How to Foster a Dog: From First Contact to Final Farewell

In Fostering by Tessie Sloan

Do you have what it takes to give foster care?

We’re going to talk today about how to become a foster care provider to a dog in need.

Do you want to know how to foster a dog? It takes

  • patience,
  • perseverance,
  • and a special love for animals who have never had that kind of attention.

Here’s a little background

We’ve been fortunate. Because of my job at a nearby veterinary clinic, I spend a lot of time with foster care organizations.

And one of the people I deal with often is a young woman who decided a few years ago to start a group that places dogs and cats who have been abandoned.

A lot of them have been kept outside all their lives, And a lot of them have just been on the run for a long time

They need equal amounts of love and attention. And sometimes they also need a place in which to recover from either physical abuse or some bad accident that has left them in need of medical attention.

For example

We’ve been fostering a really sweet little puppy who was hit by a car. Her leg and hip are in a cast. And on top of that, she is deaf. And probably has been since she was born.

Her name is Reeses. You know, like the candy? Because she’s black like dark chocolate and brown like peanut butter.

Since she has medical problems, she’s less likely to be adopted. Even though her leg and hip will be okay soon. But she’ll never be able to hear normally.

Ninety-five percent of the people who are looking for a rescue puppy don’t want one with issues, or any kind of problems. They’re looking for the perfect puppy.

And Reeses, I’m sorry to say, is far from perfect. And never will be.

Rescue dogs are unique

When our other dogs bark, she gets a puzzled look on her little face and then barks too. But she has no idea why she’s barking. And when the others stop, she doesn’t.

Because she can’t hear them.

It’s a little funny, and a little sad — and occasionally annoying, But you have to overlook those reactions and just love them for who they are.

They’re not flawed. They are unique

How do I become a foster care provider?

You start by picking out a foster care organization, preferably near your home.

Take time to meet with different agencies. Google them first and make sure they seem legitimate. Because I’m sorry to say some are not.

If they don’t seem to be what they should be, push for answers — because you don’t want to be caught in a situation where you end up fostering multiple pets and all of a sudden get them permanently when that foster group goes away..

It happens.

Sooner rather than later, though, you’ll find an organization that is a good fit for you. Meet the other volunteers, see what their reviews are, Look them up on Facebook and other social media platforms.

Once you find the organization that you want to foster with…

They will want to know more about you.

They will more than likely come and do a home inspection. Make sure that you have an adequate fence.

Most of them require a six foot or taller fence, and they will also require that the pet have a designated area that’s just for them, whether it be a kennel or a room.

In addition, most foster groups will provide you — or should provide you — with food, medical care, and sometimes even toys, chews and blankets.

The organization that we work with provides all of that, and then will even ask if there is anything extra that you or your pet needs, or that you would like for them to have, whether it be a new toy or a certain treat that they like.

They’ll actually work with you to try to get whatever you want or need.

What’s it like, being a foster dog provider?

So fostering animals is a lot like fostering kids.

When you first bring them home, nine times out of 10, the idea is that they are going to go on to another home.

And that you’re just a temporary place to provide them the love and affection and guidance that they’ve not had before.

But there are other times where you become very attached to your foster and want them to make a permanent home with you.

This is called a foster fail. And I don’t know where they get that term, because it sounds like something you would say when things don’t work out.

However, it’s just the opposite. It’s actually a happy time, in which you provide your foster with his or her forever home.

Most of the time, though, that’s not really your role.

Beware: attachment dangers ahead

You will get attached to your foster dog, and that’s a good thing.

You just have to remember that at some point, most of the time, they will be going somewhere else. And that is your role as a foster parent — to prepare them for that next step.

Every one of our resident dogs — all four of them — is pretty much a rescue. And, in fact, the person that we foster with was responsible for placing three out of the four with us.

It’s how we got into fostering. We don’t have kids of our own, so it was actually a perfect fit.

But here’s a word of caution

You have to understand that the foster that you’re getting may not be the cute little puppy you might have picked out for yourself. You may get one that is needing some serious medical attention.

Or, you may get one that has some emotional issues.

Ever hear of a dog on Prozac? One of ours is.

