How To Foster A Dog

How To Foster A Dog

I realized I wanted to start fostering dogs after adopting our dog JJ. He was our first experience with a foster-based rescue and it had a huge impact me.

Fostering was a great way for my dog-obsessed daughter to learn more about different breeds, personalities, and acts of kindness that comes from volunteering. She wanted a dog of her own and I wanted to make sure she was prepared for that in every way.

We’ve learned so much as a foster family. In fact, it has changed our lives, and we are better dog parents for it. Fostering is what inspired me to start this blog!

Every time we foster a dog, I truly feel we are receiving just as much as we are giving! The fact that we are connected with an awesome rescue group has been key.

JJ was My Inspiration to Start Fostering Other Dogs
JJ was My Inspiration to Start Fostering Other Dogs

7 steps to how to foster a dog the right way

Fostering can be a great option for people that aren’t ready to make the long-term commitment of owning a dog or for people that just want to help save a life. But there is a certain level of time commitment you need to be ready to take on. 

Step 1. Take the should I foster a dog quiz

Make sure you are ready to take the leap of becoming a foster home by taking our quiz:

  1. Do you live in an apartment or rent? While this may not be a deal-breaker, it is important to check with your landlord that you will not be breaking any terms of your lease. 
  2. If you have a dog at home already, is he/she dog friendly?
  3. How much time do you have to spend with a dog?
  4. Do you have time to walk and train a foster dog each day?
  5. Are you prepared to handle potty accidents, chewing, separation anxiety?
  6. Can you afford to purchase dog food and supplies, which can be up to $100 per month
  7. Are you willing to travel to vet appointments, training programs, and adoption events?
  8. Can you keep your emotions separate and keep strong when it comes time to adopt out your foster dog? This may be the hardest part of fostering dogs. 

Step 2. Understand what is involved when fostering a dog.

You will most likely need to supply dog food, water, and basic supplies. 

Then there is the physical and emotional toll it takes on you, your family, other pets and your house. 

It’s not unusual for a rescue dog to have some issues. It could be medical or behavioral. 

A good rescue will assist you with these issues, as we will discuss in step 3. But a lot of the day to day problems lay in your hands. Potty accidents, excessive barking, leash pulling, chewing, separation anxiety… this list can go on and on.

Traveling will most likely be part of your responsibilities of taking care of your foster dog. He will need to go to the vet and maybe to adoption events. 

You will need to be available to talk and meet with potential adopters and be open and honest with them about ALL of the dog’s positive and negative traits. 

Our few more of our Foster Dogs pictured below are: Mocha, Prada and Suzie
A few more of our Foster Dogs pictured above are: Mocha, Prada, and Suzie

Step 3. Find a reliable rescue or shelter to work with.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to find a rescue you can trust. Having the same values will make fostering much easier. The last thing you want is to end up with a dog and the rescue is unwilling to help you. 

A good rescue will take a dog back if it turns out he’s not a match for your home. And they should assist with any behavioral training needed for the dog to be adopted. 

Some rescues are more concerned about a quick turn around rate, rather than the welfare of the dog or finding the right home. Researching before committing to a particular rescue is very important. 

Here are some things to look for and ask before you sign up with any rescue or shelter:

  • Make sure the group you choose is a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Organization. This means they are not in business for the money, everyone who works for this business is a volunteer, by law they are not allowed to pay themselves or employees.
  • How do you get matched with a foster dog? Do you get to choose which dog you want to foster, or does the rescue or shelter decide which dog you foster?
  • Who is responsible to pay for food and supplies? You may be asked to pay for your own supplies, such as food, crate, leash, toys, etc. While some rescues will offer to reimburse you for these items. Some rescues receive donations from the community, which is then passed on to the foster homes.
  • Who is responsible to pay for medical care? The rescue group should be paying for all medical care, period. That includes all necessary vaccinations, spay/neutering, and if the dog gets injured or sick while in your home. And on this same note, make sure the rescue does require the dog to have all of its vaccinations and a spay/neuter BEFORE the dog gets adopted.
  • What happens if you can’t or don’t want to keep the foster dog. For example, you bring in a foster dog and it doesn’t get along with your own dog or has behavior issues you aren’t equipped to handle. Is there someone that you can surrender the dog back to? Or are you stuck with that dog until it gets adopted?
  • How does the shelter or rescue find the dog his forever home? Do they have adoption days or other events? Do adopters come to your home to meet the foster dog? Ask if you can take part in the adoption process.

