Dog Fostering: What You Need to Know

What is Dog Fostering, How Can I Get Involved, & What is Expected of Me?

More often than not, when I say that I foster dogs, the question that immediately follows is “What is dog fostering?”.  To be fair, I had asked the same question when I first heard about it.  Right after my Beagle died, my neighbor asked me if I would be getting another dog.  I said that it hurt too much to think about making another 14-year commitment only to get my heart broken again but that I did miss having a dog since I lived alone and loved dogs. 

My neighbor suggested that I should foster dogs.  That way, I could get my dog fix without having to think about making a long-term commitment.  She said the first step needed is to reach out to an animal rescue group, fill out the paperwork, get vetted and, if successful, they would supply me with a dog.

The basic process after you contact an animal group includes the following:

Each animal rescue organization has its own forms and processes to determine if you would make a good foster parent.  I have found that the reputable animal rescue groups will also come to your house to see if it’s an acceptable environment for the pet.

Once you have been accepted as a foster parent, the rescue group will notify you of a pet in need to see if you are willing and able to foster it.  They will then most likely schedule a time to drop off the pet to your home.  However, there are times when they may ask you to go to a shelter to pick up the pet.  Before going to the shelter, ask the animal rescue group who their liaison is at the shelter so that you can pretty much cut in line since the liaison will be getting the pet for you directly.  Also, don’t forget to bring a leash or a cage (depending on the pet and size) since the shelters don’t provide you with one.  You should also be prepared for all of the pet’s needs prior to bringing them home.  For instance, bowls, leashes, crates, gates, beds, food, etc.

Any dog going into foster care should have all of the paperwork including medical records, temperament, tags, background, etc.  If there are no medical records provided (which I’ve never seen in the 14 years I’ve been fostering), let the animal rescue organization know that this needs to be done prior to accepting the pet into your home.

You would think that most pets would bounce around as soon as they are brought home, happy to be out of the shelter, but I’ve never seen that to be the case.  Usually, the pets have been traumatized by being in the shelter or other inhumane environments and are suspicious and fearful of everyone and everything new around them.  This is when giving them their space is important so that they can sniff around and explore their new surroundings.  I have found that it will take 1-2 days before they have settled in a little, and that is when I will approach them and interact with them.  For homes with existing pets, it would be good to keep them in separate spaces until the foster pet settles in.

Once the dog is settled in and looks healthy, you will want to take a lot of pictures to send to the rescue group so that they can post them on websites like  The pictures that are currently on a website are from pictures taken from the shelter, and the pictures are very depressing, especially if the dogs are too thin.  Taking outdoor pictures with the dog smiling in front of plants, flowers, bushes, etc., will help generate a lot of inquiries resulting in a faster adoption.  The rescue group will also ask you to provide an update on the dog's personality once it has settled in to include with the picture.  It is also beneficial to have an “Adopt Me” vest to put on the dog when going for a walk as this also generates a lot of interest.

If a potential owner is interested in a pet you are fostering, they will contact that pet rescue group directly.  The pet rescue group will then contact you and provide you with the potential owner’s contact information. 

You will then contact that potential owner via phone and do some initial vetting prior to setting up a meet and greet.  Things like “I want to buy a dog as a surprise gift for my significant other” are a red flag, and you should suggest that they first speak to that significant other.  You want to have a joint decision so that the dog isn’t bounced around, which is very stressful.

If the phone call goes well, tell the potential owner and anyone else living in the home that they need to come to your house to meet the dog in person.  Impress upon them that this is just a meet and greet, and that there is no obligation to do anything other than meet the pet.  If the potential owner refuses and says that you should bring it to their house, this is another red flag.  If they can’t be bothered to drive to your house, then it is a sign that they aren’t that interested or committed to the pet.

If it looks like it’s going to be a match, you will provide an update on the visit to the rescue organization and inform them if you think it’s a good fit.  You will also tell the potential owners to go home and think about it and, if they still want to adopt the pet, then they can arrange a time to pick up the dog, fill out the adoption forms, and pay the adoption fee, which you will send to the rescue group.  There have been rare exceptions when the rescue group will let a potential owner take the pet home during the meet and greet, but this should be the exception and not the rule.

Once the pet is adopted, the rescue group will likely contact you fairly soon after asking if you can take in another pet in need.  It is always your choice to accept or deny any pet offered.  You can also proactively check out the pets they are representing, and contact the rescue group about your interest in fostering a particular pet.

That is pretty much the summary of the fostering lifecycle.  Please see the Pros and Cons for more information about fostering.

There are many Pros when fostering a dog (or any animal for that matter):

  • There is no bigger Pro than knowing that you helped save a life.  Getting an unsolicited holiday card from the forever family and a happy and healthy pet makes it all worth it.
  •  Most, if not all rescue organizations, will reimburse you for food and medical costs.  However, they usually have a discount with one of their vets, so you will need to visit one of the rescue group’s approved vets.
  • Any reputable rescue group will take back the foster dog if it is just not working out.  They will first try to work with you to resolve any problems, but worst case scenario, they should be able to take the pet back.
  • You can get your dog “fix” without having to think about making a long-term commitment.
  • You can “try before you buy”, meaning if you think you’re ready to adopt a dog, but want to see if one of your foster pets is a good fit for your home, you can adopt it directly with the rescue group.  However, this should be a side benefit of fostering.  The main purpose of fostering should not be cycling through dogs to see which is right for you.  Most rescue groups will black list you if you return too many dogs.
  • You get to see the transformation to a healthy and happy pet.

There are also some Cons when fostering a dog:

  • Some dogs don’t have their background provided, so you won’t really know what you’re getting until you bring them home.  Their true personalities won’t come out for 1-2 weeks after being brought home.
  • Some dogs are in foster care for a reason, meaning that they have some type of behavioral issues like being destructive or aggressive, so you need to be prepared for any type of situation.
  • Your house could be destroyed if you have a destructive dog.  If you think that this could be the case, make sure you have a crate on hand, and can put the dog into the crate if it will be unsupervised (we will cover crate training in a separate article).  It’s also helpful to keep the leash on it (as long as they are supervised), so that you can grab the leash if the dog is getting into something that they shouldn’t, or tie the leash to a table leg or door knob to prevent it from getting in trouble.
  • You never know how long you will have the pet.  It could be a week, or it could be a year.  However, most pets get adopted within 2-3 months.
  • Probably the biggest con is that when you make a very special connection with one of your foster dogs, and they are being picked up by their forever family, that last hug and kiss goodbye is heartbreaking.  For me, I find the easiest way to speed up the healing process is to immediately take my dog for a walk, and remember that I helped save a life.  A number of forever families will keep in touch with you, but I never ask that of them, since I don’t want to intrude on their life.
  • If you are working with a rescue group with very little staff and a lot of pets coming in, you may find yourself in the position of being pressured a little into fostering another pet in addition to the one you already have.
  • Check to ensure your apartment or HOA allows an extra pet.  If not, they will ask you or the pet to move out.