Fostering from a Dog’s Point of View

House guests bring stress.

Is there enough milk? Will you run out of hot water after the third long shower? And how will you keep everyone from getting on each other’s nerves in tight quarters?

What’s a dog’s version of house guests? A foster pet.

Golden Retriever and mixed breed puppy playing

What’s this little brown thing attached to the end of my rope toy?

Fostering From a Dog’s Point of View

When I write about the dogs we’ve fostered, I get a few comments from readers who wonder how their dog would do with foster pets in the house. I thought some of you might want to know what Honey thinks of fostering.

Since I’m not clever enough to write a cute post in her voice, however, you’re stuck with my observations of her behavior when we have doggy house guests.

But you should know Honey’s background first.

Born to Volunteer

I got Honey from a responsible hobby breeder. Why? Because  I wanted to volunteer with dogs and needed a canine partner at my side.

I don’t mean to say that a shelter dog couldn’t have the trainability and affectionate personality I was looking for. But I wasn’t skilled enough to evaluate a dog in a shelter for the traits I was looking for.

So I stacked the deck.

I started with a well-bred dog, socialized from birth. And she’s been a gem.

The very first puppy we fostered showed how well prepared Honey was for her job. She dialed back her exuberance and showed Scooter a romping good time. I like to think Scooter’s early experiences with Honey started him on a good path. And that he has positive feelings about other dogs as he grows up.

But Honey’s responsibilities involve more than just playing with foster dogs. All our routines change when a new dog comes home with us.

Everything Changes When a Foster Dog Comes

When a foster dog comes home, barriers go up.

We get out doggy gates and exercise pens to help with house training and to provide safe separation until we know how the new dog will interact with Honey. Instead of eating when we do, Honey gets her Kong behind closed doors while the foster dog is fed in another room.

Golden Retriever and hound mix on the porch

She’s on my side of the couch. Tell her to move over.

And every toy and bone is picked up and put away. We don’t want anything to stimulate a squabble.

If the foster dog turns out to be mellow, things slowly return to normal. Cherie and Honey used to sit side by side on the couch each chewing on their Nylabones with no problems. Other dogs are snarkier, like Eddie, and need careful watching during their entire stay.

But what really keeps the peace is the way Honey senses how she needs to treat each dog differently.

Honey Changes Her Behavior

Our first two fosters, Scooter and Buster, were puppies. They were playful and fun-loving. Honey had to make her play style more gentle and less scary to a dog 20% of her size.

Eddie, our third foster, was also a puppy—but a puppy who didn’t like other dogs too much. No amount of play bows or wiggle butts would entice Eddie to play. And too much exuberance in Eddie’s presence would cause him to snarl a warning.

Cherie came to us while she was recovering from her spaying surgery. They both wanted to play but doctor’s orders said no rough behavior for at least a week. Luckily, Cherie made a good recovery and the two spent the summer wrestling and playing all over the yard and house.

But now Honey has a new foster sister. And she’s learning another dog’s body language.

Layla play bowing to Honey.

What are you saying to me Layla? You’re play bowing but those choppers look awfully menacing and you really gotta relax more.

Understanding Dogs Who Don’t Speak Clearly

I was told Layla was surrendered to the SPCA because she didn’t get along with the other dog in the house.

She’s doing ok with Honey. But Layla’s learning how to speak dog. Honey is patient while she’s in school. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy for her.

Layla has started initiating some chase games the past few days. At first I was worried. Layla had a stiff little tail. I wasn’t sure she unambiguously wanted to play. And Honey wasn’t either. Here’s what I’ve noticed about their play sessions:

  • Layla doesn’t chase Honey; she only wants to be chased.
  • Layla has a stiff posture, especially in contrast with Honey’s loose, playful style.
  • Each of them interrupts their chase frequently to shake out tension.
  • Although Honey loves to wrestle, she keeps her paws off Layla.
  • Layla body blocks Honey but Honey never does it back.
  • Eventually, Honey will stop to lie down and chew on a stick–a sure sign of stress.

And yet, I’m seeing changes in Layla. She’s getting fewer hackles when she plays. Her tail is loosening up. And she’s even started play bowing, even if she looks a little stiff and awkward compared to Honey.

I think she’s learning something new.

Hopefully that will make things easier on Honey. But until then, Honey has some reliable stress relievers.

Honey the Golden Retriever plays with Layla the foster beagle.

Okay, Layla, shake out all the tension. Our next position is Downward Facing Dog.

How a Golden Retriever Deals with Stress

All toys are still put away. Which means Honey doesn’t have one of her favorite stress relievers available to her.

How can I tell she’s feeling stress?

The other day she walked into my office with something in her mouth. When I looked closer, I found one of my balled up socks from the laundry hamper.

