Every year, around 3.3 million dogs enter shelter systems in the U.S.
Around half a million of those are lost dogs who get returned to their owners. About 1.6 million get adopted quickly into forever homes. But if you’re doing the math, you know that leaves more than a million dogs each year without homes. If they’re lucky, they can stay at a no-kill shelter for months or years until the right family comes along. But more often, they’re euthanized.
Fostering a dog is one way that anyone can help combat animal shelter overcrowding. And becoming a pet foster parent is a lot easier than many people think.
If you’ve ever considered fostering a dog (or if you’re just an animal lover who wants to learn what the foster process entails), this guide is for you. By the end of this article, you’ll know everything you need to know to get started fostering a dog in your community — potentially saving a life while you’re at it.
Why Foster a Dog?
We could tell you this ourselves, but we thought the words of Katy Flatt, a longtime dog fosterer who has helped more than a dozen pups find their forever homes, put it best.
“Fostering dogs is incredibly rewarding. People often shy away from fostering because they don’t think they can give up the puppy or dog after caring for them, but truly, it’s more like dog sitting until their owner comes to pick them up. There is nothing quite like the fulfillment and joy that comes from seeing a dog matched with their perfect forever human. And as a foster parent, you have some say in who that person is, because you’ve had time to get to know the dog best.
Fostering also introduces you to a variety of different breeds, ages, personalities, and backstories. You learn to manage a variety of behaviors that makes you a great foster, but also, a better dog owner. So, whether you have dogs already or you’ve been hoping to get a dog, you can learn what type of temperaments and personalities fit best for you and your family.
But personal benefits aside, the ultimate goal is to find your pup the best possible home, and having a hand in that journey is such a special and humbling feeling. It’s not all fun and games. It’s a lot of monitoring, patience, and you’ll want to have a real good pet carpet spray, but I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who loves dogs, has the time, space, and the resources.”
What Kinds of Dogs Get Fostered?
Foster dogs can come in all shapes and sizes. A few of the reasons a dog might go to a foster home include:
- A shelter is overcrowded and needs more space for dogs.
- A rescue wants to see what a dog’s personality is like in a home setting before adopting it out.
- A dog needs basic training before being adopted.
- A very shy, timid, or scared dog needs a safe and comfortable place to warm up to people before being adopted.
- A dog is recovering from an injury, illness, or medical procedure.
- A dog is very old or sick and won’t thrive in a shelter setting.
Is Fostering a Dog Right For You?
There are a few questions you’ll need to ask yourself before fostering a dog, to make sure this is the right move for you.
Do You Have the Time Necessary to Devote to a Foster Dog?
Foster dogs will need time, attention, training, and socialization so they’re better able to find their forever home. Some of them might have special training or medical needs. In some cases, they can take more time and attention than your own pets. This is a serious commitment, so make sure you have the time before signing up to foster a dog.
Can You Be Patient With a Foster Dog?
In some cases, foster dogs come from traumatic backgrounds or homes where they weren’t properly cared for. They may be untrained or un-socialized, or they may have bad habits you need to work on. That’s all in addition to the fact that your home and family will be new to a foster dog, and that may be hard or scary for them. Do you have the patience to help your foster dog get through all of that?
Do You Have a Home That’s Safe for a Foster Dog?
Having a dog-safe home is a lot of work on its own. But foster dogs might be untrained or have bad habits that require even more work to keep their environment safe. Foster dogs may also be scared or lonely, and that means they need to be kept somewhere very secure so they can’t run away. Your home and yard need to be completely escape proof before you take in a foster dog.
Are Your Other Pets Safe Around Unknown Dogs?
If you have any other pets in your home, it’s important that they’re socialized to accept a strange dog in their space.
Is Everyone In Your Household On Board With Fostering a Dog?
Fostering a dog is more than just an individual decision. Before you move forward, you should make sure everyone in your household is on board and willing to do their part in taking care of and helping socialize the new dog.
Will You Be Able to Let Your Foster Dog Go?
