Ask The Dog Guy's

FREE Brain Drain Activity Guide For Your Dog

With your subscription to the 'Ask The Dog Guy' Newsletter (also FREE)
Brain Drain Offer Pop Up

Dinner Time – Free feeding and Picky Eaters

Dog Eating Very WellDear John,

We have 2, two year old Labrador Retrievers that provide us with great affection, humour, entertainment and exercise! One has an issue that is food related. He has always been a picky eater but now will often refuse to eat at mealtimes which are twice a day. He will eat some now and maybe some later, maybe not at all. He is a big, strong and beautiful dog, full of energy and mischief. There are no health issues as checked by the vet. Leaving the bag available for him to pick at is not an option as the other one would just consume everything in the bag! Is there something we could do to encourage proper eating habits?

Thanks, Joyce

Dear Joyce,

He may just have a different metabolism and be missing the Labrador Retriever “eat-everything-in-sight” gene recently discovered in the mapping of the canine genome.

If he’s healthy, stop worrying about it. I feed adult dogs on a schedule. Once a day for some, twice for others. The food is down for five or ten minutes and then nothing else is offered until the next scheduled feeding. For dogs that are being house trained or are really finicky eaters; not even a treat in between meals. I don’t ever waver. You’ll find that by the 4th day your dog will be into a meal time rhythm. There are a few reasons for feeding this way.

I believe mother nature does everything for a reason. We don’t always know what the reason is but there is always a reason. Here’s my theory. It has to do with saliva. When food’s about, hungry dogs salivate, some drool. Why is that? Human saliva contains an enzyme which mixes with the food as we chew it. Dogs don’t chew and there is no enzyme in their saliva. So why the spit? The answer is lubrication. Free fed dogs lubricate less and hack/cough more. Eating dry food without the saliva to smooth the way must be like swallowing crackers on a dry day without soup.

I’ve wondered as well if dogs that were allowed to free feed had more dental issues as well. One of the things that cause the most suffering later in life, often leading to death are issues stemming from dental problems. It would be interesting to see if dogs that salivated naturally around meal time benefited from more teeth flushing and had fewer dental issues.

Another reason I like schedule feedings is it’s easier to tell if the dog is skipping meals which is sometimes due to illness.

Sometimes dog owners with finicky eaters fall into the “S/he doesn’t like this, S/he only likes this.” trap. I like chocolate cake. That doesn’t mean I should be eating it 3 square meals a day. Same goes for dogs; what a dog likes shouldn’t be the primary consideration, what is good for your dog should be. Good food is usually more palatable anyway. But what the heck is good for a dog? We could go on the basis of just buying foods that are “veterinarian approved” but they’re all veterinarian approved. I’d like to meet this veterinarian, because he or she sure approves a lot of different foods. Some with grain content so shamefully high that I should think they’re really popular in goose circles rather then for a species that is predominantly carnivorous.  Besides, “veterinary approved” to what? Thrive, sustain life, barely keep their hair from falling out? Dog owners should do their own research. If you want to write me I’ll send you some information where you can learn enough to make an informed opinion.

So just as your mother told you, tell your dog, “Don’t you know their are starving dogs in . . .” and stick to your guns.

Like this article?

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Linkdin
Share on Pinterest

Leave a comment

4 thoughts on “Dinner Time – Free feeding and Picky Eaters”

  1. Agree with all of your response HOWEVER, my lab mix is 5 mos old and we are in the training phase that is supported by TREATS. I agree with the “I do not waver” in giving ANYTHING between these uneaten meals SO…..what do you do? Mine has gone about 3 weeks of flat out one bite a day (no health problems) and currently I even blend dry kibble with canned (god help me) – she takes a bite then we lay around til the next meal which is 6 hrs later. We start the whole thing over again with the sadness that Id love to TRAIN fetch, all the fun things WITH treats. Doesnt look like its going to happen with mine. Only struggling from day to day – no treats, no food, NOT the situation I wanted when we got her 🙁

    – Colleen

    1. Hi Colleen,

      I’d need more information to be helpful as 3 weeks, one bite a day with a growing labrador retriever seems unlikely. Labradors not being food motivated is another oddity.

