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When it comes to feeding time, every dog has a different preference to his or her feeding behavior. One may choose to take his sweet time and savor every bite, while another may decide to do her best to inhale the entirety of her bowl in one fell swoop. While the former may be a bit funny to watch, if a little frustrating when trying to figure out when to schedule a bathroom break, the latter can be alarming at best and downright dangerous at worst. For larger dogs especially, eating too quickly may make them more susceptible to a condition known as gastric dilatation-volvulus, or what is more commonly referred to as “bloat”. Bloat can be harmful and even deadly in the wrong circumstances, so food regulation can mean the difference between a happy pup and a medical emergency.
Food habits are best established when your dog is still in his puppy stages. Bad habits can be hard to break and change and health problems can arise the longer he has to form these habits. Starting regulation early on can prevent some digestive issues and promote a healthy and happy journey through the first years of your puppy’s life.
When beginning with a puppy, forming a plan of action for feeding time will generally take very little time at all. While your puppy may need some time to adjust to the introduced method, it should take no more than two to four days for him to grasp what to do when that bowl of food hits the floor. It’s important to remember that your puppy’s eating habits may change as he grows, so prepare to adjust your feeding practices to his growing needs!
While you really only need your dog’s food and a bowl to get started on food regulation in general, there are other items you may want to consider if you opt to go for a more specialized method. Slow feeder bowls are available at many different pet supply stores and you can easily make a treat dispenser with a plastic bottle from your own home. Have these items prepared when you first begin your puppy’s feeding routine to give him a good head start at meal time.
The Bowl Method
Use your puppy’s current bowl
Placing an item like a tennis ball into the bowl that your puppy already has may help cut down on how quickly he eats his food. Having to eat around the ball will slow him down some and work his brain a little in the process.
Purchase a new bowl
Slow feeder bowls are specialized and designed to make it a little more difficult for your puppy to inhale his food. They sometimes require him to work a little bit to get the kibbles or they disperse the food into a few different compartments to portion it out.
Use the same bowl every time
Once you find a bowl that works, try not to deviate from it. Take the bowl with you while you’re traveling and instruct anyone who may be pet sitting that the bowl is for your puppy’s food.
Consider free feeding
Some puppies may choose to eat slower over longer periods of time or throughout the day if food is readily available. This may not work for puppies who will eat non stop no matter how much food they have, but some smaller breeds may prefer taking a kibble at a time every few minutes. Try it with your puppy to see whether or not it may work for him.
Put the bowl away at a certain time
Place the bowl out of sight when feeding time is over. This can help regulate your puppy’s diet and get him to recognize when his next meal is coming if his schedule is consistent.
The Portion Method
Use appropriate measurements
Use a measuring cup to ensure that your puppy is getting only as much food as she needs and no more. The more food that is available, the more likely it will be that she will eat too fast and too much.
Split meals in parts
Place half of your puppy’s meal into the bowl and only follow up with the second half when she has finished the first. Break it up into two or three parts, depending on how much your puppy eats. Consider taking a small two or three-minute break in between parts.
Use food dispensers
Food or treat dispensers work great for portioning meals out. You can create one out of a plastic bottle or purchase one from a store or online. Your puppy gets mental stimulation from pushing the dispenser around and can have her meal one or two kibbles at a time instead of all at once.
Use a schedule
When she knows her next meal will always come at the same time, your puppy may not choose to scarf her food down so quickly. Having regular meal times can cut down on speed eating.
Try not to deviate
A sudden change in how you portion out your puppy’s meals may throw her for a loop. Try to remain consistent when possible to give her a chance to adapt to the appropriate meal time etiquette.
The Hand Feed Method
Cut meals to once or twice a day
Feed your puppy only once a day or once in the morning and once in the evening to avoid opportunities to overeat or eat too fast. Puppies will not usually need three meals a day like people do.
Use the time to bond
Feeding from your hand can be a great way to share affection and bond with your pup. It will also increase the amount of focus that he will give you when he knows that you have something tasty for him.
Work on obedience
Use your puppy’s kibble as rewards for obedience training. You can use the opportunity to lay down a foundation for obedience that will come in handy later on in his life.
Share the responsibility
Allow other members of your family or roommates to join in to help feed your puppy. This can help with socialization and encourage him to be friendly and obedient for everyone in your home.
Hide your puppy’s kibble around the room and have him find it or toss it and have him chase after it. This can help break up meal time into smaller bits and ensure that your puppy is also having fun!
By TJ Trevino
Published: 03/29/2018, edited: 01/08/2021