When someone volunteers to foster a dog, one of her first questions is always going to be, “Does this dog get along with other dogs?”
Sometimes the answer to this question isn’t known because the dog hasn’t been given the chance to interact with other dogs under appropriate settings.
The problem is, when a dog is taken from a pound environment or a shelter environment, he is going to be stressed and full of pent-up physical, emotional and mental energy. If you remove him from this environment and place him directly in front of another dog, there is a pretty good chance there will be at least some growling from one or both dogs. Adding tense leashes and tense people to the situation is a sure set-up for failure!
But this is exactly how most dogs in need of foster homes meet other dogs!
Since I’ve had my fair share of foster animals and other four-legged guests at our house, I’ve learned that it’s always best to take introductions very slowly. For most dogs, there is not a black-and-white answer to the question of “Does he get along with other dogs?” It just depends on the energy of each situation.
So what can a volunteer do if she is thinking about fostering a dog? Here are some suggestions.
How to introduce my foster dog to my own dog
1. Get as much info as you can about the potential foster dog.
The first step is to get some feedback from the people who have interacted with the potential foster dog the most. Does he growl at other dogs near his pen? What does he do when he sees other dogs during walks? Has he had the chance to walk with or play with other dogs in a controlled setting? How has he done at adoption events? Has he lived with other dogs before?
You also want to consider a dog that is going to compliment the energy and personality of your own dog. For example, my dog is pretty laid back, so he doesn’t like when I bring home a hyper, young dog. He prefers to hang out with more mellow, older dogs.
2. Take the potential foster dog for a walk before you decide to bring him home.
Take some time to get to know the dog you are interested in fostering by going for a long walk. Make sure to observe how he interacts with other dogs you happen to pass.
This initial walk will give the two of you a chance to begin forming a bond without the distraction of your other animals. Since dogs are so scent oriented, the potential foster dog will smell your animals on you and begin to associate them with you. When you get home, your animals will smell the potential foster dog as well. Just think of yourself as the messenger. Who knows what kinds of info dogs learn by smelling another dog on a human, but clearly they must learn something!
3. Take the potential foster dog and your own dog for several walks together.
Bring a friend along to handle one of the dogs. There’s no need to let the dogs sniff one another right away. Do your best to avoid head-on greetings or prolonged eye contact between the dogs. Wait outside with your own dog while someone brings the potential foster dog out. Don’t have them meet in a small, crowded room.
Walk the dogs side-by-side and then one in front of the other so they can get used to walking as a pack. They can smell one another from a distance just fine. If all goes well, let them interact a bit at the end of the walk. The walk doesn’t have to be very long. Even 10 minutes or so would be fine. Obviously, the longer the better. Walk for a half-hour or more if you can.
Return and repeat this walking step two or three more times before bringing the potential foster dog home. Doing so will help the dogs associate something positive with each other – fun walks!
4. Use a baby gate to create non-stressful separation between the dogs.
When you do decide to bring the foster dog home, don’t put both dogs loose in your car together. Take your dog home first or put them both in kennels if there’s room. Or have your friend take one of the dogs in her car.
Once you get home, this is a great time to take both dogs for another long walk with the help of a friend. I’m talking about a good 45-minute walk or longer. Bring home your foster dog on a weekend or during a time when you will have at least two full days off from work.
After the walk, put the foster dog in a bedroom or other small area with the door open and a baby gate as a barrier. Kennels and closed doors often create frustration and anxiety, but a gate will allow the dogs to interact safely.
The gate will allow your resident pets to approach the foster dog, but it will allow for some safety if one of the dogs decides to snap. Of course, make sure to supervise and distract either or both dogs if there is any tension such as raised hackles, staring or frozen body positions.
The baby gate is also a safe way to let resident cats remain free, but once again, you want to make sure to supervise just in case the foster is able to jump the gate or knock it down. And extra curious and brave cats will not hesitate to jump right over the gate to greet the newcomer. So use common sense.
