Fostering Success

sheepGiving a dog an interim home while they are in the rescue system is a kind and generous act. Few who do it seem to realize how important the role they play is. It goes beyond providing a safe and comfortable place for a dog to reside while a permanent home is sought for them.

Though they are not pack animals, dogs are social animals. For social animals one of the most stressful events they can experience is the loss of their familiar social network, i.e., moving. Even if a dog appears to be happy and outgoing when they arrive in a foster home, we should assume that their level of stress is higher than it would be otherwise. Many dogs are able to cope with this and settle in with little trouble as they navigate their new surroundings and the expectations put on them by people and other dogs. But foster caregivers would be wise to consider how stress and relocation can impact a dog’s current and future behavior. Stress alone does not cause disease or inappropriate behavior, but it can contribute to the equation that produces it.

A dog who in their former life never put a tooth on a person or other dog, even though the opportunity existed, is less likely to do so in a new home than a dog with a history of biting, but add a healthy (unhealthy?) dose of stress and the odds that we’ll see this behavior increases. Within the shelter and rescue system people will look at a dog’s “bite history.” In many cases there are no opportunities for a dog to make an appeal once they have bitten a person or pet.

“But your honor he pulled on my ear and I have a raging infection in there!”

“She sat on me!”

“I was being threatened by another dog and the woman grabbed my collar.”

“I was eating that bone.”

“It was small, fluffy and ran right under my nose so I grabbed it.”

Foster caregivers have the responsibility to ensure that at the very minimum they do not add to the list of things that upset a dog, or provoke a behavioral response everyone will regret. One of the privileges I have is consulting with rescue groups pulling dogs out of shelters where many are euthanized. I see the important role that foster caregivers play. In some cases they literally save a dog’s life by providing a place for the dog to go when its time is up at an open-door shelter. This blog is one in a series which I will write addressing how foster caregivers can move a dog in transition away from the edge of the cliff, and avoid pushing them off, as they begin their journey to safety.


20 comments so far

  1. faithtrustfosterpups on

    This is a really, really, really important topic and I’m so glad you’re addressing it. The foster care system for dogs and the impact it can have on behavior doesn’t seem to get nearly enough attention, and foster parents definitely could use the resources and understanding of how big their volunteer role and responsibility really is in so many ways. I can’t wait to read more in this series!

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      Thanks for sharing your support for the idea, I appreciate it. Foster caregivers have the opportunity to do so much good for these dogs, beyond bed and board.

  2. KDKH on

    Looking forward to it!

    • Debbie Jacobs on


  3. kaseyskritterkeepers on

    Great article! The rescue I foster with takes their animals from the shelters so I know when I bring in a dog to my home he or she is usually coming from the animal shelter. We try to keep one foster throughout the dogs stay with us because I see the stress you are talking about even from a day at an adoption event. While adoption events are how we get our animals adopted, a lot of the dogs don’t show well there so sometimes their potentials isn’t seen. We try to rectify with pictures from the foster environments and videos.

    • fearfuldogs on

      So true. Foster caregivers can really help figure out the best place for a dog to be.

  4. michal on

    We are foster parents. We love it. It has been the best thing to ever happen to us. It has helped our marriage and given us a common positive focus. It helps us to stay calm and patient at all times. The dogs bring bus so much joy. Yes its terribly hard to let them go, but letting go makes room for more blessings. Sorry for typos. I’m on my phone and don’t have my glasses.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Being able to develop a bond with people and have a good experience in a home is a real gift to a dog. Being a good foster caregiver is a valuable skill to have.

  5. April on

    Looking forward to this blog as we provide foster care and always love great input!

    • fearfuldogs on

      I hope the info I share is helpful. It’s such important work to be doing, taking on dogs in transition.

  6. Nancy LaBrozzi on

    Thank you for your response. I do know that she was in a couple of foster homes while she was in the shelterbecause she was pregnant when she was dropped off. She is not aggressive at all and likes other dogs as long as they are friendly. She is not aggressive towards aggressive dogs. Very calm submissive. I just wish she wasn’t so fearful of people, especially men. She automatically loved my Mother, have no idea why. At the vet they say shes very well behaved and sweet. After her heartworm treatment her confidence level went way up, much more normal dog behavior. More curious, sniffing, not startled by things on the ground, actually excited to go for walks. When we walk she is always on alert for people and wants to avoid them.That cant be good for her.


    • fearfuldogs on

      Please have a read through the website, sorry if I’m being redundant, but I’ve put most of the important information to get started there. You can also find on Facebook pages and the Fearful Dogs Facebook group.

  7. De Cunningham. (@skye613) on

    Having just started a rescue (Global Dachshund X ) and searching for fosters homes I am extremely excited that you are writing this series. Thank you. I will share it with the wonderful people who have opened their homes to our pups.

    • fearfuldogs on

      It’s good of you to take on the work of running a rescue. One of the things I suggest groups do is track their dogs for at least 1-2 years. Without knowing whether a dog has been successfully placed there is no data to provide information as to whether the systems in place are working well. Good luck with your efforts. Please share the website with anyone showing an interest in taking on a special needs dog.

  8. joan dana on

    i am interested in learning about fostering – would you send me some info? i am in robbinsville nc

    • fearfuldogs on

      Contact a local shelter or rescue group. They’ll be able to give you the information you need.

  9. Renee on

    Thank you for sharing and helping fosters! One of the things I love when I attend a dog training seminar is seeing how many fosters and rescues are in attendance. 🙂

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      So true. It’s great to see that people realize how important the role they play is and look for further education.

  10. Paula on

    the main question i get as a foster dog mom (3 years now) is don’t u get attached to the dogs. well, yes, i do. but my answer is the reward of giving the dog a forever home out weighs my attachment. that is until the one i have now. i have had for nearly a year. i foster pit mixes, which are very hard to place. fostering is great and i would recommend it for any one who has the time. the rescue provides for all the dogs needs, so there is no expense for the foster. you are doing a great service for the rescue and the dog. i teach all my fosters not to be food or toy aggressive. i don’t want one of ‘my’ dogs to add to the pit stereotype! my foster smothers me in kisses. 🙂

    • fearfuldogs on

      I think that bonding with a human is a skill foster caregivers SHOULD teach dogs.

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