BEHAVIOR & TRAINING

How to Foster A Dog: What It Takes To Be A Good Parent

How to Foster A Dog
John Walton
Written by John Walton

Getting a new addition of a dog into your home can be a rewarding experience, but for some who have never had a dog before, it can be a little surprising if you don’t know what to expect. Having a dog is a lot of responsibility, and you may not be able to handle it all by yourself. Of course, you don’t want to have to go through the guilt-tripping experience of having to return a dog, but you won’t want him to suffer if you’re ill-prepared.

What many people are starting to do is to foster a dog for a period of time in order to get used to having one around the home. There are plenty of dogs that need time to recover from surgeries or having puppies before they’re ready to be put up for adoption, and having them in someone’s care can help with that process. Many adoption facilities are also full, and need the assistance of fostering homes in order to help deal with the increasing numbers instead of having to euthanize the dogs in their care.

Foster a dog

It’s a much calmer atmosphere, and they have the warmth, love and attention that they need before they go off to a good home. It can be beneficial to new dog owners as well, as it gets them used to taking care of a dog’s needs while his food and medical bills are taken care of by the adoption agency. But before you can jump headfirst into the process, it’s important to learn how to foster a dog.

Becoming a foster care provider

Many dogs without a home once had a loving family to take care of them. However, for whatever reason, they are put up for adoption, leaving them to feel alone and afraid. It can be stressful for a dog to be somewhere that they’re not used to and without the love and individual care that they need to thrive. Adoption centers try their best to make them as comfortable as possible and take care of their needs, but they can only do so much with the overwhelming numbers of animals that they take in every day.

The stress of these situations can often lead to self-destructive behaviors that can be difficult to correct. That’s why fostering is an important aspect of the adoption process. It helps curtailing these behaviors and nip them in the bud from the beginning. By becoming a foster provider, the dogs in your care have a better chance of being adopted with the skills and training that you’ll provide. Many of those who foster end up becoming owners themselves.

So where do you start? It’s not as easy as going to your nearest shelter and telling them that you want to foster. Instead, you’ll have to fill out a form that details almost every aspect of your life and the condition of your home.

Some dogs are very sensitive to children and other animals, and many adoption centers may require you to have a fenced yard. In the event that you may have to foster a dog with special needs, you may have to spend a lot of time at home to provide the care that is required. If you live by yourself and have a busy work schedule, then this might not be the best for you.Save a life

The first step is to go to the nearest rescue society and see if they have any application forms to become a foster parent. Review the application form and ask any questions that you may have, especially when it comes to their rules and regulations for fostering.

Knowing what you’re getting into before you sign up is much better than dealing with the consequences later, such as who is going to pay for the vet bills, if you’ll need to pay for microchipping yourself, et cetera. A dog is a big financial responsibility, and easing you into it will help you to prepare better for the ultimate decision of getting your own pet.

You’ll also need to keep your schedule open for prospective adopters who are interested in meeting the dog that is in your care. You may have to stay home waiting for them to show up, or be able to drive to a nearby location in order to facilitate a meeting.

Being accommodating for interested adopters will make the meeting more pleasant, and will provide your dog with the opportunity to meet those who could provide him with his forever home.

Try out before trying out

Before you can consider becoming a foster parent, it’s best if you get used to being around a dog first. If you have a friend or a family member that has a dog, consider offering to babysit or walk them on a regular basis.

Not only does this prepare you for what you’ll be doing before you foster, but you can also learn some tips and tricks from your friend or family member on how to deal with various kinds of behaviour. Dogs can react to stimuli differently, and being able to adjust to these different reactions will certainly help you in the future if you do decide to foster.

Being specific

If you’re keen about fostering a particular breed of dog, those with or without special needs, or dogs of a certain age, then it’s important to say so in your application form. In the event that you’re not able to state these specifics, then there are plenty of rescue organizations that you can find that can help you. Breed specific rescues are in the plentiful, though it may be difficult to find one in your area or state.

