12 Things I Learned While Fostering Dogs

When I meet someone and introduce my latest foster dog, they usually say one of two things:

  • I could never foster a dog. It would be too hard to give him up.
  • Or they say, I’d love to do that some day myself.

But what I’d love to hear is, that sounds great. How can I get involved?

Maybe I should share some of the things I’ve learned about fostering dogs and see if it convinces anyone to give it a try.

12 Things I learned from fostering dogs.

What I’ve Learned Fostering Dogs

If you read a dozen blogs by people fostering dogs, you’ll discover at least a dozen different kinds of experiences. Because

Fostering means different things in different organizations.

Some rescues have no central building. So all their dogs are in foster homes, sometimes for months at a time.

Some organizations promote foster-to-adopt where a potential family gets time to live with a dog in their home before finalizing the adoption.

The Tompkins County SPCA, who I foster for, has a lovely adoption center, tons of well-educated volunteers, and professional training staff. That means they only send dogs to foster homes if they have a compelling reason to do so. And for the shortest time possible.

Blanche the beagle sits on the couch.

You had to meet Blanche to know how sweet she was. Luckily, her new family found her shortly after we returned her to the shelter after fostering.

Dogs are more likely to be seen and get adopted if they’re in the adoption center and not in a foster home where someone will have to make an appointment to see them.

Dogs need foster homes for different reasons.

I’ve fostered dogs who needed a little extra medical attention, like Ginny the beagle who needed several slow walks a day while recovering from surgery.

A few dogs came to us because they felt frightened or depressed in the shelter. For some dogs, even a lovely apartment with frequent visits from kind volunteers is too stressful.

Once we even fostered some dogs who needed a temporary home while their person was moving out of an abusive relationship.

But mostly we’ve fostered puppies.

Puppy in coat chewing on a stick

Our first foster puppy, Scooter. Guess who taught him to chew sticks.

Why puppies? When someone surrenders a litter to the shelter, they don’t have their first vaccinations. Which puts them at great risk in a building that houses stray dogs. Dogs that might be carrying dangerous (to puppies) diseases.

The shelter staff check and vaccinate puppies and get them into foster homes quickly, before they are exposed to nasty buggies.

It only takes a couple of weeks for a puppy immune system to benefit from vaccines so they can go to their forever homes.

Your dog will teach your foster dogs.

My latest foster puppy, Zoe, is smart as a whip. But she learns the most from watching Honey.

She’s learned to sit and wait for dinner. She’s learned how to play with a bigger dog. And, unfortunately, she’s learned how to dig up the yard a little just for fun.

Honey the golden retriever cares for Zoe the foster puppy.

Honey is Zoe’s patient teacher.

Your foster dog will teach your dog.

Our hound mix foster, Cherie, was so fearful.

When we crossed the street, she’d slink to her belly. Our trainer, who is the gentlest man ever, terrified her. Thunderstorms drove her to the basement where she shook for hours.

But she was not afraid of the things that scared Honey the most: agility equipment and the bike cart.

Hound Mix and Golden Retriever with Bicycle Cart

Cherie got Honey wondering why she found the bike cart so scary.

Honey gained so much confidence once Cherie showed her how un-scary the bike cart was. I don’t think we would ever have gotten her to ride with us without Cherie’s help.

I only wish she could have stayed longer to keep up the training.

Some foster periods are long, others are short.

I have friends who have fostered dogs for long periods. Mel at No Dog About It, writes poignantly about the challenges of fostering puppy mill dogs. Progress is slow and can take years before a dog is able to live something approaching a normal home life.

We had our fearful hound mix, Cherie, with us for several months. But most of our foster stays are quite short.

Our shortest foster lasted only one day. Titus was an extremely fearful pit mix. He was gentle as a lamb. But for some reason he frightened Honey.

He went to a new foster home the next day.

Titus, the pitbull mix wants to find his forever home.

Honey says she hopes I find my forever home but that it won’t be with her.

Fostering makes you love your own dog even more.

Except for Titus, Honey has been a perfect host to every dog we’ve fostered.

