Taking a dog into your home to foster also means that there are (and if not, should be) more responsibilities with fostering a rescue dog.
If you don’t understand the responsibilities that must align themselves with a good fostering program, you may be setting the rescue dog up to fail.
In other words, it’s easy to feed, take care of and “just love” an abandoned dog you’ve agreed to foster. But, it’s harder to provide that same rescue dog with much needed structure and training in preparation for his “forever home.”
Sometimes your thought as a foster is that the new owners can get the training for their dog. They are just staying with me until they get adopted.
Your nurturing nature takes over and before you know it the foster dog is sharing the couch with you and your dog(s) and possibly your bed. What if the new owner will love the dog but prefers the dog not to be on the furniture?
For the sake of the foster dog, you can’t really assume anything about the future owners of your foster dog – except one thing: They will more quickly adopt a well-mannered dog with no issues over an ill-mannered dog any day.
You can make that difference.
It all starts at home
If you have not provided structure in your home for your own dog it is more difficult to get the foster dog, much less your own dog to comply with any of your wishes. Your dog may also become jealous (human terms) of your attention to the foster dog and the situation may worsen.
There needs to be a better way to show dogs that don’t show well
There are many more potential problems facing a rescue dog besides just getting along with the home dog while fostering and complying with rules. Some dogs just don’t show well at adoptions. They tend to growl, snap and bark at interested adopters and are passed up because of their bad behavior and visually aggressive tendencies. These dogs are then held back from showing until the issues are resolved.
There are no switches to magically flip to correct the problem. It all must start with a strong foundation of leadership.
I saw just such a pup the other day. He is an 18 month old terrier mix named Barney with long shaggy hair and cute as a bug. Everyone that sees his picture wants to see him. But he growls and snaps at people trying to pet him.
It’s the body language thing. You know, bending over this fearful, untrusting dog, making eye contact and trying to pet him over his head. All of these moves create an immediate threat for a fearful dog.
Some fearful dogs move away from a threat but this little guy, true to his terrier breed characteristics and bossy attitude, makes threats go away by moving towards them. It usually works, gets reinforced and becomes a stronger behavior for the next time. What to do?
I get the call.
I meet Barney
Barney is living with his foster family and their dog. The dogs get along very well and all the rules are in place in their small townhouse. No access to furniture and sit for everything. I had them put Barney on leash and as I made my way up to the second floor living room, I could hear Barney’s growling and barking at “the intruder” (that would be me!)
As soon as I reached the living room he lunged at my leg but they pulled him back just in time. I immediately took the edge off with a “jackpot” of food treats and found my way to a single chair. Barney was very attached to his foster family and was very good with them. But he had bitten a neighbor who had tried to pet him and that prompted the call to me. He didn’t break the skin but badly bruised her. This was a dog person who “knew dogs.” But with the Barney types, that doesn’t always work.
Here’s what I did to set Barney up to succeed
I decided to go for a walk with Barney and had the foster parent attach a second leash to Barney’s collar. I became the primary walker and their job was to keep him from lunging and biting me. They were instructed to start slowing their pace and eventually drop their leash.
Once I had distanced myself from them they stopped walking as I continued with Barney. He did just fine on leash with me. I did multiple sits for food which he really enjoyed.
Once we completed the block, just walking with occasional sits, we came back to the house and I entered first, taking Barney to the living room. They followed behind us. Once we settled in Barney was just fine with me. The walk was a “get to know me” during which I made no attempt to pet Barney. It made all the difference in Barney’s attitude towards me. Once back home, he took treats from my hand for good sits and we practiced a little more obedience training on the down.
You also have to remember that every dog is different. How I handled Barney worked for him but the next dog may require a different approach.
Barney will be able to eventually find his way into the right structured home. But it takes the right approach to soften Barney up and take the edge off his fear. He doesn’t show well in a crate at the adoption center but he could in the right environment and with the right structure for the meeting and greeting.
Foster dogs are special
Foster dogs are special. Some need more help than others and some need different approaches to soften a greeting when the chaos of adoption day doesn’t work.
For Barney, it didn’t mean that he was a bad dog. Fitting in with the foster family proved that he could become a “lifetime companion” for someone who would appreciate his great qualities and softer side.
Rescuing and saving these dogs help them and makes us feel good. If they are lucky to have made it into your home from the streets, that means that many dedicated people have taken the time to make sure they succeed.
Time has been dedicated by many to keep them safe and provide for their health and safety prior to them coming to you the foster. Your job is to prepare them for a “forever home” as soon as possible and when necessary, and try to think outside the box on how better to show these fearful dogs.
As a foster family you have a serious responsibility beyond love and affection to correctly prepare your foster dog for its forever home. Are your shoulders broad enough to carry the load? Your foster dog is counting on you.
We’re always learning and there’s a bunch of you out there we are grateful to be able to serve and learn from. I’m really interested in your thoughts and opinions on this. I’m here to help.
“Together, We Can Raise a Happy and Obedient Dog”
Jim Burwell, Houston dog trainer for 25+ years, serving over 9000 clients, has a profound understanding of dog behavior and the many things, we as humans, do that influence that behavior – good or bad. Jim has the ability to not only steer dogs and puppies down the right path but to also train the owners to understand their part in having a great dog.
His Ground Rules for Great Dogs is your must have, easy step-by-step process to helping your dog. Be the dog owner your dog needs to be a great dog. Ground Rules gets you there. Grab them now.