Toys and balls are like pacifiers for mouthy Golden Retrievers. It feels good for them to have something to carry. And without any toys, Honey resorted to a behavior she hadn’t shown since she was a puppy.

How a Person Deals with a Golden Retriever’s Stress

Seeing Honey with the sock in her mouth showed me I need to do a better job of giving her some outlets. Every day, we’ll play tug and fetch in the yard while Layla stays on the porch or inside.

But I need to do more. And try to reintegrate some of our regular routines (letting her lick out my yogurt cup in the morning, off-leash walks) into our lives.

Even if our house guest has to find some other way to amuse herself for a little while.

Honey the Golden Retriever sleeping with Layla the beagle.

When looking for a dog to be a foster sister, make sure she has a good pillow butt.

Eventually the Foster Dog is Adopted

If I thought Honey found fostering extremely stressful, I wouldn’t do it. As important as it is to help perfectly nice little dogs be more adoptable, my first job is to advocate for Honey.

Some fosters are easier for Honey than others.

But Honey is a resilient dog. And the occasional foster dog causes her about as much stress as a house full of close friends or family causes any person.

You’re glad they came. But you’re also glad to see them go home.

How does your dog react to “house guests?” Would fostering be tolerable to him or out of the question? How do you know?




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  1. Sounds like you are doing an awesome job and Honey is being fantastic.

  2. I love the updates Pam! You are a great foster mom and we are lucky to have you!

  3. That is so sweet how Honey not only adapts, but enriches the lives of the foster dogs. She certainly is a special girl. I love my Kelly to pieces, but know she wouldn’t do well with foster dogs. She’s can’t share her toys and gets stressed easily. (I say this lovingly!) Brooks would be fine, he just seems to roll with whatever life brings. I guess that’s because he’s a golden :) I’ve truly come to love the temperament of a golden.
    When we brought Brooks into the house it took a lot of adjusting for Kelly. I still think it’s sometimes hard on her, but also have come to the conclusion that it’s not the end of the world. She still gets plenty of individual attention, walks, love, play, etc and her world has changed a bit, but we still make her home secure and loving.

  4. I really don’t know how my dogs would do with fosters, I’ve seen from previous interactions with dogs at the house that they didn’t care for it, so it’s not something I choose to try. I would hate to be just one more bump in the road for a dog searching for their forever home.

    My dogs like to have people over but sometimes it does stress Sampson out a bit because he is used to and loves the normal peace and quiet of our home. Thankfully he will go seek out a quiet spot if he feels the need. Delilah however is always on the hunt for the anticipated food and rarely sleeps or seeks solitude when company comes a calling.

    It’s great how Honey adjusts herself for each foster dog, somehow knowing instinctively what they need.

    You’re doing a great job Pamela. :-)

  5. Great post! We have visiting dogs frequently, since my daughter has clients. (she is a dog handler) So far we have never had any issues, but then all her client’s dogs are also collies. My pack seem to recognize and welcome other collies. It’s pretty funny. :)

  6. You’re doing fantastic work.

    I wonder about Silas, honestly. He had flashes of dog-dog brilliance as a little chap–he was the only dog in puppy kindergarten who could be trusted to play with the tiny, fuzzy, looks-just-like-a-squeaky-toy Pomeranian puppy. He also coaxed an older dog into playing, even though she was so skittish that she had *never* played at daycare. He’s more nervous now, though, and we’ve let his socialization go a bit.

    We don’t own a house, though, so we’re years away from even thinking about it.

  7. It looks like you guys are great at fostering! I think my dog would be thrilled to have foster-buddies, but that I would also have to really really monitor them when they were interacting with each other. Gwynn doesn’t always pay attention to the ‘back off’ signals that Honey seems to instinctively get, and I wouldn’t want to stress out a foster pup too much. he’s very gentle, though, and does modify his one-on-one play with other dogs to be at a level they’re at.

  8. Sue at The Golden Life says:

    My two Goldens are like night and day around Ducky. Callie is more like a loving mama dog — patient as a saint but will tell her off when necessary — while Shadow is more like the older, impatient sister who feels pangs of jealousy when little sister gets the attention she used to get as the “baby” of the family. And Ducky, our former foster turned family member? Well, she has never liked competition for our attention, but she just has to get used to having it. Ducky is “a work in progress”, and it’s just going to take time and patience. The doggie daycare staff has been great about working with her. And while Ducky’s at daycare, her older sisters get to have me to themselves like in “the old days”. Makes it easier for them to deal with her when she is home with us. It’s a balancing act for us humans to provide loving discipline for Ducky while still allowing Callie and Shadow some leeway in teaching her some good doggie manners — a balancing act we haven’t quite mastered but are getting better at.

  9. Layla is adorable. And lucky to have you and Honey to help her learn. That last picture is fab.

    I really appreciate you sharing your fostering stories here. Not only do I get to live vicariously through you, I am learning as much as Layla is.

