By Mel Lee-Smith
Published: 06/15/2022, edited: 06/15/2022
Thinking about fostering a dog for the first time? Although there’s no better teacher than paws-on experience, it’s a good idea to soak up as much info as possible so you know what to expect.
To help you start your journey as a foster pet parent on the right paw, we reached out to 3 foster pet parents from across the country. In this guide, they share what they’ve learned and what they wish they’d known when they first started fostering. Don’t “furget” to bookmark this post for easy access!
Special thanks to our foster pet parents — Carli Auran, Quincy Rush, and Brian Moore — for taking the time out of their busy schedules to share their expertise with us.
Carli's foster dog, Peanut, showing off his Wag! swag and striking eyes!
The first expert pet parent sharing their tips is Carli Auran, Wag!’s very own Head of Growth.
When asked what inspired her to start fostering, Carli said, “My husband and I decided to foster after losing our own pup. We were missing having a dog in our lives but weren’t quite ready to adopt yet.”
The couple works with Copper’s Dream Animal Rescue, which serves San Francisco and the Bay Area. Carli, who’s new to fostering dogs, says she’s still learning the ropes, but she’s having a blast and learning a lot:
“Being a foster parent is so much more than hanging out with a cute pup with lots of cuddles. It takes dedicated time to vet visits, training, and to promoting your foster as an available adoptee. It truly takes a whole community of pet lovers to save and find dogs a good home.”
Lolly, one of Brian's foster dogs, snoozing after a long play session.
Chicago-based copywriter Brian Moore is an experienced foster pet parent who primarily fosters and rescues Labrador Retrievers.
“We have been fostering for a few years, but this stopped at the tail end of 2020 during COVID lockdowns, as home visits and whatnot were limited,” says Brian. “We did have a foster fail during the initial months of COVID lockdown, though!”
When asked what inspired his family to start fostering, Brian said, “We saw the need to give ‘unwanted’ dogs love and care as they await their forever home. We had dogs of our own already, but this gave us a chance to see how our household could handle another addition to our fur family. We enjoy training the dogs and getting them ready for their new [pet parents].”
Brian’s family fosters through Midwest Labrador Retrievers Rescue (MLRR), a non-profit based in Chicago. Brian’s wife, Valerie Vedral Moore, is the board president of MLRR until September 2022.
Quincy's foster dog, Fennel, chillin' out on the couch.
A lawyer based in San Francisco, Quincy Rush has several years of foster experience under her belt. She began fostering in 2015, shortly after adopting her dog, Bentley, from a local shelter.
“In the first few months after I brought him home, I watched Bentley go from completely shut down and avoidant to happy and adventurous. Seeing him become a new dog made me realize just how tough the shelter environment can be. I wanted to help give more dogs a chance to blossom outside of the shelter, so I reached out to a local rescue about fostering, and I've been doing it ever since!”
Who knows? Maybe you’ll fall head over paws in love with fostering just like Quincy did!
From surviving the first night with your new foster pup to handing off your foster to their new pet parents, our experts have got all your questions covered. Let’s dig in!
Puppies are doggone adorable, sure — but caring for a puppy, even for a short period, certainly isn’t a walk in the dog park. Young puppies present unique challenges, from potty training accidents to destructive behaviors and everything in between.
Carli’s advice to new foster pet parents? Avoid taking in a puppy, and consider fostering an adult or senior dog instead.
“I recommend avoiding puppies at the start as they tend to be a lot more work and need much more attention than older dogs,” explains Carli. “Plus, older dogs have a harder time getting fostered and adopted so are much more in need of your help!”
She’s right — puppies are the most “pawpular” adoption candidates. Compared to adult dogs, puppies are less likely to be returned to shelters for behavioral issues. Meanwhile, adult dogs returned to shelters are 4 times more likely to be euthanized than puppies.
So instead of taking in a puppy as your first foster dog, consider fostering an at-risk older dog instead. Adult dogs in shelters often receive some training and veterinary care, which will make your job as a foster pet parent much easier. Plus, as you gain more experience, you’ll be better equipped to handle a boisterous puppy!
Carli's foster dog, Maggie, taking a break from playing to pose for the camera.
“You may think that your active lifestyle and dedication to walks will be sufficient for fostering a dog, but having easy access to gated outdoor space makes fostering 10 times easier,” says Carli.
Not only is having an outdoor space convenient, but it’s also required by some facilities, including the one Carli works with. “Many rescues will not allow foster parents to take in puppies if they do not have a private outdoor space.”
Why is that the case? Well, many everyday activities — like visiting the local dog park and walking your pup around the neighborhood — may not be suitable for some foster dogs.