Ask around to friends, neighbors, coworkers, and of course Google! Look at their website and social media channels for reviews. 

Read What’s the Difference Between a Dog Rescue and Humane Society or Shelter.

The rescue group or shelter will be a big part of you being a foster family, so it’s important to feel comfortable with the people involved and their policies and practices.Click to Tweet
Our resident dog, Ginger, with foster dog Martini
Our resident dog, Ginger, with foster dog Martini

This post does contains affiliate links for your convenience (which means if you make a purchase after clicking a link I will receive a small commission, but it won’t cost you a penny more). Click here to read my full disclosure policy.

Step 4. Fill out a foster application.

Most rescues will have an application on their website. If not, email them for more information. Be honest when completing the application. 

And then wait… sometimes the hardest part is waiting for a response. Depending on the size of the rescue this may take some time. It took several months when I applied to a breed-specific rescue. They apologized when responding, explaining that it got lost in the shuffle of the holidays. 

Step 5. Preparing to foster a dog for the first time

Bringing any new dog into your home is a lot of work and can add a level of stress to your household. It takes time for any dog to adjust to a new environment. I talk about the 3-3-3 Rule in a previous article.

Preparing your home for a new dog is the same as if you were adopting. If you plan on fostering puppies, then you will need to puppy-proof your home

Stock up on all the supplies you need, including a dog crate and baby gates. Getting a crate with a divider will allow you to use it with multiple sized dogs. And a folding crate makes it easy to put away when the foster dog gets adopted.

If you’ve never had a dog before, read my New Puppy Shopping List for a complete list of items you may need. 

Ask your foster group if they have supplies that are available to foster homes. Check Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace or local garage sales.

Step 6. Learn how to let go.

Have you heard of the phrase foster fail”? It’s when you decide to adopt your foster dog. Yup, I’m guilty of it and most foster parents are.

For us, it was very intentional when we adopted our foster dog, Ginger. In fact, it’s one of the reasons we started fostering. It’s a great way to find your perfect match while helping save dogs.

But you can’t keep them all. And if you keep adopting, eventually your house will be too full to take in another foster. 

Think of it this way, by fostering you can potentially save hundreds of dogs. With adoption, you save a few. 

Here are some ways fosters cope with letting go of a dog they’ve fallen in love with:

  • Say goodbye to the dog before the adopters come to pick him up
  • Cry it out after he leaves, it will get easier
  • Keep in touch with the adopter via email or social media
  • Offer to dogsit when they go on vacation
  • Remember now that she’s found a forever home you get to save another dog!
  • Dive right into another foster dog

Step 7. Rinse and repeat. 

Now that you have your first foster dog in the books, are you ready to do it again? I recommend taking breaks in between dogs to recuperate your emotions and your house. 

Animal rescue burnout is a real problem within the rescue world. It’s important to pace yourself and don’t feel guilty for taking a break.

To date, we’ve fostered 11 dogs over the last several years. We took a 2-year break because of moving and remodeling. And unfortunately, our dog Ginger has developed resource guarding issues that complicate bringing in foster dogs. So while the number of dogs is not as many as I had hoped, I have found other avenues to volunteer. 

So are you ready? I’d love to hear your fostering stories! Please leave a comment below and share it with our community so others can learn from your experiences. 

And if you decide fostering a dog is not a good fit for you, try volunteering in other ways. Shelters and rescues have many needs, just reach out and ask! I volunteer to perform home visits for our rescue and I go to our humane society once a week to help take care of the dogs. 

Our first Foster Dog Silla Senior Dog
Our first Foster Dog was a 10 year old black lab named Silla

Dog Fostering FAQ

Certainly questions swarm your mind, wondering if becoming a foster family is the right choice. Here are a few of your common concerns answered:

Do you get paid to foster dogs?

