Free-Feeding From A Bowl Can Be Costly!


Bobbin For Hot Dogs

Food is sustenance; it keeps us alive, it fuels our activities, but for most of us it is emotional comfort. Food can trigger wonderful memories of family gatherings, or console us when we’re sick or upset, so no wonder we want to show our love for our pets with food. And it behoves us not to set down a big bowl of “love” so our pets can graze all day long.

The problem is that pets, such as our dogs do not equate food with love; they don’t respect you for leaving the food bowl down all day and they won’t approve of you one way or another. All these things make you feel better about yourself, but it does nothing to enhance your relationship, provide good care or enrichment for your four-legged best friends, and in fact causes a lot of damage in many ways.

When we leave food down all day, we may end up creating a “fussy” eater who doesn’t need to finish all the food, because it’s always there. This lack of “enthusiasm” can cause a knee-jerk response from dog-parents, who might then try to entice the dog into eating by adding table scraps and or changing the dog’s food to another brand, constantly.

Also, dogs who are not on a strict feeding schedule can’t eliminate when they need to, causing all sorts of discomfort when they have to “potty” at irregular times and no one is around to walk them. Some dogs of course, just soil their crates or the house causing “housebreaking” issues which often times is the reason the poor dog is shipped off to a shelter.

Pet-parents who complain that their dog doesn’t listen and or labels them hard to train willful, stubborn, defiant, not food motivated etc. have unwittingly devalued the dog’s food because he has access to it whenever he wants it. However, by controlling access to what the dog wants, it’s so much easier to ask for a behavior in exchange for his kibble or other reinforcers.

Dogs who are not “enthused” about food may be sick, but if the pet-parent is used to a dog that refuses food, sometimes an underlying illness can go undetected.

When a dog has a “job to do”, it is key to your dog’s mental and emotional health. By working for resources either through training, extracting food from a “puzzle toy” or other problem-solving activities, you are providing brain enrichment for your friend and lots of fun and bonding time for you when you participate, unlike putting down a bowl of food where there’s not much for your dog to solve!

Dr. Ian Dunbar, veterinary behaviorist and author, states in a chapter from his book, After You Get Your Puppy, “Without a doubt, regularly feeding a new puppy (or adult dog) from a bowl is the single most disastrous mistake in dog husbandry and training. Although unintentional, the effects of bowl-feeding are often severely detrimental for the puppy’s household manners and sense of well-being. In a sense, each bowl-fed meal steals the puppy’s raison d’etre, its very reason for being.”  In other words, food-bowl feeding, especially when the food is left down all day, risks robbing the dog of the very pleasures pet-parents think they’re providing.



  1. We owned a yellow Labrador and our adviser believed they are extremely “lively” till about the age of 3 and then they relax substantially, and certainly that shown real. She was actually very trainable and eager to please. She lived to become 12 and was a genuine sweetie. We found that we had to “tire her out” by playing and running to get her to pay attention to what we were trying to educate her. After that she would eat fast and over ingest. When we introduced the slow feeding bowl that assisted slow her fast eating routine quite nicely. We hope our story will help out somebody else. Best of luck!

  2. Hello, Nadia here. I have 3 dogs and 2 cats and i really like your post on this topic, & i do agree with you, because i think if we give our pets fully free feeding bowl, it won’t be a healthy and good option for our pets. i’m sharing this with my other fellows too, thank you for this post

  3. Thank you for the article. I enjoyed and shared it with my FB friends. My dogs are 9 , 4 and 2 yrs. Each morning they sit patiently while I put about 1/2 cup of kibble in a treat ball , then put the three treat balls on the ground. They love to nudge and bat them around to get their food. Sometimes it is one on one to a ball; other times three or two to a ball. They love their treat balls. They will pick them up when empty and bring inside to let me know they would like more. Other times they are left with treats inside. Sometimes during the day, one might come inside, take a treat ball from the toy bucket and drop it so that I know a snack would be nice. I also vary the delivery method I use when feeding, eg small bowls, puzzle bowls or sometimes I scatter food on the ground, or have the dogs sit in front of me to be fed piece by piece. I am never hassled by dogs to be fed, and once past puppy hood, they never seem to get overexcited about food.

  4. What do you suggest instead of bowl feeding? My dogs inhale their food in about 10 seconds. I cut back a bit if we’re training to make the treat rewards more desirable or if they’re getting their Buster Cubes to play with. But the rest of their meal is in the bowl.

    1. Thanks for your great question, Heather!
      There are so many ways we can enrich our dogs’ (and cats’) environment. Just think about creating ways for your dog to solve a problem. So for example, it can be as simple as putting your dog’s meal in a Kong and letting him bat it around until he’s eaten all of his kibble. For a more challenging puzzle, you can soak the kibble, add a little peanut butter , then pack this “dough” into the Kong and then freeze it. There are numerous puzzle toys; the Kyjen Company, for example has a nice selection of puzzles, each with a level of difficulty to challenge your canine or feline pal. You can also make your own puzzle or activity. Use cardboard egg containers to put food into, and watch as your pup opens the container. Always supervise, as you don’t want him to eat the cardboard or plastic from a puzzle and you’ll want to make sure he’s able to solve it or he won’t be having much fun. You can also hide food in oatmeal containers. Teach him a “find it” cue and watch as he “hunts” for his kibble. Of course, kibble in your treat pouch is a great way for pup to figure out, especially on a walk, which behaviors will get paid!

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