I encourage many people to foster adoptable dogs, but it isn’t for everyone.

Last year I made the mistake of fostering a dog I wasn’t prepared to handle. I was gone too often and she couldn’t be left alone.

Even if you are a dog lover with good intentions, remember that some dogs in rescue programs are there for a reason. They all have issues in some form or another (all dogs do), even if it’s simply related to a lack of basic obedience training. There is always some risk involved with inviting a strange animal into your home. Pictured is my current foster dog, Vixen, an American pit bull terrier.

Before you foster a dog, remember:

1. You aren’t obligated to keep the dog for any amount of time.

It’s common for foster parents to return a dog before it finds its “forever” family. There is no written statement saying you have to keep the foster dog for weeks, months or even days. If the rescue program you are working with makes you sign something saying you will keep the dog for a given amount of time, don’t sign that form.

If the dog is not a good match for you, you should not feel obligated to keep it. That is not a good situation for a person or a dog, and any rescue organization should know that.

I returned a foster pitbull last year after about 36 hours. It just did not work out. Even though I felt guilty, I had to keep in mind my own life, family and pets and put myself before the foster dog.

Sometimes it’s a good idea to make a mental commitment to yourself how long you are willing to foster before you take the dog home. Maybe that time is a few weeks, three months or six months – it’s up to you.

2. Choose the dog you foster wisely.

Don’t foster any dog. Instead, wait for one that will work well with your lifestyle. Even though fostering is temporary, you could be living with that dog for an extended period of time. When I adopted my mutt Ace, I gave myself two months to choose the right dog. Fostering is a little different, but I knew I could not tolerate a dog that would attack my cats or disturb my neighbors.

3. A pet or human could get hurt.

There’s always a risk with bringing home a new dog. It will take some time to get to know her, and at any time she could bite a person, dog, cat or other pet.

There’s also the possibility your own dog could bite or attack the foster dog. Watch for signs of possessiveness or aggression from your own dog, not just the foster dog. After all, he is the one whose space is being invaded, and dogs are territorial.

Make sure you and the rescue organization are clear who will cover medical costs if a pet or human is hurt and needs to see a doctor. It’s a good idea to have a written contract signed by both sides. There is a possibility your foster dog could bite a neighbor or visitor in your home, and you don’t want to be responsible.

4. You will get emotionally attached.

I’ve heard and seen a lot of sad stories involving dogs over the years. The reality is I am not able to help every dog, so I don’t allow myself to get too emotionally attached too quickly to any particular dog.

15 things to consider before fostering a dog

Remember that unless you end up keeping the dog permanently, you will have to part with her at some point. Either she will go to a new family or back to the shelter.

5. You will spend some money.

Even if the animal rescue program you are dealing with pays for “all” the expenses such as food, spaying and neutering, other vet bills, etc., there will still be small exceptions that pop up. Maybe it’s more cleaning supplies, treats or chew toys.

You might spend more gas money driving to and from the dog park. Or you might just be spending more time with the dog rather than working and earning money!

6. The dog will have issues of some sort.

Vixen is potty trained. She knows commands. She loves people and gets along with some dogs. She does not pull on a leash, and she rarely barks. She is actually very low maintenance compared to most dogs in rescue programs. Vixen has short hair and requires very little grooming. She is content to curl up on a pillow for hours.

However, most dogs in rescue programs have issues of some sort, whether it’s dog aggression, food aggression, tons of energy or no training. Vixen’s problem is she is scared of being in a kennel.

7. There will be an adjustment period.

I did not get much sleep the first night we had Vixen home. I was up every few hours because she would bark in her kennel. Instead of getting angry with her, I understood it would take her some time to adjust to our routine. I was willing to work with her.

Any foster dog will need some time to adjust to your home. Think about what that dog has been through in her life. Going from home to home or shelter to shelter is stressful on any dog.

8. There could be damage to your property.

Pets get into trouble. If your foster dog is not in a kennel when you are gone, she could chew anything or scratch anything. If you foster parent dogs and their puppies, expect the puppies to have some accidents. Be prepared for that and know in advance who will pay for the damage, you or the rescue. If you are renting, it won’t be your landlord!

9. Your own dog will get less of your time

My mutt Ace is used to a long walk with me every day and some training, too. He hasn’t been getting that with Vixen around because more of my attention is on her. I take the dogs for a walk together twice a day, but Vixen is the one who gets extra training time. Teaching my dog not to bark at the door and other issues are on hold for now.

I’m still taking him to dog agility once a week without Vixen, and I think he really likes getting a break from her! Keep these things in mind if you will be providing foster homes for dogs.

10. Be considerate of other family member and pets.

My cats are getting used to Vixen, but they were stressed at first. I added an extra litter box for them upstairs in case they ever feel apprehensive about venturing downstairs where the dogs usually are.

Ace pretty much ignores Vixen, probably because he’s used to having all my attention. He lies with his back to her and throws a silent tantrum. And my boyfriend Josh doesn’t appreciate getting woken up by a barking dog or that his girlfriend is extra stressed from supervising four animals. I try to remember that none of them asked to have another dog in the house, they are all tolerating Vixen because of me.

dog fetches ball

11. You might do all the work yourself.

Usually there is one family member who is a lot more excited about having another pet around than everyone else and will end up providing the real foster care for the dogs.

Obviously, I’m that person in our case. I’m lucky that Josh is willing to tolerate all my animals, but it’s exactly that. He tolerates them while I’m the one doing all the work. I walk the dogs, feed all the animals, work on training, supervise all of them, etc. Even though I enjoy it and brought this upon myself, it’s work.

12. You will have less free time.

Your schedule will be interrupted in some way. I have been getting up early to make sure Vixen gets a good walk in before I leave in the morning and another walk in the evening before bed. I’ve also spent free time working on training her and giving her attention. I’m also careful not to be away from home for too long in case she starts barking while I’m gone.

13. Your own dog could develop bad habits.

Ace has become more territorial having Vixen around. He barks even more than normal when someone comes to the door. But he did not learn this from Vixen. So far, neither dog has learned any bad habits from the other.

But think about it, if one dog pulls on a leash, the other will. If one knocks everyone out of the way to get through the door, the other will too. I’m doing the best I can to set rules for Vixen and Ace. Both dogs walk at my side. Both sit before entering or exiting a door. Both sit before eating or drinking. I’m lucky to have a calm, laid-back foster dog.

14. You might have to cancel some plans.

There were times when Vixen could not be left home alone. Josh had to skip a meeting, and I considered skipping a party but instead a friend stayed with our pets – thanks Justin!

15. The experience is one of the most rewarding things you can do for an animal.

By fostering a dog, you are saving her life. That makes all the hard work, time and energy worth it. It is one of the most rewarding things you can do. There are many reasons to foster a dog.

01/08/10 update: Vixen was adopted!