Being a Foster Care provider to a dog in need takes a considerable amount of time, dedication, patience, and genuine caring. It is perhaps the biggest commitment one can make in volunteer work; it is not a job for everyone. Yet the fulfillment and sense of purpose you receive in knowing that you helped one more dog find its way into a safe, happy home is overwhelming each time you successfully place a dog.
©2010 Tim Dawson Photography.
People who foster dogs are there to help, teach, care for and love a dog, but at the same time must manage not to "bond" too strongly with him and jeopardize the chance for a successful adoption when the right person comes along.
Foster care providers spend a great deal of time and energy learning about and loving those dogs that need guidance and shelter until a new home is found for them. Typically the dogs that will require foster care are those that need help the most: elderly dogs, dogs with behavioral problems, dogs that are not used to living indoors, dogs with health problems or a mother and her litter, or dogs that are dangerously close to being put down in a shelter - all of these are often in need of a temporary home and care in between being rescued and going to a new permanent home.
What does it take to foster a dog?
To have a successful foster care home, there are certain things you'll need to know about and have on hand to create the most positive atmosphere for both you and the dog. Some of these include:
- A true love of dogs
- Endless patience
- Time to work with the dog
- Some money to cover food costs; rescue groups often pay medical bills
- Basic supplies: food, toys, a leash and collar, dishes
- A crate or dog-proof, uncarpeted room for house training
- Someone who is home a great deal of the time
- A securely fenced-in yard
- Knowledge of canine training and behavior
- Current vaccinations on any pets you already have
- The ability to say "no" to any potential adopters who aren't a good match for the dog
Basic Foster Care duties:
As a foster "parent", you are not only providing shelter, but you'll be responsible for learning about and assessing the dog's temperament, health, and much more before finding him a new home.
It is always advisable to work with a foster dog at first as if he was a young puppy when it comes to house training issues. Even if he was considered house trained already, he'll need constant supervision when loose. Many dogs never learned house training habits outside of their own home, and the foster dog will need to be tested to make sure he is soundly housebroken. This is one of the most important basic training issues to be covered.
You should teach basic commands and obedience training to the dog. He should know sit, come, down, stay, and should be able to walk good on lead.
Socialize the dog. It's important to get out and have him meet other dogs and people to determine his reactions to them. It is a good idea to visit other houses to help completely house train the dog. This way he won't become used to going only at your home.
You'll need to look and test for fear or aggression triggers, also. Some common ones include:
- tone of voice
- bending over the dog
- suddenly reaching out to the dog
- taking away toys/food
- shuffling toward the dog (he thinks you're kicking)
- rolled up newspapers
Reactions to any of these or other simple tests can be signs of abuse or mistreatment and need to be worked on and corrected. Other potential problems to look for include his reactions to everyone in the world around him, such as:
- children of all different ages
- cats, birds, other outdoor animals
- men and women - is there a difference or preference noticed?
If a dog comes to you in ill health, you'll want to concentrate on his recovery first before attempting any training or trigger tests. Many health problems can mask their true personality or can create triggers not normally there. You will make sure the dog gets to veterinarian appointments as needed. A rapport with a trusted vet comes in handy in foster work.
There is so much to learn about a dog, especially one with a mysterious past. The less you know about him when he arrives on your doorstep, the more work you'll need to do to discover all you can in the time he is with you. But with open arms and a lot of love, you'll see you can turn around even seemingly hopeless cases. Don't be fooled - you will certainly feel an attachment to your foster dog, and tears may be shed the day he leaves you for his new home. But the twinkle in his eye, and the smile on the faces of his new family make it all worthwhile when you have to actually say goodbye. You'll know you've made a difference, and have given this dog a second chance at life. That is the most precious gift of all.