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Returning a Foster Dog

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.

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

6 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 might damage 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.

5 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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Thursday 4th of January 2024

This article helped me out immensely. I am fostering my first dog and am really struggling. She needs to be with a trainer and the rescue has pretty much been non responsive until I had to come up with a hard deadline to return her. She has extreme separation anxiety, bites a lot (not viciously but it breaks the skin and bleeds), is hyperactive and hates other dogs. The rescue is making me feel so guilty, but I’ve been so patient for two months and have been clear she needs more than I can offer.

Lisa Rhea

Friday 15th of December 2023

I currently have four foster dogs through a rescue. I have had them for 3 months the rescue to this date has not listed these dogs for adoption. I have sent pictures told her about the dogs . Never once did she tell me to write a bio on them but this didn’t come out until after three days of asking her to call me that I sent her a message in messenger. I keep children in my home because I also take care of my dad so working out of my home is not an option. I several rescue animals of my own most of my goes towards the care of animals and providing them with everything they deserve. Two of the foster puppies who are 4 months are completely consuming all of time. They play in their poop and pee , they will lay it and will even eat food that may dropped in a pile of poop. I have to clean up after them several times a day they will drag their water and food bowls, chew up the pee pads soaked in urine and poop on them and I e never seen dogs that poop 6 or more times a day. I’ll have poop halfway up my walls poop all the floors because they walk and play in it. I have to bathe them 3-4 times a day just to be able to touch them. I can take them outside they will do their business and in a couple of hours they have pooped two or times each and it will be everywhere and on everything I have to wash poop off their food bowls bowls constantly. My animals are suffering and the other two fosters are and I’m not getting to be till 2-3 in the am because I’m trying to catch up on everything that’s piled up because of all the time spent cleaning up after them. Well one of my parents is threatening to pull her child and seek care elsewhere because her child is not getting a good because they bark constantly and it’s a very shrill high pitched sound. Thinks her child is not getting the attention she’s is paying for. I reached to the shelter and she is basically refusing to take the dogs. Never mind that I won’t have money to pay my bills and take of my animals. It doesn’t bother one bit. Says she puppies kthat need fosters and yet she says the rescue is tapped out. She said I could deal with , build an enclosure outside ( I don’t have a fenced in yard and we coyotes)this would be built out my pocket or I could take the dogs to euthanized. I will not take them to be euthanized and have that on me. They need training and to be separated. I can’t keep them or I’m going to lose over half of my income that I can’t survive on. I don’t know what to do any suggestions


Saturday 12th of November 2022

So true. I recently had a foster beagle that was I was told was an "old dog just needing a place to rest his bones". The dog was on the move constantly, so food oriented that nothing else mattered to him. We had to feed our dogs separately and it was impossible to give the resident dog a treat without locking the foster away with his. At the slightest hint of movement in the morning, the foster was desperate to get out of his overnight crate and get to the food. It was a totally nerve wracking week before we could return him to the rescue and the worst fostering experience I've ever had. I did feel like a failure, though.


Thursday 25th of August 2022

I currently have a foster that I can’t train. I had told the foundation about my work and lifestyle situation so they set me up with a girl terrier mix. She has extreme separation anxiety and barks all night. And shes not potty trained. Poop and pee everywhere. She chewed through computer cords that cost hundreds and peed inside my car. I am an absolute wreck because I feel like I failed her. I dont want to admit it but I feel that I have to return her. I have never felt like more of a monster. I love dogs and babysat for many and for weeks. I am so traumatized by my failure that I dont know when it will be before I can have another dog in the house. Your article helped me to calm down after reading about how it is normal to not get along with every foster. This experience changed my life. Im so nervous to call the foster coordinator.


Monday 6th of June 2022

Thank you so much for this post. I am fostering a dog for the first time. The dog is sweet in my home, but cannot deal out in society. I have (and still do) try training, but my patience is wearing thin. I live in an apartment. I can't take him to the dog park because he is aggressive towards people. It's hard to take him for a walk on the streets because he so strong and is leash reactive towards other dogs. Thus, I am stuck taking him for hikes in isolated locations to get his energy out (he is a very high energy dog). Because of his people aggression, it's hard/expensive for me to board him when I leave town (thankfully I have found a place that accepts all dogs) and I don't trust other people to let him out of the house when I have to work late. When I am away at work, I crate him because he has put a hole in my couch and can pee on carpet when anxious. Like I said, he is mostly sweet at home but super possessive/protective over me out in society. I love him, but I can't deal with him anymore. I've already had him for 7 months. I have notified the rescue organization that they need to put him with someone else and I gave them 90-days notice (per the contract). If they can't find someone in 90-days, the contract says I am still responsible for fostering him OR I have to pay the boarding fees for him to be boarded somewhere (because the rescue doesn't have a shelter). I don't think they are going to be able to find someone in these 90-days. I think my only way out of this is to claim violence (he has bit me too hard while playing and lunges at people including friends/family that come to visit); however, I don't want to do that because I don't want to give him a poor record. I am delaying moving on with my life and out of my expensive apartment (moving to a less expensive city) to meet this 90-days notice but, again, I don't think they are going to find anyone to take him. If I bring him to a shelter, I am also fined. HELP! I don't regret doing this. I have learned a lot and I love the dog (while inside), but I love myself more and I feel like my hands are tied. I would 100% foster again, but I would make sure I better understood the terms and what I was getting myself into. I would also make sure they have a place to take the dog should it not work out. Thank you for any insight you can provide.

Lindsay Stordahl

Tuesday 7th of June 2022

Also want to add, if you do choose to take him to a shelter as a last resort, I doubt the rescue can actually enforce a fine. Just don't pay their fine. They are not going to actually get law enforcement involved over this and if they do I doubt they would get anywhere with it. Perhaps as a last resort you can politely explain your situation to a no-kill shelter and they may be able to help you with the dog, especially if you give them a week or two to make room for him. Best of luck.

Lindsay Stordahl

Tuesday 7th of June 2022

Jean, I am so sorry to hear of this situation. I have never heard of such a strict, ridiculous contract for fostering a dog! This is unacceptable on the rescue's part and I am so sorry to hear this. A good rescue will absolutely 100% take a dog back at anytime from a foster volunteer. After all, you are a VOLUNTEER offering to help dogs in need. I'm wondering if you can call someone who is "high up" in the organization and politely and calmly explain this situation to them. A good person who cares about people and dogs will understand and make some exceptions to their rules. But this may need to be a phone conversation and not an email/text. Good luck to you!