A few foster dogs, like Layla or Eddie, weren’t too crazy about other dogs. Honey had to temper her innate friendliness with these introvert pups.

Layla the Beagle in front of a space heater.

Layla’s best friend was the space heater.

Cherie, although afraid of nearly everything outside the house, loved to play with Honey in the house and yard. Unfortunately she was recovering from spaying surgery and I had to enforce a no-play zone for about a week.

I didn’t think Honey would survive. But she held back. And they got their ya yas out once Cherie was fully recovered.

And the puppies. Oh, Honey is good. In fact, she’s a little too good. I think she needs to speak up for herself a little more when a busy foster puppy is searching for a nipple or using her tail as a tug toy.

Oliver the foster puppy looks at the tail of Honey the golden retriever.

My tail is not your tug toy, Oliver.

When we’re walking Honey with our latest foster dog, my husband will spontaneously talk about how good a foster-sister she has been.

In truth, Honey is just fulfilling her destiny.

Fostering when you have a dog (or dogs) at home is easier.

Honey’s presence has built confidence in some of our fearful foster dogs. When they see her sitting quietly waiting for food, some of them pick up the same trait. And she’s better at tiring out a puppy than anything I could ever do.

Honey the Golden Retriever and Bandit the foster puppy play bitey face.

One scary game of bitey face.

If only I could teach Honey how to alert bark every time a house training puppy needs to pee.

Fostering when you have a dog (or dogs) at home is harder.

Some dogs just don’t like other dogs. In fact, our shelter is always looking for foster families without other dogs in the house.

And just try walking by the school crossing guard with one overly friendly, food-motivated golden retriever and a fearful foster pup. Yep, it was an epic training fail. (You should really click the link. The stories in the comments are even funnier than mine.)

Let’s not forget feeding the dogs two different meals in two different rooms.

And do I really need to tell you what it’s like to walk a hyper little puppy who always manages to find Honey’s latest poop with her feet before I even have my baggie open for the clean up?

Now you know why I buy cleaning enzymes a gallon at a time.

Puppy and Golden Retriever on the couch

Eddie was a little dog with a big attitude. His last act in the house was to pee on my ottoman.

Fostering is inexpensive.

Every shelter and rescue is probably different. But with our shelter, fostering is an inexpensive way to volunteer.

I pick up our dog with a full supply of food. They get free (and excellent) vet care at the shelter. I’m offered bedding, leashes, and bowls to take with me.

My only expense is renting a car to pick up my foster puppy. And I’m thinking that should be tax deductible (volunteers can deduct mileage; I should be able to deduct my car expenses even though I don’t own one).

Honey the golden retrievers makes allowances for a foster puppy.

Y’know, I’d pay someone to babysit this little midget dog. She’s getting annoying.

Returning a foster dog is sad.

Okay, I’ll say it. Sometimes I cry when I return a foster dog. Not every time.

It’s easy to become attached. Especially with a dog who stays with us for a long time.

But I’m most likely to feel sad when I’m returning an adult dog to the shelter to wait for an adoptive home. When a family adopts a dog directly from my home, it’s very different.

Returning a foster dog is happy.

There are many happy aspects of fostering. I meet interesting people. I get to love lots of dogs. But most of all, it’s thrilling to see a dog go home with someone who already loves her after just a short time.

A foster dog goes home with her new family.

Photographic evidence for the happy side of fostering: Ginny goes home.

I love when a dog is adopted directly from our home. It means they get to go from one happy place to another. Without any stress resulting from the more lively shelter atmosphere.

But considering the shelter to be more stressful says more about me than about the dogs.

Honey the golden retriever walks with Blanche the beagle.

Don’t look back. Just keep moving forward.

Most dogs adapt well when going to a new home.

When we’re getting ready to return a foster dog, my husband starts to talk about adopting them. He worries that they’re too bonded to us already and won’t adapt to a new family without pain.

But he doesn’t usually go with me to return the puppies. Or isn’t around when their adoptive family picks them up.

I’ve never had a puppy pull or cry when I left them at the shelter. I place them in the loving care of staff who are excited to see them and they’re fine.

