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Imagine pouring puppy food into a bowl and hearing the skittering of little puppy paws and nails on your floor as your puppy runs into the kitchen to eat his dinner. Imagine taking your puppy on vacation with you and being able to bring just him and not his mom, who he used to depend on for milk. Imagine sitting at your table or on your couch during the times of day that you used to spend bottle feeding your little pup, while he eats his dinner on his own out of a bowl or hollow chew toy on the floor.
Eating is a vital part of every creature's life, including your puppy's, and when your pup depends on milk or special soft mixtures it can be quite time-consuming and inconvenient as he gets older. Whether your pup has been bottle fed, nursed, or is already eating very soft food, there comes a time in every puppy's life when he needs to transition to solid food for his own health and convenience, as well as for the sake of whoever is feeding him. With your help, your pup can make the transition smoothly though.
It is important for your pup to learn to eat solid food for a number of reasons. Dry puppy food is convenient, nutritionally balanced, better for your puppy's teeth, healthier than wet dog food typically, and provides the sustenance that your puppy needs when he gets to the age where his mother's milk cannot provide enough calories for him or her supply cannot be maintained. Not to mention that your pup cannot be bottle fed or nursed forever. Puppies turn into adults dogs, after all.
While teaching your pup to eat solid food, keep the training fun and low pressure. You want your puppy to discover the food and be able to explore it and have fun. Remember that the food is something new and that he does not know that it is food yet. Expect for it to take several tries with the food before he realizes that it can be eaten and before he learns to like it. Do not worry about the mess, that is part of the exploration. Allow him to get dirty and to lick the food off of himself, that will help him to learn. To minimize your clean up, introduce the food in an enclosed area, such as a kitchen, laundry room, or exercise pen. Place towels or newspaper on the floor for an easier cleanup.
Try to enjoy this experience with your puppy. Food preparation will be more time-consuming than you might be used to during the training so plan ahead, but remember that this training will be over before you know it, and it can be fun to watch your puppy discover food. Before long he will be eating dry puppy food and messy puppy mush will be a thing of the past.
If your puppy has not taken to the puppy food mush after several days, then try switching to another brand of puppy food or give him more time. If the brand that you are using is not of good quality or is not a flavor that your puppy likes then that could be the problem, and switching should help. If you switch foods though, you will need to start the entire process over again, to give your puppy's digestive system time to adjust and to work up to the new food, so that he does not have digestive upset.
Make sure that you use puppy food and not adult dog food for this, since the nutrition in each is different. Some brands will say All Life Stages. Some of those foods might be OK but check on the packaging or with your vet to be sure.
To get started you will need dry puppy food, hot water, and puppy milk replacement formula. You will also need an enclosed area to feed your puppy in, such as a kitchen, laundry room, or exercise pen. This area should preferably be easy to clean and not carpeted. If you are using 'The Wet Dog Food Method' then you will need the wet dog food that your puppy is used to eating now, a shallow dish, and a small dish. If you are using 'The Shallow Dish Method'" then you will also need a shallow dish, large enough for your puppy to walk into, such as a pan or a plastic plate. You might also need towels or newspaper to cover the floor with, to prevent messes when your puppy wanders off. If you are using 'The Hand Feeding Method' then you will also need a shallow dish, a willingness to get a bit dirty yourself, and a bit of goofiness. With all of the methods, you will need between three to six consecutive weeks to work on this, along with patience, gentleness, and a good sense of humor.
The Wet Dog Food Method
Choose a dry food
To begin, if your pup is used to eating wet dog food instead of just dog milk, then grab his wet dog food, choose a high quality dry puppy food, and select a shallow dish and a small bowl. If your puppy is used to eating just milk then choose one of the other methods to use instead.
Place a very small amount of dry puppy food into the small bowl and cover the food with hot water. Allow the food to soak up the water until it becomes mush. Place the wet dog food that you normally feed your pup into the shallow dish and add the dry dog food that has turned to mush, then mix the two together.
