Cute rescue dog being held by foster parent

How to Foster a Rescue Dog — 7 Important Steps

Last updated on March 1st, 2023 at 05:22 pm

People decide to foster rescue dogs for a number of reasons. Someone who has never had a dog before might want to try it out temporarily with a foster dog. Others may want a friend for their dog or child. But most commonly, people who foster rescue dogs really love dogs and want to provide a safe, loving environment to help a rescue dog heal. Fostering a rescue dog can be a lot of work, but it is also hugely rewarding.

Once you have decided to try fostering and have found a rescue organization or shelter with a good foster program, there are 7 steps you will need to take to fulfill your role as a foster parent:

  1. Complete the application process
  2. Find out why the dog needs fostering
  3. Ask what is required of you
  4. Make sure you are ready to foster
  5. Prepare your home
  6. Be gentle, kind, patient, and forgiving
  7. Learn how to say goodbye

Getting Started

Rescue dogs all over the country and the world desperately need foster homes. The shelters are simply too full to handle all of them and many end up getting euthanized. Additionally, many dogs who have been rescued from challenging situations may have special physical or emotional needs.

To find a reputable shelter or rescue organization you can check with Petfinder or ASCPA which both have extensive lists in all states. Each organization will have different types of rescued dogs, resources, and requirements. So, it is good to check a few to see what works best for you and to find a dog that is a good match with your abilities and lifestyle.

A dog who has been fostered after being rescued has an 80% higher success rate of being adopted. Fostering greatly reduces the risk of a dog being returned to the shelter and provides an opportunity for a dog to heal. If you have made the decision to foster, you may want to check out two or three rescue organizations or local shelters to find your best match. The process may be a bit involved, but it will help you to be better prepared. See these key steps below:

1. Fostering a Rescue Dog Will Require Completing an Application Form and Being Interviewed

Shelters and rescue organizations have the best interest of their rescues at heart. These dogs have already been stressed and traumatized, Therefore, the rescue staff wants to ensure they will be placed in a good foster home. They will ask you questions about how you plan to care for the dog, what his home environment will be like, and ensure you are committed and can manage to take on this responsibility.

You may have various reasons for fostering, such as learning more about being a good dog parent or having some temporary companionship for your pets or kids. But the bottom line is that you will be kind, compassionate, patient, and able to help a rescue dog heal.

Therefore, the staff will interview you and will probably want to visit your home. They may do this in person or via Zoom if you live at a distance. Foster parents have varying reasons and skill levels. The staff will match you with a dog that works best with your lifestyle and ability. The most challenging dogs are usually placed with foster parents who have extensive experience.

2. Ask Why the Rescued Dog Needs Fostering

Ask questions and learn as much as you can about a dog and his special needs. Here are some of the reasons a dog may need to be fostered:

  • The shelter is full and a dog is at risk of being euthanized
  • Senior dogs may have special age-related needs
  • Some dogs are very sick and need medical support
  • Severely ill dogs may need hospice care and a home to live out their lives comfortably
  • Pregnant dogs need a home to give birth and care for their pups
  • Traumatized dogs from puppy mills, hoarding, or abuse situations need decompression, healing, and normalization
  • Some dogs have never been housebroken or socialized and foster families can begin this process

3. Make Sure You Understand What is Required of You

Most foster parent commitments last from two weeks to several months. Some dogs take longer than others to be ready for adoption. Additionally, it may take the staff a while to find a new home for your ward.

Be sure to ask about special needs such as medications, special vet visits, other care needs, or special equipment. Along with your duties as a foster parent, you may also be required to take your foster dog to the facility for adoption events with prospective new parents. Foster parents often provide some basic training, especially for dogs who have never been in a home environment.

What the Foster Parent Typically ProvidesWhat the Rescue Organization Will Often Cover
A loving home environment for several weeks/monthsVeterinary care and vaccinations
Emotional and behavioral supportTraining & guidance for behavioral issues
A dedicated quiet room/space for decompression/healingLeash, collar, bowls
Dog bedCrate
Transportation to adoption eventsMicro-chipping
Basic housebreaking training and mannersInitial food and treats
Toys Resources and support

You will probably end up spending some money on additional items such as toys, food, or a bed. Most of these organizations are nonprofits on a tight budget, and they will appreciate any support you can provide. Just make sure you read the application information and ask questions to clarify what is included.

You will also want to know what the process will be if you decide you just can’t handle a particular dog.