“If you are taking in puppies, most will not be fully vaccinated and will not be able to go on walks,” says Carli. “In fact, it is recommended they do not step foot on ‘public ground’ to avoid catching dangerous viruses like parvo. (Even if you cannot physically see anything on the ground, it could still be present.) And then there is the obvious potty training factor, which will require you to take the pup out every few hours (or more!).”
But it’s not just accidents and illnesses that foster pet parents need to worry about:
“On the flip side, even if a dog is fully vaccinated, he or she may have temperamental or physical issues that will make public walks difficult. Many rescue dogs have a tough past or have never been around people. Access to a yard is great for training purposes before introducing them to the outside world.”
“The first night with your foster dog is often tough,” says Brian. “Your foster might cry and whine, maybe even bark when placed in their ‘crate bedroom.’”
Should you let your foster dog cry on the first night, or should you soothe them with cuddles and affection? It’s a common question many first-time foster pet parents have. Although it can be tempting to comfort your new pal, Brian says it’s best not to give in.
“The best thing to do is to ignore this as much as possible so your foster begins to understand the routine. It will be hard and will test your patience and willpower, but you'll all be better off in the end.”
It’s an experience Brian, Valerie, and their children are all too familiar with:
“Our family has had to deal with this on several occasions. The children in your house, depending on their age, might not understand what you're trying to accomplish, or they might get irritated to hear a dog whining at night. Try to explain to everyone why your foster is crying and why you're not doing anything about it.”
Dolly, one of Brian's foster dogs, taking a bath. "Your foster might be smelly when they arrive, so this is one of our first tasks," he says.
Why are some foster dogs so skittish, anyway? After all, they’re no longer living in a kennel at the shelter — they’re in a nice, loving home. So they should feel happy and comfortable, right? Not necessarily, says Brian.
“The dog you are fostering might have come from an abusive situation,” he explains. “They might have traveled a long while to get to you. They are confused, scared, and maybe even sick or malnourished.”
If your foster has endured trauma or abuse, you might be tempted to ignore Brian’s advice and nurture them when they cry. Unfortunately, this teaches them that they can whine or bark to get your attention — which is the opposite of what you want. Stay strong, and prepare for some tossing and turning on the first night with your foster dog!
To help your foster adjust to their crate, plan short training sessions during the day. Here are a few more tips for crate training your foster dog:
Need more guidance? Check out our top 6 essentials for crate training.
Brian's pet dog, Eva, standing by Lolly, the foster pup. "This is a great photo because Eva is very particular about her personal space," says Brian. "She rarely likes other dogs to physically touch her. I know, weird."
How do you introduce a new foster dog to your pets and family members? Very carefully, says Brian.
“We introduce our family and dogs to our foster dogs in front of our house on the sidewalk. A bonus here is they might get to meet neighbors and see other dogs walking by. Then, we take our dogs and the foster to the backyard, where they mingle some more. After that, we go in.”
To help you navigate this important step, Brian has kindly provided a step-by-step walkthrough for introducing your foster dog to other dogs, pets, and members of the household.
“When you get home with your [foster] dog, introduce them to your family and other dogs (if you have them) on neutral territory. Go to a nearby dog-friendly park or a part of your yard that is not frequented by your own dogs. This will allow your foster dog to decompress a bit and meet your family before you take them inside.”
“Once you've gotten friendly, then you can go to the part of your yard where your dogs are often outside or where you will have your foster go potty. Again, let the foster get familiar with this area and you in it.”
“Then, go inside and let your foster explore, but with your guidance. It's a good idea to keep the foster on a leash when you take them inside for the first time, especially (again) if you have other dogs.”
With enough time and patience, Brian says your foster should feel a little more at home:
“By the time you've brought your foster inside, hopefully they have gotten used to you and your dogs and will feel more comfortable in this strange new place. And hopefully they have done their business outside so there are no ‘accidents’ inside right away (but those will happen, too, so be ready for that).”
In a perfect world, your foster will adjust to your pets and other family members right from the start. But that’s not always the case. “In fact, you might have to keep your dogs separated from the foster for a while until they can tolerate one another,” says Brian.
Here are a few quick tips for helping your fur family get along:
Carli's foster dog, Peanut, enjoying a breath of fresh air.
“As a former pet parent for many years, it was easy for me to expect my first foster to act similarly to my own dog,” says Carli. “But in reality, every dog is different, and rescue dogs especially will have unique behaviors or needs.”
That’s why patience is so important for helping your foster adjust to their new environment. For example, your foster pup might react in strange or unexpected ways to everyday items in your home. Make sure you’re prepared to accommodate your foster as needed.
“Our first foster was terrified of stairs because she had never been indoors,” recalls Carli. “It took several days of carrying her and then teaching her how to use them before she was comfortable. Dogs who have never been indoors before may be extremely shy or be fully grown and not yet potty trained, while others may start bouncing off the walls with excitement.”
