15 Things to Consider Before Fostering a Dog

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 new shelter pet into your home. Pictured throughout this post is one of my foster dogs, Vixen, an American pit bull terrier.

IN THIS POST:

Fostering a dog

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 or cat 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. It’s OK to return a foster dog!

What to consider before fostering a 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 just any dog or cat. Instead, wait for one that will work well with your lifestyle.

Even though fostering is temporary, you could be living with that animal for an extended period of time. See my post: how to prepare for a foster dog.

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 or other people.

You should also ask if the foster dog has any health concerns such as kennel cough, worms, fleas or allergies.

See my post: Fostering a dog with kennel cough

3. A pet or human could get hurt.

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

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 shelter 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.

See my post: Should I adopt my foster dog?

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 finding 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.

My foster dog Vixen was potty trained. Vixen knew commands. She loved people and got along with some dogs. She did not pull on a leash, and she rarely barked.

Vixen was actually very low maintenance compared to most dogs in rescue fostering programs!

She had short hair and required very little grooming. She was 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 was she was 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 shelter dog is not in a kennel when you are gone, she could chew anything or scratch anything. If you foster a mother dog and her 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 was used to a long walk with me every day and some training, too. He didn’t get as many walks while we were fostering Vixen because more of my attention was on her.

I took the dogs for a walk together twice a day, but Vixen was the one who got extra training time. Teaching my dog not to bark at the door and other issues were on hold during fostering.

I still took Ace to dog agility once a week without Vixen. He really liked 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 got 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 were.

Ace pretty much ignored Vixen, probably because he was used to having all my attention. He would sit with his back to her and throw a silent tantrum. Haha.

My foster dog Vixen the pitbull

And my husband Josh didn’t appreciate getting woken up by a barking dog or that I was extra stressed from supervising four animals. I tried to remember that none of them asked to have another dog in the house, they were all tolerating Vixen because of me.

It is helpful for me to use a crate for my foster dogs or to use gates to separate the animals while everyone gets comfortable.

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 and cats.

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 got up early to make sure Vixen got a good walk in before I left in the morning and another walk in the evening before bed.

I also spent free time working on training her and giving her attention. Another thing I tried to do was not be away from home for too long in case she started barking while I was gone.

13. Your own dog could develop bad habits.

Ace became more territorial having Vixen around. He barked even more than normal when someone came to the door. But he did not learn that from Vixen.

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 did the best I could to set rules for Vixen and Ace.

I required both dogs to walk at my side. Before and after walks, I had both dogs sit before entering or exiting a door. They both sat before eating or drinking. I was lucky to have a calm, laid-back foster dog.

14. You might have to cancel some plans.

In our case, 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 take in a shelter dog.

Now, I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever fostered a dog before?

Let me know in the comments!

Related posts:

2010 update: Vixen was adopted!

2019 update: This post was originally published in 2009 but has been updated in 2019.

30 thoughts on “15 Things to Consider Before Fostering a Dog”

  1. Great points – many times people seem to forget that fostering or even having a dog is a lot of work. I see too many dogs that just get left in a backyard. I cringe almost every time I hear someone say they don’t have a dog since they don’t have a backyard. To me, this is many times doublespeak for the fact that they just want to throw them out there when it is not convenient to give the animal attention. I’ll get off the soapbox now. Thanks for continually reminding us the responsibility involved in having dogs.

    1. I just returned the nicest looking sheperd back to the rescue. As soon as I attempted to have my own two dogs meet him it looked like a blood bath would happen. Guilt, frustration and depression is all I feel right now. I tried to do something rewarding and I failed.

      1. Lindsay Stordahl

        Not a failure on your part. Some dogs just don’t do well together. I’ve had fosters that I had to return too. It made me feel bad, but I was able to foster other dogs that were a better fit. I do best with senior dogs.

        Thank you for giving fostering a try, and I hope you will consider fostering a different dog at some point.

  2. Another good post. I’m glad to hear that Vixen is fitting in well and that Ace is still getting time with you to himself. I think one of the hardest things to balance in rescue is your own family and pets needs vs. the pets that you are rescuing. It’s very easy to find yourself overwhelmed and then most often it’s your own pets and family that end up getting the raw end of the deal. I think you’ve included some great things to consider to help people to avoid that problem.

