Being a foster dog parent is one of the most rewarding experiences that any dog lover can have. Unfortunately, so few people know what fostering a dog entails that they shy away from the idea even when they have the physical space and resources to help. On the other hand, some may choose to foster a dog without proper knowledge of what's required. This is our complete guide to fostering a dog so that you can see just what it takes to save a life.
Talk to Your Family First
Before you commit to taking on a foster dog, it’s important to talk to your entire family about the decision. Working with a foster pet can be hard work when you're unprepared, it can make changes to your family schedule, and it requires commitment from everyone in your home to make things go smoothly. If your entire family is not on board with the choice to foster an animal, it’s best to wait until they are.
It’s also important to consider any allergies or special needs in the family that may be affected by bringing a foster dog home, such as asthma for example. While your dream may be to foster dogs, if it’s something that is going to put your health or the health of your family at risk, it’s not an option you should consider.
A great article to read when considering fostering and whether this is the right choice for you is Dogster’s “Is Dog Fostering Right for Me?”
Understand the Commitment of Having a Foster Dog
When talking to your family about fostering a dog and when considering fostering yourself, know the kind of commitment you are signing up for. Sometimes foster dogs pass through the home of their foster in no time at all and sometimes they stick around for years. There is no telling which fosters will have which outcome, and as a foster parent, you have to be prepared for either one.
If you are interested in only providing short-term foster services, this is something that many rescue organizations make use of; for example, when foster families leave town for vacation. Talk to local organizations and see if this is something that they are in need of and if so, let them know that while you cannot commit to full-time fostering, you would be happy to provide short-term services. To find out more about short-term fostering take a look at Dogster’s article about being a short-term dog foster.
Animal fostering also means committing to providing for your the dog during the entire time that they live with you. This includes treating your foster dog like one of the family, working with them to be a “better dog” and committing time to adoption events whenever possible because you will be the best judge of your foster dog’s character.
Research Local Rescues and Animal Shelters
Many local rescue organizations and animal shelters use the services of foster families to keep their adoptable dogs in good health and ensure that they are well adjusted to home life. You get to decide which of these rescues or shelters you are going to work with.
We always recommend working with organizations that you have worked with or adopted from before, but most importantly, work with an organization that you trust.
The rescue or shelter that you choose is also going to influence what is expected of you as a foster parent, so when you research organizations, be sure to find out what your responsibilities will be as a foster and what expenses the rescue will cover. Also, find out what resources will be made available to you during the fostering process and if assistance will be made available if needed.
For example, who will take your foster to the vet? Who will be paying for monthly food or any health expenses? What types of things are you expected to work on with your foster to prepare them for adoption? What happens if you “foster fail”?
This is an important part of fostering and it will take some time to gather all of the information you need to make an informed decision, but it’s better to be well informed than to jump in with both feet and start drowning.
What Type of Foster Dog Would Be Right for Your Lifestyle
What type of dog are you interested in and able to foster? Are you willing to take in newborn puppies who need bottle feeding, or do you prefer adults or seniors? Each age group comes with their own challenges and you need to be ready to tackle those challenges head-on.
For example, puppies tend to move through foster homes quickly and they get adopted faster, but they require much more attention than seniors. Senior dogs, however, although fairly laid back and less high-maintenance, may stay in your care for an extended foster period, sometimes even years, because they're less likely to be adopted.
You should also determine what breed or mixed breeds of dog you feel you can properly and legally take care of while fostering. For example, do you have a lot of experience with one breed of dog? Or does your housing community forbid certain breeds of dog from living there? Are there rules governing how large a dog may be in your community?
Types of Situations You Are Capable of Working With
When foster dogs come into the rescue, they’re not usually finely polished, meaning that they could use a little work on their manners, housetraining, obedience, and the like. The extent of work a foster dog may need from you is something you need to be able to provide so let your foster organization know what you are comfortable working with and what you feel is more than you can manage.
For example, if you have experience with anxious dogs, you may feel comfortable working on confidence with an anxious foster. You may not, however, feel comfortable working with a dog who has food aggression.
Apply to Become a Foster Dog Parent
When you have the answers to the questions above and you have selected a rescue organization or shelter that you would like to work with, fill in your foster application.
There's a number of questions you'll be asked, and foster application questions vary by organization, but you should be prepared to provide information about your home life, your activity levels, your experience with dogs, the structure of your home, and your views on correcting problem behaviors.
You may also be asked to provide character references, veterinary references, and allow the rescue organization to conduct a home visit. These are all normal parts of the fostering process.
Requirements from the Rescue Organization
After your application has been received and your home visit completed, the rescue may request certain things from you before they can approve you to foster for their organization.
For example, they may require that you fix a hole in the fence in your backyard or they may even request that you attend a first aid and CPR course. Be prepared for this type of thing and know that rescue organizations are picky about their fosters and adopters because they want to provide stability for their dogs.
