I never knew how important fostering a dog was until we started adopting pets. Of the four dogs we’ve rescued, three came from foster homes. That meant that instead of coming straight from a shelter, our dogs had spent time living in the homes of animal lovers.
In fact, when you foster a dog, you’re giving them a chance to flourish before they move onto their forever home and family. According to The Humane Society of the United States, 6.5 million cats and dogs enter shelters every year.
Many of these shelters can’t house all of the animals they receive and, thus, rely on foster pet parents to fill in those gaps. In fact, I remember the foster mom to our dog Oscar telling us that by adopting him, we’d saved three dogs’ lives. One, Oscar’s. Two, the next dog this person could foster from the shelter. And three, the dog who now had space to go to the shelter. Talk about the ripple effect!
Tips for fostering a dog
So, you think you might want to foster a dog? If it’s your first time, it can be a steep learning curve.
For example, some shelters will pay for some expenses. However, foster pet parents may have to cover some of the costs associated with raising that dog, depending on how long they stay with them.
Foster pet parents are also responsible for making sure the pets in their care are comfortable. Plus, they are expected to provide feedback to the shelter or rescue group. This way they can keep tabs on the animal’s personality or stressors. All of this information helps them find the best forever home matches.
Here’s what you need to know about fostering a pet for the first time, plus other tips for fostering a dog.
Fostering a dog is a time commitment
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Before saying yes to fostering a dog, be honest with yourself if you can give your foster pet the time commitment they need and deserve. If you have a busy schedule or job that requires you to be on-site, fostering isn’t impossible but it does take some coordination and, frankly, cash.
For example, you’ll need to make accommodations, such as hiring a dog walker on your dime. Or you need to come home on your lunch break to let the dog outside and throw a ball around.
Finally, if you travel a lot or frequently work overtime hours, now may not be the right time to become a foster pet parent.
Survey your home for safety
The last thing you want to do is bring a dog into an unsafe environment. For example, the foster mom who took care of our dog Oscar warned us that we needed to install a six-foot fence in our yard before taking him home? Why? Because he’d managed to hop her five-foot fence, which she thought was sufficient for her own dogs and the dogs she fostered.
If you already have dogs at home, then you likely have safety measures in places that will keep a foster safe, too–unless he’s a jumper like Oscar. However, if you’re new to having a dog at home, then you should do a safety sweep of your home.
Here are some things to look for and fix before fostering a dog:
- Cables lying around that could be chewed (Oscar chewed through my printer cable the first week we had him)
- Dangerous chemicals animals can access
- Open trash cans
- Medicine and personal care products (Our other dog Sadie, who also came from a foster family, discovered it was fun to unwrap and chew unused tampons my daughters had stashed in their bedroom closets. That could have been a choking hazard for her.)
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, some of the items that dogs may find “tasty” but are toxic to them include drain cleaner, laundry detergent, chocolate, sugar-free gum and pain relievers. So make sure they’re locked away at all times.
Mitigate stress factors for your foster pup
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What can stress out a foster dog? Well, separation anxiety when you leave. Other common stressors could be loud noises, anxiety around other animals or not liking humans of a specific gender.
It would be wise to invest in products that can help some dogs deal with stress. For example, when I have to leave the house, I’ll give my dogs a Kong filled with peanut butter. This way they can focus on this yummy treat rather than freaking out that I’m walking out the door.
Products to help with dog anxiety
Also, because they only get Kongs with peanut butter when we leave, it has become a treat they look forward to. FYI, Kongs come in a variety of sizes, from XS to XX Large so you can find one that’s right for any size dog.
Also, Nylabones for chewing can help with stress. So can calming jerseys like a Thundershirt. My dog Oscar doesn’t like wearing the Thundershirt, but he’ll gladly let me wrap him in a weighted blanket I got on Amazon.
That’s Oscar, above, under his favorite weighted blanket for dogs. He needed it the afternoon after he’d been to the vet for a teeth cleaning.
These are all good investments for a foster pet parent to have to help calm down a nervous or stressed out dog.
Communicate with the foster coordinator
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Communicating with the foster coordinator or the shelter you’re fostering with will be key to setting yourself up for success as a foster parent. The foster coordinator supports you through the process. Also, they should provide you with the appropriate information you need to know about your first pet.
Be sure to ask detailed questions about your incoming foster dog. Throughout your foster’s stay, if you come across any challenges or questions, be sure to communicate those with your foster coordinator. They can help you figure out next steps.
Also, the more you learn about your foster dog’s likes, dislikes and personality, be sure to share that with the foster coordinator. This will help them figure out the best home situation for that pet once it’s time to review interested adopters.
Budget for expenses
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Most shelters will cover some expenses associated with fostering a pet, such as vet fees. However, you may need to shell out your own dollars for basic items. Before agreeing to foster a pet, make sure you have room in your budget to cover these expenses, such as the products I’ve recommended for helping stressed-out dogs. But you may also have to invest in new toys, grooming services, dog training or anything else the shelter or rescue may not cover.
If you’re preparing to bring a dog into your home and you don’t already have one, this article helps outline what new dog owners should invest in for their pup. However, if you already have dogs, you may want to get extras for your foster dog. This would include an extra leash, collar, crate, toys, and food and water bowls. It’s possible the shelter or rescue you’re working with doesn’t provide these items.
Work on obedience training
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Speaking of dog training, when you commit to fostering a dog, you’re also committing to some kind of obedience training.
You should be prepared to work with your foster pet on basic commands. This includes “sit,” “come” and “stay.” Also, if they need house training help, that’s on you, too. All of this training can help prepare them for a smoother transition to their soon-to-be forever home.
Accommodate other pets or children
A foster pet can find other pets and children, depending on their ages, to be stressful. This is especially true if they are not used to sharing a space with either. And the reverse is true. If your current pets aren’t used to new animals, you need to think carefully about introducing a foster dog.
Also, make sure your foster pet is coming to your home healthy and fully vaccinated. You don’t want them to introduce anything into your home that could get your other pets sick.
North Shore Animal League America recommends keeping your new foster and other pets apart. How long? For at least two weeks before letting them physically interact. When your pets do meet, introduce them in an area that could be considered neutral, such as a park. So, if you don’t live in a big enough home to accommodate this separation, maybe fostering isn’t right for you.
Consider how much space you have
In addition to thinking about having the space to keep pets separate, space can be an issue even if you don’t already have pets. For example, you could be fostering a dog that is large or energetic. Therefore, it will require lots of space for exercising.
Keep in mind that if you live in a small apartment with no access to a backyard or a backyard that’s not fenced in, it’s likely that a shelter would not accept your application for fostering a dog.
Prepare for the dog’s eventual adoption
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One of the reasons that my husband and I haven’t fostered a dog is because we’re afraid we’ll become foster failures. Never heard that term? It describes foster pet parents who didn’t fail to get a dog adopted. They failed because they couldn’t let the dog go to another home once they’d fostered it.
This letting go part is perhaps the hardest part of fostering a dog. But it’s important to remember this: your home is a transitory stop on your foster pet’s journey to finding a forever home.
It’s your job to give them a comfortable place to stay and set them up for a successful adoption. Letting go can be hard, so you’ll want to emotionally prepare yourself ahead of time.
Final thoughts on fostering a dog
If you’re interested in fostering a dog, check with your local shelters or rescue organizations. They’ll often offer classes (in person or online) that provide the basics of becoming a foster pet parent.