Most of the time you will NOT get paid for fostering a dog. Fostering is a volunteer position. You will be paid with loving puppy kisses and knowing you saved a life!

You should ask the rescue if you need to pay for food, vet care or any other expenses. Most rescues will pay for expenses related to the foster dog (except maybe dog food and toys). 

The rescue we volunteer for does pay for all the dog’s expenses. But we are responsible for food, toys, and travel to and from the vet as needed. 

How long will I have to keep the dog?

Not all rescues run the same way. You may only have your foster for a day, others may take much longer. Talk to the rescue and find out what their average time is and what is involved. Our rescue requires us to have the dog at least 2 weeks. 

Our first foster, Silla, was with us for 5 months! The fact that she was 10 years old and black, diminished her adopter pool, but she did finally find her forever family. You can read Silla’s foster tail here

After Silla, we fostered two young puppies for about 4 weeks. And even though there is a waiting list for puppies, they needed to be spayed and neutered which we had to wait for an appointment and healing time before they could be adopted.

So in the end, you need to ask your rescue or shelter this question. And even then there is never a guarantee of when the dog will be adopted.

The 3 Days, 3 Weeks, 3 Month Rule  of Adopting a Rescue Dog

The 3-3-3 Rule of Adopting a Rescue Dog

The common milestones your new dog or puppy will go through will be the first 3 days after bringing your dog home from the shelter, then 3 weeks, then 3 months. 

Download this beautiful PDF as a reminder as you transition with your new rescue dog.

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What happens if I change my mind and can’t keep the foster dog?

Many foster dogs come with baggage. Rescue dogs have a history, whether it be they’ve been kicked out of the only home they’ve ever known, stuck in a noisy shelter or abused.

It’s important not to feel sorry for these dogs, but to give them structure along with a stable and loving home until they find their forever family. 

Talk to your contact at the shelter or rescue to see if they have any resources to help you. If you really can’t keep your foster, then they should take the dog back and find him a new foster family.

How do I know my foster dog won’t hurt or get my resident dog sick? 

Puppies can come with a host of worms, diseases, etc. Behavior problems, separation anxiety, and leash pulling are all real possibilities. BUT, with that said you will learn from all of these, and become a better dog owner because of it.

Keeping the dogs separated until the foster dog has seen a vet or received a clean bill of health is a good preventative measure. 

We have been pretty lucky and haven’t had any major problems, but we have had foster dogs with worms, coccidia, leash pulling, barking, chewing, allergies, separation anxiety, and thunderstorm anxiety.

Read some of my foster tails to learn more about our experiences as a dog foster family.

What if I have a vacation or weekend getaway planned, what do I do with the dog?

Some rescues will have options for dog sitters when you do need to be away. If this is a concern, please ask before committing to taking a foster dog into your home.

Fostering a Dog When You Already Have One

Adding a second dog into your home can complicate things. Even if your dog is easy going and loves all dogs, a situation where another dog is invading his territory can be challenging. 

You need to plan on slowly introducing the foster dog to any resident dogs or cats. This could mean blocking off certain areas of your home, taking dogs outside at different times and feeding them separately for a few days.

For us, our dog Ginger has resource guarding issues, so it has become very difficult for us to bring in foster dogs. Ginger goes into high-alert mode whenever a new dog comes into our home. We have to be hyper-vigilant, take introductions very slow, and never leave Ginger alone with a foster.

Please read The Best Way to Introduce a Second Dog Into Your Pack.

Also, consider the health of your dog. Many times when we get a foster dog, they have worms or other communicable diseases. So keeping the dogs separate until the foster has a clean bill of health is important. Always pick up the foster dogs poop immediately… just in case of worms. 

Inquiring minds want to know… are you going to start fostering dogs? I’d love for you to share your story with our community below in the comments.

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About the Author Debi@RescueDogs101

Debi McKee is a mom of three kids, two dogs and the creator of Rescue Dogs 101... were she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She also volunteers for a local rescue and the Dane County Humane Society. Sign up for our free resource library! It is jam-packed with valuable resources that you will use throughout your journey.... all for FREE!

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