5. Let the foster dog roam around with his leash on.
If all goes well after a day or two of the gate stage, it’s OK to let the dogs interact without the gate, but keep the foster dog on a leash. You do not want the foster dog running all over the house exploring and sniffing every corner, claiming everything. For one, this is an open invitation for accidents or marking. But it’s also going to increase the energy levels of all the animals and could lead to a fight.
I usually keep the foster dog “tethered” to me for at least a day until I know more about the dog. Is he housebroken? Does he mark in the house? Is he OK with my cats? Possessive over toys? The leash is usually around my waist or ankle or looped under a nearby chair or table.
6. Let the dogs interact without leashes.
After a day or two of interacting with leashes on, give the dogs some supervised time together off leash. I still would not give the foster dog full freedom of the house for a few more days. Freedom is a privilege. You may want to use the baby gate again to block the stairway so the foster dog can’t get upstairs. At the very least, keep all your bedroom doors closed. It should be a privilege to enter certain areas of the house. For example, don’t allow the foster dog on your bed quite yet (if ever!).
7. Continue to use common sense and keep your cat’s safety in mind, too.
Always keep the foster dog confined to a single room or a kennel when you are not home. This is for the safety of all animals. Keep two barriers between the dogs such as a kennel and a closed door because it is fairly common for a dog to bust out of his kennel. I’ve had several pitbull-type dogs use their big heads to push or bend the kennel doors open within seconds. Impressive, I know! This could be a very dangerous situation if the two dogs do not get along.
If you have cats, you should have three barriers between them and the foster dog. For example, put the cats in one bedroom with the door closed and put the foster dog in his kennel in another bedroom with the door closed. My first foster dog busted out of her kennel and proceeded to tear apart my bedroom door frame. My cat was loose in my apartment on the other side of that door. Luckily, this dog was friendly and had no intention of hurting my cat. But that is not always the case, and I’ve heard some very sad stories. Fostering teaches some hard lessons sometimes.
8. Go back to previous steps, if needed.
If there are any problems during any of these steps, revert back to the previous steps. This should help set your foster dog up for success at your house and a “good with other dogs” status on his adoption profile.
Make sure you are relaxed when interacting with the dogs. If you are tense and worried about a fight all the time, that will not help the dogs relax. Keep the dogs well exercised and calm, and chances are everything will go just fine. Pretty soon your foster dog and your own dog will be napping on the couch together.
9. Take it slowly with every new dog the foster dog meets.
Just because the foster dog gets along with your dog doesn’t mean he will get along with all dogs. Every situation is different. It’s always better to take it slowly and set the dogs up for success rather than rush these kinds of interactions.
10. Take precautions if a dogfight does occur.
If a small scuffle or a full-on fight does happen, try not to freak out. These things happen. Usually a loud “Hey!” will stop the fight immediately so you can re-gain control. Never throw yourself between the two dogs or try to pull them apart with your hands. Never bend down and put your face at their level. Instead, use something else to get their attention. Try throwing a blanket over one of the dogs, squeaking a loud toy or even throwing water on them. A strong voice correction has always done the trick for me, but this won’t be the case for all dogs.
11. Remember, there are always more dogs to foster.
If this particular fostering situation doesn’t seem to be working out, no worries. Every foster dog will not work out in your home. We all have to return a foster dog at some point. Take comfort in knowing there are plenty of other dogs that need foster homes.
The shelter or rescue group should be willing to work with you to find the best match for you and your own pets. The dog will likely go to another foster home or back to the shelter. That’s OK. You gave it a shot. The more you foster, the more you will understand which types of dogs will work out at your house.
Thank you for giving fostering a try!
For those of you who have fostered dogs before, what tips do you have for introducing a foster dog to your own dog?
This beauty is Vixen, a dog we fostered back in January of 2009. She was adopted quickly, after just two weeks. She and Ace got along for the most part, but every now and then we had a few scuffles.