smiling woman lying down with white dogOn Mondays nights at 9:15 a fabulous group of dog lovers moderate an exchange of ideas on twitter using Tweetchat. Called ‘#dogtalk’ the topics vary as professionals, specialists and enthusiasts are invited to be guest tweeters. Last Monday’s was about dog rescue featuring Kyla Duffy of @happytailsbooks.

The conversation drifted to fostering a dog as people shared their experiences of caring for dogs that were destined to leave them for homes of their own. Finding good foster homes is a challenge for many rescue groups but can mean the difference between life or death for many dogs. Many of us admitted to failing at fostering, the dog that was suppose to be with us for only a short time was still snoozing on the couch, years later. It’s not always easy to give up these dogs.

Some foster care givers might worry about a dog forming too strong an attachment to them. Emotional attachments are responses to a person, place, thing or experience and usually are the result of positive associations (though not always but I’m not a psychologist so won’t comment on that phenomenon). I remember how difficult it was to get rid of my old VW Rabbit which I had driven cross-country 3 times during my years at college in California. It was just a car, one with a rusted out fuel tank at that, yet I hated to see it go. I loved that car and suspect I’d love it even more today with its diesel engine and almost 40 miles to the gallon fuel efficiency. A new pick-up truck helped get me through that loss.

I think of bonding as a skill and being given the opportunity to develop that skill is important. Attachment and bonding are about building relationships and having the neurochemistry in place to assure that it can happen. There are ways in which brains can go awry when it comes to forming attachments with things as in the case of hoarders, or perhaps when people love their cars. The consequences to humans who spend their infancy and early childhood without the benefit of developing bonds with caregivers can be tragic. And there are fearful dogs who are able to form attachments to their primary caregivers but not easily with other people.

The first time I met my (not fearful) border collie Finn I paid attention to how he responded to the people and dogs around him. He was friendly and outgoing with the strangers, polite and appropriate with the dogs but what clinched the deal for me was how he behaved with the woman who had been taking care of him. He was showering her with attention and face licks. I knew that if he was able to bond with her he’d bond with me. We are by my count his seventh home, including the three shelters he’d ended up in and unless he was born at the first, he’d lived with at least three other people or families. However disruptive that might have been for him, somewhere along the way he’d learn to form attachments with humans. When he came to live with us he was an old hand at it and I’m grateful to the people who handled him so compassionately.

So while you might want to guard your own heart when it comes to fostering a dog, help them develop the ability to connect and trust humans, it’s a skill that will serve them well when they find their forever home.


16 comments so far

  1. Tressa on

    I am a foster home for Black Dog Animal Rescue in Wyoming and am currently on my 28th foster dog! Which just so happens to be a very fearful boy. Thats how i found this site. My own experience has been a great one with fostering, though trying at times, I know the dogs that have come and gone from my home are safe because of me.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment Tresa. Always nice to hear from folks who have made themselves part of the chain of caring and compassion that makes life better for so many dogs. I hope the blog and site help you with ways to work with your latest scared boy.

  2. melfr99 on

    Another great post! I hadn’t actually thought about the fact that bonding to me would help my foster dogs to bond with others, but it is true. I hope that it helps foster dog parents to know this and I hope it encourages others to try it.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks again for your ongoing support Mel, I really appreciate it. People like you can show foster dogs how good it can be!

  3. Rod@GoPetFriendly on

    I wish you could post more often because you always convey a powerful message. When Amy and I get off the road with GoPetFriendly – whenever that may be – our goal is to have a foster home for dogs. Looking forward to it.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for saying that Rod. If I posted more often I’d have to start talking about the weather and what I had for dinner, not sure how many powerful messages I’ve got in me! But I appreciate you wanting more.

  4. Lizzie on

    When I picked Gracie up from her foster home the lady told me that because she had already started her rehab, she would turn round a lot quicker with me.
    Admittedly she was only with the fosterer for ten weeks but sadly Gracie regressed and I had to start from the beginning again. But than again Gracie is an extreme example of a fearful dog.

    I think that fostering is the very best thing for any dog. They are all special people and I have nothing but admiration for them.

    I know that I would be a failure at the job because I would find it impossible to give a dog up!

    • fearfuldogs on

      I think it’s useful to assume that we’re starting from the beginning with every dog we interact with. It’s easy to forget that just because we’re comfortable or know that life is going to be good, that the dogs have those skills and expectations as well. They’re all first dates.

  5. Nancy Freedman-smith on

    Thanks Deb-Well written and great points. Lizzie, all problem dogs regress when they are moved. I think what the first foster was saying is that she laid a foundation that you could build on. I hope you are still in contact with her because she will have many suggestions for you. did you give the dog time to decompress in the new place? Sometimes what they need before bonding is time to chill. I have given problem dogs up to 2 weeks for this when I interact with them as little s possible and just let them watch and chill. Resiliency is a big word in dog training and dogs that are not resilient are more difficult, and not just for foster homes, but for the dog itself, and for a permanent home. Thanks for giving this dog a chance.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Hey Nancy, thanks for reading and commenting. I’m going to guess that at this point in Lizzie’s relationship with Gracie that she has suggestions for the first foster care giver. But wouldn’t it be nice if there was more back and forth between care givers? Mary (turtlelady) is thinking about keeping a blogging diary of her experiences with the dog she is going to be fostering. I think that the documentation you create for your dogs’ future families is priceless. I wish I had it for my dogs.

  6. Lizzie on

    Reply to Nancy:

    Gracie, a Labrador, has been with me now for 21 months, and is my first, but not necessarily my last, problem/fearful dog!

    Gracie’s fosterer was experienced and did give me a lot of info about her but she admitted that she had never fostered a dog as scared as Gracie. She lived with 4 Boxer’s and fostered for Boxer Rescue as well as the Centre that Gracie came from. She also lived on her own, but when Gracie came here she had to contend with having a man about the house, whom she still doesn’t like and would quite easily live without, a bit like Debbie’s Sunny I think 🙂 Gracie’s was never socialised and her primary fear is of people.

    For some reason though, the fosterer did not keep in touch with me even though I sent e-mails and photo’s of Gracie, I have no idea why.

    I was totally out of my depth with this girl, but yes I did know to ignore her at first and she spent a week or more cowering in a corner of my husband’s study before I decided to do something about it! Yes I have no doubt that in the beginning I did go too fast for Gracie’s comfort but then I discovered Debbie and her website and blog and she knows that Gracie and I have never looked back.

    Gracie will never be anything like ‘normal’ but she is now a much happier dog and is able to thrive in this environment with me.

  7. Excellent points about practicing the bonding skill. I’m not sure my heart could take it, but someday, if/when I have well-adjusted dogs who would be OK with other dogs coming and going, I’d love to try fostering.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Truth be told I have been quite happy to see my foster dogs go to their ‘real’ homes. Especially the young ones! I suspect my dogs feel the same way.

      • I can see that. Kind of like my nieces and nephews. It’s fun for short times, but I’m glad when they go home.

  8. Lorrie Shaw on


    Wow – great post. I read a local bloggers’ post last week about older folks’ and pet ownership (and their apprehsension – and their families’ apprehension) – and it got me thinking hard. So, I went ahead and blogged about the things that ran through my mind – namely seniors fostering pets.

    I mean, love shared is love – right? Why not give it when, and how you can, and for how long you can. An animal would never think twice about the where or who or why. They just do it. 🙂

    Awesome thoughts, Deb!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks Lorrie! Sometimes taking our cues from animals makes a lot of sense.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: