Interested in fostering a dog in your area? Find out if fostering is for you and how to make your new dog feel at home.
Pets are a beloved part of many families. In fact, a whopping 67% of Americans owns a pet. That is approximately 85 million families with at least one pet in their household! The pet industry is one of the most booming, with $103.6 billion spent on pets in the U.S. alone in 2020.
It’s clear that people love the pets they own, but what about ones they don’t? This is the concept of fostering. People acquire their dogs in a number of ways: adoption, purchasing from a breeder, purchasing from a pet store, finding a stray, etc. When it comes to adoption, there are even more ways. Some people adopt from a brick and mortar shelter, some adopt from a foster based rescue, where there is no physical address and all dogs are fostered by volunteers.
There’s quite a few reasons why foster-based rescues are becoming more common. It helps cut down on costs of operating a building (air conditioning, cleaning, rental space or property cost, taxes, etc.) and provides more money for the care of dogs (vet bills, food, toys, enrichment, etc.). But the issue with foster based rescues is they need fosters willing to take a dog in.
Planning to Foster a Dog?
There are many benefits to fostering a dog:
You’re saving a dog’s life
You prepare a dog for their forever home
Adopters get to see a dog’s true personality in a home
You learn a lot about yourself from fostering
You watch a dog grow and blossom into their true self
You increase their chances of getting adopted
You free up a shelter space for a different dog
You acquire a new best friend
How to Know if Fostering is Right for You
Fostering is quite different from adoption, that's why it takes courage and dedication to foster a dog. You don’t know much about the dog when they come to you, that’s for you to find out. You’ll have to make sure every human in your house is on-board and understands the fostering process.
Consider the other pets in your home. Are they friendly to new dogs? Are they a bit dominant or have any behavior issues? Are you going to get attached and have a hard time saying goodbye?
Ask yourself a few questions to see if fostering works for you.
Are You Willing to Spend Time Getting to Know a Dog?
You won’t know much about a dog until it stays in your house. That’s your job as a foster parent, to discover what the dog likes, what they’re afraid of, and what they need to learn from you. Are you willing to have the time and patience to do all of this?
Can You be Patient with a Dog who isn’t Trained?
Most dogs enter a shelter as a stray, so not much is known about them. In fact, about twice as many animals enter shelters as strays compared to the number that are relinquished by their owners.
This means not much is known about their behavior or if they are potty-trained, know how to walk on a leash, etc. Are you willing to spend time possibly potty-training, leash training, working through fear or aggression issues?
Do You Have the Right Home Environment to Foster a Dog?
Foster dogs typically thrive in a calmer environment. Some may thrive in a home with another dog to learn from, but some may do best alone. It depends on each dog, and not every foster dog will be a match for you and your home.
But there are a few things you must be sure of if you consider fostering. Are the pets in your home friendly? If you have kids, can they respect a dog’s space as they adjust? Do you have a yard or are you willing to bring your dog outside on a leash when they need to go potty?
Are You Willing to Say Goodbye in the End?
Goodbye is the hardest part. The frustration of accidents inside and hiding under the couch don’t compare to how hard it is to say goodbye to a pup you’ve fallen in love with. Are you willing to say goodbye at the end of the foster period?
A new family is ready to take this pup into its forever home. So it’s bittersweet to send them off, but they’re going to a family that will love them forever! And now you have room for another pup to save. It’s hard, but it's worth it. Check out these testimonials to see for yourself.
How to Get Started with Fostering
If you answered all those questions positively, you may be a great foster! It can be overwhelming finding out where to begin, but we’re here to help with a few simple steps.
1. Choose an Organization and Contact Them
Research rescues in your local area. Petfinder.com is a great tool, as well as Google, to find shelters or rescues near you. Some smaller rescues do not have websites and only have social media, so be sure to check those out as well, especially if you’re looking for a foster based rescue.
Reach out to their foster coordinator and search their site for foster information to see how to begin the process. It’s okay to reach out to a few until you find your perfect fit! Shelters appreciate fosters greatly, so find one you’re passionate about.
2. Decide What Type of Dogs Fit Your Lifestyle
All dogs are unique, but you should have a general idea of the type of dogs you’d be willing to foster. You won’t always get a dream dog, but you should at least know the general age or size you’d want to foster. If you have an apartment, a smaller, older dog may be your best fit. If you’re home a lot, a dog with separation anxiety or medical needs could be a perfect match. If you’re always outside, an older dog who needs less monitoring may work out best.
If you want dogs who are very playful, you may want to consider younger dogs or puppies to foster. If the pets in your household are older, older fosters may work out best. It’s all about keeping peace and balance in the household, so consider these factors and be sure to seek out dogs that fit your lifestyle.
3. Decide What You are Willing to Work on with Dogs
Good old potty training, absolutely no one misses it, but it is something you might have to do while fostering. Be sure to communicate with the rescue what you have experience in and what you are willing to teach. You’ll of course have to teach manners like not begging, tricks, sit, stay, etc.
Are you willing to work with fear aggression? Are you willing to work with leash walking or resource guarding? These are things the shelter may be able to find out about the dog beforehand and ensure you’re comfortable with the dog you’re fostering.
It’s okay to have boundaries! If you have small children and are nervous about resource guarding, mention that. There’s plenty of dogs that need fostered, so just because one isn’t a fit doesn't mean hundreds of others aren’t!
4. Prepare Your Home
Puppy. Proof. Everything. Even if you’re fostering a five year old dog, put up anything you wouldn’t want possibly destroyed. Invest in baby gates to section off areas of your home. Ensure the pup has a safe place to sleep in and get away from the groove of a home they may not be used to.
