How To Foster A Dog Step By Step

You won’t regret it 💕🐾

Have you ever toyed with the idea of fostering a dog?

While opening up your home to a temporary bestie might sound like the greatest idea, fostering is a huge (but amazing) responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

The Dodo reached out to Julie Burgess, a veterinary technician and certified dog trainer at Senior Tail Waggers, Dr. Corinne Wigfall, a veterinarian working with SpiritDog Training, and Marka Law, a rescue advocate who’s been fostering dogs since 2016 through Waggytail Rescue in New York City, to find out how to foster a dog step by step.

What does it mean to foster a dog?

Fostering a dog is when someone temporarily cares for a homeless pup. “This could be because the dog's real owner is unable to take care of it or because it has gotten lost and needs time to recover after all the anxiety that comes with being lost,” Burgess told The Dodo.

As a foster parent, you could take care of puppies that were born to a mom in a shelter, or any other rescue dog who might need a temporary home while she waits for her forever family.

“Fostering usually occurs when the dog is not quite ready for rehoming,” Dr. Wigfall told The Dodo. “This can be due to illness, recovery after a surgery or due to them needing further training to improve behavior.”Fostering is an important part of the rescue world because it allows you to help the rescue learn more about the individual dog: her personality, likes, dislikes and any quirks she might have. It also helps the rescue have physical space available within the rescue to house more dogs, if needed.
When you foster a dog, it means you’re providing the pup with:

  • Food/water
  • Exercise and attention
  • A loving home

You can foster a dog through an animal shelter, humane society or rescue group. The length of fostering can be a few weeks, a few months or longer.

Adopting vs. fostering a dog

The main differences between fostering a dog and adopting a dog are the length of time and the commitment you promise the dog upfront.

Adopting means you’re providing a dog with a forever home.

Fostering means you’re providing a dog with a temporary home until she gets adopted into her forever home.

While fostering is usually a short-term situation (unless you become a foster fail, of course), it’s not always easy to know exactly how long you’ll be fostering a particular dog.

“I've had fosters that only stayed for a week or two, and fosters that have lived with me for months at a time,” Law told The Dodo. “Some dogs can be fostered for a year or more if there is no adoption interest. Many rescues hope that you can commit to fostering a dog until they are adopted, but if you can only foster for a short time, they might want your help anyway.”

A positive of fostering is that you can help several animals over the course of your fostering career since their time with you is limited.

“You can then foster another animal after they get rehomed and keep offering love to many animals,” Dr. Wigfall said.

How does fostering a dog work?

Fostering a dog is a big responsibility. You’re not just taking a cute dog into your house temporarily. Oftentimes you’ll be training your foster pup to help her get adjusted to living happily in your home.

You’re your foster dog's best chance to get adopted into a forever home, and it might take some work on your end to get her adoption-ready.Here’s some of what’s required when fostering a dog so you can be prepared:

Step 1: You’ll complete an application process.

Before anything, you’ll need to apply to be a foster with your rescue group or shelter of choice.

“Every rescue has a different process, but they usually want to know if you have any experience with animals beforehand,” Law said. “Even an easy dog is a big change to your routine and lifestyle! Depending on your level of experience and what you can or can't do, a rescue will match you with a foster dog that needs help.”

The application process often includes an interview, home visit and background check.

Step 2: You’ll meet with your potential foster.

After the application process, you’ll meet with potential foster dogs to see which one is a match for you and your environment (this includes your house, other pets, family members, etc.).

Step 3: You’ll help her adjust to her new environment.

Once you’re approved, have met with your foster and finally take your foster home, it’s up to you to get her adjusted to her new environment.

“It's up to the foster to acclimate the dog to the new environment, make sure the dog's physical needs are taken care of, give the dog a chance to decompress from their rescue, and learn as much as they can about the dog's personality and needs,” Law said.

Step 4: You’ll help train your foster.

It’s part of your responsibility as a good foster parent to help make sure the pup’s well adjusted enough to be adoptable. Since your home might be the first that your foster pup has lived in, this will usually include some training.

“Dogs coming to fostering homes generally require socialization and special training as many have never experienced a real home environment before,” Dr. Wigfall said.

This means you may have an adult dog who’s never been house trained before, so you’ll have to step up to be able to help train her.

Crate training and teaching basic dog cues using positive reinforcement can also go a long way to make a foster pup more adoptable.