And finally, after spending weeks or months caring for a dog, it can be incredibly hard to let them go. Sometimes, fosters “fail,” meaning the person fostering a dog ends up adopting them. That’s OK sometimes, but if you’re going to end up adopting every dog, you might not be right for being a foster.
Fostering a Dog Comes With Important Responsibilities
As you can see, fostering a dog is no small decision. And even if you’ve answered all of the above questions and determined that you’d like to foster a dog, there are even more important responsibilities you need to consider.
Foster Dog Finances
While the shelter or rescue you’re fostering for will provide for your foster dog’s basic needs, like veterinary care, food, and basic supplies, it’s still important to be financially stable and able to invest some money into your foster dog’s care. You might need more toys or a bed for your foster dog. You’ll also need to be able to transport your dog to different places. You may need to take a day off work here and there to take care of your foster duties. If you’re struggling to make ends meet, a foster dog might be an added financial stressor, and might not be for you.
Your foster dog may need to go to vet checkups, training sessions, adoption events, and more, and you’ll need to be able to transport him or her as needed. Ideally, you should have a car. But if you don’t, you’ll need a plan (and the budget) for getting your foster dog where he needs to be, whether that’s on public transit or taking a pet-friendly rideshare.
Rarely will you have a foster dog who’s perfectly trained. In fact, some fosters might not even know the basics of being a pet, like housetraining. Part of being a dog foster parent is shouldering the responsibility of getting that dog ready to be adopted, which means working on whatever training he or she needs — from housetraining to obedience.
Depending on their breed, your foster dog may have grooming needs. And if they were a stray or came from a neglectful former home, those needs may be extensive, and require the expertise of a professional groomer.
Meeting With and Evaluating Potential Adopters
As a dog foster, it may be up to you to coordinate meetings with potential adopters. You may even be asked to screen applications and invite adopters into your home so you can evaluate them.
How to Get Started Fostering a Dog
If you’ve gotten this far and the responsibilities of fostering a dog haven’t scared you away, you might make a great foster parent for a pup.
The first step is finding an organization that needs dog fosters. Ask around at local animal shelters and dog rescue organizations in your community. Every organization will have different requirements for people who want to foster animals, so follow whatever procedures they have in place. You will likely need to apply, undergo some kind of training, and have an employee visit your home to make sure it’s suitable.
If the organization clears you to foster a dog, congratulations! It’s time to get ready for this life-saving work that’s ahead of you.
Preparing Your Home for a Foster Dog
Even if you already have another dog, preparing your home for a foster dog takes some extra time and consideration. You have to account for the fact that your foster dog may be scared, nervous, and untrained.
Before your foster dog arrives, make sure you have all the supplies you need, set up in a safe, quiet area of your home. Let the dog spend time there, and hold off on introducing it to any other household pets until it seems comfortable and settled in.
Make sure your entire property is dog-proofed, meaning anything potentially dangerous (like electrical cords, breakable objects, and cleaning chemicals) is out of reach. And if you have a yard where your foster dog will be let out, check it carefully to make sure it’s secure and there are no places where a dog might be able to escape.
Protect Your Foster Dog With Huan
The one supply you should consider getting for foster dogs is a Huan Smart Tag. Foster dogs don’t have the stability of their forever homes yet. The new people and environments might make them scared or anxious, which makes them more likely to run away. With a Huan Smart Tag, if that happens, you’ll be able to see your foster dog’s location on a smartphone app and tap into a network of other pet lovers in your community who can help safely find and return the dog.
Helping a Foster Dog Adapt To Your Home
When your foster dog arrives at your home, give it plenty of quiet time to rest, explore, and settle in. Spend time with the dog if it isn’t afraid of you. Offer pets if the dog likes them, and verbal reassurance if he or she is nervous around you.
Remember that every dog is different, and your foster dog may have some traumatic experiences to recover from. The most important thing is to offer it patience, love, and security in your home as it learns how to be a pet again.
Fostering a dog is a lifesaving way to help animals in your community. Get started by searching for shelters in need of fosters near you, and learn more about dog care on the Huan blog.