It’s even better when they walk off with their family. They’re going for a car ride. And I’m sure they bond quickly to their new family just like they did with us.

Lil Punkin Butt and Mr. Handsome doze on the couch.

Some dogs we met as fosters and then they became our forever friends.

Is Fostering Right For You?

I’m only one person who has fostered for one organization. But I hope I’ve given you a nice peek into what our fostering experience has been like.

Last night, while walking the dogs, my husband said, “I guess when we move aboard the boat we won’t be able to foster anymore. Will you feel bad about giving it up?”

I replied that fostering has been a special part of our lives. But it is part of a time and a place. And we’ll do other things to help animals in our travels.

Unless, of course, there’s a shelter out there who wants to copter a puppy out to us on the ocean one day.

I’ve found it very rewarding. You might also.

Buster the foster puppy.

Buster was Mike’s favorite puppy. Until he met, Zoe, that is.

But fostering isn’t for everyone. Perhaps your current pets would find it too stressful. I purposely adopted and raised Honey to do this work. My previous dogs would have hated it.

Or maybe you really couldn’t give up pups after fostering them for a short time. I’d hate to see you end up on a tv show about animal hoarders because you took my advice and tried to foster.

My friend Mel at No Dogs About It wrote a perfect post: “I Could Never Foster.” It’s loaded with suggestions for different ways you can help shelters and rescue organizations.

As we come to the end of one year and start the next, maybe you’ll find one more way you can help homeless animals. Heck, just by sharing this post, you might get someone else thinking fostering might be a good fit for them.

I’ve only been fostering for a few years. But it has been a fun, challenging, annoying, and lovely way to help dogs.

Maybe you’d love it too.

Zoe the foster puppy chills out on her pillow.

Zoe relaxes in her puppy condo.

Calling All Pet Bloggers

Pet Blogger's Gift Exchange BadgeCould you use a little cheer and encouragement? Then it’s time to sign up for the Third Annual Pet Blogger’s Gift Exchange, where instead of exchanging presents or cards, we share appreciation for our fellow bloggers.

  • Step 1: Sign up in the Rafflecopter where you’ll also get a chance to win a $20 Amazon gift card. (Psst, if the Rafflecopter doesn’t work, try another browser. It hates Safari but loves Firefox.)
  • Step 2: Share yesterday’s post introducing the Gift Exchange with your blogging friends so we get lots of people signed up early.
  • Step 3: Check your email on Monday, December 8 to see which pet blogger you’ve been randomly paired with.
  • Step 4: Plan a post praising all the great things about your gift exchange partner. If you need ideas, check out some of last year’s posts in the linky.
  • Step 5: Publish your post by Tuesday, January 6 and link it to the hop I’ll be setting up next week.
  • Step 6: Sit back and enjoy the adulation, encouragement and link love from your blogging partner when they write nice things about you.

Sounds fun, right? So what are you waiting for?

Sign up now.
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Your Turn: Have you ever fostered for a shelter or a rescue? Was it a positive experience?

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  1. Jimmy would eat a foster pup!

    • Can he give Honey some lessons? She’s a little too nice.

      I think an obnoxious little puppy would benefit from a grown up dog administering some reasonable discipline.

  2. I hope I can foster again some day. Honestly, when I see how great Ruby does when we are at my aunt’s house with a total of FOUR dogs, I think…well, maybe…but living in a townhome with shared walls and no yard does make three dogs seem a bit excessive and I’m sure my neighbors would agree.

    Wonderful post. Even though I’m now a bad example with my “foster failure,” I still try to encourage people to try fostering – it is one aspect of rescue that is always in short supply.

    • Don’t forget. The entire point of fostering is to help wonderful dogs find home. You certainly did your part by adopting Boca. :)

  3. After having two and now one, I must say the thought of fostering has been a frequent visitor in my mind. This post was very timely “for me.” I must agree, my selfishness of “not wanting to give the puppy up” should not outweigh the needs of so many four legged creatures. Thanks for making me look in the mirror today!

    • It would be interesting to see how Harley would take to fostering. And who knows? If you foster and find a dog who absolutely fits in, you’ll be giving someone a great home.

