Caring For A Foster Dog

Opening your home to a foster dog is one of the most noble and compassionate things you could ever do, and for the animal in question, it could mean the difference between life and death.

sad looking dog ready for a new home

Every day thousands of dogs are destroyed all over the world simply because there is no place for them to go. Even if you already have pets, the newcomer will be a welcome temporary addition to the family, and the socialisation skills they learn will help them on the long road to adoption.

There are a few things to bear in mind when fostering an animal, as their needs can be different to those in a permanent home. As long as you have patience, love, and understanding, your temporary resident will bring you endless hours of entertainment and joy, and the satisfaction of seeing them rehomed with a forever family is an indescribable feeling.

Creating a 'safe' place

Most dogs that are in need of foster homes have come from a background of abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Many will have emotional scars or trust issues, and it is important to try and address these problems as soon as possible to avoid them escalating into something harder to treat such as aggression.

Establish a place in the home that will serve as their ‘safe area’. It can be a pet bed, crate, or a spot on the couch, but try to find a quiet, enclosed space if possible. Familiarise them with this space by lining it with toys, treats, and you can even serve their meals here if they show signs of food possessiveness.

Don’t allow other dogs or family members to disturb them whilst they are occupying their space, as it will serve as their sanctuary in times of stress and anxiety. Once the dog begins to feel secure in their own area, it will make new challenges such as strangers or loud noises easier to overcome, as they will know they have a safe place to retreat to if they become overwhelmed.

Gentle but consistent training

Every dog has its own idiosyncrasies and unique personality, and it is their own individual character that makes them so appealing. Certain behaviours such as tugging on toys and leashes, possessiveness, and jumping up are not necessarily a big deal in a forever home, but these traits can become a problem with potential adoptive families.

timid dog hiding on a dog bed
Creating a 'safe' area is the first step towards a confident, outgoing dog
Animal shelters have a duty to ensure that the animals they rehome pose no threat to the people who adopt them, and this is especially important for families with young children. Many dogs, especially the bull breeds, enjoy a game of tug of war, but this could be potentially dangerous if attempted with a toddler or elderly person. The same thing applies with jumping up to greet you when you return home, or becoming overexcited during play.

It is important to teach the dog that these behaviours will elicit no response from you, and that you will only interact with them when they are calm and well behaved. If the dog jumps up at you, turn your back and ignore the behaviour until they eventually become still. Give them calm, quiet praise to avoid them getting excited again, and the use of treats will usually reinforce the point and help them to learn faster. If they become too rough whilst playing with toys, simply drop the toy and refuse to interact until they calm down.

Food possessiveness is a difficult habit to break, and may require the skills of a qualified trainer. Try to make the dog feel comfortable with your presence when they are eating. Stand or kneel at a safe distance during their meal with your side facing them, and keep your eyes averted. Gradually try to shorten the distance between you over time, but ensure that they do not feel threatened or challenged.

Introduce foster dogs to the world

Socialisation is incredibly important to a foster dog, as this will make them appealing to a wider range of potential adoptive families. Introduce your foster dog to people of every shape, size, colour, age, and personality to ensure they are comfortable around people from all walks of life. If you don’t have pets, let them interact with other dogs at the park under supervision, and familiarise them with cats, birds, and all sorts of other creatures they may encounter along the way.

It is also a good idea to get them comfortable with different surroundings, as this will make it easier for them to settle into their new life. As well as long country rambles, take them for short walks in the town so they can get used to traffic and large crowds of people. Familiarise them with the car, bathtub, veterinary clinic, and dog groomers to ensure there are no nasty surprises in the future. Gauge their reactions to different situations such as fireworks, storms, and vacuum cleaners, so you can inform the new owners of anything they are uncomfortable with.

Matching a dog to a new owner

Not every animal in the world can be made into a model pet, and some will always have greater needs than others. This does not mean that they won’t make the perfect companion to the right family, but it does mean that they will be better suited to specific environments. Some animals cannot cope with city life, but will thrive in an outdoor setting. Elderly dogs are not usually suitable for young children, but will make a patient, faithful companion to someone who is also in their twilight years.

It is also important to include the basic training steps such as housebreaking, sit, stay, heel, and returning when called. Any extra tricks you can coax from them will help to make them more attractive to potential owners, and shorten the amount of time they will have to wait for their forever home.

Saying goodbye to your foster dog is a heart-breaking experience, but is one that will become easier with time. Whether you foster a large number of animals or just the one, you can be proud of the fact that you have contributed to a better life for a homeless animal, and enriched the lives of the lucky family who will eventually take them home.