I Said “Yes” to Fostering a Dog… Now What?
Fostering a dog is an incredibly rewarding experience but it can also be overwhelming at first. We know that feeling: when deep when conversations about which-is-the-best-harness and best-brand-of-pee-pads fly right over your head! While rescue groups will try to work with you to give you as much information as possible about the dog you’re fostering, it’s normal to feel a little shell-shocked when all of a sudden you’re holding the end of a leash with an expectant face looking up at you. (And feeling like screaming, “What have I done?”)
Here are some basic tips from experienced fosters to get you started.
Preparing Your Home: To Crate or Not to Crate?
Your foster dog doesn’t need much – a soft bed (towels or a folded blanket work fine!), bowls to eat and drink out of, and a secure place to relax are pretty much all he or she requires.
Crating your foster dog when you’re not supervising him or her is the best way to ensure that he or she (not to mention your stuff!) is safe and secure. Crates can be found on Craigslist for a lower-cost, or you can ask among your rescue group’s volunteers to see if there’s one available that you can borrow.
If your foster pup seems afraid of the crate, that’s okay! You can feed him/her meals inside the crate and leave some yummy treats inside and he/she will learn to love it quickly. Always let the foster go into the crate on his own and come out on his own, especially if he is very nervous about it; don’t try to push them in or pull them out! After a day or two, he will be totally comfortable in the crate, and it is the safest place by far to leave an unattended dog. This helps prevent accidental eating of bad foods, or making a mess of your home!
Always Supervise Interactions Between Your Foster Dog and Your Pet/Child/Roommate
Even the friendliest dog is going to be stressed out after coming off a shelter transport, or after an adoption event. The best thing to do is let your dog and your new foster dog meet outdoors, on a walk in neutral territory; then, they may walk inside and you should let the foster dog sniff around. You may then place the foster dog in a crate or safe space (gated in kitchen, or even a bathroom) to decompress if he/she still appears nervous.
Children or roommates without dog experience will want to play, but may not know how to interact with a scared dog. Be sure to supervise and intervene during your foster dog’s interactions if you feel that’s best. It’s also a good idea to feed your foster dog and all other animals separately (in separate areas of the room, or in separate spaces altogether); carefully supervise the use of chew toys, especially if any of the animals appears possessive.
If your dog loves a certain toy like Gollum adores his Precious, just put that toy away for a while to avoid any scuffles!
What to Use During Walks: Flat Collar, Harness, or Martingale?
The basic flat collar that your foster dog may have arrived in is not always the safest choice in the city – because they’re designed to fit relatively loosely, many dogs can back out of them if they get startled or pull back on the leash. Plus, they can damage the throat and neck of a dog that pulls on the leash.
Most rescues will advise you to start out with a martingale collar, which is a collar that tightens when the dog pulls on the leash so that it is impossible to escape from it. This is an inexpensive investment that you can most likely use for many of your foster pups.
The dog’s tags could be attached to this collar, or on a separate flat collar that is not attached to the leash, so that if the dog escapes, he or she is still tagged. You might receive tags from the rescue group, or you can purchase a tag with your phone number at any Petco, to use again for your later foster dogs. Tags can cost approximately $10 – $15, and is a one-time purchase.
If your dog pulls on the leash or chokes himself on the martingale, you may want to use a harness. Easy Walk harnesses are the most recommended, since they clip in the front of the dog’s chest and safely discourage pulling. Important safety tip: if you use a harness, we recommend that you clip it to your dog’s flat collar with a carabiner clip! This way, if the harness breaks or the dog backs out of it, the leash is still attached to your dog.
With proper training and adjustment, a Gentle Leader head-harness can be helpful for serious pullers or dogs who are leash-reactive while on walks. This is not a muzzle, and must be used with proper understanding of its purpose and use. See this quick guide on FosterDogsNYC.com.
Harnesses can be great training tools, but a dog can slip out of one easily if it is not fitted properly; if you can’t carabiner them together, attach a second leash to their flat collar as backup.
