“Rescue Me” is a recurring column by Samantha Randall, editor-in-chief at Top Dog Tips. She provides personal anecdotes and perspective about her life as a pet lover with a passion for cat and dog rescue. Today, she discusses what it takes to be a great foster parent to a rescue dog.
Being a foster parent for dogs is a rewarding experience, but you need to be sure that you are ready to do it before jumping in. As someone who has had the pleasure of fostering several dogs in the past, I’ve compiled a list of tips for aspiring foster dog parents.
Find a shelter or rescue organization that suits you
The first step in becoming a good foster parent for dogs is connecting with a shelter or a rescue organization. To do this, research different local shelters and rescues before you align yourself with one of them.
Meet other volunteers and ask about their experience with different organizations. The goal is to make sure that the group maintains a good reputation, that they are all about animals and animals’ best interests, and that they truly value their volunteers and their hard work.
It is also important to find a shelter or a rescue that will be there for you and help you along the way, especially if this is your first time fostering a dog.
Take short-term fostering into consideration
During the summer when many regular dog foster parents go on vacations, there is a need for short-term fostering parents who will fill in for them. Consider being a temporary dog foster parent as a way to dip your feet in the water and learn the basics about fostering dogs. If you find out that fostering suits you, you can then become a full-time dog foster parent.
Prepare your home to foster
Even if you already have a dog, there are some things that are necessary in order to prepare your home for a new foster dog. The first thing to do is to get all the necessary supplies a new dog might need, like a dog bed, a crate or a baby gate for containment, a dog brush, dog toys, training treats, etc.
Another important thing to do is to dog-proof your home, especially if you don’t have a dog already. Move electrical cords out of reach, clear out any small, sharp objects that can be swallowed, cover your trash cans, keep cleaning supplies and medications well out of reach, etc.
Talk to your rescue organization or shelter about their rules for foster dogs. Some of them don’t allow dogs to stay in the yard unsupervised since many rescue dogs represent a flight risk.
Provide a high-quality diet
Many dogs that end up in shelters and rescues come from rough backgrounds and often have been malnourished. The best way to ensure that the dog is healthy and to gain their confidence is to provide them with a balanced, high-quality diet.
Talk to the shelter or rescue about the dog’s previous diet so you can make the change gradually and prevent any potential digestive issues.
Prepare for housetraining
While some rescue dogs may already be housetrained, many are not. Even the adult dogs that have lived in a home before may not be housetrained. That’s why it’s best to operate under the assumption that your new dog is not housetrained to avoid any unnecessary accidents. Keep in mind that this is a new environment for them and that the stress can be too much for them to handle, causing them to forget their training.
Don’t think about profit
If you are thinking about fostering a dog to earn some extra money, you will end up being disappointed. Any money that you receive from a rescue organization should go towards the dog’s needs. Most of rescue organizations work on tight budgets, and while you won’t have to spend any money yourself for basic supplies or veterinary care, you won’t earn money either.
Let the dog settle in before you start the training
Give your new friend some time to settle in before you begin teaching them some basic commands. When you see that the dog is comfortable in their new environment, start with positive reinforcement to teach commands like waiting to be fed, sitting, staying, not pulling on the leash, etc.
A dog that is housetrained and knows basic commands will have a much greater chance of getting adopted, and these skills minimize the chance of getting returned once they get adopted.
Be careful with socialization
In one of my podcast episodes, we’ve discussed socialization as one of the most crucial aspects of fostering pets. Whether you want to introduce the dog to another pet or a new human, you need to do it in a controlled environment. This is especially true when you want to introduce the dog to another dog.
The best way is to provide the dogs with plenty of outdoor space where they can navigate and get to know each other in a low-stakes environment. If you can get another person to keep the other dog on a leash, you can control the situation by letting the dogs see and sniff each other but not letting them too close unless they are both calm and comfortable.
Taking your dog to new places can also be a good way to socialize, but you need to do that gradually and carefully as well.
Keep all the records
While your shelter or rescue will probably help you with vet checkups and have a record of background information, you should also keep all the records, information and bills in a responsible manner since that can be very important to the dog’s future family.
Write helpful notes
As a foster parent, you will be asked to provide notes about the dog’s health and behavior and what you envision as the perfect family and environment for your foster dog.
When you write these notes, be as detailed as possible in order to paint an accurate picture of the dog that will help the rescue organization find the best possible family.
If your dog has any behavioral issues, be honest about them. Of course, focus your notes on the dog’s good qualities and progress that they have made, but don’t leave out the potential problems.
Taking the role of a dog foster parent can be a perfect way to help rescue dogs and have a rewarding experience. But you can also use the experience to determine whether you are ready to own a dog. Whatever your motives for being a foster parent to a dog, being prepared will make sure that everyone wins.