I’ve been fostering Pit Bulls since about 1996, even before Chako Pit Bull Rescue became a formal 501(c)(3) nonprofit. As an individual and as part of Chako Pit Bull Rescue’s foster network, I’ve learned a few solid basics about how to be a successful foster. Of course, the following rules don’t represent everything one should do or know to be a successful foster parent. These are just eight important rules I’ve chosen to highlight.
- Keep your foster dog separated from your other pets for at least a week.This means no off-leash play, no hanging out on the same bed or couch together, etc. A week is the minimum separation time, but go longer if necessary. You can take your foster dog for short walks with one of your resident dogs, so long as there is only dog being walked by a person at a time (that means you need at least two people); and you should keep about a ten foot distance between dogs during the walk at all times. Make sure each dog is on secure equipment.
You can separate your foster dog by using a crate or even a very secure baby gate. For the first couple of days, you might even want to put the foster dog in a separate room, in a crate, so he or she can calm down and decompress from the shelter. Of course, take him or her out frequently (and put away your other pets when you do). You can also set up a crate in the main living area of your home, but you might want to put an ex pen or other barrier around the crate so your resident pets cannot hassle or invade the crate space of the foster dog. This gives your dog a chance to acclimate to the environment, observe you and your pets and how you interact, and start to feel more comfortable that you all are fairly nice beings.
- Take lots and lots and LOTS of photos and video of your foster dog. Always have a camera ready. Sure, you’ll probably take 30 terrible shots for every 1 great one, but it’s important to have lots of cute, clear photos that showcase your foster dog’s personality and inherent adorableness. Good photos and video will really help get your foster dog adopted.
- If you do start to let your foster dog interact with your resident pet(s), keep the initial interactions short and well-supervised. Make sure you’re familiar with and paying attention to dog body language, and of course, keep dogs on loose but untangled leashes for initial physical interactions. Never force one dog to approach another dog. Let the interaction happen as naturally as possible, but if one dog starts to object or stiffens and seems wary, casually but quickly put distance between the dogs. If introducing your dog to your cat, on leash is always preferred, and of course, know your cat. You may want to put your cat in a crate or behind a baby gate to see how things go initially. Also be aware that a still cat is very different to a dog than a running cat.
- Never let dogs who belong to other people play with your foster dog. You are responsible for keeping your foster dog safe. You can assess what level of risk you are comfortable with for YOUR OWN dogs, but don’t bring other people’s dogs into the interaction with your foster dog. Sure, it may work out nine out of 10 times, but the one time it doesn’t, your actions may very well result in injury to a dog or person, and you’ve likely caused a lot of stress for the agency you’re fostering through.
- Keep your foster dog well groomed, especially those nails! A well-groomed dog is a more adoptable dog (and long nails can do bad things to a dog’s feet, legs, and gait).
- Do physical inspections of your foster dog at least once a week (check ears, mouth, toes, and run your hands gently over the dog’s body). This assumes, of course, that your foster dog is amenable to such handling. If your dog isn’t, work on that (your rescue or shelter organization can show you how). Check for anything out of the ordinary (bumps, rashes, etc.) and report those immediately to your organization.
- Be honest with your organization about the dog’s personality and behavior so they can make the right decisions for your foster dog. Never lie or sugar-coat behavior issues. Rather, work on these issues. Be honest with any potential adopters so your foster dog can find the right forever match. If you lie or sugar-coat issues, your foster dog is likely to be returned as soon as the adopters realize the foster dog is not for them.
- Keep Copies of Records for Your Foster Dog.This is especially true if you’re fostering through a rescue rather than a shelter, but it is helpful regardless (assuming you have access to the records). Keeping records organized and easily accessible means there’s always a copy readily available where the dog is physically located. Sometimes potential adopters have questions about a dog’s medical history, and having the records handy can prove invaluable. In addition, many small rescues have disorganized record-keeping systems since they often cannot afford expensive data management systems, so you can help the rescue by keeping a copy of the record for your foster dog (I even encourage foster providers to take photos of the records after each procedure and store those images on their smart phones, if they have one).