Getting a new dog from a rescue or shelter has become extremely common place and there has been an increase in that amount of pet lovers fostering a pet. Foster parent programs vary from rescue to rescue but the premise is always the same – accept an unknown dog into your home and keep that pet there until they are ready to be adopted to a permanent home. There’s language that has evolved around this practice including “foster failure” where the foster parent adopts the dog they were taking care of instead of adopting the dog to a new family.
With the raise of the foster care system for dogs there’s also a lot that families should know how to successfully foster a dog. I’ve had countless foster dogs and every single one had a different story, needs and history behind them. I’ve also provided training support for years and years to foster dogs and their caregivers. With all that experience I’ve come to learn a few important tips for successfully fostering a dog.
Your foster dog will most likely have an unknown history and temperament. This is important to remember. A dog arriving in your home is coming from a mental space of stress – they’ve been removed from their home, they’ve been staying in a stressful shelter, they have been abused or neglected, they may have a medical issue or concern, etc. This means that this dog coming into your home isn’t a happy go lucky family pet that’s completely comfortable and carefree.
Keep the dog’s area quiet for the first several days – and longer if they need it. This means to hold back on introductions to children in the home or other pets. Let the dog unwind and understand that they are safe, will be provided with food, water and a warm bed. The dog needs to adjust to this before anything else can and should happen.
If you have done a meet and greet with your pets or children then ensure the foster dog has a quiet space to go to get away from it all if they want to.
Don’t assume the foster dog is friendly with new people, children or other pets. Don’t assume the foster dog can share toys, sleeping space, food or water with others. Even a behaviour assessment that is done in advance of placement can be wrong – if the dog is shut down from stress then the assessor won’t see who the dog really is until they become comfortable.
Adjustment periods for foster dogs can be anywhere from a few hours to months. It depends on the dog and the foster dog sets the pace.
Don’t treat your foster like your own dog. This one is a hard one for people but honestly unless you are actually keeping your foster dog then don’t set them up to fail. Don’t sleep with your foster dog in your bed. Don’t allow your foster dog on the couch. Don’t allow your foster dog to hyper bond to you or other pets in your home. You want this dog to adjust to a new, permanent family that may have different rules and expectations than you do. I always try to teach new fosters great manners – sit, down, stay, leave it, come, walking on leash, etc. I do so with patience and kindness but I do insist on manners. I also crate train my foster dogs – it sets them up for success in their new home and makes them more adoptable.
Reach out for help when you have concerns. Often foster families aren’t completely honest with the rescue. They worry if they paint the foster dog in a bad light then the dog may be moved to a new foster home or even euthanized. This can be problematic. I’ve seen foster dogs seriously injure people and other pets in the home because the foster family kept concerns to themselves. This means the foster dog didn’t get the help they needed, the pets or people in the home were injured and the foster home was no longer open to other pets needing care.
Report all concerns to your rescue. A good rescue will have training and behaviour support in place for foster dogs. This means that you can get help with separation anxiety, resource guarding, general stress, reactivity and yes even aggression. Once you have assistance the dog is in a better position to improve and eventually be adoptable.
If possible try to take a manners or fun sports class with your foster dog. This gets the dog out of the home to meet new people and dogs, improve their skills and you can develop a relationship with a dog trainer who can make life easier. This improves the adoptability of your foster as well as the chance of this dog staying permanently with the adoptive family.