How to be a Foster Dog Parent: Your Essential Guide

Valeriia Frolova

How to Foster Dogs and Puppies: Key Information for First-Time Foster Parents

Taking care of dogs and puppies that need help is a very happy and rewarding job. It's good for the dogs, and it also makes the people who look after them feel great. When you let a dog or puppy live in your home and give them love, they get a safe and caring place to stay until they find a home forever.

Finding a Reputable Animal Shelter or Rescue Organization

To embark on your fostering journey, it's essential to connect with a reputable animal shelter or rescue organization. Recent data shows that more dogs are entering shelters than leaving, with a nearly doubled non-live outcome rate (from 5.6% to 10%) between Q1 2021 and Q1 2023. This shocking figure emphasizes the critical need for dog fostering, as twice as many dogs didn't leave shelters alive in early 2023 compared to the same period in 2021. Rescue organizations play a crucial role in rescuing and caring for homeless animals. By partnering with them, you can make a significant difference in the lives of dogs and puppies.

When searching for a shelter or rescue to collaborate with, consider factors such as their track record, reputation, and what their foster program is like. How are people talking about them on social media and review sites such as Google or Yelp? Have they had a number of successful adoptions and fosters? Do they have the type of animal (dog, cat, etc.) in their care that you’re looking to foster? Do they host regular adoption events? You’ll also want to look for organizations that cover the cost of all the essentials you may need for your foster dog, and those who ask questions during the application / interview process. The questions can feel overwhelming, but they mean that they really care about making sure you and the animal in discussion is the right fit. 

Preparing Your Home for a Foster Dog or Puppy

Creating a safe and comfortable environment for your foster dog or puppy is vital. Here are some key steps to prepare your home:

  1. Designate a Safe Space: Set up a designated area in your home where your foster dog or puppy can feel secure and decompress. This could be a spare room, a gated-off section of a room, or a crate with comfortable bedding. If your dog is coming straight from a shelter it’s recommended that you keep them quarantined from other animals for the first few days in case they picked something up in the shelter that doesn’t start to show until they’re in your care.
  1. Remove Hazards: Conduct a thorough sweep of your home to identify and eliminate potential hazards. Secure electrical cords, store cleaning products out of reach, and ensure all toxic substances are safely stored away.
  1. Stock Up on Supplies: Gather essential supplies such as a bed, food, water bowls, a leash, collar, pee pads and possibly a crate. Any reputable rescue should provide these basics to you so you don’t bear any cost. There are some extras that may be worth purchasing on your own, such as toys, grooming tools and/or training treats. Having these items readily available can help with getting your foster dog comfortable in their new environment.
  1. Prepare for House Training: You should expect that any dog coming to you, puppy or older, may have accidents when they first arrive. They’re going through a lot of change and are in a new place, so even those who are owner surrenders and fully potty trained may have accidents until they figure out what’s expected of them in their new home. Puppies, stray dogs and those who’ve been in the shelter for a while will likely need your help with house training. It’s important to establish a routine and designate a specific outdoor area for bathroom breaks. Reward your foster dog or puppy with treats and praise when they go where you want them to.

Building a Bond: Socialization and Training

One of the most important aspects of fostering is providing your dog or puppy with the love, care, and socialization they need to thrive. Here are some tips to help you build a strong bond:

