Free choice feeding often comes under a lot of criticism and rightfully so. But there are times when free choice feeding your dog makes sense for both you and your pet. To understanding when free access or free choice feeding is a good idea it is important to review exactly what it is.
Free choice feeding can only be done with dry kibble food that can be maintained in a clean, dry and insect free place. Basically it allows the dog to eat as much as they want as they want it, without the dog waiting for meals from the owner. Under the safety conditions listed above free choice feeding can be a good option. Typically free choice works best when there is one dog in the home or dogs that are very non-aggressive and definitely not food possessive.
The benefits of free choice feeding are important to consider if you work shift work, long hours, or if there are when multiple people are caring for the dog. All that the owner or dog sitter has to do is make sure the bowl is full, clean and dry and that the dog is actually eating a reasonable portion of food. The obvious drawback is that many people don’t know what the ration is supposed to be, which can lead to a dog eating in excess or going off their food without anybody realizing the issue.
Since the food is always present there is no issue with the dog constantly having to change their feed schedule in response to the owners work or travel requirements. It also means that if you work long hours your dog doesn’t go large chunks of time without feeding, which is an issue of concern for many owners.
The biggest drawback to free choice feeding with dogs is it also makes housetraining more challenging. Having a regular feeding schedule means also having a regular elimination schedule, something that can’t happen if the puppy eats at different times in the day. For adult dogs this is typically much less of a problem and, for most dogs, results in them eating about the same amount they would if fed regular, measured meals.
Some dogs are not good candidates for free choice feeding. Any dog that is ill or recovering from a health issue needs to have their food intake carefully monitored. Dogs that are highly food possessive or eat everything in the bowl regardless if they are full or not are also not a good match. Surprisingly most dogs aren’t prone to this type of eating behavior, but it can and does occur.
Free choice food can be more challenging if you have more than one dog. Unless you know for certain that the dogs are both or all eating and there is no protection of food or gobbling of all the food by one dog, you may find the lowest dog in the group is not eating nearly enough food. Sometimes a dominant dog will simply guard the food dish after they finish, which completely rules out free choice feeding if you have other dogs, pets or children in the house.