Fostering is a wonderful gift for a rescued or sheltered dog. Fostering provides a dog with valuable in home experiences which can help find and keep a forever home from house breaking to basic commands. You also have an opportunity to really get to know a dog well which can in turn help make a good match with a forever home. The guidelines provided below can help ensure a successful fostering experience.
TEMPERAMENT AND HEALTH EVALUATION
Dogs should first be screened for health and temperament before being placed into foster care. Your veterinarian can provide you with a complete health assessment. It is important that any health problems that could affect other members in the house hold be addressed. These can include kennel cough, viral diseases, worms, contagious mange, etc. All can be addressed and taken care of by a veterinarian. A temperament evaluation should be performed by someone who knows and understands the breed standard. The evaluator should also be able to read and understand canine body language. If you or your rescue do not have access to someone who is qualified to do behavior assessments, you can use this page on our website for information on evaluating temperament: http://www.pbrc.net/temperament.htm. When you have made the decision to bring this dog into your home to foster, we have additional suggestions.
SEPARATION FROM OTHER PETS
When you first bring in a strange dog, it is highly recommended that the dog be separated from other pets. It might be necessary to keep them separated depending on the dog that you brought in and the personalities of your existing pets. When you bring in a dog from an unknown background it is best to play it safe. You don’t know this dog and it doesn’t know you. It may not trust you completely based on its life experience. You need time to get to know each other before you add in the stress of other pets and having to get along. The first thing you need to do is establish a routine and stick with it. Dogs are very routine-oriented and establishing a routine and sticking with it will make everyone more comfortable.
Have this plan in place before you consider bringing home a new dog. Where are you going to put the crate, where is the dog going to eat, do you need to get baby gates or close doors? Where will you keep your dog supplies such as leashes, toys and collars)? Create a schedule of feeding, crate time, rotation of who is out with the family and for how long. It is important for all family members to be on board.
It is a good idea to consider keeping foster dogs crated and separated in a different room from the resident dogs. This doesn’t have to stay this way but it’s a good idea in the beginning, until you get to know your foster dog better. It could be a few days or a few weeks. Your foster dog needs time to adjust to coming into a home and sleep off its previous experience. If the dog came directly from a shelter, it may need a few days of quiet rest. Dogs come from shelters stressed and exhausted. It would be unwise to bring an exhausted stressed out dog right into your home and try to do dog introductions. After your foster has adjusted, you might progress to having the dog crated but with a baby gate across the door so the dogs can see each other. Depending on the dog and whether or not they have any crate anxiety, you could move up to removing the baby gate and allowing the dogs to sniff through the crate (one at a time only, not a crowd). While this activity is going on (one dog at a time), make sure there are no toys, food, bones or chewies that are high value in the room or in the dog’s crate. That can create tensions and resource guarding. You can eventually move to where they are just separated by baby gates when you are around to observe their reactions to each other.
Before you decide to do dog introductions with your family pets, please read over our pages on dog introductions http://www.pbrc.net/dogintros.html. If you have cats in the home, you should keep the dogs separated from the cats until you have evaluated the dog’s prey drive and disposition towards small furry animals. Some dogs will have too much prey drive and will never be able to live with cats. Be prepared.
OTHER FAMILY MEMBERS
As always, we recommend before making the final decision to bring a dog home that the foster parent sit down and talk with all household members, including roommates. It is important to get approval and ascertain willingness to help. Ground rules will need to be established about interactions with the foster dog. If there are young children in the home, we suggest keeping the dog separate until you have a better sense of the dog’s behavior towards children and you have had a chance to work through some basic obedience. It is important that all family members be on board with the decision to bring a foster dog into the home and agree with the guidelines you establish regarding its care. Introductions to your children should be done carefully, gradually and only after a period of observation of the dog’s behavior. We recommend the use of baby gates to assist in this process, after you have taught the foster dog to respect the use of a baby gate. PBRC recommends that children and dogs always be supervised by an adult when they are together and safely separated when they are not.
It is possible that your foster dog has never lived in a home before. It is going to be important not to make any assumptions about behavior. Dogs that have learned to fend for themselves on the street can be counter surfers and opportunistic eaters. If the foster dog is not housebroken or crate trained, crate training will be necessary. Do not assume that a dog has had any kind of training whatsoever. Here is a website that can help with crate training:
To increase your foster dog’s adoptability it is important to incorporate basic obedience into your daily routine. It will add some mental exercise to the dog’s day and will further prepare him for a life with a new family. You can teach them to sit for everything from asking for attention to waiting patiently for a food bowl. Their adoptive family will thank you for it. In the training pages on the website we have a guideline entitled “Canine Parenting 101” http://www.pbrc.net/training.html
Obedience is a great way to train basic manners and self-control. You might also consider enrolling the foster dog in an obedience class to help improve his skills and make him more adoptable. If the foster dog is a puppy, you could consider enrolling him or her in a puppy class to start developing social skills with other dogs. Puppies also need to be socialized with other people, with children, and if possible, with other types of animals they may encounter. Please make sure that the puppy is properly vaccinated before taking him to places where other dogs have been.
Remember that you are preparing a dog for a life in someone else’s home. House manners are extremely important. Consider what other people may or may not want in their pet. While you might be ok with dogs in the bed and on the couch, a new family may not feel that way. Try to avoid spoiling the foster dog and do what you can to prepare them to enter just about any home. Don’t feed your foster table scraps as that will encourage begging.
PBRC has a training page to help foster families while encountering common behavior problems such as jumping, barking, pulling on leash, etc. http://www.pbrc.net/training.html .
The Sirius Dog Training site has great tips on training too: http://www.siriuspup.com/behavior_problems.html .
Positive training and methods that use positive reinforcement and behavior modification are always recommended over force based and dominance theory based techniques. Examples of positive reinforcement are lure-reward, clicker training and using treats and toys to reward positive behavior. Many problems can be easily resolved by providing basic care, exercise and obedience training. Your foster dog needs you to help it learn to live in a family setting.
PREPARING FOR ADOPTION
As a foster parent, you are helping a rescued or sheltered dog prepare for adoption. You are providing them with the valuable experiences that comes with living in a home and removing them from a stressful sheltered environment. Finding your foster dog a home can take weeks, months and in some cases, a year or more. Foster parents of pit bulls should recognize that it will take time to find the right home and they should be committed to maintaining their foster dog until a suitable placement has been found. Fostering provides a wonderful opportunity to observe the dog’s behavior, learn about their preferences and help them become wonderful family members. This is an opportunity to teach them basic commands and in-home skills that will help them for the rest of their lives. The information that you gather during the foster period can help you and the rescue make the best match for the dog and potential adopter. We encourage rescues and foster parents to use the online listing service that we provide to help your foster dog find its forever home. You can see our recommendations on placing pit bulls here:
Be prepared, saying good bye to your first foster dog can be hard. It can be very hard to let go, but fostering is very rewarding! By utilizing foster homes, more dogs can be saved.
By PBRC Volunteer