Leash Etiquette: Slow, Steady, & Observant is the Way to Go
Your foster dog might be new to the sights, sounds and smells of the city. It’s a pretty scary place if you’re the new pup on the block. Make sure you are always looking out for things that might scare your dog, such as: other dogs, strangers, bicycles, cars, sirens, sidewalk grates, etc. Provide your dog with ample treats at these times, to make it seem less scary. Always give treats and praise for walking nicely and going potty outside.
When it comes to leashes, the shorter, the better! Retractable leashes are not recommended in a city setting. The farther your dog is from you, the more likely he/ she will find garbage to eat or get startled, and you don’t want to lose control of your dog on a crowded street. In a busy setting, it is common for leashes to become tangled around people or other dogs if you are not aware of your surroundings; this can lead to problems. You can get nice-quality affordable four or six-foot leashes at a dollar store or on Amazon.com; these can be reused for all of your future foster dogs! (Alternatively, if the leash is low-cost, you won’t be as disappointed when/if your foster dog chews it up). There are also awesome double-loop leashes that allow even more control in crowded areas!
Letting your foster dog off-leash in an unsecured area is not recommended. Make sure all fences are secure and that all parties are okay with an off leash dog (ask your rescuer and check specific park rules if you are unsure.) If you’re are not confident how your dog will behave at the dog park, take it slowly; you don’t want to end up with an injured dog. Closely supervise interactions. If you’re unsure of what normal interactions look like, don’t be afraid to ask another park-goer if the play seems too rough or if it’s normal! Often, barks and growls can be healthy and appropriate, so it’s helpful to become familiar with dog body language and physical expression (which may take time to learn!)
Always tie a grocery bag around the leash handle (or you can use poop bag dispensers sold for this purpose at the pet store) so you can clean up and dispose of any waste on your walk. It’s not just good etiquette, it’s the law!
Getting Around the City
Your rescue group may want you to bring your foster dog to events or you may want him or her to accompany you on errands or to work so it’s important to know the rules and etiquette surrounding traveling in NYC with a dog.
Good news: you’re allowed to bring your dog on the subway – if he or she is secured in a bag. We don’t recommend carrying your dog sans bag (even a small dog or puppy) on your lap in the subway; that’s just asking for a ticket! Even if you don’t have a carrier, it’s smart to at least travel with a tote bag in which you can tuck your pup away.
Taxi and Uber drivers are not required to accept dogs, but we’ve found that offering an extra cash tip up-front and bringing a towel or blanket for your dog to sit on can go a long way! Often, the driver is concerned about shedding or messes so if you are cognizant, it can help.
If you are fostering a larger dog that’s difficult to get around the city, reach out to your rescue or post on the Foster Dogs NYC Facebook group – many volunteers who have cars and will try to help give you a lift.
Bathing and Grooming: DIY… to a Point
Bathing a foster dog is a good idea – if they seem calm enough. If the dog is way too nervous, just wipe him or her down with some baby or grooming wipes, and wait for a calmer day to do a full bath.
If you have experience and a calm, compliant foster dog, cutting your dog’s nails and doing basic grooming is easy. If you need help, please ask someone or reach out to your local pet groomer – some places will do it at a very steep discount or even for free for foster dogs! The same goes with grooming a long haired/matted foster dog.
Chews, Toys, & Treats
Please, no rawhides; they can break into small pieces and choke your a dog, so better to avoid them if you can (especially when your foster dog is adjusting to their new placement). Bully sticks are a much safer option, as are Benebones, antlers, and Kong toys stuffed with peanut butter and/or treats. Benebone and Kong are the safest choice when you’re crating your dog, as there is the least likelihood of them breaking off a piece and swallowing it whole.
Questions? Reach out to your foster dog’s rescue group, to the “Foster Forum” Facebook support group, or to info [AT] fosterdogsnyc.com