  3. Another great post. All of these factors are important and relate not only to fostering a dog, but adopting one as well. Also a great reminder to consider that the foster dog may have issues.

    Poor Ace! Will he play with Vixen at all?

  4. Lindsay Stordahl

    Apryl, people will say to me, “It must be hard having a big dog in an apartment.” And I say, um, no, it isn’t.

    Biggie, Ace doesn’t play with most dogs. He is a little lacking in his social skills so it’s good for him to have another dog around.

  5. I know what you mean, Lindsay! I feel bad when people think they cannot rescue a dog because they “don’t have room”. Like I said, it is just doublespeak for the fact that they want a dog for their own convenience and not an actual companion that they have give and take with for all involved. I don’t like to judge though, and many of these folks should not have dogs since they would not get their needs met. There I am on my soapbox again…

  6. Sew Crazy Dog Lady

    Once again.. another great post… You really know your stuff.

    I hope everyone who considers fostering a dog will read this. There are reasons why I don’t foster… many of them are listed above.

  7. It didn’t take us long to figure out that we weren’t good foster parents. I immediately got attached and wanted to keep our very first foster dog, Bullet. Thankfully we did find her a new home with a coworker of mine and she’s happy in her forever home. 🙂 No more foster doggies for me.

  8. Lindsay Stordahl

    Actually, having Vixen here has made me think a lot about your foster dog Bullet. I know how well she got along with your dogs and how hard it was for you to part with her. 🙂

  9. What;s so wrong with adopting your first foster dog. Some times it is love a first sight. The whole family, including 2 other dogs like her and she makes one of my dogs very happy. What happens if you are fostering and no home is every found in a reasonable time? Does the dog just stay indefinitely? As you can tell, I’m new to this.

  10. Lindsay Stordahl

    There’s nothing wrong with adopting your first foster dog if it end up being the right dog for you. One problem is people will fall in love with a dog based on their own emotions rather than choosing a dog that is right for them. Sounds like this dog might fit in well with your family!

    There are some cases where people will foster a dog for a year or two because no one wants to adopt it. Sometimes these dogs end up going to a new foster home, sometimes back to a shelter or boarding facility or sometimes their foster owner adopts them or continues to foster them. No one is required to keep a foster dog for any amount of time.

  11. This was so useful to me. I’ve fostered a dog for three weeks now. Now it is time for him to go back to the shelter. His separation anxiety is more than I (and the other tenants in my building) can handle — and my neighbours should not have to. I find I cannot leave the house at all or the barking and howling is out of control. He is a lovely dog, smart, cute, healthy…but his issues are beginning to overwhelm me and my other dog. I appreciated your comment that it is OK for the dog to go back to the shelter. I would love that forever family to nab him before I return him but it is unlikely. I have to try to be proud of the three weeks he spent with us…he has become house trained, he can sit and wait with hand and voice signals, he can gently mouth my hand without biting…but he cannot deal with the crate at all and he’s hardly ever in it but this is causing me to give up my life, something is wrong with this picture. thank you.

  12. Lindsay Stordahl

    I’ve been there so I know exactly how you feel! You have done a wonderful thing by giving this dog a chance to live with you. There are plenty of other dogs you could foster if you choose to. I believe it is so rewarding to foster a dog, but I do not like to put the foster dog before myself, my own pets and my boyfriend, neighbors, etc.

  13. I’m so happy I came across your blog and FB page. I’m on day 3 of fostering a dog for the first time. I think I’m more excited then the boyfriend. My dog Missy is doing good so far, but I feel she’s jealous when the young pup comes near me. She will occasionally bark at her; especially when she’s ready to potty (her routine) and it takes a bit longer getting the new dog ready. So far, is good. I think I feel stressed worrying about Bailey when I’m at work, and suffering from anxiety and I feel I can’t let her down…need to train her basic skills. She’s a sweet well mannered collie, only about 1 years old.

