Fostering Dogs

Get 5 tips for deciding whether fostering dogs is right for you and your family. Plus, choosing a group to volunteer with.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #234


No matter how comfortable and well run a shelter is, there’s no place like home – if not a permanent home, then a foster home.

Someone fostering a litter of puppies can give them the socialization and early training that will help them live happily ever after with an adopter. The behavior of dogs in shelters often deteriorates over the long term, out of boredom, loneliness, and lack of exercise; a foster home can keep a good dog from going downhill. And a person fostering a dog with behavior problems may be able to put in the time needed to help that dog become adoptable. Overstretched shelter staff often can’t do that.

Should you open your home to a foster dog? This week, 5 things to consider before you march into the shelter and start the paperwork:.

First off, let me give credit where credit is due. For this episode, I’ve relied on a terrific new book called How to Foster Dogs: From Homeless to Homeward Bound. It’s by my friend and colleague Pat Miller, and if this episode leaves you thinking “Yes! Fostering sounds good to me!” then go get yourself a copy and find out all the things you need to know.

Tip #1: Make Sure Everyone in Your Home Is On Board

A new dog in your household brings extra work and a big shake-up in your routine. That’s true even if the dog is a tranquil, well-behaved middle-ager  – but tranquil middle-agers are underrepresented among dogs who need homes! Rude, rambunctious adolescent dogs are more like it, and many will have behavior problems trickier than high energy and bad manners. Keeping a pen full of puppies cuddled, clean, and fed takes hours of daily work. Is your family up for a significant disruption right now?

And remember, your family includes the animals who already live with you. If a foster dog will scare the daylights out of your elderly cat, or if the time you need to put in taking care of a foster litter will deprive your own young dog of the exercise and attention he needs, then it would be smart to hold off.

Tip #2: Be Clear on What You’re Up For

Think about what issues you can cope with, both physically and emotionally. This isn’t just about the amount of work you’ll have to do, but also about what kind. For instance, you might be game for a “behavioral foster” – a dog who, say, needs you to carry out a plan to get him comfortable with people around her food so that she doesn’t growl when you approach. But say your physical mobility is limited. In that case, a dog who needs a long off-leash hike daily to burn off steam is not a good fit for you.

Take even seemingly trivial issues into account. If you don’t enjoy grooming, for example, you might find you retain more energy and enthusiasm for fostering if you opt for shorthaired, dirt-shedding dogs.

And not at all trivially, here is your mantra as a person working in animal rescue: You can’t save them all. Although many fewer homeless animals are euthanized than 20 years ago, there are still more animals than adopters out there. If you try to take up the slack by yourself, then you will soon have more animals than you can take care of. And instead of doing some good, you’ll be doing harm. Don’t go there.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).