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The Pros and Cons
of Free Feeding vs. Scheduled Feeding

Free Feeding or Scheduled Meal Time:  What is best for your dog?Free Feeding vs. Scheduled Meal Time

Should you be free feeding or arranging for a scheduled meal time for your small breed dog?   There are two schools of thought on this issue:  Providing food all of the time or serving meals at regularly scheduled times.   

For Scheduled meal times, the owner provides food at regularly scheduled times depending on the age of the puppy or adult dog.    Free Feeding is the method of leaving out the dog food all day long and allowing the dog to eat whenever they wish. There are pros and cons to each method.

Free feeding vs. scheduled meals is a subject of much debate among dog lovers everywhere.  Everyone seems to have a different opinion as to which method is “right.” Worst yet, the biggest critics claim that those who do not adhere to their favorite method will be hurting their dog. 

Dog owners that advocate feeding on a schedule claim that dogs free-fed end up fat, disobedient and have numerous health issues.  On the other hand, many contend that scheduled feedings lead to food aggression and eating problems.  The argument can get messy and leave the average dog owner in conundrum.  Is one truly better than the other?

Meal Time on a Schedule

Dog owners who advocate for scheduled meal time assert that their method creates a structured environment where the dog feels safe and secure.  The dog, they claim will also see that you are the “Alpha” Dog because you are in control of his food.  This understanding on your dog’s part helps him listen and behave better.

Training is thus, easier and less time consuming because the dog knows you are the leader. This method is also useful if you plan to cook for your dog but can be used if you plan to provide a commercially prepared diet as well. 

Dogs generally do not have as many problems with obesity with this method because the owner can control how much food the dog eats.  This, however, can create problems in reverse.

Owners who do not know how much to feed might tend to overfeed.  This method does require the owner to have a regular routine and be available to provide food at the scheduled times. 

A few minutes late now and again is not a cause for concern, but the dog does have an inner sense of time and will become anxious if food is not provided at the scheduled times.  With this method, water must be available to the dog at all times.

Scheduled Feeding


  • Easier to housebreak
  • Many believe that training is easier when human controls the food
  • Can be used with a wider variety of foods (home-made, raw, canned)
  • Control the quantity:  prevent obesity


  • Must be available for feeding
  • Can lead to obesity if fed too much
  • More time consuming

Free Feeding

Owners who prefer the free feeding method remind their opponents that the dog will only eat when he is hungry and not be pressured to eat when he is not. 

This method helps dogs determine how much food they want.  If they are very active one day, they may eat more and on those days when they get little exercise, they will eat less.

The best part of this system is the ease of feeding.  You can purchase a large self-feeding container that might last for several days.  This method works well for busy households who might otherwise miss a feeding. 

They always know that pooch never goes hungry.  The problem with this method is that house-training is harder and some dogs do not know when to stop eating.

Free Feeding


  • Easier
  • Less time consuming:  Fill up an automatic feeder which can lasts for days
  • Do not need to be on a schedule
  • Prevents hypoglycemia
  • Works very well in dogs who eat when they are hungry


  • Housebreaking may be more difficult
  • Training may be more difficult
  • Works best with commercially prepared kibble
  • Cannot be used with foods likely to spoil
  • Can lead to obesity in dogs who don't know when to stop

So which method is correct?  The correct method is that which works best for you and your dog.  Most dogs that are free fed DO NOT become obese.  Most dogs that are fed on a schedule do not become aggressive with their food or bowl. 

Many owners stress over doing the right thing, when they know intuitively that they prefer one method over the other.  Pick the method that works best for you and your family and you dog will do just fine.

Just remember if you do plan to offer food at regularly scheduled times to a puppy, most small breed dogs do best with multiple meal times.  Three meals a day for a young puppy and two meals a day for adolescents and adults.

About Janice (author and voice behind this site)

Having lived with dogs and cats most of her life, Janice served as a veterinary technician for ten years in Maryland and twelve years as a Shih Tzu dog breeder in Ohio.

Her education includes undergraduate degrees in Psychology with a minor in biology, Early Childhood Education, and Nursing, and a master's in Mental Health Counseling.

She is a lifelong learner, a dog lover, and passionate about the welfare of animals. Her favorite breed for over 50 years has been the Shih Tzu, but she has also lived with Poodles, Maltese, Yorkshire Terriers, Beagles, English Bulldogs, Carin Terriers, and a Cocker Spaniel.

When not writing, reading, and researching dog-related topics, she likes to spend time with her eight Shih Tzu dogs, husband, and family, as well as knitting and crocheting. She is also the voice behind Miracle Shih Tzu and Smart-Knit-Crocheting

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