Best Friends, a long-time national and respected animal rescue organization have a great Foster Dog Care Manual. It is very comprehensive and covers all aspects of what foster parents will need to know.

4. Make Sure You Are Ready to Be a Foster Parent

Fostering a rescue dog is a commitment that can last several weeks to several months. So, consider your ability to open your home and heart for a significant period of time. At a minimum, you will need to spend about two hours a day interacting with your dog and providing for his daily needs. So, even if you work full-time you may be able to foster a dog. Although you may need some additional support from other family members or friends.

Make sure you have space in your home to provide a rescued dog with his own room or area where he can feel safe. Your home space should be calm and quiet and devoid of a lot of drama or people coming and going frequently.

Ideally, you will have the financial resources to help supplement some of your foster dog’s practical needs such as food or additional equipment. Most importantly, you will have the ability to be patient, tolerant, gentle, loving, and encouraging. Rescue dogs are often very fragile and need a steady hand and someone who will help them feel safe and relaxed. This is especially true of puppy mill dogs who usually have very hard lives devoid of loving companionship.

5. Prepare Your Home

You will want to inspect your home and yard with a keen eye and at the level that a dog will see things. Safety and protection are primary concerns. Frightened rescue dogs can be high flight risks as well as chewers and diggers. Here are some things to do to prepare:

  • Mend holes in your fence and repair broken gates
  • Unplug cords in the area your dog will spend time alone
  • Move all indoor plants away from your dog’s reach
  • Consider placing a child’s safety gate on your front porch
  • Put child locks on cabinets that contain medicine, food, or toxic cleaning supplies within your dog’s reach
  • Pick up any small items that a dog might possibly try to chew on
  • Secure all garbage cans with latching lids or place them under the sink
  • Consider getting indoor 3-4 foot temporary fencing or a large playpen to confine your foster dog initially

When I first brought home my pair of 6-year-old rescue dogs, they were anxious and pretty hyper. Within a month one of them ended up in the emergency room after eating an entire rubber door stop! This same dog also chewed up a wire to an electric guitar amp. Fortunately, it was not plugged in. The other dog chewed on the hallway carpet when I left the house and nibbled on her blanket at night.

During the first several days, they tried to bolt out the front door. One of them succeeded in getting out and ran all the way down the street with me running after her and calling her name. Fortunately, she came back after a few minutes. After that incident, I installed a child gate on the front porch and a second gate behind the main gate in the backyard. Eventually, they both settled down.

6. Be Gentle, Kind, Patient, and Forgiving

Most rescued dogs are anxious and sometimes terrified. Some of them have never known the touch of a loving hand or the warmth of a soft bed. Everything will be new and they may be confused and afraid. Many rescued dogs have never been in a home before and do not have a clue how to behave. So, keep your expectations low and be ready to forgive and gently redirect without punishing them.

Contrary to what you may think, many rescue dogs will feel more secure in a crate, playpen, or den-like environment. So, don’t feel bad if your foster dog needs some form of confinement in the beginning. Just make sure it is not for more than a few hours and that the space is large enough for him to stand up and turn around comfortably.

Follow your rescue dog’s lead. If he wants to hide out and be alone, let him. Try not to pet and cuddle him until he is ready to be touched and give him plenty of personal space and as much free choice as possible. If he feels cornered he may growl. Just back away and let him know you are not a threat. Other dogs may become very clingy and refuse to leave your side, and you will need to slowly reassure them that you will not abandon them. Be sure to see my post on How to Comfort and Heal a Rescue Dog for a lot more information about some of the needs rescue dogs have.

7. Learn How to Say Goodbye

The greatest cost of fostering a rescue dog is the emotional impact. It is heartbreaking to watch a dog cower and tremble when petted. It is equally hard to let them go for adoption. Yet, even so, fostering a dog in need can be one of the most rewarding things you will ever do.

Watching a frightened dog come out of her shell and come alive with a new joy for life is priceless. If it feels too hard to foster a rescue dog because of the emotional strain, think how much harder it might feel to know that a dog might never recover and have a happy life. But if you just cannot foster a dog for any reason, you can also help by volunteering or making donations to your favorite rescue. We can all help in different ways!

However, if you choose to become a foster parent, knowing that you have helped a dog to heal and thrive will far outweigh any heartaches. And, yes, it is always hard to say goodbye. But you will be launching your foster dog into her forever home, where she can have a joyful and peaceful life.

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