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10 Tips for Preparing for a Foster Dog

Every time I foster a dog, even if just for a few days, I go through the following 10 steps.

If you know anyone who will be fostering a dog, please share this post with them.

Our country is obsessed with rescuing dogs; you’d think we’d be better prepared for how to bring them into our homes.

We’re not.

Fostering (and adopting, for that matter) goes so much better if we take our time to plan ahead. You don’t have to follow my exact steps. The key is to just plan and adjust appropriately.

For example, I always pick up my foster dogs on Fridays so I can spend the afternoon and weekend getting to know the dog. (My Friday schedules are flexible.)

The following are 10 other things I do to make fostering go as smoothly as possible.

Tips for bringing home a foster dog

These are the 10 things I do ever time I foster. Adjust your own list accordingly. Let me know in the comments what you’d do the same or differently.

1. I confine my own pets before I pick up the foster dog.

My two cats go in our spare bedroom and my mutt Ace goes in our bedroom.

2. I put towels down in my car & tether a leash to the door.

My car is too small for a crate, so the dog rides on the back seat. The towels are there if the dog has an accident.

I also tether a leash to the door with little slack. When the foster dog is loaded, I clip this leash to her collar to prevent her from climbing into the front.

3. I walk the foster dog before putting her in the car.

I normally pick up my foster dogs from a boarding facility, pound or a volunteer’s home. No matter what, I always walk the foster dog for at least 10 minutes. This gives her time to relieve herself, and it gives us time to form some sort of relationship (vs. just shoving a strange dog into my car).

I bring treats and try to get the dog to pay attention to me, sit and make eye contact.

4. Once home, we immediately walk again.

Orie the purebred black Lab

Ideally, this walk is 30 minutes or more. I know this isn’t always possible because sometimes the dog is sick or recently spayed or you’re in North Dakota and it’s (no joke) -19 Fahrenheit. This was the case when I picked up a foster dog named Vixen one year in January. She was so skinny and cold we could only walk for about 5 minutes.

But, if you can walk, it helps to burn the dog’s extra energy and it helps you form a bond. It also gives more time for the dog to relieve herself which means less chance of marking or accidents once you get inside.

Make sure you have a collar that fits well and won’t break and be extra aware so she doesn’t slip out.

5. I try to walk at least until the foster dog poops.

Enough said.

6. I put flea-prevention on the foster dog.

Fleas are a problem in my area year round. If the rescue/shelter can’t confirm the dog has had flea prevention in the last three weeks or so, I just treat the dog myself with K9 Advantix because that’s what I have on hand.

7. I put the dog in a crate for some down time.

This is time for her to decompress. She has no reason to be running all over my apartment. I might let her explore for 5 minutes or so, and then in the crate she goes. I keep the crate in the main living area of our apartment, and I move my laptop there so I can work near her.

This gives the foster time to just be in the new environment, taking in all the smells and sounds of my other pets and everything else. Usually the foster is tired from being in boarding or at the shelter, plus going on our walk.

If I need to run an errand or go walk one of my client’s dogs, this is when I do it.

8. I let my own dog out.

Can’t forget about Ace! I take him out for a potty break on a leash, walking by the foster dog’s crate without acknowledging her.

This gives the two dogs a chance to sniff from a distance without direct eye contact or any pressure to interact. This helps me determine if I think I can safely introduce the two on my own or if I should wait for my husband.

9. After an hour or so I might introduce the two dogs.

I do so if:

  • I’ve been told the dog is likely to be dog friendly (no guarantees, no matter what anyone says!)
  • Ace and the foster seem pretty calm, curious and relaxed with loose body language.

Ace has extremely good dog-greeting skills. I didn’t train him to do this. It’s just how he is. He’s been a friend to many dogs who would otherwise have no dog friends. Ace is such a nice guy. 🙂

If I decide to go ahead with the intro, I keep the foster on a LOOSE leash and Ace is not leashed.

I let the foster dog approach Ace on a loose leash and try to keep things light and moving (no tension). I avoid tight spaces like hallways, and I talk in a happy, upbeat voice and do little clicking noises to get the dogs to look at me (to break any tension). If there is a lot of posturing it’s usually best to just whistle and distract them – “Look here!” – or to hold a treat right up to the foster dog’s nose.

I try not to do any tugging on the leash because that can trigger a scuffle.

It’s a good sign when they both shake off, like, “OK, that was fun, what’s next?”

Ace and MaryLou

10. We head out for a pack walk.

This doesn’t always happen, but ideally I walk the two dogs together if I can or I recruit my husband to walk one of the dogs.

Generally, dogs that can walk with Ace, sniff things with Ace and pee on things with Ace can usually live peacefully with Ace!

Walking the two together is not always possible. I do what I can. The right training collar helps!

So those are my tips for the first few hours of fostering! 

I know I’ve made it sound complicated and may have scared you away, but it’s easy once you get your own routine down.

What would you add to your list of fostering tips? Let me know in the comments!


Sunday 4th of February 2018

Good advice but dogs are discarded every day and rarely or probably never have I picked up a foster on a Friday. If I get dogs that are transported from kill shelters , it’s usually Sunday morning when it’s mill rescues , it’s usually late Sunday night and then random dogs in between. It’s important to know your pack and who you can take in. Don’t be discouraged there are many dogs in need of foster care all the time, there are plenty of dogs you can help.


Thursday 7th of July 2016

I actually have a service dog that has to be at my hip 24/7... He started a foster dog as did my first service dog before I decided they could take the stress and my lifestyle etc. I'm about to get two sister fostee dogs to work on thwir fear of ppl, one was fostered and housetrained before and trusts easier... So we will see if that helps. I've worked with dogs my whole life and have chosen to go down the animal rehab career road. Atm Im trying to get two crates, since my ford can't sleep in one due to his needing to be able to access me anytime.... I don't have one haha. Both dogs know my Ford, and since I trained him I'll be able to have him as the example as I bond with the two girls. But I have to work out the basics again and reading this post is helpful, so thanks for taking the time to put it together!!

Jen Gabbard

Friday 6th of November 2015

I love these tips. I hear too often about dog greetings going poorly because people tend to rush it. I know it's exciting, and I know people want to get it done, but it can be stressful & all that excitable energy can cause scuffles.

Lara Elizabeth

Wednesday 4th of November 2015

These are all really great tips! Our last foster did not work out and I'm not sure I'll do it again when I have two dogs of my own, but I learn something from every one and there is always room to improve the next time.

Lindsay Stordahl

Wednesday 4th of November 2015

Thanks Lara. I was bummed your last foster didn't work out, but I've been there. It happens to everyone. How is he doing now?


Sunday 1st of November 2015

Love it! My #1 rule for bringing any new dog into my home, even if it's just for an hour or two, is to assume the dog is not house-broken no matter what I have been told. Just because the dog didn't pee in the house at his last home doesn't mean he knows he can't pee in MY house!

Judy Weikum

Friday 16th of June 2017

I agree 100%, assuming the dog is not house trained!

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 2nd of November 2015

Yep, that's a good rule!