  14. Lindsay Stordahl

    Thanks for checking out my blog and fb page! Good luck with your foster dog. It can be challenging but it is also so rewarding.

  15. I think fostering dogs is an incredibly stupid, hippie/yuppie idea. Not really fair to the animal either.

    There are hungry children in this country, for God’s sake, if you have that kind of time/money.

  16. Thanks for giving such a nice advice.just bought a puppy home.was confused on how to take care of him and some doubts in my mind.you solved it.

  17. I really like your blog. I agree with what you are saying. In my case, being an animal lover it seems a necessity for me to save a life by fostering. I will admit, each time it is a lot of work, adding stress and at times frustration, while there are these moments where you feel you are doing the right thing and it brings a smile to know that dog is being saved. Having two dogs, may not seem much but it is. Walking two dogs is fine, but most dogs fosters deal with are like puppy, they require time of training. This can be exhausting when you are managing work, life and school as well. I get up at 6 am during the week days to ensure at least an hour walk for my dog and the foster one. Right after school, rush home, to spend my one free hour walking the dogs before heading to work, then rush home to spend time with them and try to catch up on what I have to do. Fostering while it is very rewarding, can take a toll. Tommy, the dog I am fostering is a handful at times. I agree that fostering requires ourselves to ask questions and ensure we know what we are getting involved with. To be honest, while I’ll miss Tommy when adopted, I am also looking forward to not having to stress for caring for more than I can bargain at times. I also agree with you that we need to be cautious of who put up with our decision to foster. There are times, where I get so stressed out trying to balance it all, that I may accidently blow, therefore, I keep reminding myself, that it was my decision, not my boyfriend, so I cannot take my stress of fostering on him. Last, I also acknowledge that my dog is a trooper, he is at times annoyed with that other dog, always over him, in his home, playing with his toys (we share though I bought Tommy his on toys as well, they’ll go with him), trying to get his mom and dad’s attention. In other words, fostering is demanding, not in a bad way but in nature. It is work, if it was easy, more people would do it.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on dog fostering. I agree, it can be a lot of work and very stressful. Although, I’ve had a few fosters that were not as stressful for me. It all depends on the dog and quite a few of them are very high energy with little training. The experience is very rewarding and worth it in my opinion, but it’s not something I can do all the time. I foster for a few months, then take a break for a few months, then foster again and so on.

  18. I only just found your blog. You have made some excellent point regarding fostering. I would only give up on a foster if it was deemed to be dangerous. If I lived in an apartment, and had a barker, yes, I woudl have to have it moved. Or, if I had cats that the foster couldn’t accept.

    I’m fortunate to live in a single dwelling with a fenced yard and dog friendly neighbours. I have no cats.

    I have never given up on a foster dog. I know that things will not work out in the first 24 or 36 hours. That is because I have a Pyr rescue, and a bitch of one at that. She is a middle-ranked high-ranked wannabe.

    Pyrs are extremely territorial. I work around it. Let one in while the other goes out etc. The longest I have had to wait for mine to accept a foster dog is 16 days, and even then I had to keep an eye on them because periodic fights broke out. I also knew that if we had Gracie for another six months before being adopted that the two of them would eventually live in harmony. It was only a month before Gracie was adopted, however.

    I have only fostered five dogs, and each one had it’s challenges. Everyone lived in harmony eventually. I ended up adopting one of my fosters.

  19. We are currently working on another foster. Thought we had a home, but foster pup did not like the potential owner. We have been working hard for over two months trying to get him ready for another home but he doesn’t really want to leave. Our established dogs don’t like him very much. Very jealous!! Foster is also going through adolescence so he is ultra annoying to them. Lots of fights. Two ER visits. We are determined to make through. He was a shelter dog but AKC registered and a sweet, precocious boy. We couldn’t let him be put down, but already had our happy little pack.
    A note on the backyard issue: I have a big backyard. We run and play and chase, cuddle and sun ourselves as a pack in that big backyard. My pups are not left outside alone. I refused to let foster pup be adopted by someone who wanted an outside dog. Backyards are important to have, especially in the city. You rubbed me wrong with the remark.

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