How to treat a new (foster) dog

fThis sort of doubles as a guide for how to treat a rescue dog even if you're adopting.  I've been fostering dogs for about twelve years now, and this is how I approach my charges in the beginning.

You never know a dog's full history, what they're afraid of, what situtions will stress them, etc., so you'll want to be cautious in the beginning and let them acclimate to you and their new environment.

First meeting

Even though it's completely against my first impulse, I recommend being aloof.  You don't have to seem cold and distant, but you should be something of a dispassionate observer and guide in the beginning.

Don't acknowledge the dog.  Just let him run around the room so that he gets used to your presence without feeling like you're hounding him (pun not intended).  The dog ought to feel free to roam and get comfortable with the environment and not be forced to engage.  That said, if the dog comes right up to you, reciprocate.  Acknowledge him.  If he wants to be petted, pet him.  However, if he's just "checking in," don't pull him over to you, don't force him to sit on your lap, etc.

I usually pick up my fosters from the vet's office.  I'm sure the girls who work there (i.e., receptionist, techs) think I'm a bit too distant to the new dog because I just sit there and talk to my kid(s) if one or both of them is with me.  I want the dog to just get used to us in the beginning.  A vet's office is actually a really bad place to meet a new pet anyway.  Every room is filled with the smells of other animals (and a lot of bodily fluids besides!).  The last thing most dogs want is a stranger picking him up, so table that impulse for a while.

Within days (or even hours, in most cases), the dog will accommodate himself into your family.  However, you have to let them take the lead rather than jumping the gun and inadvertantly making him feel threatened if you're too enthusiastic.

Introducing fosters to other pets

If you have other dogs in your home already, you need to introduce the new dog carefully.  You should never walk right through the front door with him and expect the other dogs to immediately welcome him on their first meeting, no matter what their temperament.

You may have to come up with variations on this, depending on the layout of your home/yard, but here's what I do.  I start out by bringing the dog down the alley and into the back yard.  We've bypassed the house completely on the way there.  On the back of my house is a burglar door that is basically a really strong screen door.  I keep that locked but with the back door open.  The foster was free to come up to it or the other dogs inside could watch him roam about the yard.

I had one foster Boston Terrier who especially didn't like any new fosters, so I always left her inside the longest to get used to the idea of a new dog.  It was a process.  She would see me interacting with the new foster.  Then she'd see the new foster playing with our permanent dog Gus, who I let out next.  Finally, after an hour or two, I would let her out to meet the foster.  By that time he wasn't a stranger, and she knew that I and the other dog were good with him and vice versa.  I found that she was far less aggressive the first time they interacted than if I rushed things and had them meet right away.

If you're dealing with one or more potentially aggressive dogs, you might also try introducing them on leashes so that you can manually separate them or allow them near one another but out of striking distance, same as I did with the burglar door.  Additionally, it might be a good idea to take them to the park so that they have an opportunity to meet on neural territory.

First full day in the house

Let them wander around on their own.  Don't follow them other than to go about your daily business.  This prevents the feeling that they are cornered or won't have their own space.  Most dogs will be social enough to stay close to you.

Never approach them while eating, however.  It is impossible to tell if a dog is food aggressive toward either you or other dogs.  Just observe and keep your distance so you can see if there will be a problem, especially with other dogs.

Also, introduce several toys right away and remove anything you don't want chewed on.  This will help make the dog feel "at home" in the literal sense.  He has space and his own things.


A dog door is an excellent investment, but if you don't have one, you'll need to try some approaches to getting the dog house-trained.  There are plenty of pages offering advice on this, but here are some observations.

Things to check out

When I get a foster, I'm often dealing with a dog who has been neglected to some extent.  Either he's been a stray or was on his own a lot because the owners didn't have time for him.  Whatever the case, I always give fosters a thorough checking-over.

Nails - Do they need a trim?  I've had fosters before with nails so long that they were doubled over to the point that the dog's toes were all turned sideways (due to the nails naturally curving downward).  Another foster mom in the same rescue program told me she once had a dog with nails that curved so far around that they actually stabbed into the dog's toe pads.  If it's an extreme case, you might take him to a groomer.  I've always done everything myself, but some dogs are reluctant to let you trim them, especially if they haven't had their nails clipped in ages.  As I say repeatedly above, give the dog time to get used to you.  I have had fosters where I've spent a lot of time playing with their paws and, specifically, their nails before I ever trimmed them.  If you can densensitize them to everything associated with a trim, then you'll have a much easier time manipulating them.

Fur - Brush out any dead stuff.  Again, many foster dogs have been neglected leading to owner surrender or being found on the street.  Even if they've had a vet visit, it probably didn't include all the maintenance an owner usually provides.  If you see any mange (which usually starts out as just bald patches), have a vet check which type it is.  With small dogs especially, it's easy to do dips in the kitchen sink yourself; you don't need to pay for multiple trips to the vet to do what you can at home.

Ears - Check to see if they are dirty.  If so, I've found the best approach is to wipe them out with a finger wrapped with toilet paper.  Several passes should get the bulk of it out, then continue more selectively to get pockets of debris out of the crevaces.  You should never have any need to go down to the ear canal.  Also, smell for yeast infections.  Some dogs are succeptible to them, and these have the potential to be extremely painful and even life-threatening if untreated.  (I had a foster with chronic ear infections that ultimately killed him after he was adopted, so, yes, take these seriously.)

Teeth - Are any loose in their sockets?  Are there any large deposits of tartar?  You may be able to scrape some of these off, especially if we're talking about an isolated chunk.  However, if it's systemic (i.e., the entire mouth), you should arrange to have a cleaning.  Note: Most rescues don't have the resources to cover this procedure except in extreme cases.  For example, I had one foster with extremely bad teeth: loads of foul-smelling tartar deposits and several loose teeth.  It was a necessary intervention that probably couldn't have waited much longer.  She had to have several teeth removed, and the sockets were filled with infection and debris, including hair and grass.

Fleas - If a foster seems to have a lot of fleas right from the start, try to wipe them out before they infest the house and/or other pets.  The best approach is to hit them with a Capstar to kill the live fleas, then a bath with Dawn detergent to remove the eggs and kill any fleas that remain, then finally apply a preventative such as Frontline.  If it is a chronic problem, see my comprehensive strategy on this page.

Approach each of these cautiously.  You need to learn a foster's tolerance for being handled.  For example, some dogs are immediately docile or at least comfortable with, say, having their nails trimmed.  However, you really want to know the animal before you try digging in his ears, let alone a mouth full of teeth!

Copyright 2013 Alexplorer.
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