Feeding Guidelines

Approved Food

Please only feed the puppy the food on this list. We need to ensure that they are healthy and comfortable on dog food readily found at the grocery and pet store.

  • Nature’s Select Classic formula
  • Iams Proactive Health
  • Purina Pro Plan Focus or Savor formula
  • Purina One SmartBlend Chicken and Rice or Lamb and Rice formula

Guidelines to maintaining healthy eating habits

  • It’s easier to figure out the pup’s pattern of when they need to eliminate if you can control when they eat their meals and drink water.
  • When you offer the puppy their food, allow the puppy a maximum of 10 minutes to eat. If the food isn’t finished, remove it, and don’t offer anything else until the next regular mealtime. Since guide dog puppies are going to be working dogs, they do not have the option to graze at the food bowl all day long because they will be out working. 
  • When feeding multiple dogs in the home, you should never leave them alone while the bowls are down. If the resident dog is food protective, the pup should be fed in another room so they don’t learn the same behavior. While we want our dogs to allow people to handle their bowls, you should not place your hands in the bowl while they eat. We prefer that you stay in close proximity of the pup while they are eating so that they realize you are not a threat.
  • When they are done eating, just pick up the bowl. We don’t want the pups to think we are taking food away, which could inadvertently cause food aggression/protective issues.
  • Never add anything to your guide dog puppy’s food without permission. You should not give the puppy any table scraps, cottage cheese, yogurt, canned vegetables, or raw eggs. It’s not necessary, and it can cause gastrointestinal problems. In addition, feeding table scraps can cause behavioral issues, such as begging for or stealing food.

To slow the puppy down when eating, here are some suggestions:

  • Spread the dry food on a cookie sheet.
  • With the dry food already in the bowl, add enough water so that the food floats.
  • Add toys (Nylabones, Kong, or any other durable approved toy) in the bowl so the puppy has to eat around them.

Do not add anything to the food to entice the puppy to eat. Finicky eaters should have the food removed after 10 minutes; they must learn to eat when their food is offered!

Contact your puppy advisor or area coordinator if poor eating habits continue.

When to feed the pup in the crate

Young puppies should be fed in their crates with the door closed. This is important for two reasons: It reinforces to the puppy that the kennel is a happy and safe place, and it allows the puppy to focus better on eating without distractions. Puppies need to be able to concentrate on eating their meals when they are offered.

When to feed the pup out of the crate

When the puppy is between 4 and 5 months of age and reliably eating all its meals, you can start to feed it in outside of the crate and teaching "Place". Refer to the "Place" article in the Puppy Development and Learning section.

It is important that guide dog puppies are taught to wait for their food until their handler allows them to eat. It would be dangerous if a guide dog was so anxious to eat it leapt toward food, went too fast, or rushed forward. These behaviors could potentially hurt someone who is visually or physically impaired.

Your guide dog puppy will learn to wait politely for meals and wait until the whistle has been blown three times to approach the food bowl.

Guidelines to start whistle feeding

  • Begin with your puppy on leash with the leash relaxed in your hand.
  • Calmly place the food bowl down 3 to 4 feet away from your puppy so they cannot eat before given the signal.
  • If your puppy becomes distracted or excited when the food is visible, wait until they have settled down and returned their focus back on you.
  • Whistle three times and place the food bowl in front of the puppy as a signal that they can eat.
  • Once your puppy associates the three sharp whistles with being fed you can start allowing the pup to walk toward the food bowl. While the pup is still on leash, place the food 2-3 feet away, whistle, and then allow the pup to walk towards the food.
  • After your pup has matured and gained self-control through this exercise you can start placing them in an on-leash stay. Then, stand 4 to 5 feet in front of them with the bowl of food in your hands, and lower the food bowl down. If the puppy breaks their stay before you whistle, pick the food up and place them in the previous spot before whistling.
  • If your puppy consistently struggles with the stay and whistle go back to keeping the pup on leash when you're feeding.
  • Whistle feeding still allows for the feeding procedure to be controlled by the handler, who can maintain an expectable level of obedience. It gives the dog a clear and obvious verbal cue when to eat.
  • The dog is more willing to return to the handler due to the expectation of food reward. The three sharp blows of the whistle, followed by the dog’s name and the Come verbal cue, allows those puppy raisers with poor and ineffective voices to be more effective in gaining the dog’s attention and instructing it to return immediately to the handler.
  • Dogs that have wandered too far and may not hear just the voice of the handler can easily pick up the distinctive three-blow pattern from the whistle.


Eliminating lunch and Transitioning to Adult Food

Unless otherwise instructed, when the puppy is 7 months old, switch to adult formula food. The switching can be accomplished successfully by weaning the pup from one food to another gradually. We recommend doing this in ¼-cup increments over a period of 10 days.

Days 1 to 3: For each meal combine ¾ cup puppy food with ¼ cup adult food.

Days 4 to 6:  For each meal ½ cup puppy food with ½ cup adult food.

Days 7 to 10: For each meal ¼ cup puppy food with ¾ cup adult food.

*If the puppy’s stool becomes soft during the weaning process, stay at that level of food until its stool firms up again and then continue with the weaning. For example, if the stool becomes soft when you get to the ½ and ½, stay at that level until the stool firms up again. Then continue with the schedule.

When the puppy is 7 months old, you will eliminate the lunchtime feeding. Again, we recommend doing this in ¼-cup increments over a period of about 1 week.

*If the puppy was eating 1 cup, three times per day (total of 3 cups of food), it will now be getting 1½ cups twice a day (total of 3 cups of food).

Appropriate treats for guide dog puppies

  • Part of their meal. Keeping some of their allocated meals as treats can be done for food reward.
  • High-quality soft dog treats in a small size only. You may feed the puppy up to three small treats per day. These should not be used for food reward when the pup is learning unless instructed by your advisor or area coordinator.
    • Mini Milkbones
    • Zuke's
    • Cut up Pupperoni
    • Cut up Blue Dog Bakery Softies
    • Merrick Power Bites
    • Crazy Dog Train Me! Minis
    • Freeze Dried Liver
    • Buffalo Blue Bits
  • Raw, unpeeled carrots 1 inch in length.
  • Ice cubes have no calories and can be given daily as a reward.
  • Raw fresh string beans. You may feed the puppy up to three string beans per day. 

If the puppy is having issues with their stools, do not feed training treats, carrots, or string beans.


Puppies need a steady supply of fresh water. Adequate hydration is necessary for their physical well-being and growth. Please provide your dog with free access to fresh, clean water all day. A normal, healthy dog will only drink as much water as he or she needs to stay hydrated.

Limiting water (in the summer especially) can be dangerous to the dog. No two dogs are the same, and one may need more water than another just to stay healthy; we cannot say how much water is enough for any particular dog. Never limit a dog’s water because you think that it has had enough. Especially in the heat and with varying amounts of exercise, not enough water in hot weather can lead to dehydration and heat stroke. It can also cause very serious urinary tract and digestive problems.

If you feel that the puppy is drinking too much water and/or are having problems with house breaking, please contact your advisor or area coordinator.