Dog Fostering Tips

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

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“I am a foster home for a rescue here in my hometown. I want to be the best foster home I can be. Would you have a list of foster home do’s and don'ts or any suggestions on how to ensure the successful placement of the dogs that I foster?

Thanks for your time.”

- Foster Mom

Hi Foster Mom,

Your chosen charity and work is very admirable. There are many dogs in need of fostering and rehabilitation to get them forever homes.

The key to a fostering program is rehabilitation and knowing and understanding what role we play in this process. Through the years of teaching persons who are in fostering I have one rule: When the dog leaves our foster home, if it looks back at us (in mistrust or if it has bonded too tightly), we haven't done our job.

When the dog leaves our foster home, if it looks back at us (in mistrust or if it has bonded too tightly), we haven't done our job.
Foster dog

Let’s start with a description of what I think a foster home is. A good foster home will deal with and rehabilitate any type of dog, regardless of issue. In most cases this means dogs with behavioral troubles. It is important to remember that the foster home is a halfway house on the road to recovery and a happy life. You must pay close attention to your actions, as we cannot act remotely close to how the previous family did to cause the dog to be surrendered in the first place (i.e. abuse, impatience, irritability, inconsistency, the use of choke/prong collars, forced submission, etc.)

We need to realize that nobody goes out to get a dog in order to dispose of it. That is the first thing that we need to grasp. Why do they give up the dog? Aside from legitimate reasons like allergies, severe illness, divorce, death of the owner, there are no other “good” reasons. (Abuse, of course, is a reason for seizure and unfortunately that does happen quite often.) In most cases, the cause is a lack of training of the owner. Mistakes that are commonly made by the owner are spoiling, apologetic or generally “feeling sorry for the dog” behavior when interacting with the dog, etc. These mistakes lead to an unruly animal and, finally, the well-intentioned owner feeling forced to surrender the dog out of frustration and/or hopelessness.

Why do dogs end up in shelters?

What I am going to put forth here is simple, lets start with the reasons behind dogs being dumped on shelters and rescues.

When a cute puppy comes home, we fall for the sad eyes and the cute face. We lavish it with affection, giggle at some of the things the puppy gets into, run out and go to a store and spend a fortune on dog bowls that fit our house’s color scheme. We can’t pass up the different leashes to match our clothing (or the dog’s fur!) and all these details in the way the dog looks, but what we forget to purchase on our trips to the store is the most important gift of all... a crate! Most people look at their cute puppy and then look at the metal crate and think how harsh and cruel it is to keep our lovable, huggable fuzzball in that dungeon-like structure (after all, I wouldn’t want to be caged up at all!)

Once 4 months old hits the dog starts to get belligerent. Then, we go to an obedience class and try to gain control. Some of us do o.k. at first, then we get lax, and low and behold 9 months hits and the dog is either aggressive, hyper, anxious, impatient, sometimes pulls our arms out of the sockets, or it’s still sneaking off to poop in the dining room. (I’m sure some of you are nodding your head in agreement as you read this! We’ve all been there!)

Let’s not forget how many times we’ve had to run down the street and try to catch the little mud-covered you-know-what on a rainy, stormy day making you late for work. And how many emails, phone calls, questions do I get about what to do about the dog snapping/growling at the “now walking” 10- to 12-month-old child? If I had a nickel.... In fact, with all of this, the dog is no longer convenient and I guess that is the biggest reason; a disposable commodity based on our lack of effort or knowledge. I can't blame people for this, after all there are people with shortcomings - whether it’s from their upbringing or a personality flaw - that can handle a difficult, trying situation and then there are those who can’t.

When you take in a dog, you learn a good deal about yourself; are you a quitter or can you tough it out and grow from the experience?

Tips for Fostering Dogs

A good foster home prepares the dog for a life of reality. Here are a few major components to achieving a successful placement for the dogs you foster.

Many of us have multiple dogs and incorporate the foster dog into this. This isn't reality; when the dog leaves your house and goes to a home where it is the only dog and there are no more dog buddies, boy what a scary thought! Instead, the dog should be an individual using the other dogs properly to teach it to ignore other dogs and play only when given permission to do so.

Note: if you are fostering a Puppy Mill dog, they only will bond to other dogs in this situation. You have to get them to trust and enjoy humans at your house and there is no way that can happen if your dogs are doing all the mental work for it. I’ll write more on Puppy Mill dogs soon.