    And thanks for pointing out the GR stress reliever of stealing socks. My neighbor’s dog does that constantly and I’m beginning to wonder now if she’s trying to tell them something. I will share your thoughts with them.

  10. My Akita mix Crookytail is a lot like Honey: he seems to naturally gravitate to the role of “guidance counselor” to the foster dogs, whether they’re puppies or older than he is, and deftly adjusts his interactions to make them comfortable. He just turned 2, though, and he’s started roughhousing more than he used to (to the point where it overwhelms smaller and shyer dogs), so I don’t know how long he’ll stay in that role.

    My fearful/fear-aggressive German Shepherd mix Pongu HATES foster dogs. Hates them. Snarls and growls and bites at them constantly. (He has very good bite inhibition and has never actually injured any dog, foster or otherwise, but he sure does love to terrorize them.) If they break any house rules, like getting on the couch (where fosters are not allowed, in case their adopters don’t want to let them on furniture), Pongu runs over to me so he can “report” them.

    After the first couple of weeks, Pongu learns to tolerate them, and if we have them for a month or so, he seems to genuinely befriend them. But it’s always bumpy in the beginning. He’s just a jealous insecure dog.

    I don’t think it causes him severe stress — and I think mild stress helps him learn to cope with life a little better; it’s a variation on learning frustration tolerance — but yeah, I spend those early days supervising them VERY closely, and making good use of our foster crate.

  11. We used to foster frequently when we had two senior dogs – a lab and a shepherd mix. Several times we fostered seniors, so it was one big snooze fest around here. One time we fostered, not a puppy, but a youngster…it was a bit much, but my two seniors would just ignore him and he entertained himself. Right now, our new girl Maggie is still on the fearful side and SlimDoggy is just a bulldozer sometimes, so adding the confusion a foster brings probably won’t work right now. But maybe in another year or so. It’s a great experience and I think its good socialization for our dogs too.

  12. I’m thinking about getting back into fostering this year so I found this post extremely helpful…Your observations of Honey’s behavior changes gave me some good pointers on what to look for in Gizmo…Thank you

  13. How interesting! Honey seems like a wonderful foster sibling :-) you’ve raised her beautifully! We’ve had foster kitties in our house since I was adopted…but all foster pups were before my time! I’ve taken to all the foster cats pretty well though; to begin with I give them their space, suss them out for a while, and then play with them (or stay far away from them) accordingly! It’s very fun having them around! I’m not sure how well I’d be with a foster pup in my house…I’m not a great sharer, but I turn into destructo pup without things to do, I also don’t like being away from the action either…so for now, I’m a solo kind of a pup! 😉

  14. This is great information. I’ve been thinking of fostering and was wondering how people handle some situations. I’ll be reading often!

  15. Honey is an amazing foster sister! Cali was an excellent foster sister too, the only thing we really noticed is that she would not compete for attention, she would just go and pout on her bed. (we were fostering Goldens . .and they REALLY wanted all of the attention!!)

    It’s so great to see how well you all handle fostering – I love seeing Layla’s progress!

  16. We fostered Greyhounds for several years, and our other hounds took it totally in stride. I think if any of our dogs would have a problem, it would be Morgan. She just doesn’t take change well and she isn’t good at reading other dogs’ signals if it’s not what she wants to hear. Kuster would be thrilled, but he can also be a bit too exuberant for other dogs at times! I think he’ll be a puppy in his heart forever!

  17. Woof! Woof! We were thinking to foster a senior Golden before but remembered how I (Sugar) reacted when we babysit our neighbor’s dog (not Golden). I was not happy. I more of a people dog so I get really jealous if there’s another dog in the house … I dont get mean, I just go to silence (go in a corner). So that’s the end of a dog house guest. Lots of Golden Woofs, Sugar

  18. Honey is a wonderfully adaptable dog. Justus will get down on the floor to play with small dogs; he even did it at the store with a Pug puppy. We’re changing dogs all the time with adoptions and deaths (too many in the last few months). Having multiple “foster” dogs at a time and needing to adjust, observe, minimally train, and maintain peace, I try to screen dogs I accept. Most are Beagles or seniors on purpose. I’ve had my “outliers” like Sparky. the Rough Collie. and Snowman, the Great Pyrenees, but even they, in their breed backgrounds, do well with other dogs. Beagles are pack dogs, used to working two by two or more. On occasion, someone will come in, say “hi,” and blend in seamlessly. The new Beagles are doing well except for one teeny, weeny thing: they are both intact boys and Peanut, senior Weim/Lab mix, is finishing her heat….oh, joy, but we are managing!

  19. Felix is pretty “roll with the punches”, but picking up all his toys would be very stressful for him, so we’d have to make sure he had a space he could just go be with his toys. I would love to foster by our by laws make it very difficult.