If food is always available, it loses value to the dog, and they can become disinterested in eating and fussy eaters. This can lead to problems for dog owners as they will constantly worry has the dog eaten / its difficult to monitor the dogs uptake.
Dogs that have food constantly available can become dogs that are unmotivated by food rewards. Dogs are scavengers, and food should always remain a high value resource and reward tool.
Giving Bill Gates €10 for cleaning your car just won't cut it, and he is unlikely to be motivated to clean your car again.
A dog with a constant source of food is less likely to be motivated to behave in a way you request for a food reward.
Providing for your dog, and being the person who controls the food goes a long way in increasing the bond between owner and dog, and in a small way shows your dog that you are in control, and that you will provide for them and that you are their protector, and carers.
This often helps with dogs that have taken it upon themselves to protect and provide for themselves / others in the household.
When changing the feeding procedure from free feed to set meal times, I recommend that you also use this as an opportunity to analyse the product that you are currently feeding your dog.
Diet has a massive role in behaviour with dogs, and the vast majority of dog food companies prioritise profit over quality.
Even brands that have had a great reputation in the past have recently dropped in quality of ingredients due to shareholder pressures.
Many vets / pet shops / groomers are on commission, and every dog 'expert' has their own opinion on which food is best.
We don't currently have canine nutritionists in Ireland (though I would imagine this will change soon as it's a massive part of canine care) so for now I would strongly encourage all pet dog owners to visit http://www.allaboutdogfood.co.uk , an independent website where canine nutrition experts, along with pet dog owners, analyse and review many many different dog food brands.
Personally, I feed my dogs a combination of Natures Menu frozen nuggets, which is a premade raw food diet, amazing for dogs with skin conditions or fussy eaters, and I also feed Land of Holistic Pets Robbies which is a dehydrated food which has really high quality ingredients and no preservatives / additives.
I would strongly recommend you do your own research and take recommendations from others cautiously.
Best to begin on the weekend if you are normally out of the house throughout the day.
It's very important that all treats, bread crusts, leftovers are completely eradicated from your dogs life for 3 full days leading up to the beginning of the training plan.
If you do decide to change your dogs diet, you can begin introducing some of the new food to your dog during this training. General guideline is to mix the foods for a few days to avoid stomach upset - day 1 80% old food, 20% new, day 2 60% old 40% new, day 3 40% old 60% new, day 4 20% old 80% new, day 4 100% new, though you can slow down this changeover should you notice loose stools).
1) Begin in the early morning. I would recommend getting a new dog bowl (if you had steel, change to plastic etc. so that to your dog this is a new experience).
2) Bring your dog for a walk and some fun first before feeding time. This will help stimulate their appetite.
3) Make a fuss of banging about the kitchen while talking to your dog excitedly so that they are intrigued as to what you are doing.
4) Call your dog excitedly and ask them to sit / do a behaviour they can do quite easily.
5) Praise and immediately present them with their food bowl as a reward.
6) This is where things change. This food bowl must only have a teaspoon of food in it, just one small mouthful. Depending on whether your dog prefers your company or absence when eating, follow their preference (so stay or leave the room).
7) Once your dog comes away from their bowl, whether it's empty, half empty, or untouched, you must take the bowl away.
Repeat the entire process every hour(ish) if possible.
If your dog is happily eating and finishing the bowl, keep repeating throughout the day until your dog has had 80% of their daily feeding guideline.
If your dog starts to lose interest throughout the day STOP. Give it a few hours, take your dog for another walk, or pause meals until the next day. Your dog won't starve over one - two days (make sure they are in good health, drinking, and energetic).
What we are doing is two things. Firstly, teaching your dog that food is finite, and is not available 24/7 so when they see it they better eat it!
We are also getting your dog into the habit of completely emptying their bowl when it is presented. Keep going with the teaspoon portions to keep reiterating this to your dog, don't stop eating until your bowl is empty!