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.
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.
fosters to other pets
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.
full day in the house
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
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
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.
- It helps if you have another dog
already because that establishes a pattern. Specifically, all the
appropriate smells will be outside, so the cues will already be present
to let the dog know where it's okay to potty.
- If the dog keeps pottying in the
same spot in the house, move his food bowl there. Not to be
crass, but most people have heard the aphorism "Don't shit where you
eat," and animals instinctively know this too. If you have a dog
that goes in more than one spot, just put out more food bowls.
- Only use crate training as a last
resort. I know a lot of people use this method, but it just seems
cruel and unnecessary to me. The only times I've crated a dog
were overnight when we couldn't monitor him. I don't think it's
appropriate to crate a dog who is awake and active.
- Dogs (males especially) often "mark"
their territory in the house the first day or two they're there.
That behavior should disappear altogether after that. You can
tell the difference by the volume of urine. If you are dealing
with a puddle, then it isn't marking; that was a pit stop.
- If you have a chronic marker, look
for "belly bands." These are something like a belt that goes
around the dog's body. If he (and it only works on males) pees,
he's going to get it all over himself. They only make that
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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!