How to Foster a Dog Everything You Need to Know

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fostering a dog
Fostering A Dog

Have you ever considered fostering a dog? As a pet foster family, you can help homeless dogs without making the long-term commitment of adoption. However, there are a few things you need to know before you foster a dog.

Why Foster a Dog?

Many regions have overflowing animal shelters filled with dogs in need of homes. Many are euthanized because there is simply no place for them to go. For rescue organizations, foster owners are one of their most valuable resources. Rescue groups often lack large facilities that can house enough homeless pets. They often need foster families just as much as they need donations (or even more). Of course, if you cannot foster a pet, your donation will still do plenty of good.

Fostering can be a good way to find out if dog ownership is right for you. As a foster, you can take in all kinds of dogs and learn what kind of dog might be best for you to adopt in the future. You can also find out what types of dogs are definitely NOT a good fit for you and your family.

Is Fostering Right for You?

Not everyone is cut out to foster a dog. Are you willing to spend the extra time necessary to take care of a foster dog? Can you be patient with that foster dog as he adapts to your home? Be certain you can find time to work on training and socialization so that your foster dog can be adopted out to a forever home.

brown and black Siberian Husky on snow
brown and black Siberian Husky on snow

Also, you must consider the impact fostering will have on other people and pets in your home. If you live with other people, make sure the decision to foster is agreed upon by all. If kids live in your home, make sure they know how to behave around dogs. If you have another pet, has that pet been socialized around dogs? Consider whether the presence of a foster dog in your home will create stress or happiness for all involved.

Finally, if you are a dog lover, there is a good chance you will get attached to your foster dog. Are you willing to give up the dog to be adopted? Otherwise, you could become a failed foster (a term that is used when the foster family adopts their own foster dog). Being a failed foster is not a problem unless it happens over and over, leaving you with too many pets to care for.

What Kind of Foster Dog is Best for Your Lifestyle?

Before you talk to a rescue organization about becoming a foster owner, you need to know your limitations and availability. Think about what you can and cannot do.

  • If you work long days, fostering a puppy might not be the best thing for you or the puppy.
  • If you cannot provide a lot of exercise (due to time or physical constraints) don't foster a high-energy dog or puppy. A calm adult or senior dog might be best.
  • If you don't enjoy training, don't foster a dog who needs a lot of one-on-one training or socialization.
  • A large or rambunctious dog might not be best if you have a small home with no yard. This also may be problematic if your current family dog is older or intolerant of high-energy dogs.
  • If you don't have reliable transportation, you might not be able to foster a dog who needs to be transported to many places (such as adoption events or the vet). A dog that has health issues and needs to see the vet frequently may not be the best choice for you (although some organizations have people to help with transportation).
dog sitting on ground
dog sitting on ground

How to Get Started as a Foster Home

First, choose the pet adoption organization you wish to work with and contact them about their foster program.

Having trouble finding an organization in your area? Check out Petfinder and search by city, zip code, or group name.

Learn more about the groups in your area by asking people about their reputation. People who work in the veterinary and pet care industries are great sources of information. You may also want to read some online reviews. Of course, always take what you read with a grain of salt.

Once you have selected an organization, you may be able to go on their website to learn all about their foster program. When you're ready to learn more or sign up, contact the organization about what happens next.

adult black Labrador retriever during daytime
adult black Labrador retriever during daytime

Questions You Should Ask the Rescue Organization

Before you take on a foster dog, you should learn all you can about the dog. Here are some of the things you should discuss upfront.


  • Where did the dog come from? Has the dog ever lived in a home?
  • Is there a known history of abuse, neglect, or trauma?
  • Where has he been since the organization took him in?


dog lying down on wooden board
dog lying down on wooden board
  • Is the dog neutered or spayed?
  • Has the dog had any health problems?
  • Is the dog on any medications or a special diet?
  • Are all vaccinations current?


  • Is the dog house trained?
  • Has the dog been crate trained?
  • How does the dog get along with people? Kids? Other dogs? Cats and other pets?
  • Are there any known behavior problems?
  • Does the dog need training and/or socialization?


black white and brown bernese mountain dog
black white and brown bernese mountain dog
  • Will I be expected to provide training for the dog?
  • Will the dog need to be transported anywhere frequently, like the vet or to rescue events?
  • Does the dog have any other special needs?

