Free Feeding Versus Scheduled Feeding: Which is Best for Your Dog?




This article was provided to Pet Guardian Angels of America by Alexandra Seagal


Perhaps you’ve recently added a puppy to your family, or maybe you’ve adopted an older dog from a shelter. How — and when — should you feed your dog? Is one way better for your dog than the other?

There are different schools of thought on the manner and timing of feeding a dog, and veterinarians and canine behaviorists have contrary opinions on the matter. Here is an overview of the two feeding methods so you can choose the best way to feed your dog.

Free Feeding

Free feeding involves having food available for your dog at all times of the day. This method allows the dog to choose when and how much he wants to eat at any given time. While free feeding may be more convenient for both you and your dog on many levels, it also has some serious drawbacks.

First, let’s look more closely at the benefits to free feeding your dog:

  • It is convenient to any schedule. Free feeding allows the dog to have food on hand when the owner doesn’t have a regular schedule.
  • Your dog will be less anxious. He won’t feel the need to eat all his food right away as he knows more will be waiting for him.
  • It allows your dog to self-regulate. Some dogs only eat when they are hungry, and only as much or as little as they need.
  • Your dog may be less food aggressive. Free feeding may lessen instances of food aggression because the value of the food is removed from the equation.

While free feeding is the choice of many dog owners, this method has been associated with some health and behavioral issues. Here are the drawbacks to free feeding your dog:

  • It can lead to obesity. Some dogs cannot self-regulate and will free feed themselves into weight gain, which leads to other serious health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and joint issues.
  • It may make training difficult. Training dogs can be easier with food as a motivating factor. Free fed dogs are less food-motivated and using food as a focal point for training may not work.
  • Delayed housetraining can occur. Housetraining your puppy or dog may delay the process as free feeding means you can’t schedule after-meal potty breaks.
  • You might miss important health signs. Free feeding can prevent you from noticing a lack of appetite in your dog which is often the first sign of a health problem.

Scheduled Feeding

Scheduled feeding involves determining regular meals times to ensure that your dog gets the nutrition he needs on a daily basis. This feeding method is much more structured, and many owners recommend it because it lends itself to structuring other behaviors, such as potty training for puppies.

Although free feeding has some definite benefits, there are some problems involved with it too.

These are some of the advantages associated with scheduled feeding:

  • It fights obesity. You control when and how much food to give your dog which cuts down on the odds of obesity and its adjoining health problems
  • You can keep track of your dog’s health. Scheduled feeding can help you notice any sudden changes in your dog’s appetite which may be the first sign of illness.
  • Housetraining may be easier. Potty training can be a quicker process because if your puppy is eating at the same time every day, you know the approximate times he will need to go out, eliminating the chance for accidents.
  • Obedience training may improve. Food is an excellent motivation for your dog to learn what you want him to do, and if your dog’s food is carefully monitored, he won’t become desensitized to it as a training tool.
  • It’s part of a routine. Your dog may be far less anxious if he knows the schedule and knows when he will be fed.

Scheduled feedings work for many dog owners, but this method may have negative consequences. Here are some troubles associated with scheduled feedings:

  • Scheduled means scheduled. Your dog will become accustomed to eating at the times you have determined, which means you need to be around at those times.
  • It may cause food aggression. If your dog knows his food supply is limited, he may become aggressive or protective during meals.
  • Your dog may become anxious. Some dogs feel the need to eat even when they are not hungry, and that may cause anxiety in your pooch.
  • You might feed the wrong amount. Scheduled feedings do not mean you are necessarily feeding your dog the right amount of food. You could be feeding too little or too much.


There is plenty of room to move within both of these feeding methods, and with this guide, you can start to choose the best one for you and your dog. Take into consideration your work schedule, your dog’s personality, and the goals you are working toward in your relationship with your pup.

Alexandra Seagal is assoicated with Helping You Become a Better Dog Owner By Providing Simple and Actionable Advice