Although your foster might test your patience at times, it’s important to keep cool. Never take your frustration out on your foster by hitting or yelling at them. Carli’s advice? “Stay calm, and don’t give up on them while they adjust to their new life.”
With enough patience and a bit of positive reinforcement, your new four-legged roommate will learn the rules of the roost in no time. Carli reassures new foster pet parents that “dogs are quick learners, and with a little time, they will come out of their shell, eager to learn how to be a part of the family!”
Quincy's foster fur-baby is all smiles for the camera!
Giving your foster plenty of time and space to adjust is crucial. The best way to do that, according to Quincy, is to avoid crowding them with lots of pets and snuggles.
“Regardless of whether or not the dog you're fostering came from a shelter, coming into a new foster home is a big transition for them. So I feel like it's really important to give them however much time and space they need to decompress.”
To keep your dog comfortable, let them set the pace. Here’s how Quincy approaches the first week with her foster dogs:
“I try to just follow the dog's lead for at least the first few days — I don't ask anything of them, and I don't initiate any interactions outside of leashing them for walks. If the dog wants to play or snuggle with me right away, that's great! But a lot of my fosters have taken some time to get acclimated.”
Carli's foster dog, Maggie, soaking up some sun.
You may be tempted to treat your foster pup the same way you’d treat your own dog — but Carli strongly advises against it. “Unless you are seriously considering adoption (aka foster failing), I don’t recommend having this mentality,” says Carli. “It is very important to focus on preparing the dog for any potential adoption situation.”
As much as you’ll want to make your foster feel at home during their short stay, Carli says this could do more harm than good for the foster’s chances of getting adopted:
“For example, while you may allow your own pets on the couch, other pet parents may not,” explains Carli. “While crate training may not be important for your housing situation, dogs who are crate trained are much more adoptable.”
“A well-behaved dog is the best adoption candidate.” — Carli Auran
How can you help ensure your foster has the best “pawssible” chances of getting adopted? Carli recommends working on obedience fundamentals. “Basic commands and manners around food and other dogs are essential. Training is a big part of being a foster parent and setting pets up for success in their new homes.”
Remember, you’re not alone on your journey. If you need advice or have questions about your foster’s history or temperament, don’t hesitate to reach out to your local rescue or foster facility.
“The group you are fostering through is there to help you!” says Quincy. “I'm never shy about reaching out with questions or concerns, and a reputable rescue will be more than happy to give advice and help you troubleshoot any issues you're having. I also make sure to send them lots of pictures and updates — the more information they have about a dog, the better they're able to find that dog's forever home.”
Which handily leads to our next tip for fostering a dog!
Quincy's foster doggo taking a much-needed nap!
Although your local rescue can provide invaluable resources and assistance, getting your foster adopted is a team effort, says Carli.
“As a foster parent, most rescues will rely on your help to get your foster adopted. This means taking lots of cute pics (an easy task for animal lovers!), posting your foster on social media groups, giving thorough updates to the rescue for their website, and even taking pets to rescue-hosted adoption events.”
Depending on the shelter or facility you work with, you may even be required to attend adoption events or lend a helping paw in other ways. “Fosters who work with our rescue are asked to commit to at least 1 adoption event per month,” says Carli.
When determining whether you’ve got what it takes to be a foster pet parent, factor in the time you’ll need to spend at these events. Ask shelter staff what’s expected of you, what etiquette you’ll need to observe, and whether the shelter can offer flexibility or work with your schedule.
Quincy's floofy foster is ready for their close-up!
We’ve all seen those heartwarming stories of foster “fails” who welcomed a foster pup into their hearts, fell head over paws in love, and decided to adopt them.
Although it sounds like a happy ending, part of being a foster pet parent means saying goodbye. No matter how long you foster a dog before they find their “furever” home, letting go can be bittersweet.
Like so many foster pet parents, Quincy really struggled with parting ways at first:
“When I first started fostering, I had some tough goodbyes with dogs that I had really bonded with. As I gained more experience, I learned to keep in mind from Day 1 that my role is to help my foster find their forever family and to set them up for success in their forever home. I try to always view their time with me as a dress rehearsal in preparation for the real show.”
Quincy has a bonus tip for sentimental foster pet parents who want to keep in touch with foster dogs they’ve bonded with:
“When I do have harder goodbyes, I offer lifetime free dog sitting to the new family. I've only been taken up on it a couple times, but just having the possibility out there makes me feel better.”
And that’s a wrap on our tips for fostering a dog for the first time! Thanks again to our foster pet parents — Carli, Brian, and Quincy — for sharing their expertise (and cute pics of their foster fur-babies!).
Now that you’ve got some expert advice to guide you, you’re ready to take the next step: connecting with your local shelter to find out more about foster opportunities.
Need more guidance on keeping your foster dog happy and healthy? Chat with a veterinary professional for prompt answers to your pressing questions.
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