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Why Feeding Your Dog a Consistent Diet "On Time" is a Bad Idea…

From the desk of Mogens Eliasen - first published: June 03, 2003

Mogens Eliasen - the author of this article
on 'conditioning'

Carnivores, like our dogs, are not meant to be fed on time. And they are not built to get the same food every time they eat. They are genetically programmed for variation - both in food composition and feeding time.

Unfortunately, our dogs are also very fast to adjust to a regular feeding schedule and to a specific food composition. This can create big trouble when you suddenly start deviating from the well-established schedule. You might see vomiting of bile and other signs of a significant decrease in wellness by simply feeding something different - or feeding at a different time.

Conditioning to a predictable feeding schedule

If you feed your dog every day at, say, 8 PM, then all organs in the body's gastrointestinal system will program themselves to start their parts of the digestion process at 8 PM. Whether or not you feed! (Pavlov's famous experiments about 100 years ago are the classic proof…)

So, if you suddenly introduce a fast day in the middle of a long tradition of consistent feeding at predictable times, you are doomed to create a problem for your dog! What should the dog do with all those excess digestive juices produced by the stomach at the programmed time? There is only one way: vomit them out of the system! Those juices contain strong chemicals. Without any food to neutralize them, they can hurt the stomach by starting digestive processes of the stomach tissue!

Unfortunately, many people take this kind of observation for proof that it is unhealthy for the dog to have its meals served on different times, not to mention having a healthy fast day... I hope you see why this is a terribly wrong conclusion!

Conditioning to a predictable food

Many people experience similar problems when they try to get their dog to eat some food it isn't used to. These problems particularly become apparent when you want to shift from kibble feeding to a more healthy raw natural diet.

There are many cases of this causing the dog to vomit. And the owner then, naturally, thinks that there is a problem with the raw food…

Again: Wrong conclusion.

Kibble generally consists primarily of carbohydrates from grain. More than half of the weight is carbohydrates, if not 70% or more. But grain is not even on the menu of a natural diet….

Carbohydrates can only be digested in the dog's stomach by enzymes that only function well at pH levels that are close to neutral (pH 6-7) - and thus very far from the very strong acidity (pH 1-2) required by the enzymes that digest raw meat.

When a dog has been "programmed" to expect a meal of mainly carbohydrates at, say 8 PM, then the pancreas will produce lots of those enzymes that can do the job of digesting the expected carbohydrates, and the stomach will adjust the pH level to around 6. All of this happening shortly before 8 PM every day….

But if you now instead shock the entire system by feeding raw meat instead of the expected carbohydrates, the dog cannot do anything with that great food - everything is programmed now to digest carbohydrates. The enzymes produced by the pancreas and other glands are the wrong ones for this food, and the pH level in the stomach is wrong. The only defense the dog has is to vomit everything and thus eliminate the problem.

The culprit is not the food, but the past feeding schedule and biologically inadequate food source.

Precautions when planning a shift to a natural diet

Before you pull the dog through this kind of trauma, you should first erase those conditional reflexes the dog has created in response to your unnatural, regular, and predictable feeding.

It is simple. You just start varying the times you feed the "old" food. Shift the times by feeding an hour early for a few days. Then two hours early on some days, one hour early on other days, even back to the previous time once in a while - but never the same time two days in a row! In a couple of weeks, you go earlier and earlier - and, at the same time, make the time less and less predictable. If the dog wants to skip a meal, you just let it. Your goal is to feed the dog a maximum of 6 meals per week, at times it has no way of predicting.

In the beginning of this transition, you should avoid feeding later than the predicted time - because that would cause the dog to experience problems when you don't feed on the expected time…. If the stomach is already full when "feeding time" comes up, there will be no problem.

It does not take a lot to erase a conditional reflex like the production of stomach juices on predictable times. If it took you, say, 100 repetitions to establish the conditional reflex, it will only take 2-5 times "breaking the rule" to make it dysfunctional again. So, even if you have had your dog "programmed" over several years, it will not take more than a few days, maximum a week or two, to erase the old harmful conditioning.

