Is fostering a dog right for you?

On the fence about fostering a dog? Experienced dog foster parents share insights into why they decided to foster, plus tips for first-time paw fosterers.

Is fostering a dog right for you?

According to the ASPCA, approximately 3.3 million dogs enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year. One of the ways animal shelters help dogs get adopted and avoid euthanization is through dog fostering programs. 

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more Americans are fostering and adopting pets. Many shelters and pet foster care facilities have even reported a shortage of pets to adopt and foster! One study carried out by the Nielsen Group also reported a surge in sales of pet bedding and accessories in April 2020, just after the pandemic hit.

What does fostering a dog mean?

For many people, adopting straight away can feel like a big commitment. That’s where fostering comes into play. Fostering allows you to essentially “test-drive” being a dog parent. Perhaps you’re not ready for the commitment just yet or you simply want to find the right dog for you. With fostering, both you and your dog get to experience what it’s like to live with one another!

So how do you know if fostering is right for you? Read on to learn more about the pros and cons of fostering a dog and get some tips for first-time foster parents.

How do you know if fostering a dog is right for you?

For many, temporary dog fostering provides a chance to scratch their itch to love and nurture a dog without having to make a big commitment. As former dog foster parent Danielle explains, “I fostered in college when I knew it wasn't a great time to have the permanent responsibility of a pet... I was craving the love and nurture that comes with having an animal and thought fostering would be a great middle-ground.”

Or maybe you’re looking to adopt but want to make sure you find the right personality fit first. Fostering allows you to try out different pets and feel out their “vibe.” This can be especially important if you live with others or have other pets. After all, everyone in the household should be on board with the new adoption– including the pet you’re adopting!

Another benefit of fostering? Even if you’re not looking to adopt a dog just yet, fostering one can highly increase its chances of getting adopted, according to Second Chance Rescue. “Animals in foster care tend to be less stressed, better socialized, and have a lower chance of getting sick than animals in shelters.”

Alex, a 30-year-old foster parent based in Brooklyn, says “we know there are so many dogs that need homes, [fostering] felt like a good deed to do.”

How do you prepare your home for a foster dog?

Before fostering a dog, it’s imperative that you make sure your home is ready for them. Some of the things you can do to prepare include:

  • Rolling up rugs

  • Putting plants out of reach, which may be toxic to the pet

  • Create a designated space for the dog to sleep and eat

  • Lay out pee pads (if still potty training)

  • Place all valuables in a safe place, out of the pet’s reach

Check with the pet foster care program on what supplies will be provided and what you’ll have to buy out of pocket. Most programs provide all the essentials: crates, toys, treats, and food. But you still may want to buy a few extra things to make sure your pup is comfortable and entertained.

How do you introduce the foster dog to other pets in your home?

If you currently have other pets in your home, you’ll want to consider how you introduce the foster dog to them and vice versa.

Dog Tag Art founder Jack Carrier advises “If you have pets, you might want to take [them] to meet the dog [at the shelter] before you bring it home.”

Another tip? Slowly introduce them in a safe space. Brooklyn-based foster parents Corey and Alex took the following approach: “We introduced our cats to our foster dog through a door for the first 24 hours as well as put something that smelled like the cats in the dog’s room and something that smelled like the dog in the cats’ room. Then, after 24 hours, we let them roam around putting a baby gate in the doorway to the cats’ room so the cats had a space to run away if they needed it.”

In general, it’s important that you make the introduction gradually in order to allow the pets to get used to one another and avoid any aggressive behaviors. You should also ask the foster care program about the personality of the particular dog you’re adopting in order to better understand how they might react around other animals.

How do you handle unwanted behaviors with foster dogs?

Here are some general tips for understanding and managing a foster dog’s behavior in the best way possible:

  • Get to know the dog while at the shelter. Take it for a walk and take note of any behaviors before making a decision to take it home. You should never take home a dog that you don’t feel comfortable with!

  • Ask the shelter about the dog’s personality and any potential triggers. Most shelters will train and retrain dogs before sending them to foster homes, so they know each dog’s personality well.

  • Make sure you set aside time to exercise and entertain the dog. A well-behaved dog is a well-trained dog!

  • Follow the foster program’s rules and guidelines. For example, some foster programs won’t let you take foster dogs to dog parks, especially if they know that dog isn’t fully socialized.

  • If after taking the dog home, you feel like it’s not a good fit, talk with your foster program about your options. Don’t feel bad about giving a dog back to the foster program.

What do you do if you get too attached?

If you’re open to adopting, know that going into the fostering experience and talk with the foster care program about adoption options before beginning the fostering experience.

However, if you know you can’t adopt a dog right now, make sure you set clear boundaries for yourself. Danielle explains, “Before I got my first foster dog, I came up with clear reasons as to why I was unable to adopt, then reminded myself of such reasons when I felt attached.” Always keep in mind what is in the best interest of the dog.

Even though you might have so much love in the world for the dog, if you don’t have the financial means or suitable lifestyle for taking care of a dog, don’t let yourself cave in.  “We are doing this to help dogs find their forever home,” says dog foster mom Alex. “We know going into it that we will be saying goodbye and it is for the good of the dog which helps us say goodbye to extra sweet pups.”