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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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Danica

Sunday 11th of July 2021

Thank you so much for your article! I've been fostering a senior dog with severe separation anxiety for two weeks, who would pace / bark / whine nonstop until she gets exhausted as long as I'm not beside the sofa.. I pulled her out on her last day from the shelter on behalf of the rescue, so that she wouldn't be turned down. But now I'm feeling exhausted and frustrated because of her anxiety, she literally gets anxious even if I work / sleep in another room. I've been working with the rescue volunteer and train to crate train her / give her medication and comfort her, but nothing helps. I'm in lack of sleep and highly stressed now.

I feel guilty about telling the rescue that I can't foster her any longer, but I may have to do it eventually for my own good..

Lisa

Sunday 4th of July 2021

This happened to me. The foster dog is the sweetest most loving girl but absolutely panicked so much when I went to bed and left her in the crate. I asked about crate training and was told she was crate trained and was not told she had that severe panicked separation anxiety. She physically bent the wire crate to bust out in under 5 minutes. She was so so scared. I cleared out a bathroom for her but was up all night hearing her throw herself against the door. I was texting the rescue and the trainer constantly asking for help and specifics. They said just give it time. I have 2 cats who were separated but I couldn’t leave the foster dog alone for even one minute to go and give one of my cats her medicine. She’s also deaf. So the panic isn’t manageable with ticking clocks or radios. I live alone so no one can pitch in for me. I couldn’t go to the bathroom or eat.

I called the trainer and the rescue bawling my eyes out and said I have to bring her back. The rescue was horrible. She literally laughed, said separation anxiety isn’t complicated, and that she hopes I never ever get a dog. And that the dog deserves someone much better than me.

I bonded with this beautiful girl and have been crying all day. Thankyou for sharing your experience. I needed this so much.

The foster girl deserves to be set up for success with full disclosure by the rescue.

Lindsay Stordahl

Sunday 4th of July 2021

Oh my gosh, that rescue is terrible or at least that person is making lots of mistakes. I'm so sorry.

Sadie

Tuesday 18th of May 2021

This made me feel better about my decision to not keep my emergency foster (my parents and I brought her in directly from the owner due to housing issues) if her original owner decides they don't want Havi. Havi's 9 months old, super loving and sweet but there are so many issues. She's destroyed my screen door, my dad's glasses, won't leave my older dog alone so I always need to keep them separated now, and still uses the bathroom in the house despite being housebroken and trained before reaching my care. There's more but if I think about it I might cry, lmao! Her previous owners never having these issues with her. I love her and she's an amazing dog but she's not for me or my family. I've been stalling on my decision because I don't want her to get put down or put with an abusive family. She deserves a better foster owner than me.

Thank you for posting this, even if it was years ago. This post helped me not feel so alone during this struggle.

Lindsay Stordahl

Wednesday 19th of May 2021

I know it can be hard!

Connie

Monday 25th of January 2021

I'm so glad I found this post, even though it's written long ago. Reading all the comments and experiences from others made me feel better.

I'm fostering a dog (7yr old mutt) right now, part in view of adoption and part helping him since his previous foster wants to give up (giving the dog to a shelter) after 3 years. After 3 weeks I feel I'm not cut out for owning a dog. It's not the dog's fault - although he has separation anxiety and reactive towards dogs/visitors, he's a very sweet dog at home. I love animals and dogs, but I just realized I don't want to have a dog full-time.

I feel like a huge failure, because everyone had such high hopes that I'd adopt the dog. I did a lot of work beforehand, visited the dog for many times to gain it's trust, bought a lot of stuff for the dog, read a ton about dogs training etc. I work from home and it's the biggest reason I fostered - I thought this setting was ideal for a dog with separation anxiety, but turns out I feel trapped and training is even more difficult because I'm always home. The dog also hates strangers and visitors so much that he bit my mother when she visited me. I stopped having guests from then, but this can't go on forever and it's equally difficult for find someone who volunteer to do training sessions with an aggressive dog.

The dog was never put into a shelter or rescue. He was rescued by dog loving people who volunteer to foster and rehome dogs. They even got me a trainer to help the dog settle into my home and improve his issues. If I return the dog back to the previous foster, they will be so disappointed and whatever training I did is likely to regress because the previous foster is too busy to keep up the training. I feel so much guilt for ruining the dog's fate for not adopting or indefinitely fostering him.

I'm planning to tell the previous foster that I'm not going to adopt the dog and can only foster a few more months (for courtesys sake). I'm so worried and beat up right now, I just hope everything can get settled quickly.

Lindsay Stordahl

Tuesday 26th of January 2021

I know it's hard not to feel bad but what you are doing is OK! Most of us who have fostered dogs find ourselves in similar situations eventually. Just be honest with yourself and the others involved. I'm sorry you are in this situation but it will be OK.

Jessica

Tuesday 31st of March 2020

Thank you for this post! I am heartbroken today because I have to return my first foster dog. He does not do well with cats and we have a cat (who has been our baby for 12 years!). We tried so hard with this dog but he just isn't a fit for us. I know he'll find a forever home soon because he's so handsome and sweet, he just needs a home with no cats and preferably a big yard he can run around in. Our apartment is big but not big enough for him especially if we have to contain him to keep him away from the cat.

I feel like a failure but I'm trying not to feel that way. I'm trying to stay positive even in this difficult situation. I'm also spoiling the heck out of the dog before he goes back to the rescue. He got a nice long walk in the woods this morning. Now he has a Kong with some peanut butter smeared inside (he's been going at it for an hour lol). He'll get another walk in a little bit and some cuddle time afterwards.

Lindsay Stordahl

Tuesday 31st of March 2020

Thank you for helping him! I adopted a dog in Jan and had to return her because she wanted to kill my 14 year old cat. It's so hard and people might judge but you know what's best. The dog is lucky to spend time with you.