  1. Fear Free Training: Utilize positive reinforcement techniques such as treats, praise and play to reward good behavior. The aim is for your dog to want to do what you want them to do, rather than forcing them to do something or punishing them when they don’t comply with your wishes. This approach fosters trust and encourages desirable habits. One common mistake we see is people putting their dog in a crate when they aren’t behaving how they want. The crate should never be used for punishment. It should be their safe space to retreat when they want to be left alone. If you use it for punishment, it won’t help your relationship with them nor will it be their safe space which makes crate training much more difficult.
  1. Socialization Opportunities: Expose your foster dog or puppy to various environments, people, and other animals in a controlled and safe manner. This helps them become well-adjusted and confident. Each dog is different, and some may be ready for a trip to Home Depot in the first couple weeks of having them, while others may need months of staying around your home in order to build their confidence. It’s important that you don’t throw an animal into a situation they’re obviously not ready for, as it can be unsafe for them, other animals and even people. Trust your gut and lean on your rescue for advice about how to help them progress while not taking unnecessary risks. 
  1. Basic Training: Teach basic commands like sit, stay, and come using positive reinforcement methods. This not only improves their behavior but also enhances their chances of finding a permanent home.
  1. Enrichment Activities: Engage your foster pet in mentally stimulating activities such as puzzle toys, kongs, frozen treats and interactive play sessions. This keeps them entertained and prevents boredom-caused behaviors.

The Emotional Aspect: Saying Goodbye and Letting Go

Fostering dogs and puppies can be emotionally challenging, especially when it's time to say goodbye. However, it's crucial to remember that your role as a foster parent plays a significant part in their journey toward finding a forever home.

As you bid farewell to your foster pet, take solace in the fact that you provided them with love, care, and a solid foundation for a bright future. Remember, each dog or puppy you fostered opens up space for another animal in need. Your selfless act of fostering has a ripple effect, allowing more lives to be saved and finding loving homes for countless animals.


“I had one foster - Max - who had been in the shelter for six years with no interest. He and his brother were extremely shy dogs who would try to evade anyone who went in their cage. Max was seen as too big of a project by most potential adopters. He ended up being one of the fastest transformations I’ve seen. Within a week in my home he was going on walks all over town and had no issue interacting with strangers. It turned out he responded exceptionally poorly to a shelter environment, but was a dream dog as soon as he got in a home. He was adopted in less than two months to a family with a young child. Although I shed quite a few tears when I took him to his new home, I was so happy that this sweet boy who spent six years being overlooked finally found his forever family with a little girl who just adored him. Him moving on, also meant I had space to take his brother in as a foster.”

-Tabitha Shook, Founder of Caim

Frequently Asked Questions About Fostering Dogs and Puppies

To provide you with further insights, we have compiled some commonly asked questions about fostering dogs and puppies:

Q: How long does the fostering process typically last?

A: The duration of fostering varies depending on the organization and the individual animal's needs. It can range from a couple weeks to several months. The shelter or rescue organization is best suited to provide you with an estimated timeframe and any specific details about the animal's situation.

Q: Can I choose the type or breed of dog or puppy I want to foster?

A: In most cases, shelters and rescues will work with you to match a foster dog or puppy that aligns with your preferences and lifestyle. However, it's important to keep in mind that the availability of specific breeds may vary, and the priority is often placed on finding suitable foster homes for animals in urgent need.

Q: Do I need previous experience with dogs or puppies to become a foster parent?

A: While prior experience can be beneficial, it is not always necessary. Shelters and rescues usually provide support, resources, and guidance to help you navigate the fostering process successfully. Additionally, they may offer training sessions or workshops to enhance your skills and knowledge. We’re also in the midst of building out a library of resources, so check back soon for helpful articles and videos. 

Q: Are there any costs involved in fostering?

A: Most reputable animal shelters and rescue organizations cover the costs of veterinary care, medications, and essential supplies for the foster animals in their care. However, it's always a good idea to clarify any financial responsibilities or reimbursements with the organization you choose to work with.

Q: Can I adopt my foster dog or puppy if I fall in love with them?

A: Absolutely! Many foster parents develop strong bonds with the animals they care for and choose to adopt them. If you decide to adopt your foster pet, communicate your interest with the shelter or rescue organization. They will guide you through the adoption process.


Remember, the journey of fostering may come with challenges and bittersweet goodbyes, but the knowledge that you made a significant impact in the lives of these animals is immeasurable. If you're ready to open your heart and home to a dog or puppy in need, reach out to a reputable animal shelter or rescue organization in your area and embark on this incredible journey of fostering. Together, we can make a difference, one wagging tail at a time.

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