Crate Training Is Key

Crate training is a big one. A dog that will stay in a crate is a dog who will not destroy furniture and at least has a place to go when it is insecure or tired. Most people work all day so the dog will be left alone, condition the dog for this.

As I always tell my rescue/foster students who feel bad about crating a dog that has been abused or is afraid of a crate, “what if the dog gets injured or sick? Then you’ll take it to the vet. Then where will the vet put the dog? In a crate! If the dog is trained to be calm in a crate, then the chances of the dog’s survival and ability to heal will increase.” The same goes for if you have a dog that needs to visit the groomer....groomers dry dogs in a crate with a dryer attached, and oftentimes will keep them in a “finished dog” crate until the owner comes to pick them up. Again, getting them used to this is very important. Read this article for other beneficial ways to use a crate.

Obedience Training

The basic commands of Heel, Sit, Stay, Come, and Down are a must.  Getting the dog to sit quietly next to you while other things are going on is paramount. I always say if your dog won’t sit still, you have nothing.

It is important that the foster dog does not feel it is losing out by leaving your home. This means regulated training and management based on the exposure to the bare necessities. The rules of the house should be no jumping on furniture, no tearing around the house like a maniac (play with the dog outside), not interfering when someone comes to the door, etc. If you let the dog misbehave in your house, and if the forever home doesn’t allow it, chances are very good that it will be returned because the dog is retaliating against the new owners to regain what it has lost. That’s not fair to anyone involved.

As an instructor of fostering and rescue, and with my personal experience as well, the heart tends to lead in these situations in essence, that is why we do it. In reality, however, the best foster home becomes an educated resource of understanding dogs and helps them achieve success in placement by conducting ourselves as if we are trainers and presenting "the broken shelter dog" (I don't want to ruffle feathers here) into a marketable, viable dog adoption or purchase resource.

Consider Where the Dog is Coming From

There are three kinds of dog purchase or adoptable resources out there:

1. The High End Breeder

This person takes the time to produce good, sound, healthy dogs and does it for breed perpetuation not puppy sales. This is a painstaking, expensive process of genetic study based on pride and love for their chosen breed. A good breeder "breeds to keep" to carry forth the next improved generation. They are a wonderful resource and help to ensure that their puppies stay with its new owner and in most cases take the dog back if it doesn't work out. Most high-end breeders have the person purchasing a puppy sign a legal document stating that if you can’t keep the dog for any reason, the dog is to be returned to them. If the person purchasing the dog dumps the dog at a shelter or a pound, this is a breech of contract and they can find themselves in court!

2. The Puppy Mill or Backyard Producer

I will not use breeder under this title. These people unethically produce by volume, sell puppies for as little as $200 to $300 dollars (generally under $1000.00), they don't care about genetics or health guarantees (if anything, their deplorable setup is the CAUSE of disease and health issues), and pretty much leave you hanging on help and support with your new puppy. When we hear reports in the media and when you listen to the voicemail messages or read websites of shelters and rescues stating that they’re full, Puppy Mills/Backyard Producers are where the majority of surrendered “purebred” puppies and dogs come from. They never take their dogs back.  We need to stop these people now.

3. The Shelter Dog

The Shelter Dog has a tainted image in a lot of unfortunate cases. It is the dog that nobody wants, so our job as dog rescue volunteers is to think like this: the few high-end purchasers will stay with the high-end breeder. The majority of people looking for a dog/puppy can either go to a Puppy Mill / Backyard Producer or go to a rescue or shelter. The price of the dog is the same. If we have well-trained, well-behaved dogs, with informational support and direction and knowing what that is, well then I guess that will be one less Puppy Mill or Backyard Producer dog that ends up in our shelters (or ultimately needed to be created in the first place based on supply and demand.)

Succeeding as a Canine foster home

If you take in dogs with wacky behaviors and solve them, educate the adopter on the process and how to maintain the dog’s training, your rescue will become the go-to resource for additional dogs in the future. Your local community will think “that rescue really knows what they’re doing!” Remember, word-of-mouth and presentation are the best advertising. One good dog gets you to place 10 more, and it keeps going. It’s amazing how fast your good reputation spreads from the dentist office, the beauty parlor, around school, kids’ sports outings, church functions, and around the office at work!

Lets break the chain and produce a "broken dog" that everybody wants. That is the true way of being successful in fostering or rescuing. I did it for years and had great success.

Good luck!

- Sam

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