How to Prepare for Fostering a Dog

dog in sweater

If you’re wondering if you’d make a good foster parent, consider all the reasons why fostering an animal helps make the world a tiny bit better, one dog at a time.

Fostering, or providing a temporary home for a dog rescued from a shelter before he or she is adopted, helps the animal adjust to life in a family while freeing up space at the shelter for another homeless dog. The foster period can last from a few days to weeks and sometimes months. It may require you to attend adoption events with your foster dog and do home visits with potential families.

While fostering is unbelievably rewarding, it can be challenging. Understanding the foster process and getting yourself, your family, other pets and your home ready will set you up for success and ensure you have a truly amazing experience.

How Do You Know If You’d Make a Good Foster Parent?

“Foster parents come in all shapes and sizes,” says Sarah Brasky, founder and executive director of Foster Dogs, a nonprofit organization that connects rescue organizations with adopters and fosters.

Related: Move Over Patti Stanger, New York City Has ‘The Dog Matchmaker’

While certain factors may help improve the foster experience, there isn’t a “foster type” that you need to fit. Just like people, dogs have different personalities and lifestyle needs. “It’s all about finding a dog that’s the right fit for your lifestyle,” Brasky says. “Kids, other pets, limited mobility or working long hours — these are all factors that should not be considered barriers to fostering.”

A foster just needs to be able to provide both a safe and a loving environment, as a dog needs support making the transition from shelter to a new life. It’s important to not only be compassionate but also patient, open-minded and welcoming.

Are You Ready to Foster a Dog?

If you are a renter, make sure you are allowed to have dogs in your home. Check your lease for any pet restrictions. “Some building managers are flexible, some have a zero-tolerance policy (one complaint and the dog must go) and some have a no-pets policy altogether,” says Brasky.

Consider your neighbors too, Brasky suggests. “Keep in mind that there might be frustrated neighbors while your foster pup adjusts. You want a building that is reasonable with those types of growing pains.”

When it comes to determining what kind of dogs would be ideal to foster, Foster Dogs suggests asking yourself some questions:

  • What type of dog will work best for me: high energy, low energy, large, small, puppies, seniors or special needs dogs?
  • Is everyone in my household onboard with getting a foster dog?
  • If you live with others, will you be the primary caretaker or will others be able to help?
  • What arrangements (dog walker, pet-gated area, pet sitter) will I need to make when I am work or if I go away?
  • Does my own dog get along with other dogs?
  • Will the organization provide funds for food and veterinary care? If not, do I have the financial means to take care of a foster dog?

How Should You Prepare Your Home for a Foster Dog?

Before bringing a foster dog home, you should get your home ready, according to Foster Dogs. Create a place that will be the foster dog’s safe, comfy place when she needs to retreat and regroup. This space can include a bed, blankets, a crate, a water bowl and toys. It’s a good idea to have a crate that closes, especially if you already have another dog in your home.

You’ll need to dog-proof each room. Similar to puppy-proofing, pick up any sharp objects and choking hazards like paper clips, bottle caps, staples, nails, pins, needles, yarn and rubber bands. Then get down on the floor at a dog’s level, and look again.

Put cleaning products and medications on high shelves or in cabinets with child-proof locks. Consider investing in a dog-proof, locking trash can. Store human food in closed pantries and cabinets.

Cover cords and wires or move them out of reach. Look for and block any small spaces that your foster dog might try to hide in. Either secure or put away any breakable objects that are valuable. Move houseplants out of reach.

Keep washing machines and dryers closed, and block access to the space behind. If you’re getting a small breed or puppy, make sure that the toilet lid is always down. Keep foster dogs out of the garage; there are too many toxic chemicals and tools. 

Related: Yes, You Can Foster a Dog and Have a Full-Time Job

A fenced in yard is ideal, but it must have a secure fence before you let a dog off-leash. Check the perimeter for holes and the bottom of the fence for places a dog can dig or slip under. Remove anything by the fence that a dog can climb up on. Make sure latches and locks on the gate are secure. Finally, don’t leave the dog alone in the backyard. If you can’t supervise, bring the dog inside.

How to Introduce Your Own Dog to a Foster Dog

Before agreeing to bring a foster dog home, take your dog to the shelter or organization for a meet and greet; it’s a neutral place where the dogs can sniff each other out with any personal territory to protect, according to Foster Dogs.

Even if your dog loves other dogs, you can’t predict how the foster dog will act, or how your dog will react to the particular dog you bring home. Even dogs who have never shown any aggression can suddenly attack when faced with a strange animal on their home territory.

To decrease the chance of a conflict, before bringing your foster dog inside your home, walk both dogs on secure leashes outside. Either walk them with one on either side of your, or have someone walk one dog while you walk the other. Let them sniff if they want, but keep a close watch and tight hold on the leash.

If the dogs seem to get along, it’s a good idea to have the dogs sit with space between them, and have them each do some basic commands. If the foster doesn’t know any commands, reward her for calm behavior. This exercise tells your dogs that you are in charge, so they can look to you if they feel anxious or afraid.

If they seem uninterested in each other, that can be a good sign. When you bring them inside, put one dog in a room with a baby gate, like a kitchen, and keep the other dog on the outside. Let them sniff each other through the gate. Do not take off their leashes.

If either of them shows signs of aggression, such as growling, bared teeth, ears flat to the head, lunging or snapping, give both dogs their own space and make sure they can’t get at each other.

Many foster dogs are initially shutdown emotionally, very scared or didn’t come from an ideal situation, which is why a safe space is so important. Keep the dogs separate for a few days. If you see any aggression, block their ability to see each other.

After a day or two, let them see each other, but still keep them separated. If things are calm, you can try letting them sniff through the gate, and reward each one for not reacting.

The next step is to remove the gate. Allow them to interact as long as the behavior is positive. Let them sniff and play but avoid giving them toys at first when they’re together to avoid any resource guarding. When you leave the house, keep the dogs in separate areas. If they continue to fight or be aggressive, get in touch with the foster organization immediately for next steps.

During the foster process, keep in regular contact with the rescue organization with updates, any questions about training, and your insight into finding the perfect family.

When your foster dog finally finds his or her forever home, it’s a great feeling — but it can also be heartbreaking to let the dog go. Just remember, there are so many other dogs waiting for you to save their life.

Related: Clint Eastwood’s Daughter Launches Fostering Network to Save Shelter Dogs

Please note the above is intended to be informative and not professional advice.

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