Commitment and Communication

  • How long does the rescue organization expect me to foster this dog?
  • Who pays for dog food, pet supplies, and veterinary care?
  • Will I need to make a financial commitment?
  • Who should I call if there is a question or concern?
  • Who handles potential adopters and their questions? Who arranges visits with potential adopters? Who screens potential adopters?
  • What happens if I can no longer foster the dog?
  • What if I end up wanting to adopt the dog myself?

After you have asked your questions and decided on a foster dog, make sure you have all the information in writing so you can refer back to it later if needed. You will probably be asked to sign some kind of agreement, which is normal. However, it is not normal for you to be asked to make a large financial commitment.

short-coated brown dog
short-coated brown dog

Make sure you have the contact information for several people in the organization. Know who your first point of contact is so you can keep the lines of communication open.

Helping Your Foster Dog Adapt to Your Home

Congratulations, you're a foster owner! When you bring your new foster dog home, there will definitely be an adjustment period. It's basically the same as what happens after you adopt a dog. However, if you truly plan to adopt the dog out, then part of your job is to help the foster dog become confident and adaptable without getting too attached.

Make sure your new foster dog has a comfortable and safe area where he can retreat if needed. This area might include a crate, dog bed, blankets, and treats. Some dogs will want to hide, sleep or just be alone. Other dogs will be excited about the people and pets, but may wear themselves out and need that safe place later on.

From day one, be sure to establish a routine and rules. Feed the dog around the same time each day. If your foster dog is to stay off the furniture, don't make any exceptions in the beginning. Be firm and consistent, yet gentle. Start training right away on basic commands with small, short training sessions so your foster dog can learn words and begin to adjust more easily.

adult grey dog on dirt road
adult grey dog on dirt road

What to Expect While Fostering a Dog

Know that your foster dog is bound to have a few quirks and that they might appear early on or over time. The initial adjustment period usually lasts a few weeks (at least). During this time, you might even get frustrated with your foster dog's behavior. Many foster dogs have anxiety and fear, especially if they have never lived indoors in a home environment. Some will act out by barking, being destructive, or even showing some aggression. Some foster dogs are hyperactive and unruly because of pent-up energy that they could not release in a shelter environment. Be patient and consistent. Hopefully, your foster dog will adapt and settle down in a few weeks.

On the flip side, your foster dog may be quiet and calm for a few weeks, then start exhibiting undesirable behaviors once he gets more settled in. You might be able to avoid some of this by establishing rules and a routine from day one. When minor behavior problems occur, you need to work on training and socialization so the dog can be more easily adopted. Major behavior problems may need the attention of a professional. Be sure to report all behavior and health issues to the rescue organization.

When Your Foster Dog is Adopted Out

Most foster dogs will be adopted out to forever homes. If this happens, you should feel proud of yourself for all the hard work you put in. You've done your job and provided a loving temporary home for a dog. You helped that dog learn how to live as part of a family. Saying goodbye is never easy, especially if you have formed a deep bond with your foster dog.

Depending on the situation, you may be able to exchange contact information with the adopter so you can follow up on the dog's progress in his new home. This can offer peace of mind when you find yourself missing your temporary companion.

gray and white dog
gray and white dog
photo of adult black Labrador retriever
photo of adult black Labrador retriever
wet dog at the beach
wet dog at the beach

In some cases, you might be glad to see the dog go to a new home. There's no shame in that! Not all dogs will fit in with all families, and that's the beauty of fostering: it's not permanent.

Hopefully, everything will work out with the dog's new home. However, be aware that sometime adopters will return a dog for one reason or another. If this happens, the pet adoption organization may or may not ask you to foster that dog again. If they do ask, there is certainly no obligation to take back the foster dog. However, if you did fall in love with your foster dog, then getting him back might lead to a permanent arrangement.

What If You Become a Failed Foster?

Ok, so you couldn't say goodbye. Congratulations on your newly adopted dog! Many people get so attached to their foster dogs that they decide to adopt them permanently. Just try not to make a habit out of being a foster failure, or you might find yourself drowning in dogs!