You’ve decided to foster! First, of all: I LOVE LOVE LOVE you for this. It might be one of the most fulfilling and patience-testing endeavors that I have ever done. lol Secondly, a disclaimer: I am not a dog behaviorist or trainer. My techniques and recommendations are from trial/error, doing lots of reading and watching other trainers. What works for my present and past dogs may not necessarily work for yours. I do adjust my techniques depending on the dog’s temperament and trainability. My techniques and modalities have changed greatly over the years as I have acquired more fosters dogs; there are things I did in the past, I would never do again. My motto is: do what you can until you know better and when you know better, do better.
You are welcome to do the bare minimum when it comes to fostering because getting a dog out of a shelter/kennel is HUGE for the dog. It is so stressful for dogs to be in shelters and even just simply giving them a home to stay in until they get adopted or for a couple weeks is going to positively affect their demeanor and adoptability. You can foster through local shelters (Fresno Humane, Fresno Bully Rescue, Central California SPCA, etc.) or you can choose to foster for a rescue (Paw Squad 559, Mell’s Mutts, Gabby’s Animal Rescue, etc). Depending on the rescue or shelter, they usually provide you with the basics to get started and will pay for their vetting. You just provide the safe space and loving home.
Some people think fostering is just taking a dog in, housing it, feeding it and watering it until it leaves your house. While that is also very wonderful to get a dog off the streets or out of a cage at the shelter, I think the point of fostering is so much more than that– which is why I try not to foster more than one dog at a time. Not only are you now the dog’s shelter and safe space, you are the dog’s best chance at a forever home. Many dogs gets dumped because they aren’t trained (eye roll) and the owner doesn’t want to put in the effort. As a foster mom, I try to do basic training with all my foster doggies because it’s the best way to end the cycle so that they don’t end up back on the streets or abandoned at the local shelter.
I used to think it was cool to also teach them things like “shake.” However, many of the dogs that come to me don’t even know how to behave as an indoor dog: they mark, they aren’t socialized, they have no manners, etc. Owners don’t abandon their dogs because they can’t learn the “roll over” command. Dogs get abandoned because nobody taught them the difference between a chew toy vs a shoe. They get abandoned because the owner thought it was SO ADORABLE when the 15lb puppy would jump and give hugs but now that puppy is a 95lb adult who was taught that jumping was ok as a puppy, but all of a sudden…. it’s not??? And he’s confused how he ended up as an owner-surrender at the local shelter, likely awaiting his turn on the euthanasia list. My priority now is no longer teaching cool commands, but basic indoor manners. Curbing bad habits. Allowing them some freedom in the house and keeping a close eye & reprimanding when you catch them in the act. It’s exhausting but consistency is key. And so is not losing your shit lol. When you lose your cool, it shows the dog that you are not in control and unsuitable as the alpha and leader.
If you get ambitious (like me), I highly recommend reading this book. Why? Because I don’t want to have to repeat all the things I learned from this book onto this blog (that’s plagiarism lol). The first thing you need to teach the dog is that you run the show and you are a leader deserving of their respect. That’s why it’s called Respect Training for Puppies. Yes, respect. If that sweet, cuddly, cute dog doesn’t respect you (no matter how many treats you give it and coddle it), it won’t listen to you. In turn, it’ll think it’s the one in charge– not you. You’ll never get that dog to do a damn thing you want when you ask the first time. It’s a very quick and easy read, large font, straight to the point. READ. DO IT.
Another important role as foster is socialization. I try to expose these dogs as much as possible to car rides, walks, running, paddleboarding, kids, cats, hanging outside on restaurant patios. These all make the dogs more adoptable (and creates a better bond for the new owner/dog because then they are more likely to take the dog with them everywhere). Also, a poorly socialized dog has issues such as: anxiety, sensitivity to noises, etc. Another HUGE issue I come across with poor socialization is the dog becomes a “only pet household” dog. They don’t learn how to properly interact with other dogs, they don’t learn cues (like when to stop playing because the dog they keep annoying has had enough) and they become reactive or overly excited around other dogs. While giving the dog the correct socialization and exposure, I try to take AS MANY PICTURES AS POSSIBLE. Like excessively. Why? Because YOU are now their PR person, you represent their image and are the only way their face will reach more people. Tell their story. People need to connect with them besides just a cute face. There are hundreds of cute, sad-looking dogs in rescues and shelters all over the country– make your foster stand out.
Also, I think of the different types of home environment these dogs will be adopted into. Maybe they will need to be crated most of the day while the owner is at work? Maybe the family doesn’t allow dogs on couches? Maybe they don’t allow jumping– no matter how big or small the dog is. I am strict with the dogs because bad habits are hard to break and I don’t want to set the dog up for failure. I know I sound mean but it’s in their best interest. When they finally make it to their forever home, that owner can spoil them to pieces, allow them on couches, let them jump alllll over them… and the dog will love them that much more.
Lastly, the way I see it: training/socializing a foster dog is like problem-solving. You encounter a behavioral issue and you figure out ways to resolve it. If it doesn’t work, don’t go thinking what is wrong with the dog, think about what you are not providing to help the dog succeed. For example, I had a super smart shepherd mix puppy. I am typically a very active person and thought that I could tire her out by taking her out on runs, bike rides, playing frisbee, playing tug-o-war for hours. However, no matter what I did or how much activity I piled on for her, she would still be destructive. After weeks of extra activities and a lot of frustration, I had to think outside the box of why she was still being so destructive and I realized that she as bored– not physically, but mentally. She was too smart and needed a job or needed to work her brain to tire her out as well. I ended up buying dog activity boards, snuffle mats (sensory stimulation with treats hidden) and making up a game of hide-and-seek with treats in the living room and……it worked! If I did one of these activities with her every couple days, she was well-behaved and stopped being destructive. Another resource I use is Vinny from Say It Once Dog Training. I like his techniques and have used a lot of it in training as well. I especially love his leash-walking tips and tricks!
In an attempt to not make this too lengthy, (I could go on forever) I will stop here but feel free to email and ask any questions!!!