You’ve done your research, applied and have been approved by a rescue group, and are FINALLY matched with a foster. Congratulations! The fun is only beginning.
Bringing a pet into a new home is almost always a stressful experience for them. A rule of thumb I tend to follow is after 2 days, the dog is just beginning to learn that his/her new environment is safe. After 2 weeks, he/she will begin to acclimate to the family’s rituals and routines. After 2 months, he/she will feel a part of the pack and his/her personality will truly come out and shine. Some animals acclimate faster, others slower. The important thing to keep in mind is the outcome you’re hoping for with this experience. The feeling of bringing a dog home knowing they’ll never have to leave is AMAZING, but so is the feeling of knowing that you’re going to make a family VERY happy by taking care of their future pup until they’ve been matched. Below are some recommendations based on my experience fostering dogs.
While I’m not a huge fan of crating dogs full time, crates are incredibly useful tools when bringing a new dog into a home. Giving a new dog a safe space that’s near the family, but secluded with a blanket on top gives the pup a sense of security in this strange new place. Plus, dogs are instinctually averse to going potty in their crate, so it becomes a great house-breaking tool if your foster dog isn’t house broken.
You want to make sure your crate is set up in a way that is comfortable and inviting for the pup. Place the crate in a neutral space within the home (near the family, but maybe not in the middle of everything), add in a dog bed or some blankets, and put a blanket or other covering on top. This will help teach him/her from early on that the crate is a safe space for them.
Let the dog express interest in the crate before trying to train him/her to go in to it. I do not recommend forcing them into the crate, it has to be a tool they develop interest in on their own. Ways you can help develop interest are to feed the dog in the crate to start. Additionally, assign a command to when you specifically want the dog to go into the crate (my parents always used “kennel up” but some friends have used “go to your room” which I love). Reward them when they’re in the crate and settled. Keep rewarding until they leave the kennel. Slowly being training them to stay in the crate with the door locked (put the dog in the crate using your command, feed him a few treats, close the door, and open again when the treats are gone, keep practicing longer durations of time they are in the crate before implementing this fully).
Always make sure the dog has some form of treat or toy in their crate to help with preventing destruction to the crate or pup. One of my favorites is to take a large kong, fill it with treats and peanut butter, freeze it, and give it to the pup when I’m planning to leave for a longer duration of time. The peanut butter and treats distract the pup and the kong is a great chew toy so the pup feels less of a need to chew on the crate or bed inside.
Introducing Dogs to One Another
There’s an art to introducing two dogs who have never met. Even if your existing pup may be the most friendly of dogs. If you don’t know the history of your foster (which usually you don’t), it can be difficult to assess how they are going to react when you bring them home.
The first step of introduction to another dog is to find a neutral space for them to meet (the front yard, a neighbor’s fenced-in yard, down the street, etc). Allow them to approach each other and sniff if they’re comfortable for 10 – 15 seconds. Call them away (without pulling on their leashes), and repeat for longer periods of time. If there are any signs of aggression, keep them apart a little longer. If they start showing signs of comfort (entering a play stance, tails wagging, etc) continue to let them interact longer.
Consider taking them on a walk together, or moving to your own back yard (especially if it’s fenced in) as they continue to interact for longer periods of time.
Before bringing the dogs inside, pick up all toys and put them away. I recommend keeping toys out of the equation until your pups have shown firm signs of friendship (playing together, no major signs of aggression, etc). This may take a few days, but you can slowly add in toys back to the mix. Start with the least exciting toys (maybe the ones your dog plays with the least) and slowly work your way up to the more exciting ones.
For feeding, start by feeding the dogs far apart, maybe even in separate rooms, so neither feels the need to defend their food. I would recommend doing this indefinitely, or until you’re confident that neither dog will go after the other’s food.
One of the more common concerns I’ve heard about taking in foster dogs is about resource guarding (when the pup gets aggressive with people coming near toys/food/etc). This usually becomes an issue with other pets in the house (and therefore other toys), but I had a big issue with my first foster dog and food.
One of the best things I did to work on resource guarding with food was to hand feed my dog for a few weeks. It sounds gross, but it worked wonders. Within a few weeks, my dog was no longer aggressive with my hands going near her food. Other tips I’ve heard on this that have helped were staying nearby when your dog is eating and give them pets/attention when they’re not showing signs of aggression.
For resource guarding overall, one of the best motivators to help a dog get over resource guarding is treats. Reward dogs when they’re exhibiting behavior you want them to exhibit. If a dog allows you to take a toy without growling or barking, give them a treat. It may take some time to get there, but one of the ways you can work towards that step is by desensitization training. Gradually introducing triggering elements (another dog behind a baby gate, a new person in the next room over) and rewarding behavior that you want to see (i.e. a calm/non-reactive dog) tells the dog exactly what you expect of them.
I hope this is helpful for you as you bring a new foster in the home. Stay tuned for Part 4 and don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter for ore updates!