Shipping Text / Shipping Price

Optimeal® Blog

Optimeal® Blog

Free Feeding vs. Scheduled Feeding for Your Dog

By Bridget Reed


Dog owners often spend a lot of time thinking about what they feed their dogs, but it’s also important to consider how you feed your dog. There’s a lot of debate now about whether free feeding or scheduled feeding is better for your four-legged friend. 

In this article, we’ll break down exactly what free feeding and scheduled feeding are and the benefits and downsides of each method. There are pros and cons to both; ultimately, there is no right way to feed a dog, only the way that works best for your pup!

What Is Free Feeding?

Free feeding involves leaving the food bowl out for your dog to eat throughout the day. It’s kind of like grazing, where your dog gets to decide how much they eat and when they eat. 

You can limit the amount of kibble you put in the bowl, but it’s up to your dog to decide to eat when they are hungry. It’s like when you work from home and can easily access your fridge and pantry, so you end up snacking and eating a little throughout the day rather than eating three large meals. 

There are two types of free feeding: uncontrolled vs. controlled. In uncontrolled free feeding, a pet owner leaves an unmeasured amount of kibble out, giving all the power to the pup to determine how much they want to eat. In this method, the bowl is never empty. Pet parents will refill it every time it looks low. 

The other type of free feeding is controlled free feeding. In this method, you would measure how much food your dog should have every day and place it all in their bowl in the morning so that they can graze throughout the day. 

The best way to determine how much your dog should eat is by consulting the back of the dog food bag or your vet. 

What Are the Benefits of Free Feeding?

Although free feeding is often blamed for overfeeding and considered a “free for all,” this method has several benefits. First, it is very convenient for busy dog households. Maintaining a strict feeding schedule can be difficult if you’re constantly coming and going from home. 

That said, it may be better for your pup to give them a constant food supply in their food bowl rather than irregular meals. 

Also, if your dog is not extremely food-motivated, free feeding can allow them to eat just what they need when they’re hungry. Especially for picky eaters and older dogs who tend not to overeat, this can be an efficient way to ensure they are getting enough food and satisfying their nutritional needs. 

Free feeding can also benefit anxious dogs who become stressed when no food is in sight. Some dogs may also feel pressure to eat all their food right away if they are on a schedule, so free feeding might allow them to eat in a more relaxed way. 

Some people think that free feeding may help food-aggressive dogs eat healthily, especially if other dogs are around. The thinking is that if food is always available, there is no need to fight for it. 

What Are the Downsides of Free Feeding?

Although free feeding has benefits, there are also some downsides that need to be addressed. If you have a free-fed puppy, you might find house training hard because you don’t always know when they’re eating. Often, potty training is easier if you can guess when your puppy will need to go out. 

Another consideration for free feeding puppies is that it tends to make them less food motivated. This means that treats will be less positive reinforcement for good behavior, which can make dog training more difficult. For that reason, free feeding is usually easier with an adult dog. 

Another consistent criticism is that free-fed dogs will overeat and eat when they’re full, which can lead to health issues like obesity. While this is a valid criticism, it is up to you to determine if your furry friend is the kind who eats just to eat. 

If they are, then free feeding may be an unhealthy method for them because it will lead to overeating. If it seems your pup doesn’t have much interest in food unless they’re really hungry, then you may be able to safely free-feed them. 

You also need to remember what kind of kibble you’re giving your dog if you want to free feed them. Since free feeding involves leaving food out, you have to ensure you’re giving your dog kibble and toppings that will not spoil. If you like mixing eggs or other toppings into your dog’s kibble, then free feeding may not work because the toppings will go bad. 

What Is Scheduled Feeding?

Scheduled feeding is a more controlled, organized way of feeding your dog. It involves giving your dog a set amount of food daily at scheduled meal times. If you choose to schedule-feed your dog, you must assess your dog’s needs and set feeding times accordingly. 

Usually, your dog will start to tell you when they’re hungry by barking or getting your attention. Over time, you will notice that they start to get hungry around the feeding times.

What Are the Benefits of Scheduled Feeding?

Scheduled feeding is generally considered the healthier way to feed your dog because of the benefits of scheduled feeding. The most obvious benefit is that you can control the amount of food your dog eats when you give them set meals. 

This can help you control your dog’s portion sizes which may help reduce the chance of obesity or help them lose weight. Another benefit of feeding your dog meals is that you can easily see how much they’re eating or not eating. 

Refusing food is a common symptom of many illnesses in dogs, so knowing if your furry friend has lost their appetite is important to track. Although there are benefits of free feeding an anxious dog, scheduled feeding can also help your anxious pup because it helps your dog get into a routine. 

Scheduled feeding can also help your dogs if they struggle with food aggression because you can separate them at mealtimes. You can also use meals as a reward, so if you’re struggling to train your dog, you can use meals to train them. 

If you like to give your dog fresh toppings, scheduled feeding can also be beneficial because it allows you to give your dog fresh food without worrying that it will go bad.

What Are the Downsides of Scheduled Feeding?

One of the biggest downsides of scheduled feeding is that it requires a commitment from pet parents. Given that scheduled feeding works best when you can feed your pup at the same time every day, it can be difficult to ensure that you’re following the same schedule. 

Another potential downside of scheduled feeding is that you may be feeding your dog the incorrect amount. The best way to get around this is to talk with the vet about how much food your dog really needs. 

Also, don’t forget to pay attention to your pup. If you’re feeding them on a schedule and they seem hungry after eating, you may need to give them more. Additionally, you may be overfeeding them if they leave dry food in the bowl or only eat the topping. 

The other main criticism of scheduled feeding is that your dog will feel pressured to eat, even if they’re not hungry. If your dog expects the food to go away, they may eat even if they’re not hungry. 

Overeating at mealtimes can cause dogs to bloat. If your dog tends to eat really quickly, you may need to give them smaller portions at mealtimes to ensure they do not bloat. 


Whether to free feed or schedule feed your dog is a hotly contested debate. Some people swear by free feeding, and others condemn it. It’s important to fully understand both sides of the debate before you decide where you stand. 

The important thing to remember is that there is no one correct way to feed your dog. Instead, you should try to understand your dog’s needs and create a plan to feed them that works for your pup and you. 

If you have a dog that is not food motivated and you have a very busy, unpredictable schedule, then it is likely that free feeding may work for you both. However, if you can commit to a scheduled feeding routine for your puppy, they may benefit from it. 

Remember that your vet is the person most qualified to help you choose a feeding method. If you have any reservations about whether free feeding or scheduled feeding would be better for your dog, talk to your vet and get their opinion. Regardless of how you choose to feed your dog, ensure you are feeding them nutritious dog food that will keep them happy and healthy. 


Effects of free versus scheduled feeding on shelter dogs exhibiting food-related aggression | NMU

Once-daily feeding is associated with better health in companion dogs: results from the Dog Aging Project | NIH

Feeding frequency linked to dog health | Biostatistics

← Older Post Newer Post →

0 THOUGHTS ON “Free Feeding vs. Scheduled Feeding for Your Dog” :


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