Once you erased the conditional reflex of the dog's system preparing for a predictable meal, you will no longer experience problems when you shift the diet to a more healthy raw, natural diet. The dog will then no longer produce any enzymes for the expected digestion until the stomach has realized what kind of food it needs to digest - and it will no longer make wrong guesses.

Although you might see the dog salivate when exposed to the smell of some delicious food, its stomach should not start producing any production of enzymes for digestion until the food mechanically has passed the esophagus - and if you keep a non-predictable feeding schedule, it will stay that way.

The biggest benefit you get will be that the dog will increase its ability to handle the digestion of all kinds of natural food. By not allowing the stomach to "jump the gun" on starting the digestion process before the food actually is available for it, it remains flexible in regards to making the digestion fit the food. And that way, you keep your dog in much better health.


Mogens Eliasen


Mogens Eliasen holds a mag. scient. degree (comparable to a US Ph. D.) in Chemistry from Århus University, Denmark, has a extensive education also as military officer and in business management. He has been working with dogs, dog owners, dog trainers, and veterinarians since 1970. A large part of his dog work has been in the area of education and education planning, and as consultant for dog owners and dog training associations. He is a strong advocate of treating the dog with respect for its nature as domesticated wolf, and has published several books and videos on topics related to dogs, dog training, dog behavior, and responsible care of dogs. He publishes a newsletter "The Peeing Post" containing lots of tips and advice on all matters pertaining to dogs.

For more information about Mogens Eliasen, including links to other articles he has published, please send this e-mail to or visit or

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Titles available from K9joy®:

Anders Hallgren:
"The ABC's of Dog Language" (140 page book - 1996)
Understand what your dog is telling you - and communicate with it on its own terms. A must have for all dog lovers. Easy to read. Easy to use as reference.

Mogens Eliasen:
"The Dog's Social Behavior" (2.5 hr. video - 1998, updated on DVD 2006, with support materials on a CD)
How the dog's behavior is linked to its instincts and needs. What you can change and what is "for life". How you use this information to dramatically improve your relationship with your dog.

Mogens Eliasen:
"BrainWork for Smart Dogs" (380 page e-book - 2003)
How you get a happy and well-behaved dog, stimulating its brain with 15 minutes of fun per day. Dogs need to work and use their instinct in order to be in mental balance. Everyone can do it with these instructions. More than 40 exercises to choose from!

Mogens Eliasen:
"Don't Pull on the Leash!" (40 page e-book - 2005)
The 5 simple steps in this complete training manual will effectively stop any dog from pulling on the leash, with no pain or abuse and no special equipment - and make the start of a much better relationship with the dog.

Mogens Eliasen:
"Is Your Dog's Drinking Water Safe?" (30 page e-book - 2005, updated 2006)
A layman's overview of how and why drinking water gets contaminated - and what you can do about it.

Mogens Eliasen:
"Feeding Your Dog - the Natural Way" (1 hr. video - 1998)
The fastest introduction to get you started on feeding your dog a natural diet. It explains the dog's physiology in simple terms, so you also understand why you should do this.

Mogens Eliasen:
"Canine Choice - by Nature" (80 page e-book - 1999, updated 2005)
The simple "how-to" about feeding a natural diet for optimal health.

Mogens Eliasen:
"Raw Food for Dogs - the Ultimate Reference for Dog Owners"
(340 page e-book - revised/expanded 2006)
Everything you need for making your own informed decisions about what to feed your dog, and why and how. Includes numerous examples of feeding plans plus two chapters on how to work with your vet, also if he/she does not approve of your feeding...

Mogens Eliasen:
"The Wolf's Natural Diet - a Feeding Guide for Your Dog?"
(125 page e-book - 2004 updated/revised 2006)
What we know and don't know about the wolf and its natural feeding, and about the dog and its domestication, and what we can and cannot conclude from wolf to dog... this is the big "why?" behind any responsible approach to feeding your dog.

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