But keep in mind that training isn’t always easy, so it’s important that foster parents set aside enough time to help their foster pups.

“As the nature of fostering generally is to train, rehabilitate or help animals recover, the fosterer generally should be at home for at least part of the day,” Dr. Wigfall said.

Step 5: You’ll help in the adoption process.

Because foster parents know their foster dogs the best, you’ll often be asked to assist in meeting potential forever families for your foster pup.

“A foster is usually the person who knows a dog the best — they can tell potential families what the dog likes and dislikes, how they behave in a home or out on walks, how the dog is with other dogs or animals or children, and so on,” Law said. “Fosters may be asked to do a meet and greet with a potential family for the dog, and a lot of fosters have input on who adopts their foster dog, though the rescue usually makes the final decision.”

How much does it cost to foster a dog?

Shelters and rescues want to ensure they provide the best possible situation for a dog who needs to find a permanent home. There’s typically no fee to foster a dog, and oftentimes they’ll help their fosterers by providing supplies like:

  • Food
  • Bedding
  • A collar and leash

This isn't always the case, though. There may be times that foster parents need to buy food, bedding, crates, toys and other items considered dog necessities.

“Nowadays a lot of rescues have foster networks where fosters can share supplies with each other,” Law said. “Waggytail Rescue has a Facebook group where fosters and friends can trade supplies with each other, and that goes a long way towards minimizing costs!”

Rescues do, however, tend to cover all medical expenses a dog might need while in your care.

“Rescues typically cover medical costs such as vet visits, medication, spay and neuter surgeries and microchipping,” Law said.

And if there are any out-of-pocket expenses for vet visits, the rescue typically reimburses foster families for that.

Are you ready to foster a dog?

Before fostering a dog, it’s important to sit down and make sure you’re suitable to offer all the care the foster dog may need. “Foster dogs usually have socialization, training or health needs, which require time and patience,” Dr. Wigfall said

Dr. Wigfall suggested going through this checklist to make sure you’re ready for fostering a dog:

  • Make sure you’re home for at least part of the day.
  • Have experience with dog handling and training.
  • Your current pets are suitable to be mixed with a new dog.
  • Your home allows dogs on the premises.
  • Your home is suitable for a dog (has a secure garden, etc.).
  • You have transport available 24/7 in case of emergencies.
  • You can commit to daily training and socialization of the foster dog if needed.

Dog fostering tips

If you know you’re ready to foster a dog, these tips can help make the process even smoother:

Know the rules of the rescue

Some rescues require you to uphold certain requirements, like not taking your foster dog to a dog park or not letting your foster be off leash. Make sure you know these rules by heart.

“While a dog is a foster's day-to-day responsibility, they are officially owned by the rescue until they are adopted,” Law said. That means that, by becoming a foster, you're agreeing to follow the rescue's rules and keep their dogs safe.

Crate train your foster

Crates are a wonderful tool for dogs. Not only will crate training allow you to give your foster a place of her own, but it’ll ensure she’s always safe whenever you leave the house.

“Crate training can make the fostering process much smoother and give your foster dog a safe space to be when you're not home,” Law said.

You can try a crate like this one from Amazon for $78.99

Give your foster plenty of time and space

When you first bring your foster dog home, you’re going to want to just leave her alone and allow her to explore and decompress in her own time. “The dog is in a new situation, with new people who don't speak the same language,” Burgess said. “Imagine being in a foreign country and moving in with people you don't know.”

This means you should be super patient with your foster pup and never force her to do anything she doesn’t want to.

“Give your foster dog space and time to understand that you're not a threat and you're not looking to harm them,” Law said. “And treats go a long way to helping the dog realize, ‘Hey, this place isn't so bad!’”

It's totally normal for a dog to need a couple weeks to several months to get comfortable in a new home, so try to be patient with your new foster pup and go at her pace.

Make sure your pet and your foster dog meet beforehand

Although the rescue will probably require this anyway, it’s good to note that your foster and your current pet, if you have one, should meet prior to bringing your foster home.

“If you have another pet in the home and you're bringing in a foster dog, do whatever you can to ensure a smooth introduction,” Law said. “A resident dog and foster dog should meet in neutral territory before they go home together. A resident cat and foster dog should not have face-to-face contact for a few days.”

While fostering is a huge responsibility, it’s also one of the most fulfilling things you can do in the rescue world. By following these tips, you’ll be well on your way to helping save so many dogs in need.

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