      Either way, I think food can be useful in shaping an understanding of a new skill but I’m always mindful of crossing the line between the dog learning with food and working for the food so it’s not something I encourage too much. Mind you I’m talking about companion dog training for basic life skills – heel, stay, recall. If I’m trick training that’s another issue. Overall though, I want to motivate with relationship. Dogs are the only species on the planet that have been selectively bred to “love” human beings and so rather then aim at their tummies to motivate them, I teach people how dogs see the world, how they make connections between who is the teacher and who is the student, what (for a dog) the difference is between love and respect and how that affects training and the need for treats etc.

      If you’re dead set on food based reward type training have you tested your dog for toy interest and considered using that as the reward instead of food.

      However, if you aren’t trick training and are looking at companion dog skills I’d recommend buying my ebook, The Beautiful Balance – Dog Training with Nature’s Template. It’s short, inexpensive and hopefully you’ll find it enlightening.


    2. Unlikely I would agree however, this is her story. 5 month old lab mix from a rescue. Since birth she was paired with her brother – even crated. The two split the day we got her and the brother went elsewhere. She came form a resuce that had 5 other dogs and feeding was never an issue because of the competition. In fact, the first week we had her shed scarf down two cups a day dry – no problem. As time went on we noticed she left more and more food in the dish. Thought Id try to switch to another dry brand – Annamaet. Didnt help. Tried another brand – didnt help. Rescue gal said that was too long of a time to not eat so we did the boiled hamburger/rice with kibble mixed in and as she ate more than a bite she again showed no interest. Im now on Natural Balance canned and attempt to mix in the same formula dry but she actually LICKS it off the kibble.

      My dream of two meal a day dry food isnt going to happen. At best I can hope she continues to eat canned (god help me) BUT two things Im hesitant on – canned is WAY more expensive….for her size shed need to cans a day. AND the fact of rotting teeth (??).

      You dont have to reply – just desperate to figure out what the heck she will eat …..

      Itd be great if I could find a knock off of the Natural Balance. At $35/case that means shed be eating better than my kids …

      Oh and yes she does pretty good with verbal rewards just not as good as the food reward.

      – Colleen

      1. Hi Colleen,

        I’m having a bit of an air-head day so I’m not following what part of the thread you’re referring to when you say you’re unlikely to agree.

        I have worked with quite a few of these dogs that won’t eat for their owners and there’s usually more to it. This isn’t the best venue for getting to the bottom of this sort of issue. If it helps, I’ve never had these sort of issues by following the following rules.

        But First – The assumption is that the dog is energetic and drinks water and in the case of growing dogs is gaining weight as is expected. If not – have blood work done, (check on thyroid especially) dental xray for cracked teeth or dentition problems.

        • Food goes down same time if possible give or take a 1/2 hour every day.
        • Set my phone/oven timer/microwave timer to 5 minutes and when the ding goes, so does the dinner by which I mean I take it up and put it away.
        • I don’t coax the dog in any way. “Here’s your dinner. Eat or don’t eat. See you in 5 minutes to clear the table. Enjoy your meal.”
        • No snacks, consumable chewies etc. in between meals and make sure no one is sneaking them to the dog.
        • Healthy dogs unused to this way of feeding have been known hold out until the 4th day. If the dog is healthy and drinking water, I have no problem with this. A lot of dog owners do. I’ve had 3 of my own that took 4 days. For the rest of their lives they ate when dinner was served.

        In my opinion this is healthier for a dog as salivation is nature’s tooth brush and I think dogs that graze salivate less if at all and may be prone to more expensive dental issues later in life.

        Because this dog is under 6 months I’m going to suggest 3 smaller meals a day. Once 6 months is hit I’d likely switch to twice a day. By the time 12 months is hit for most dogs I start looking at whether the dog prefers 1 meal a day or if the 2 should be necessarily a 50/50 split. Some dogs prefer to eat a larger meal once a day and slightly smaller at the other end of the day. I also consider things like heat and activity levels when considering or worrying about how much my dog is consuming.

        As far as what to feed. I’m less concerned with what the dog “likes” than I am with what is good for the dog. I “like” chocolate cake. That doesn’t mean that I don’t care whether my dog likes his or her food. I do, it’s just not priority one in situations like this. So pick a food that will provide your dog with the best bang your budget can accommodate and present it as above.



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top