Special thanks to Lindsay from ThatMutt.com on sharing her personal advice and experience on dog fostering in this guest contribution. All photos are courtesy of Lindsay Stordahl and are personal photos of foster dogs.
I take in a temporary foster dog or cat from a local rescue group about once a year and provide that animal with a loving home until he or she gets adopted. While this is stressful for me, it’s also very rewarding because it makes a difference for a pet in need.
Some people foster a pet for a few days to give a stressed animal some time away from the shelter. Others foster for months at a time. For me, the shortest time I fostered a dog was three days and the longest was five months.
So, how can someone get started?
The first thing to do is make sure everyone in your family is on board with another pet in the house. Obviously, adding another pet can be a little stressful for everyone, so make sure you and your family members are all on the same page as far as who will care for the animal, etc.
You also want to consider how your own pets might react. For example, my dog is never aggressive, however he gets annoyed with high-energy, playful dogs. For his sanity (and mine), I tend to foster older dogs with lower energy levels. And since I have cats, I also choose foster dogs that have already been tested around cats.
Choosing which shelter or rescue to help
Every organization is a little different, and they all set their own rules, so take the time to find a group you are comfortable with.
For example, while most groups will pay for the foster dog’s veterinary bills, some will expect the foster owners to pay for the dog’s basic supplies like food, flea prevention, treats, etc. You may not mind paying for those things, but it’s nice to know what’s expected ahead of time.
To get approved as a foster home, most rescue groups will have a pretty intense application process with a questionnaire, references and a home visit. A “home visit” is typically an informal meeting to make sure your home is safe for a dog.
If you foster for a shelter (vs. a rescue group), the application process is generally (not always) a little more laid back.
Choosing the dog and brining him home
Once you’ve been approved as a foster home, you should get some say on the type of dog you want to foster (breed, age, size, energy level, gender, etc.) Don’t be afraid to speak up if you are not comfortable with a certain dog. You want your first foster dog to be as easy as possible. It’s OK to ask for one that is already kennel trained, housebroken and lower energy.
You will most likely pick the dog up yourself from wherever the dog is currently staying – a boarding kennel, a shelter, a pound or even another volunteer’s home.
For safety, make sure you either have a crate in your car for the dog to ride in or a way to tether the dog in the back seat. Another option is to bring a friend along to help.
Tips for transitioning to your home
My number one tip for new foster owners is to take your foster dog for a long, long, long walk as soon as you get the dog home. Like, go for an hour at minimum.
If possible, ask a friend to help out by walking your own dog. This is a good way to introduce the dogs without the pressure to interact. Just walk them side by side and avoid head-on confrontations until the dogs seem relaxed.
Before your foster dog arrives, make sure you have a separate area you can keep him in temporarily while everyone adjusts. At minimum, you should have a crate set up or a baby gate to block off a certain room. Ideally, you would have the crate set up in a separate room you can block off.
Preventing behavioral problems
Once you have your foster dog home, you can prevent a lot of trouble by keeping him on a leash for at least the first day. That way you will be setting him up for success because he won’t be able to wander off and have accidents, he won’t be able to chew things and he won’t be able to chase your cat.
For now, just assume he isn’t potty trained, no matter what anyone told you. Take him out at least every 45 minutes or so at first until you think you can trust him.
With time, you can allow him more freedom as he shows good behavior.
Whenever you’re not home, make sure to separate your foster animal from your other pets. Just to be safe, I like to keep two barriers between my foster dog and my cats. For example, I will put the foster dog in a crate in my extra bedroom, and my cats will be in my bedroom with the door closed.
Above all, fostering should be an enjoyable experience. Not only are you helping a dog in need, but you get to see that dog eventually go to a loving, forever family. Few things are as rewarding as that, in my opinion. And who knows, maybe you’ll fall in love with your foster dog and end up adopting him yourself!
Are you interested in fostering? What questions or concerns do you have?
Leave your questions in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer based on my experience.
About the Author: Lindsay Stordahl maintains the blog That Mutt where she writes about her dog Ace and topics related to training, raw food, adoption and more. She also owns the dog walking business Run That Mutt.