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How to help your foster dog feel like family

The opportunity to foster a dog is a very rewarding experience, as you are helping a previously homeless pup find its forever family. However, becoming a foster dog parent is not something to enter into lightly. It can sometimes be very difficult and come with major consequences. More often than not, the reward outweighs the challenges. This guide is designed to outline some factors to consider before becoming a dog foster parent, as well as ease the transition of accepting a rescue dog into your home.

Reasons to foster

Often, fostering is just one extra step that a shelter dog needs before finding its forever home. In some cases they may be dogs that are more difficult for shelters to re-home and they just need a little extra time and love. Regardless, fostering a dog and helping it find a home can be a very fulfilling experience. Not to mention, fostering frees up space in shelters and reduces the number of dogs that are euthanized due to overcrowding and behaviour problems.

What types of dogs need fostering

The dogs that go through the foster system can vary and it is important to consider which will be the most adaptable into your home. Types of dogs that need fostering may include:

  • Dogs from overcrowded shelters
  • Puppies that are too young for adoption
  • Dam and litter of newborns
  • Senior dogs 
  • Injured dogs or dogs recovering from surgery
  • Neglected or abused dogs
  • Dogs that are overly stressed in a shelter
  • Dogs with special medical needs
  • Dogs that require extra patience and socialization

Some things to consider before fostering

There are exceptions to every situation and scenario. These are just some of the things that are helpful to consider before committing to fostering a dog.

This first and probably more important point, is to enter fostering with the rationale that this will most likely be a difficult and emotional process. Many foster dogs typically come with more trauma than the ones up for adoption in the shelter. Foster dogs are usually placed in a foster home in order to transition into an adoptable pet. As a result, foster parents often end up having to deal with the struggles that come with the previous mental and physical trauma that the dog has endured. Helping a dog through these hurdles is ultimately a rewarding experience but new foster parents should also be prepared for some difficult days.

Border Collie hanging out on couch

Consider your other pets if you have any. It is important to consider your own pet’s needs first. If you already have a dog that’s nervous or shy of other dogs, it is probably not a good idea to foster. This will put stress on your dog, which may cause potential health problems and dog fights. If you have a cat or small mammal, it also may not be the best idea to bring in a foster. Flighty animals like cats and rodents can trigger a predator response in dogs. This could cause the foster hurt or kill your pet as a result of a hunting or prey response.

Children may be an obstacle when accepting a new foster into your home. Many times fosters will be scared of people, a concept which kids may not understand. This could potentially be a dangerous situation for children as it increases their chances of getting bit. Conversely, if a foster is a young, energetic dog they may knock down small children and potentially cause injury. Foster dogs are usually best with older children who have experience with dogs and can recognize canine behavior.  

Previous experience with training is a huge asset when fostering a dog. Most shelter dogs will have little or no previous training. It is important to be patient with them, especially since some foster dog behaviours may be more difficult to break than teaching a new puppy basic manners.

Another important aspect to consider is if you have a stable home life and income yourself. Sometimes, shelters will help pay for food and veterinary expenses but it is important to accept that some of your household items may get damaged. Whether out of fear, anxiety or lack of previous training, foster dogs may damage some of your things around the house. Chances are you will have to replace some of your belongings and repair damage around the house. Furthermore, to ensure that incidents like this don’t happen, you should consider how much time you have to spend with the foster. It takes a considerable amount of time and energy to nurture a foster and success will likely be hindered without proper attention and exercise. 

American Pitbull cuddling with a Heterochromia iridis canine

Be prepared for a difficult goodbye. Over the time you will have spent teaching and nurturing your foster, you will have grown a bond with the dog. As they get adopted out into their new home, it will be a bittersweet experience. This difficulty in saying goodbye is why many foster parents end up adopting the dogs themselves. 

Help ease the transition

Before the foster even enters your home, it’s a good idea to have everything ready and set up for them. This can include things like food, a bed, toys, etc. It would also be a good idea to stow away any potential hazards or fragile items, similar to puppy proofing your house. Investing in a dog crate may also be useful as it provides the foster with a safe place to escape when they get stressed, kind of like having their own room. 

In the case of food, consider dog food delivery. This will ensure that you do not have to worry about consistently purchasing dog chow, as it regularly will arrive at your doorstep. These types of services are especially useful during the current COVID isolation order.

American Staffordshire Terrier receiving pets from canine owner

How to get started as a foster

Once you’ve done your research on the commitment and responsibilities of having a foster dog, a good first step is to head over to your local shelter or their website. The SPCA and Petfinder are also useful resources when looking for a shelter that needs people interested in fostering. Shelters that are looking for fosters will usually advertise on their websites or a phone call to your local shelter will help guide you through the next steps to becoming a foster. Shelters may require some background information from you in order to place you with the most suitable dog. 

Overall, fostering can be tough but once you’ve adjusted it can be addicting, with a new foster always in your care!

Emma Kenney quote illustration by Kabo

Happy Shih Tzu male and female owners cuddling together
Happy Shih Tzu male and female owners cuddling together

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February 20, 2024
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