary though. Third, I would add something to the food temporarily to make it enticing. I would try a freeze dried meat kibble topper, like Stella and Chewy or Nature's Variety. Crush the kibble topper into powder and place that and pups' kibble into baggies. Shaking it together and letting it sit that way for an hour or overnight. Feed pups there meals from the flavored topper - the taste and scent should help them get a bit more excited. Once they are eating well at regular times, go back to just 2 feedings a day, and very gradually over 2-4 weeks decrease the amount of powder used until you are back to a normal kibble feeding - you can also include kibble topper pieces in their regular food uncrushed long term if you want to as well though. Other options to try are goats milk and unsalted liver paste. I would recommend trying freeze dried first though since that will be easier to transition away from though. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

March 1, 2021

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Finn

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Cattle Shepherd

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2 Years

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Question

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My dog gets fed twice a day, morning and at 5pm. But he routinely wakes me at 3 or 4am wanting food. How can I train him to not whine for food so early?

Jan. 19, 2021

Finn's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello MJ, First, I would crate train him if he is not already trained. When he wakes you early, if you believe he may need to go potty, take him potty outside on a leash, keeping the trip as calm and boring as possible, but don't give any food. When you return back inside, place him in the crate to go back to sleep, and either ignore or correct any barking that happens then (in the crate so he can't paw or pester you in other ways, right now). When it's the appropriate breakfast time, then let him out while he is quiet for at least a second and feed at that consistent time. His internal clock needs to reset to expecting to eat at the later time so his body isn't waking him up early to eat. To correct pup, first, work on teaching the Quiet command during the day using the Quiet method from the article linked below. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark Second, during the day practice the Surprise method from the article linked below. Whenever pup stays quiet in the crate for 5 minutes, sprinkle some treats into the crate without opening it, then leave the room again. As he improves, only give the treats every 10 minutes, then 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes, 1 hour, 1.5 hour, 2, hour, 3 hour. Practice crating him during the day for 1-3 hours each day that you can. If you are home during the day, have lots of 30 minute - 1 hour long sessions with breaks between to practice this, to help pup learn sooner. Whenever he cries in the crate, tell him "Quiet". If he gets quiet - Great! Sprinkle treats in after five minutes if he stays quiet. If he continues barking or stops and starts again, spray a quick puff of air from a pet convincer at his side through the crate while calmly saying "Ah Ah", then leave again. Only use unscented air canisters, DON'T use citronella! And avoid spraying in the face. Surprise method: https://wagwalking.com/training/like-a-crate Repeat the rewards when quiet and the corrections whenever he cries. When he cries at night or early morning, after you take pup potty and return them to the crate, or pup cries before 7-8 hours (so you know it's not a potty issue), tell him Quiet, and correct with the pet convincer if he doesn't become quiet and stay quiet. Don't give treats at night/morning though - practice during the day proactively to help pup learn that quiet is good, since you don't want to encourage pup to stay awake in the early morning, but to go back to sleep instead. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Jan. 21, 2021


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