Talk to all family members and teach them how to respect the new dog’s space. If you have a fence, check for holes or any possible escape points. Some dogs get nervous in new environments and may try to escape or hide, so it’s a good idea to keep them on a leash when going outside to go potty so they don't run away.
5. Go through Training
Each rescue is different, but many provide training for not only their fosters, but also the dogs. You will have an orientation at your rescue where they discuss fostering and their requirements. Most rescues provide everything you will need to foster and cover the costs of food, supplies, etc.
Once you’re trained, they may even offer training resources to help you train your foster dog. This way, they’re the best dog possible when they go to their new home and you don’t feel too much pressure on yourself!
What to Expect When Fostering
Fostering isn't all sunshine and rainbows. You can expect some accidents in the house, or a few chewed slippers. Your new foster pup may not be crate trained and may whine through the night for a while, or even hide from you when you go to pet them. This is all normal. No dog is 100% comfortable right away. They have past traumas and experiences we don’t know about, so be prepared and most importantly, be understanding.
It will be a lot of repetitive training and encouragement, but it’s all worth it when you get the first tail wag or slobbery kiss. Expect your pup to slowly trust you. Even with the most gentle words and loving hands, it can take a dog a while to come out of their shell.
A general rescue rule is the 3-3-3 rule. In 3 days, your dog will start to settle in your home. In 3 weeks, they will become more comfortable and confident. In 3 months, your dog is generally fully settled and comfortable and is the dog they will continue to be in your home.
What to do When You Bring Home Your Foster
Once your foster arrives, there’s a few things you must do to ensure a smooth stay.
Let Them Decompress
It is normal to want to cuddle your foster and pamper them with love and kisses and treats, but it’s not always the best choice. It’s better to let your foster explore their new environment on their own. That way, they can adjust at their own pace without feeling forced.
Allow them to sniff and be curious. If they want to hide, that's okay. The first 24 hours in a new home are often scary and overwhelming for a rescue. Give them their space and just let them know you’re there if they need you.
Give Them a Bath
Once they’re fairly comfortable, it’s time to for a bath! Some dogs come straight off the streets, or have traveled for hours in a car, so they could all use a good scrub down. Some may be matted or tangled as well.
Be gentle and careful during this process. Some dogs may be skittish with hands near their face or untrusting of human touch. Reassure them and provide gentle, soothing words. This is their chance to wash off the past and become a brand new dog!
Get to Know Them
Talk to your foster pup. We all do it with our pets. Watch them and see what they like, what they don’t like, what commands they seem to know, what toys they like, what food they like, everything! Imagine you’re a reporter and your foster pup is the story you’re covering.
For example, they love chicken, hate beef. They seem to understand sit and shake, but are wary of men. They love kids and are afraid of the household cat. These are all good things to note. Once you’re aware of who they are, you can help them overcome obstacles, their fears, and help them become better.
Write Up Their Bio
Once you know your pup, it’s time to let the rescue and potential adopters know them too. Did you ever make a dating profile? Basically, write one for your foster pup. The more fun, the better! You want them to stand out after all.
It’s important to be honest as well. If you’ve noticed your dog doesn’t walk well on a leash, or doesn’t seem to like the household cat, it’s okay to say that! The last thing you want to do is lie and get the dog returned. Be honest, but make their downfalls into opportunities.
Give them a voice! Here’s an example for a German Shepherd who loves kids, but doesn’t seem to be a fan of other dogs and has a problem with tugging on the leash.
“Hey, it’s me, George! I’ve been hanging out with my foster mama and loving life. My favorite toy is a stick. Not the expensive ropes or balls, just a good ole stick. Could you throw a stick for me forever? That’d be great. I am so excited to go places that I just can’t wait, so I may pull you a bit on a leash, but it’s just because I LOVE life that much! Oh, I also want to be your only friend. You can pet the neighborhood cat, that’s fine, but maybe don’t bring any other dogs home. I’m plenty enough!”
Check out these tips on how to write the best adoption bio ever!
When Your Foster Dog Gets Adopted Out
Once a forever family is found for your foster pup, it’s time to say goodbye. You’ve done your job! You’ve prepared your dog for their new home and your hard work paid off. You taught the dog how to live in a home and be a part of a family. Goodbye isn’t easy, but in this case, it is a celebration of their new life.
But it’s common to form a bond with your fosters. It’s natural to miss them and want updates on them. Sometimes, rescues allow you to exchange contact information and follow up the pup’s new life!
The Reward of Fostering
When you foster, you have the privilege of knowing you saved two dog’s lives: the one you fostered and the one that the rescue was now able to take in because of you. You also learn a lot about yourself, like how patient you can be, how determined you are, how dedicated you can become, and more. It brings your family closer together, caring for an animal that needs your help teaches you compassion and deeper understanding.
The rewards for fostering are bittersweet. You form a lifelong bond, though you don’t get to keep the dog forever, but the lessons you have learned and the memories you shared will be the best.
Our Final Thoughts
So now you know what to expect before fostering a dog! Trust us, it’s full of surprises and no self help guide could ever prepare you for what you will go through but this is a good start. It will help you determine if you could become a potential foster parent for a dog in need!
Frequently Asked Questions:
How Do I Know if Fostering is Right for Me?
Be sure to answer the questions we mentioned above to see if fostering is a good fit for you. Ask yourself how often you’re home, what you’re willing to teach a dog, is your house appropriate for a foster dog, etc.
How Do I get Started with Fostering?
Start by reaching out to your local rescues to see what the needs are for fosters and what the requirements are. Be sure to ask plenty of questions and describe your household situation to see if you’re a good fit.
What Do I Need to Start Fostering?
This varies for each rescue, but really you need a living space and room in your heart! Most rescues provide all the supplies you’ll need for your foster pup. Some rescues require home ownership, but not all.