Adopting a new pet is an exciting and rewarding experience. When adopting from a shelter, you may think you know your new friend before he or she is coming home with you, but often times pets from the shelter don’t show their true personality for a few days or weeks after arriving home.
Why Should You Adopt a Dog that was Fostered?
Foster parents in adoption groups play a very important role in helping get to know the personality, quirks, likes, and dislikes of a pet before he or she moves into her new forever home. They often times work on basic training, house training, and leash training to make the transition into their new home more smooth.
If you adopt a new dog or cat that has been previously fostered, there is a benefit in knowing ahead what type of personality your new friend has. This reduces the risk that your new family member might have issues settling into your home and reduces stress for everyone.
Not every dog is great with kids or with other dogs, not all dogs want to cuddle with their kitties. Some puppies are absolute SHARKS !Archie! who will eventually grow out of the behavior, but may need some help refocusing that energy.
Knowing this ahead of time can help increase the chances of success, joy, and a long life in the pet’s new home.
Why Should You Foster a Shelter Dog? (Giving back)
Over the last few decades, the number of dogs that have been euthanized in shelters has dramatically decreased, thanks to no kill shelters and animal advocacy groups across the nation. However, there is still a growing burden on shelters, as high numbers of dogs are dropped off every year.
Not every dog shows up nicely in front of a potential family. They may show up overly energetic or reactive to the stress in the kennel and may not show their true personality until they are in the home for days or a few weeks.
This is where fostering comes in. All across the country, people are stepping up and bringing these dogs into their homes. Unlike adoption, fostering is not a long-term commitment. It's a temporary solution that is very rewarding for both the pet and the human.
Let's take a look at some of the reasons why you might consider fostering a shelter dog, and then we'll discuss some ways to take on this endeavor successfully.
- Free up Space in Shelters - An estimated 3.3 million dogs arrive at an animal shelter or adoption group annually in the United States. No-kill shelters are limited in how many dogs they can take in and often take overflow from the local kill shelters to try to help. Fostering a dog puts that dog in your home and makes space for one more in the shelter, getting necessary care and hopefully finding a home soon.
- Get to know the dog’s personality - preventing “bounces” - a bounce happens when a family brings a dog home but it turns out that dog isn’t a great match for their lifestyle. Maybe they are retired and wanted a new friend to bring on retirement adventures, but their new “Good Boy” gets carsick. Totally not his fault and a foster parent could help them avoid that sweet pup and pick one who loves an adventure.
- Help the dog build social skills - maybe your foster pup is unsure how to behave with other dogs or with a variety of humans. You can work on social skills together with walks and trips to adoption events.
- Know if the dog is right for your family - potentially known as a “Foster Fail”. Maybe you aren’t sure if you are up for the full lifetime responsibility of bringing a new dog home so you would like to give it a try. One of our local shelters in Charlotte, NC calls it a “staycation”, picking a dog up to keep for a weekend for a period of time to get to know him or her.
Fostering a Dog Is Easier Than You Think
Fostering a dog may seem challenging at first, especially if you are new to the whole thing. It can be a learning experience as you become familiar with caring for abandoned animals. However, fostering animals is not as hard as you may think.
Responsibilities may include reporting to the shelter, taking the pup to the vet for checkups or procedures, and working on basic manners or going to obedience training classes. You may be asked to write a bio and take photographs of the new dog once he or she is more relaxed and ready to pose for the camera.
The required time and commitment can vary. The adoption group may start you with an "easier" pet who fits your lifestyle and time commitment. You may be able to commit to just a weekend at first or just a few days. Contact a group in your area to see what programs are available.
Tips: How to Foster a Dog Successfully
Fostering a dog may seem daunting, but with a few tips and some preparation, you can enjoy the experience and make a big difference in the life of a shelter dog (or many shelter dogs!). Let's talk about some things that should be considered beforehand.