Dogs with special needs require a lot of care and patience, so it’s important to know beforehand whether you’re capable of handling the responsibilities of providing medication on a timely basis, providing any needed physical therapy, and any special nutrition requirements that your fostering dog may need. As for age, puppies can be a lot of fun to foster, but they do require a lot of attention and energy throughout the day.

Infographic foster parent and dog

Cuteness comes with the added weight of teaching house training, providing chew toys, and dealing with regular shots and special care that puppies require. Older dogs can be more laid back, but also require special care, especially if they have arthritis, hip dysplasia or dietary requirements. Weighing these pros and cons can help you to decide what kinds of dogs you’re interested in fostering. If you’re still undecided, the fostering coordinator of your adoption centre can help you to figure out what kind of dogs would be best for you to care for.

Qualifications for fostering

Although this isn’t a job interview in the working world, you should treat the fostering process like one. Being a successful foster parent entails compassion, empathy, patience, flexibility, and some knowledge of basic animal behaviour. Jumping headfirst into the process without some knowledge of body language, basic care and can make the experience more detrimental than it needs to be.

Once you sign up to be a foster parent, the adoption centre may request that you attend a few training classes so that you can learn how to handle your foster dog in different situations and provide him with the manners he needs to act appropriately in any given situation. You may also have to go through a home visitation by the adoption agency staff so assess the state of your home and determine whether it’s conducive for a foster dog to live in.

Knowing your limitations

When it comes to fostering a dog, there may be limitations that can prevent the kind of breed that comes into your home. Your homeowner’s insurance of city regulations may dictate what kind of dog breed can be kept in your home, and fostering a breed of this kind can lead to heavy fines and having to return the dog to the adoption center.

Outside of this, however, you should take into consideration your personal limitations on the matter. Do you have the time to train a dog properly so that he doesn’t steal food from the counter? House training? Not barking when you’ve left him alone at home? What about dealing with separation anxiety and the possible destruction of some of your property? Some foster dogs may already come with behavior problems that you have to help weed out so that they’re more likely to get adopted in the future.

Dog anxiety

Medical problems are also important considerations; are you able to deal with needles and IVs? Can you care for a dog that has just given birth to puppies? Are there digestive disorders or special nutritional concerns that you can take care of on a daily basis? A healthy dog is a happy dog, and you’re responsible for their welfare. If you’re not able to deal with these problems (and possibly more) along with balancing your own personal schedule, then you should reconsider whether fostering is right for you.

Setting up space for your new foster

If you have been accepted as a foster parent, preparing your home is key to providing a healthy and happy environment for your new foster dog to thrive in. You’ll have to designate a room that he can sleep in. Your bedroom may be the first natural choice, as the company of another living being can help your dog to get to sleep at night. Be sure that your bedroom has enough space to accommodate both you and your dog and that you won’t be tripping over each other in the middle of the night.

When it comes to eating his meals, your kitchen or living room can serve as a good place to oversee his eating habits and ensure that he always has enough. Refrain from feeding him in the dining room where you eat, as he is more likely to be interested in your meals than his own. Curbing the desire to beg for food can be done this way.

Lastly, you’ll want to choose a large room for your dog to roam in when you’re not at home. It may be tempting to let him free to roam your house, but the temptation to get into trouble when you’re not there is too greet. It’s best to set the rules from your home quite early so that he can adjust and learn what the right things to do are.

Dog-proofing your home

When it comes to keeping your foster dog safe, pet-proofing your home may be vital for ensuring that he doesn’t get into trouble or harm himself. Childproof latches should be used on drawers and cabinets to keep your dog out of medications and dangerous chemicals that could make him very sick. Alternatively, you could simply put these on high shelves that he can’t reach. All food should be put away and not left on counters where he can reach it.

Dog proofing your home

There are many dangerous foods that can make your dog extremely ill, and if you’re away, it can delay the need to get him medical attention. Toilet lids should be closed, all toys and small objects should be put away, and wires should be put out of reach in order to prevent chewing. Providing a safe environment for your pet to live in will keep him safe and will teach him what the dos and don’ts are within the home.