If your application for fostering is declined and you don’t understand why, it’s okay to politely inquire as to why. Do not, however, get upset or go on a hateful tirade because you didn’t get what you wanted. A rescue organizations job is always to do what is best for their dogs and if you’re not a good fit, then you’re just not a good fit. That doesn’t mean you won’t be in the future, though.
Be Prepared to Bring Your Foster Dog Home
When you are preparing to bring your foster dog home, there are a few things to consider.
- Where will the dog sleep?
- If your foster is straight from the shelter, they will need to be kept separated from other family dogs until they can be checked fully by the vet because of the risk of spreading illness. Do you have a pet gate or crate to do this, or do you need to buy or borrow one?
- Make sure that your home is “puppy-proofed” so that your foster cannot get into trouble or hurt themselves.
- Know how to properly introduce a foster to your household dogs and never ever leave household dogs and new fosters unattended together.
- Establish ground rules and make sure that everyone in the home knows them; these will help to keep responsibilities and structure in your foster’s new life and that will make the transition much smoother.
- Have a vet appointment set up (usually through the rescue organization) as soon as possible to have your foster fully checked over if they haven’t been already.
A great resource for first time dog foster parents is the free online Best Friends Care Manual on fostering dogs.
Keep Rescue Contacts on Hand
Make sure that you have an accessible list of rescue contacts available (I recommend putting it on the fridge). Include the contact number for your main source of contact at the rescue, the rescue’s veterinarian, and any recommended trainers or fellow fosters that the rescue puts you in touch with to help smooth the transition of your foster pet.
You will likely call on a few of these contacts during your first few weeks with your first foster; not because you have a “terrible foster” but because the first few days of fostering are overwhelming. Your rescue contacts will understand this and help you through the process. Don’t be afraid to lean on them when you need to and you will soon adjust to being a foster parent.
Provide the “Basics” for the Foster Dog
When researching your foster organizations before your applications you should have found out who will be providing what for your pup. For example, will the rescue be paying vet bills directly? Will a rescue staff member pick up your foster and take them to vet appointments or is that your responsibility?
See this list here on the basics a new puppy will need.
As your dog’s foster, you are their guardian and it’s up to you to ensure that they receive necessary vet care, good food, preventative medications, any medically necessary medications, have shelter, have clean water, and most of all, receive love and nurturing so that they can grow into a healthy dog.
Help Your Foster Dog to Adjust to Living in a Home
Depending on where your foster came from (were they an owner surrender or have they been in the shelter for years?) they will have varied levels of knowledge when it comes to living inside a home.
Whatever your dog needs to adjust to life indoors and as part of a family, it’s your responsibility to help that to happen. For example, you may need to remind an older dog who has been in the shelter for years that they need to potty outside.
Work with Your Foster to Make them More Adoptable
One of the most difficult parts of fostering (aside from letting go) is working on that dog's problem behaviors. Most of the time a rescue will be aware of problems and fill you in on them before you agree to take the foster, but sometimes new issues crop up that no one was aware of until your foster came to live with you.
You must be prepared to work on canine problems or seek out someone who can help you to do so. For example, you may know that a dog is anxious when they come to your home, but you may not know that they have a problem with barking at everything they see. You will need to work on this problem behavior through training methods or with a canine behaviorist because this is unhealthy and could be a detriment to your foster’s adoptability.
Attend Adoption Events with Your Foster Dog
Different rescue organizations have different setups for adoption events. Some organizations will invite you to appear at adoption events because you will have become a point of safety and comfort for your foster dog. You will also be the best person to answer specific questions about your foster and to screen potential adopters.
You can find a list of these events on PetcoFoundation site here.
If you are unable to make an event, a rescue may arrange for one of their other volunteers to pick up your foster for the event. However, it’s always beneficial to attend these adoption events whenever you can because they allow your dog more space to relax and show off their best qualities.
Place Your Foster with the Right Forever Family
As a foster dog parent, your goal is to help your foster animal to find their happily ever after. While rescue organizations will always have the main say in whether an adopter sounds like the right fit for one of their dogs, they will regularly consult foster parents because they have a better idea of a dog’s personality in their day to day life.
What you must do, however, is take part in one-on-one appointments where potential adopters meet up with you and your foster to see how well they “click”. During this time, you will need to pay attention to the interaction taking place between your foster and their potential new family. You will also have to answer questions that the potential adopters may have about your foster.
Don’t worry, these meetings don’t just happen out of the blue. Your rescue organization will set up times and dates that work for you so that you can be present to help with the application review and interview process.
“But I Couldn’t Let Go…”
Many people say that they couldn’t dream of fostering a dog because letting go of that dog when they find a new home would be too painful. There is no denying that it’s sad to see your fosters head out of the door to their new family home, but there is far more joy than sadness.
After you've been fostering a pet, you get to know that you saved a life, you gave someone the gift of a companion who was well-suited to them, you gave your foster dog time to rebuild their fragile self in safety so that they could live life as a dog. A happy, well-adjusted dog – all because of you.