  4. Great post and lots of good suggestions. We haven’t fostered in awhile because it’s just not right for Jack & Maggie, but I hope to again someday. I just live vicariously through those of you that do and share it with us :)

    • Yep, fostering is a whole family decision. None of my previous dogs could have handled it.

      I’m so glad you’re along for the ride with us. :)

  5. I really enjoyed reading this and getting some insight into what it’s like to foster dogs. Honey certainly is a wonderful teacher. I was surprised to learn that so many puppies are fostered, but it makes sense.

    • I was surprised too.

      When I decided to adopt a purebred puppy, it was to raise her to do some kind of volunteer work with me, like raising service dog pups or fostering. After surviving Honey’s puppyhood, I decided I wasn’t cut out to be a puppy raiser so I signed up to foster.

      And wouldn’t you know I’ve been fostering puppies ever since? :)

  6. Those that foster are special people. Since we pet sit occasionally and Mom gets all sad when the dog goes back home, and these are dogs we see regularly, I know she wouldn’t deal well with fostering and the coming and going. Instead, we adopt shelter cats, maybe one day another shelter dog, but right now we have a full house. Mom just gets too attached too easily.

    • Emma, I’m getting the feeling your mom would be happiest surrounded by all kinds of dogs.

      It’s great that you and your sisters are good hosts when your mom pet sits. That’s a terrific gift that you’re giving your friends. I’m sure their people really appreciate having somewhere safe for their dogs to be when they can’t bring them along.

  7. Maybe, if we had a bigger house and different neighbors I would consider short-term fostering; but it’s just not a viable option for us at this point. Callie & Shadow have adjusted to Ducky, and would probably make the adjustment to a foster; but Sam and I have our hands full juggling the three of them.

    • Well we all know how your last fostering experience worked out. You’re just a sucker for a pretty face. :)

      And no, I couldn’t foster if I had multiple dogs either.

      But the point of fostering is to get wonderful dogs into forever homes. And as far as Ducky is concerned, you’ve been a real gift.

  8. Thanks for writing this, it’s definitely one of the things we would like to do. It wasn’t possible with Viva, and we have to wait and see how it will go with Tilde. She is probably too young still, and with the house-guests we had so far she was an instigator! leaving it to Kenzo to restore order. It was on one of these occassions my friends nicknamed Kenzo, the General. It might be quite a handful for a foster I think, and definitely not every dog would thrive with my couple. But let’s wait and see when Tilde gets older.
    Honey is a wonderful teacher and glad it worked out for you adopting and training her for such a great purpose –among others :)

    • I’ll let you in on a secret–sometimes Honey is an instigator too.

      She doesn’t normally dig in the yard. But she brings out that little habit when we have a foster pup. It’s like she’s just showing off how bad she can be.

      Tilde has been with you such a short time. You’ll find all kinds of wonderful things to do with her, fostering or now. And besides, you don’t want to tire the General out too much. :)

  9. I would love to foster and promised myself I would as soon as I got my own place, however the few places I have approached have told me I won’t be suitable so it may be something for the future!!

    • Finding the right match with a shelter or rescue is key.

      It wouldn’t be so easy for me if I weren’t self-employed and working with an office close enough that I can bike home during lunch if I need to.

      Perhaps I’ll be reading your own foster stories some day in the future.

  10. I love your posts! <3
    One thing that I think would benefit your readers would be you talking about what it takes to foster.
    For example the time/dedication involved in fostering. That's the one thing that has us not fostering right now, we just don't spend quite enough time to properly introduce, train and work with a new dog.

    Other things to consider, puppies need a lot of work so maybe if you have less time on your hands an older or senior dog would be a better foster fit. Whereas on the other-hand, if you work from home a puppy would benefit from your time at home.

    And then of course keeping in mind the feelings/attitude of current pets if you have them. It was smart to not have a foster that Honey wasn't comfortable with, but some people choose to soldier on and then a problem occurs. People with pets who foster need to understand that not all dogs are good matches to live together and it's better that you not create a problem by trying to keep a foster who doesn't fit in with the established family. Putting the needs of the dog before your own emotional desires to help.