Learning to let go

Being a foster parent means that you’re helping the dog to find a better life with whoever decides to adopt him in the future. This likely means that you won’t be able to keep the dog forever, which can be very emotional when it comes time to give the dog up or return him to the adoption centre when the fostering period is over. It’s easy to become emotionally attached to an animal that you’ve helped to care for and provided a warm and loving environment for him to thrive in.

However, through your actions, you’ve given him a better chance of becoming adopted in the future by teaching him the skills that he needs to behave more appropriately within the home and around other people.

This first heartbreak may lead you to not want to foster other dogs in the future, but you learn that it gets easier with time. The care and affection that you’ll feel for another animal is natural, but you soon learn to overcome the sadness that comes with the separation. Focusing on the end goal of increasing the chances of your foster dog being adopted can help you to overcome these feelings.

Being active in the adoption process can help to ease the separation blues, as you provide unique information to the new adoptees that they wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else. Tell them what his favourite tricks are, whether he’s active or a couch potato, and how he responds to treats. Talking about your foster dog can lead to the realization that he’s come a long way, and will prepare his potential owners on all the nuances of her personality.

I am alive dog

The worst thing that you can do throughout the entire fostering and adoption process is feel guilty. Although you’ve been taking care of your foster dog for a while, you may feel guilty that you didn’t elect to adopt him yourself. It’s normal to feel this way, but you can’t always adopt every dog that you foster.

Dogs can be quite adaptable when it comes to their living situations, so there’s no need to feel guilty that he’ll be going to a new home. In his own way, he’ll appreciate all of the care and attention that you provided while he was in your home, and will help his new owners to love him even more.

In the end, it’s always good to take a break from fostering, especially if you’ve been taking dog after dog as the adoption agency needs it. It can be stressful work, and although quite rewarding, it is a very emotional experience. Don’t be afraid to take a break between fostering periods in order to reminisce and focus on yourself for the time being. Allowing yourself to burn out can lead to diminished care that’s being provided.

There are foster care networks that you can join to help you deal with these feelings and obtain the support that you need during those trying times. You can share and receive advice and experience, in order to strengthen and improve the fostering community as a whole.

When it comes to fostering a new dog in your home, it can be a good idea to make memories of your foster dog in a scrapbook. Take pictures and save small tokens that remember each dog in his or her own way. Write down notes of small accomplishments that your dog has made, such as learning a new trick, and date them. In the end, it will help you to feel like you’re making a real difference in many dogs lives as they go on to find new homes with wonderful, loving families.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.

  • Margo Walter

    Before, what we were worried about was our dog’s reaction to having dogs come and go. We were worried that they’d adjust badly, or that they’d miss their former companions. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case and they learned to adjust well later on. There are a lot of dogs our there who need all the help they need, any more tips to help them?

    • I firmly believe that fostering a dog requires a special kind of commitment because you will be taking care of a dog that has been damaged to quite an extent (in terms of emotional or physical damage). You should be able to understand that fostered dogs require a special kind of treatment, and a little more patience and lots of care.

  • Betsy Johnson

    My parents are thinking of getting a black Lab from the shelter. They already found one that they want and will be talking to the foster parents soon. My Mom was asking me if it’s appropriate to ask if the dog has chewed anything before? Or even bitten a person?
    Ok, what should we ask foster parents before we adopt?

    • You can ask about the dog’s behavior while staying at the shelter. That way, it gives the potential pet parent the idea of what to expect about its attitude. Some dogs can be very shy, while others are more aggressive.

  • Amy Chase

    While we haven’t taken a foster in a while now, the main mindset we adopted is: “This isn’t my dog.” Harsh but true, and it doesn’t foster any guilty feelings when we have to return them. The first few months are the most delicate, we treat the dog (be it a senior or otherwise) like a pup, regarding supervision and security. And though we train them with basic obedience, they can do what they want so long as it isn’t destructive (lay on the sofa, etc). All in all fostering a pup was a unique experience and we did our best to ensure the pooch is comfortable and isn’t spooked. We did our best and I believe that’s all that counts!

    • Nice to know that you’re doing what matters in fostering a fur baby. It truly is a unique experience for any aspiring pet parent.

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