Collect the Gear You Need
As you bring your temporary friend home, it is extremely important to be prepared with all the necessary gear and supplies. This will make the transition smooth and comfortable for the dog. Things to have on hand include:
• Food and Water Dishes (appropriate heights)
• Nutritious Food (appropriate age, activity, or prescription food if the shelter tells you the dog needs a special diet)
• Size-Appropriate Crate
• Comfortable Bed/Mat
• Baby Gates
• Quality Collar and Leash
• No-Pull Harness
• Lots and Lots of Treats! (Treats that you can crumble or break up into tiny pieces are great for crate training, loose leash walking, and all types of training activities.)
Establish a Routine and Boundaries from the beginning
Routines help dogs get settled in a human home. They can feel confident and at ease when they enter a new environment. A routine determines when a dog does something and for how long. For example, mornings could consist of breakfast and a short walk and you could take a longer walk in the evenings.
However, every dog is different. If your dog shows signs of separation anxiety, it may be better to make the morning walk a longer, more enriching walk and leave them with a nice safe long-form treat (stuff toys, etc, make sure they are safe and the correct size for the dog). It is crucial to figure out a schedule that works for you and your new companion. Maybe your temporary friend needs a few good rounds of “fetch” before bed to settle down for a good sleep.
Use boundaries to help your dog become well adjusted to home life once again (or in some dogs' cases, for the first time), and determine house rules before bringing him/her from the shelter. Tasks like potty training should start on day one. You may decide to keep your dog on leash tethered to you while meeting other humans or animals in the home, just make sure you don't put any extra tension on the leash, as that could communicate anxiety.
Even if a dog is older, assume they do not have house training, and they may have nervous accidents at first. Begin potty training with positive reinforcement every hour on the first day.
Some other good boundary examples might be:
- If the kitchen or any other room is to be off limits, put up a baby gate and keep it there.
- Teach wait, sit, and stay early by watching your new friend for normal behavior and rewarding/naming it.
- If there is furniture you don't want them on, be consistent with "off", and praise them enthusiastically when they choose their own special and acceptable spot (don't forget to give lots of yummy treats too!).
- If the dog was a jumper, consistantly make them sit before giving them any attention.
- If begging for food is not appreciated, never feed the dog from your plate.
- If crating is recommended by your adoption group, there are great videos available teaching crate training.
Slowly Introduce the Dog to Others
Gathering important supplies will help you with the foster dog's arrival. Another way to prepare for the first week is to start slowly. When you bring the pet home, gradually introduce them to others. Meeting a lot of people or animals too soon may stress the dog. A careful introduction to children is needed to help build trust.
Patience is key during the beginning of the foster period, especially during the first day. You and the dog are still getting used to such a significant change. The pet may be wary of others or have way too much energy. You might not know how they react to various items around the house.
Therefore, you will need to be patient as you accommodate their needs. Training can take a while, but the dog will get used to things quickly. The canine-human relationship is an amazing and rewarding phenomenon.
Learn to recognize the specific abilities and talents of the individual dog, and encourage the skills that come with their breed. Don't expect a scenthound to be an agility star, but they may enjoy playing hide-and-seek, or fetch! Of course, retrievers and retriever mixes also instinctively love fetch, and are generally intelligent and willing to learn. Shepherds and collies have a loyal nature, and excel in obedience exercises.
Some dogs such as sighthounts and terriers have strong genetically-ingrained prey drive. They should be closely supervised around other small pets, but they love to run and chase balls and toys (in a securely fenced yard)!
Whatever breed or mix you are fostering, there is sure to be an activity or game that can enrich your time together and teach them to bond in a healthy trusting friendship.
Foster a Dog Today and enjoy the experience!
Looks like you're ready to move forward! You can contact your local shelter and inquire about how to proceed in the process. Shelters may want to interview you, and confirm that your home is a suitable place to foster a dog. If all goes well, you will establish a good relationship with the facility, and the door may open up for you to foster multiple dogs as time goes on.
If you have any other questions, feel free to contact us! We hope that you will come to love these furry friends as much as we do, and there are plenty of them to love!