When people find out that I frequently foster dogs in my home I usually get the following response, “Oh I could never foster dogs, I would fall in love and keep them all!”.

That response, while completely well-meaning, makes my heart sink a little when I hear it. That’s because I DO fall in love with every foster dog I take in, and my loving them only makes me that much better of a caregiver for them and that much more careful when finding them an adoptive family. I think many people would be excellent foster parents, but they allow too many thoughts and fears to get in the way of taking the plunge and helping out an animal in need.

Here are some things I’ve learned through fostering:

  • Know what you’re getting into – and if you don’t – be ready for just about anything!
    • Having a little background on dog really gives me an advantage when I’m going to be fostering. And if there isn’t much available I’ve learned that anything is possible. I’ve had surprises both good and bad, and when I get a new foster dog in, I usually spend the first week with an open mind, ready to do what it takes to get them into a good routine in my home.
  • Start off with LOTS of rules and restrictions
    • My fosters start off having so many rules. Why, you ask? Because dogs naturally want to fit in, and if you make it really clear to them HOW they can please you and limit their ability to make mistakes it makes the whole process easier for them and for you! For example, my foster dogs start off under total supervision. They are either in their crate or on the leash until they show me that they can handle more freedom. I slowly give them more and more liberty while monitoring their behavior. The first time I let them out of the crate to walk around the house I keep them on-leash. That way if they decide they want to put their paws up on the counter to look for food I can quickly and effectively communicate that I do NOT approve of that behavior. If they try to pick up a shoe I can correct them and then offer them an appropriate toy instead. You’d be amazed at how quickly even a dog with a history of “bad” behaviors starts to realize what is and isn’t allowed and starts to “make good decisions” as I like to think of it!
  • Patience is a virtue and time is on your side
    • There is no set time-frame for how long it takes a foster dog to be ready for a new home. Sometimes they have medical needs that need tending to before they can be adopted and sometimes they need to work on some behavioral things. Most frequently I find that they just don’t know how to be a “house pet”. They need to learn things like how to hang out in a house, chew on something appropriate while laying on their own bed, and how to be patient (read: no begging or other rude behavior!) while someone is eating. It doesn’t really take too much time out of my day to work with them either. I like to keep “training” short and sweet – it can be as simple as waiting for them to sit quietly before letting them out of the crate or taking a handful of kibble and using it to teach them how to sit or come when called. I’ve also learned that it’s much easier to start out asking for their attention if you work in a very quiet (aka boring) space. I have a spare bedroom that I usually take them in. It’s pretty easy to hold a dog’s attention for a few minutes when you’re the only thing in the room and you’ve got a toy or a treat in your hand! Once you are consistently getting a behavior during these short sessions you can start to ask for it in other places. I often have to teach my foster dogs their names because many of them came into the shelter or rescue with no history and therefore have been renamed.
    • Time is on your side when it comes to foster dogs. It’s been my experience that just living in a structured environment where the rules are clear, there is plenty of exercise to be had, and the nutrition, care, attention, and schedule are all in place, does wonders for a foster dog.
  • Stay on top of the little things
    • Lot’s of dogs end up in shelters and rescue because they’re simply “too much” for their owners to handle. When it comes to my foster dogs I know that they have to make mistakes in order for them to learn. Dog’s don’t come pre-programmed with how to be a part of a family. This is why I am especially quick to let my fosters know when they are stepping out of line. Behaviors like chewing on things they shouldn’t and jumping up on people have to be corrected immediately and every single time until they are no longer a habit. It’s equally important to let them know what IS allowed and what behaviors make us happy. I am quick to praise my fosters when they pick up a dog-toy in the house or are in the kitchen with me cooking and decide to lay down rather than sniff at the counters.
  • Know when you need help
    • I would consider myself pretty capable when it comes to dogs. However we are all human and even I have felt like I am in over my head from time to time. That is why it’s so important to recognize when you’re feeling overwhelmed and reach out for help when you need it! I once took in a dog on a temporary basis (I knew I did not have the time for a foster dog at that moment but the rescue needed someone to get the dog out of the shelter immediately and keep him until they could find a more permanent foster situation) and quickly realized that he had some extreme anxiety issues. I had two other dogs in my home at that time as well as a steady flow of people in and out, and needless to say, he was never able to settle down in my home and I could not leave him unattended without him harming himself trying to get out of the kennel, room, house, etc. After two weeks I reached out to the rescue and told them that we had to find him a better situation ASAP. They pooled their resources and found him a foster with a quieter home environment that could give him the security and time he needed to feel safe again. While my home might seem like the ideal place for a foster dog, every dog has different needs!
  • Hold out for the right family
    • When the time finally comes for your foster to find their adoptive family I’ve found that you should be absolutely sure it’s the right fit before sending them off to their new home. Writing up a detailed bio for your foster dog (including likes, dislikes, quirks, etc.) can help people decide for themselves if they think the dog would make a good addition to their family. Talking with potential adopters and going over what their lifestyle is like and what they’re looking for in a pet is also important. Luckily, the organization I most frequently work with has an amazing adoption process including a thorough application, reference and home checks, and meet-and-greet opportunities for potential adopters. In the end, handing over the leash should be a happy day for all and following up after the adoption has taken place makes the transition that much smoother. I tell all of my adoptive families to take it in two’s. The first two hours, two days, two weeks, and two months will be spent with highs and lows getting to know their new pet and allowing their new pet to settle into their home. I love getting that call or email well after the adoption has taken place saying how much they love their addition to the family.
  • Know when to say “no”
    • Lastly, and probably most importantly, I’ve learned that my success as a foster largely depends on me being in-tune with how much I really have to offer at any given moment. There are SO MANY dogs (and cats and other pets!) out there that are in constant need of help and it can be very hard to say no sometimes. That said, it can also be very easy to “burn out” with fosters. They each have their own challenges and while the feeling of finding a foster dog their forever family is absolutely incredible, it is also important to realize when you need a break from fostering so that you can give the next one just as much love and dedication as the last!

As a final note, I know that I am in a unique position right now in life where I have a home, schedule, and amazing support team including the rescue organizations I foster through and Kehoe Animal Clinic that allows me to be able to foster dogs and find them wonderful homes. I may not always be in such a position, and even though fostering dogs is a large commitment with it’s own frustrations and challenges, I am extremely thankful to be able to make a difference in the lives of the dogs that come through my home. Might I one day “Fall in Love” and not be able to let one go? Absolutely, and that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing!

Me (center bottom) with one of my very first foster dogs on the day he was adopted by his new family. “Reagan” now lives in Miami Beach and even has his very own Instagram account! @Reagan_TheRescueGSP