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dog foster parent hugging her dog

Fostering a pet isn't just a great thing to do, it's crazy fulfilling

the essentials

  • Millions of animals enter animal shelters each year — Fostering can help save the lives of shelter pets that need care shelters can’t provide.
  • Fostering a dog can be a rewarding experience — But it’s important to be prepared for the added responsibilities and costs of being a foster home for a pup.
  • There’s a wide range of dogs that need fostering — Fostering doesn’t always mean taking in a dog with behavioral issues.

Fostering a dog is a rewarding way for you to help out homeless animals. With an estimated 6.5 million animals entering U.S. shelters each year, fostering a dog can help reduce overcrowding in shelters, open up room for more animals to be saved, and give foster animals a loving home with a foster family while they wait for adoption and their permanent home.

Wondering if fostering a dog is right for you? We’re here to walk you through everything you need to know before taking that final step of bringing a foster dog into your home environment.

Dog fostering 101

First things first, what is dog fostering? There are many reasons why a dog may not be suited to stay at a dog shelter, and in these cases, dogs need a loving home to stay in while they wait to get adopted. This is where foster homes come into play.

When you foster a dog, you’re opening up your home to love and take care of a dog while they are on their road to adoption. Most of the time, these situations are temporary, but each case varies.

👉 Fun fact: A study on the effects of canine foster care funded by Maddie’s Fund® found that foster environments improved dogs’ overall mood, behavior, and adoption odds.

Fostering vs. adoption

The primary difference between fostering and adoption is the permanence of the arrangement. When you foster a dog, it’s planned to be temporary. Remember, adoption is a forever commitment. Additionally, fostering generally requires less financial investment because shelters and rescue groups oftentimes foot vet bills and may provide basic needs like a crate.

Fostering is a great option for those who are considering adoption but aren’t sure you’re ready for a lifelong commitment.

What happens if you fall in love and want to keep the dog you are fostering? The goal of fostering is generally to help a dog get adopted. If you decide you’d like to adopt the dog in your care, shelters and rescue groups will allow you to put in an adoption application.

Why dogs are brought into the foster care system

There are many reasons why a dog might need to go into the foster care system, from young puppies to adult dogs. Many dogs in foster care require an extra level of attention that a shelter cannot provide, such as behavioral training or medical issues. Some dogs enter the foster care system because there simply isn’t room at a nearby shelter to house them while they wait to be adopted. Some foster dogs are returned adoptions waiting for their future forever home.

Here are a few examples of why a dog might enter into a foster care situation:

  • If a dog is recovering from an illness or injury that makes a shelter environment less-than-ideal
  • Senior or sick dogs that are in the hospice stage of care that a shelter can’t provide
  • Young, orphaned puppies younger than three to four weeks are often fostered
  • If a dog needs behavioral training, such as learning basic manners or improving socialization skills
  • When the shelter wants to learn more about a specific dog in a home setting

Of course, sometimes dogs end up in foster care simply because there is nowhere else for them to go. Some cities don’t have overnight shelters that can house dogs, and others may have shelters that are too overcrowded for new pups. Shelters that are experiencing damage or outages because of a local natural disaster may also need to foster their pets.

Are you ready to foster a dog?

While fostering a dog may not be quite the same level of commitment as adoption, you should still make sure you are in a place where you can care for any dog that may be put into your care. Here are a few things to consider before fostering:

  • Time and commitment to taking care of an animal. You need to be around enough to take the dog on walks, socialize with them, and in some cases, help provide basic training. You can still have a full-time job and foster, but you should be around enough to provide the care required.
  • Understanding basic training techniques. You may need to help train a pup with basic obedience training, so having a basic understanding of how to train a dog will be helpful. You don’t have to be an expert, but knowing the basics won’t hurt.
  • Know what you are responsible for. You might need to take your foster pet to the vet, talk to potential adopters, take them to adoption events, provide photos for social media, provide reports on the dog’s behavior to the shelter, and more. Make sure to ask the shelter what is required of you before fostering.
  • Consider your family and household. If you own pets already, make sure that they are friendly enough to get along with another animal in the household. Families with kids should also set expectations with your family members to make sure adding a pet to the mix will be manageable. Of course, you’ll also want to make sure your physical home is ready for a foster dog, too (more on that below).