You are their caregiver in every sense of the word — physical, mental and emotional.

And you are there to help them transition from a former life of uncertainty, neglect and outright abuse to one of stability and love.

And when you get a new foster, it’s kind of like that line from Forrest Gump.

“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”

For example…

One of ours — Yeti — was actually born with five legs, and she was then thrown from a moving vehicle, and abandoned.

She had everything going against her.

A broken toe. Abandoned. And she had five legs.

And that wasn’t all.

As we’ve gotten older with her, we’ve come to the realization she has some personality issues and some anxiety issues that we had to tend to.

If we hadn’t been prepared for that, it could have had a huge effect on us, and a huge effect on her as far as her being able to thrive in a permanent home.

What to expect upon first arrival

When you bring your foster dog home, whether you have other pets or not, remember that this is totally new and foreign to them.

Some might take to it and be perfectly fine. Others will take some time.

Some might enjoy just staying in their kennel or in their designated area. Some might be frightened of any new sounds. Or anything else that might upset them.

Normally, within a week or so. things will get easier.

And, it may get to be a little much even for you…

If you’re new at being a foster parent, things may become overwhelming. That’s okay. Tell the foster group. They’re there for you.

Don’t keep yourself in a situation where it’s not going to work. It’s gotta be fair to yourself and to the foster dog and to other pets that are in the household.

You don’t want this to be a stressful situation.

Just take it slow and easy.

We’ll usually introduce a new foster on neutral ground. So, that means letting them be outside before being inside, or in the living room with just us and them — none of our other dogs.

Then we’ll let our dogs in one at a time or even as a group — if the new puppy is in a play pen.

We’ll let them come in and sniff each other, sniff the new puppy and kinda let the new wear off a little bit.

And then we’ll normally put all our kids up and then introduce them on a one to one basis, one at a time.

Medical fosters require special care

We have had many foster puppies that are medical fosters. And in those cases, we couldn’t introduce them to our crew — our pack — until the medical intervention was over.

But in the meantime, it was important to let our crew know that, yes, there was another animal in their house by letting them sniff the newcomer.

Usually that did the trick, as far as making them comfortable with the situation.

Don’t forget who was here first

Remember — if you have existing pets in the home, make sure that you don’t neglect them.

Of course, any new pet that comes into the house, especially if it has medical needs is going to take up your time.

Just make sure that you do try to spend some extra time when available with your existing pets because you know you can’t just tell them what’s going on, they’re not going to understand always why they’re getting less attention.

And some dogs may not care. But some might become a little more clingy at that point. So just try to be assuring to them because they do have feelings, even though there’s people who say they won’t.

They definitely do have feelings and they can get their feelings hurt. They can even hold grudges. All of ours can, and we’ve had to work at it over the years to make them not feel excluded.

Making introductions

If you’re just slow and easy with introducing them, they usually get along just fine.

And just keep good supervision, especially, you know, going outside for bathroom breaks or when they’re playing inside the house, just watch them, and be mindful of the new one coming in.

Make sure that your pack doesn’t pick on them, and vice versa.

Correcting any bad behavior right when it happens is big, and that way they learn that you’re going to be the alpha and you’re going to be the one in charge. And if you do that, they’ll start following your lead.

Our dogs are our kids

We’re lucky in that we don’t have children in our home. So, our dogs are our children.

We call them the four legged kids. And because of that, we’re able to take on a fifth dog, and give them that attention.

And because of the place that I work I’m able to take them in with me if I have a medical need, and get them taken care of and still be able to watch them throughout the day.

Final thoughts on how to foster a dog

Think of all kinds of good behaviors that you can teach them while while they’re with you, because you are their teacher.

it’s just little steps — but little victories are still victories.

After all, fostering is just about time and patience.

You’l find that occasionally, a situation will arise that with your first foster might have been, like, oh man, I got to call the vet! By your third or fourth one you just say, oh it’s gonna be okay.

But that’s how you learn. And that will just make you a better foster parent, the longer you do it.

It is incredibly rewarding to know that you have played a small part in that animal’s life — of them moving from something tragic to a wonderful life in their forever home.

And that’s something special.


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For more on how to foster a dog, check out this link.