When fostering a dog isn’t so great

You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned Morgan recently. That’s because after fostering him for two weeks, I made the difficult decision to stop fostering him. This was no fault of Morgan’s. He had a difficult time adjusting to my lifestyle, and I had a difficult time adjusting to his.

One of the most rewarding things a dog lover can do is foster. To foster a dog means to provide that dog with a loving home temporarily until he gets adopted. This could take days, weeks, months or even years.

Dog rescues and shelters depend on foster homes because there is not enough shelter space to house so many homeless dogs. Plus, in a home setting it is easier to learn more about the dog and to begin teaching him how to live properly with a family.

Fostering a dog does not always work out

Those of us who foster dogs don’t like to talk about the dogs we have “failed” on. But if you ask most foster owners if they’ve ever returned a dog for any reason, most will say yes, especially if they foster dog after dog, year after year. They can’t all work out.

Returning a foster dog - My foster dog Morgan

To return a foster dog means he will live at a shelter or boarding facility or hopefully another foster home until he gets adopted. It does not mean he will be euthanized, at least that’s not the case with the rescue I work with.

I have fostered seven dogs. I returned three of them within two weeks because of separation anxiety issues, meaning the dogs would panic when left alone.

My first foster dog broke out of her crate and started tearing apart my door before I got home from work. Welcome to fostering! 🙂

Morgan was my most recent foster dog, and he also had problems being left alone. Because I rent a townhome and have close neighbors, this was not a good situation.

Morgan is a very intelligent dog and will do just fine once he finds the right person to help him through his anxiety. I am not that person.

I have written past posts on should I foster a dog? and what to consider before fostering a dog. I hope you will check these out if you are interested in fostering.

Now that I have more experience with fostering, I want to touch on a more difficult subject – returning a foster dog that doesn’t work out.

Things to consider before you foster a dog

First of all, to make the fostering process run smoothly so you hopefully do not have to return the dog, take the time to find the right dog to foster. I can’t stress this enough.

Ask a lot of questions about each potential dog so you can find the right fit.

I always seem to get stuck with dogs that have separation problems. This will be avoided in the future when I make sure to ask the right people the right questions possibly several times. Some important questions to ask include:

Is the dog housebroken? Is the dog kennel trained? Does the dog have anxiety when left alone? Does the dog have any kind of aggression? How much exercise will this particular dog need? Is the dog spayed/neutered?

There is no perfect dog, and most rescue dogs are going to have an “issue” of some sort. What dog doesn’t? But if you know ahead of time what you need to work on with the dog, you can start planning a routine and adjusting your schedule.

Also keep in mind that sometimes the rescue simply will not know a lot about the dog, especially if he was recently pulled from the pound.

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Morgan the golden retriever Newfoundland mix up for adoption

Reasons to return a foster dog

The most important thing to remember is that it’s OK to return a foster dog if it is not working out. You do not have to put up with the dog no matter what, and there are always other dogs you can foster. 

If you have to ask yourself whether or not you should return your foster dog, you probably should return him.

Below are some reasons why someone might return a foster dog. All of these issues can be worked through over time, but it takes the right person. You know if you are the right person or not.

1. The foster dog damages your property.

Most dog rescues are not going to compensate you for damaged property. They just don’t have the money. This is something to be aware of before you bring home a foster dog.

If the rescue is organized enough, it will probably have some sort of liability agreement form for you to sign saying you are responsible for all injuries and damage the dog causes.

The rescue I work with pays for the veterinary care and food for all the foster dogs, although I’m sure many foster owners volunteer to cover these costs on their own. 4 Luv of Dog even paid for Morgan to go to training classes and dog daycare.

Still, after seven foster dogs, I’ve had my fair share of property damage.

My first foster dog damaged both my large crates. Determined dogs can now bust out of them. She also ripped apart my bedroom doorway. A more recent foster dog chewed up a door knob.

I’ve thrown away several toys, blankets and towels that were completely shredded. There are stains on my carpets that may never come out. My car has taken a lot of abuse. I’ve spent a nice amount on carpet cleaners and paper towels.

Is it worth it? That’s up to you to decide. 🙂

2. The foster dog has severe separation anxiety.

A dog with true separation anxiety panics when left alone. He does more than bark and cry. A dog with severe separation anxiety damages property, breaks out of crates and even injures himself.

If your foster dog has separation anxiety, there are ways you can help him. It will take a lot of time and patience.

If you’re not sure if your foster dog has true anxiety or not, check out my post on dog separation anxiety for a list of symptoms and what to do about it.

3. The foster dog is aggressive to you or your dog.

You do not want to put yourself, your family or others in danger unless you are experienced with rehabilitating aggressive dogs or willing to learn – no easy task.

Morgan the lab newfoundland mix up for adoption

4. You, your family members or your pets are constantly stressed.

If you are constantly stressed, it will effect everyone in your house, including the foster dog.

A little stress is unavoidable when you foster, and of course there will be an adjustment period. But if you are worried day and night about what the foster dog is getting into, the dog may be more stress than he’s worth.

Are you getting enough sleep? Are you angry at the dog all the time? Too forceful with him? If so, the dog might be better off somewhere else.

5. You have no free time.

I’ve had foster dogs with such extreme anxiety that I literally could not even go to the grocery store for 10 minutes without coming back to a broken kennel and damaged doors. I was literally trapped in my own apartment. Not a good situation to be in.

6. Your own pets are not adjusting well to the foster dog.

I won’t put my own animals in danger. If I can’t trust the foster dog around my cats or around my dog, he has to go. Fortunately this has never happened to me. All of my foster dogs have been good around other animals when supervised.

I have however had a foster dog that was so mentally unstable that just being around the dog made Ace uncomfortable.

If I raised my voice around the dog, Ace would crawl away and cower. If the dog got excited, Ace would growl, which is way out of character for my friendly, gentle dog. I’m learning to really trust Ace’s judgement because he will always be able to read other animals better than I can.

Things to keep in mind if you return a foster dog

1. There are dozens of other ways to help rescue dogs.

Although I am not fostering Morgan, I visit him once a week at the boarding facility he currently lives at. I take him out to go running at a nearby park, and we work on obedience training.

I also take other rescue dogs running, and I take them to adoption events. I am constantly writing about the rescue dogs on this dog blog and also on my dog running site. There are hundreds of ways you can help homeless dogs without fostering.

2. You can always foster a different dog.

There are thousands of dogs that need foster homes. Not all of them have issues. Find one that you can live with.

3. You can foster a dog in the future if now is not the right time.

Right now I have to be more selective about the dogs I foster, but I look forward to the time in my life where I’m able to take on more challenging dogs. Perhaps this is the case for you as well.

4. You are not a failure for returning a foster dog.

Anyone who attempts to foster a dog has a big heart and deserves a huge thank you. It means a lot to the dog. Even if it didn’t work out, you tried. You made a difference.

5. The rescue group may not show much appreciation for your efforts.

Remember that rescues are run by volunteers who are just as busy as you. If no one thanks you for your hard work, don’t take it personally.

I would like to see 4 Luv of Dog Rescue get a better system in place for thanking its volunteers, especially new foster owners. Maybe that’s a task I will tackle, as someone has to volunteer to do this as well!

Like I said, there is always something you can do to help a dog rescue. The possibilities are endless, just as the need for more help is endless.

Have you ever fostered a dog?

Have you ever returned that dog before it got adopted?

What are some ways you help homeless dogs?

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1/8/2011 edit: Morgan was adopted!

Related posts:

When you regret getting a puppy

Returning a dog due to separation anxiety

Returning a rescue or shelter dog