Cost of fostering a dog

While fostering shouldn’t require a massive excess of funds, there are some costs to consider before you begin fostering. You’ll need to be able to provide for your foster pup — food, water, basic grooming, toys, training treats, and more. Make sure that your budget can swing the added financial cost of a pet before jumping in.

However, most of the “cost” associated with fostering is emotional. You’ll likely get attached to your pup, but remember that a foster situation is temporary. It can be hard to say goodbye, but it can help to keep in mind that fostering helps give dogs a loving home and ultimately saves lives.

Of course, if you do fall head over paws for your foster dog, there are ways you can adopt them yourself and become the forever home they’ve been waiting for.

“What I learned from fostering a puppy during COVID-19”:

We laughed, we cried, we held each other when we had no one else — but ultimately we realized that home isn’t permanent. Home is a moment — it can be found in the fleeting joy of a morning run, the deep relaxing breaths that follow uncontrollable belly laughs, and the moments of beautiful coincidence that somehow glue our experience of reality together.

Getting started as a dog foster

So, you’ve decided to become a dog foster. These should be your next steps:

  • Find an animal shelter or rescue group near you that has a dog foster care system. You can use sites like Petfinder to narrow the search, but you can also just start with your local shelter and branch out from there. Your city may also have an adoption center that helps coordinate with a foster care program.
  • Fill out the foster application process to make sure you are a good fit to foster. Pay attention to what is required of you while going through the application process. Who is responsible for vet bills, what are the responsibilities of the foster parent, do you need to train the pup? Ask lots of questions, and don’t be shy!
  • Once you’ve gone through the application process, you’ll be set to start fostering. The final step is to make sure you are stocked with what you need to take care of a pup.

Getting your home foster-ready

Before bringing home your foster dog, you’ll want to make sure your home is ready for pets.

  • You may be required to have a fenced-in yard. This should be discussed during the application process. Many shelters will assess your home and select a dog that best fits your lifestyle, which means a fence or large yard may not be a necessity.
  • Have a dog bed. The shelter may provide a crate, but a dog bed is more comfortable for lounging.
  • Grooming materials. Your pup (and your clothes, furniture, and carpet) will thank you.
  • Treats and toys. Both are excellent tools for helping train dogs, and toys can help keep dogs occupied rather than chewing on the furniture.

Pet cleaning supplies. Even well-trained dogs can have accidents — especially in a new home. Make sure you have the appropriate cleaning supplies on hand just in case.

playing with a dog outside

Snow or not, exercise is important

Tips for fostering dogs with emotional and behavioral issues

Not every foster dog comes with aggressive behavior issues — there are so many different types of dogs that end up in foster care. But you may need to step up to foster a pup that has special needs such as emotional or behavioral issues.

Things to look out for when fostering a dog with behavioral issues:

  • Territorialism with food
  • Biting when cornered
  • Lack of basic training
  • Separation anxiety

When you are fostering a dog that has these issues, there are a few tips to help you while fostering.

Make sure they are physically healthy

The first step is to make sure your foster dog is healthy. Underlying health issues can cause behavioral problems that signal a need for medical care. And the emotional turmoil of being in a new environment can also cause physical symptoms that need to be treated under veterinary care.

Positive reinforcement over hard discipline

Some foster dogs with emotional and behavioral issues are coming from abusive or neglectful homes. Because of this, a rewards system during dog training can go a long way compared to a discipline-focused training method. Be patient with them, and show them that they are in a safe and loving home.

Socialize, socialize, socialize

Socialization with both humans and other animals is important. Slowly get your foster pup used to being touched by you. Rituals such as weekly brushing, nighttime cuddles on the couch and more can help normalize interaction with humans. If you and your foster dog are up for it, introducing them to friends and family in small doses can help get them used to being around new people, too.

Get them accustomed to other dogs, as well. Use treats to reward good behavior, and make sure to be diligent about staying close during interactions.