Dec 04 , 2019
Why Fostering Is Important
When done for the right reasons, fostering a dog can be very rewarding for all parties involved! It literally saves lives. Not just the life of the dog you pull from the shelter, but also the life of the dog who fills its old spot.
Fostering helps acclimate them to home life. It makes things easier on the permanent adopter when the foster pup understands how to be a house pet, especially if they are a first-time dog owner. Depending on how much time you have to devote to the foster, it can be a great opportunity for the dog to explore. You can help the dog learn how to have fun as well as relax. Teaching a dog that life is safe now can take time, but the reward is immense!
If you already have a dog at home, bringing in a foster can be great for helping your current dog with getting some energy out, or with easing separation anxiety.
If you are considering adding another dog to your family permanently, fostering is also a great way to find out if you are ready. When working with a reputable rescue group, you can foster with the intent to adopt. That way you make sure you pick the right new companion for your family and save the lives of several dogs along the way!
Before You Foster
Before you commit to taking on a foster dog, check with other family members and make sure everyone is on board with having a new dog around, even if it's only temporary. Know yourself and your family members. Will you be able to let the dog go? The general rule of thumb is to not fall in love with your first foster! If you have kids, explain to them the importance of letting the foster pup go when the right time comes.
Be aware of the realities of fostering a shelter dog! As much fun as it can be, it's sometimes frustrating bringing a new dog into the house who doesn't yet understand how to behave like a house pet. Many of these dogs have been mistreated, neglected, malnourished, or any combination of those things. Most of the time the dog's past is unknown. Keep this in mind when you discover that your new foster has some personality "texture!"
Make sure you have thoroughly "dog-proofed" your house. A new dog will likely get into things your current dog never bothers. Set the new dog up for success, not failure. Encourage healthy behavior right from the start. In the long run this will help you, the dog, and the dog's new family.
Bringing a new dog home is a change in routine that can throw off your current pets. You may see their personalities change. They may become more vocal, destructive, clingy, or cranky. They may stop eating, start hiding, or having accidents in the house. Usually these changes subside in a few days. Remember also that bringing home a new dog from a shelter does put your current pets at risk for catching an illness, so be sure to take precautions.
Will you foster a puppy or an adult? Puppies are notorious for being destructive and making messes, but adults are capable of that, too. Puppies will need to be taken out to potty much more often than adults, and depending on their age, will need to be taken back to the vet several times for vaccine boosters. Puppies are also much easier to adopt out than adults, so you are likely to have an adult dog in the house longer. Remember that puppies are at risk for Canine Parvovirus if they have spent time in a shelter without first being vaccinated.
Always work with a rescue group! We do not recommend pulling a dog from a shelter with no backup plan. Working with a group gives you a safety net. If you work on your own and pull a dog from a shelter that does not work out in your home, your options are limited. You may not be able to take it back to the shelter at all, and if you do, the dog is at usually at risk for being euthanized. If you do place the dog in a home on your own, what happens if the new family decides in a year that they want to return it? Will you have space in your home to take it back?
Hopefully you can see how this can be a difficult situation if you decide to foster and place multiple dogs on your own. Those with big hearts can easily find themselves in over their heads. Working with a good rescue group will provide you with a safety net, and also offer support to a non-profit that can accomplish far more as a team than one individual can.
Before you start fostering with a group, make sure the guidelines and boundaries are clear.
Who will pay for the food?
Who will transport the dog when it needs to leave / go to the vet / go to a home visit or meet and greet?
What happens if the dog comes down with an illness?
Who will cover unexpected vet bills?
Does the group have any special requirements for fostering?
The rescue group should be responsible for the standard vet care that goes with adoption. At minimum, this includes a spay or neuter, vaccinations (Rabies, Bordetella, DHLPP), and flea and tick prevention. No reputable rescue group will place a dog in a home without vetting the dogs first. It is suggested that you don't bring home a shelter dog until these procedures have been done. Keep all your new foster's vet paperwork on hand, particularly proof of rabies vaccination.
If the dog's personality is already known, make sure you are given all the details! This keeps you and your current pet(s) safe and allows you to set the dog up for success from the get-go.
We often lose sight of an important detail when working with dogs. Because many are so friendly, we forget that dogs are carnivorous predators with teeth that they know how to use. No matter how friendly, they all have a breaking point. Every dog is different. This is why it is important to make an effort to learn about dog body language before you take on the responsibility of fostering.
Picking Out A Foster
Will you be fostering temporarily, or fostering with intent to adopt?
If your foster is meant to be temporary, it may help to pick a dog that isn't your "type." Maybe your type is a tongue-lolling, energetic Retriever type. You could foster a quiet, skittish dog. Maybe you prefer dogs with a short hair coat. You could foster a long-haired dog instead. These are things that you can handle in the short term even if you wouldn't want to do so permanently. This makes it easier to let go when it comes time for the foster to be adopted. That being said, don't take on a dog that you can't properly care for!
Above all, make sure the foster dog gets along with your current pets.
Once Your Foster Is Home
The most important thing you can do for your foster, fresh out of the shelter, is give him or her some decompression time. This means quiet, relaxing time. No playdates, no excitement, no loud noises. Just a calm, quiet place for the dog to learn that he or she is in a safe, stable place now. A shelter is a crazy, intense, wired, scary environment for a dog to spend any length of time in. This stress can make many dogs act in ways they wouldn't otherwise, and it can take dogs quite a while to come down from this state of mind.
Never leave a new dog unsupervised with your existing pets. You don't know the dog's past or triggers.
Introduce your foster to your current pets very slowly, and preferably with two people. A great way to do this is to take a walk around the block with them together, and then allow introductions afterwards when the dogs are less excitable.
Many groups prefer you didn't allow your foster on furniture or feed them from the table. Even though it's perfectly acceptable to do this with your own dogs, the family that adopts your foster may not appreciate it.
No matter what your foster's past was, your job isn't to feel sorry for the dog or his circumstances. Your job is to set him up for success from now on. Bad behavior can happen, but the past is not an excuse for it to continue. Don't fall for the "abuse excuse!"
Feed your foster dog a good quality food. It doesn't have to be top shelf, but it should be a balanced diet and a dense food. Avoid corn, wheat, and soy if possible. Most shelter dogs, especially if they were street dogs, are in a state of poor nutrition. Usually they have a voracious appetite right from the start.
Communicate often and clearly with the rescue group. Help facilitate the best adoption possible and ensure a smooth transition by giving accurate details about the dog. Is your foster destructive? Vocal? What is his energy level? Does he get along with strangers, kids, other dogs, and cats? Don't ever sugarcoat or misrepresent the dog's personality and needs to the rescue group or prospective adopter. And if your foster looks to be getting sick or just acting "off," get in touch with your group and ask them how to proceed.
Ever heard of a "Foster Failure?" Failing at fostering just means that you make your foster a permanent part of your family! Foster failures are acceptable and happen often, but there are some things to keep in mind. If you have only one spot to foster, adopting your foster eliminates that spot. By removing yourself from the fostering pool, one more dog stays in a shelter, and one more on the streets (or worse). It's true that you can't save them all, but every life saved does matter! As they say... "who rescued who?"