Feed your pup
Give the food mixture to your puppy to eat, doing what you normally do when you feed him just the wet dog food. Give him this new mixture for the next three days at every meal, unless he acts pickier about the new food, in which case give him the new food until he no longer hesitates to eat it. Make sure that he is eating during this time though.
When it has been three days and your pup no longer seems to notice the new addition to his wet food, then over a period about three weeks gradually transition him over to the dry dog food that has been soaked in water by gradually decreasing the amount of wet food and increasing the amount of dry dog food mush.
When your pup reaches the point where he is eating only dry puppy food soaked in water, then gradually begin to decrease the amount of water in the food also. Over a period of two to three weeks, slowly decrease the amount of water in the food, decreasing it just a little bit every day. Do this until your pup is eating only dry puppy food, without water absorbed into it.
Create a schedule
When he will eat just dry puppy food, if you have not already done so, choose an eating schedule and feed your pup during the same parts of the day each day, such as morning, noon, and early evening. The number of times that you will want to feed him will depend on his age and your vet's recommendation. Two to three times per day is the most common for young puppies though.
The Shallow Dish Method
Make puppy mush
To begin, make your pup a pudding type food, called gruel. To make gruel, mix together a little bit of high quality dry puppy food with hot water, and let the mixture sit until the food turns to mush, then add puppy milk replacement formula. The mixture should look a bit like pudding when you are done. Place the gruel into a shallow dish such as a flat plastic plate or a shallow pan. To minimize the mess you can put towels or newspaper on the ground where you are going to set the food down. Expect this to get messy.
After you have made your gruel and placed it into a shallow dish, place the dish onto the floor and call your puppy over. Encourage him to explore the gruel, to walk through it, play in it, and stick his face in it to try to sniff it or taste it.
After your pup plays in the gruel allow him to wander away from the dish, but keep him contained in that same room or area. While he is resting or exploring let him lick his paws and face, getting used to the taste of the gruel on himself. Wait until he is done licking all of it off to clean him up.
Repeat the play times in the gruel often over the next several days. Do this until he becomes interested in eating the gruel out of the dish whenever you place it on the ground.
Increase dry food
When your pup is regularly eating the gruel from a dish, then after at least a week of him eating it regularly, begin to increase the amount of dry puppy food in the gruel and to decrease the amount of water and milk replacement formula. Do this over a period of at least two to three weeks, to allow time for his stomach to adjust to the food.
When you have increased the dry puppy food and decreased the milk and water to the point where there is only puppy food in the dish, then begin to feed your puppy regular meals out of a dish. The number of meals per day will depend on your puppy's age.
The Hand Feed Method
Make puppy food
To begin, make a puppy pudding called gruel. To make gruel choose a high quality puppy food and mix it with hot water, letting the food soak until it becomes mush, then add puppy milk replacement formula to the mush. Put the gruel into a shallow dish.
Call the puppy
Call your puppy over to you and dip your fingers into the gruel. Encourage your puppy to lick the gruel off of your fingers and praise him while he does so.
Transition to the bowl
When your puppy is excited about licking your fingers, then place the container of gruel onto the ground and slick your fingers into it. Wiggle your fingers around in the bowl to get your puppy interested, and occasionally offer them to your pup again to lick if he does not go after them on his own while they are in the container.
Remove your fingers
Once your pup is excited about eating the gruel out of the container then you can remove your fingers from it. Practice feeding him small amounts of gruel every day for several days in a row.
Increase dry puppy food
After several days, when your pup's stomach has become accustomed to digesting the gruel, then very slowly, over a two to three week period of time, increase the amount of puppy food in the mixture and decrease the amount of milk replacement and water. Do this until the food is completely dry puppy food, without any water or milk in it. If your puppy's stomach gets upset or his digestive system has issues at any point, then stop the transition from gruel to puppy food until his digestion returns to normal again. When you continue the transition, make the transition from gruel to solid puppy food even more gradual this time.
By Caitlin Crittenden
Published: 04/13/2018, edited: 01/08/2021