Chix-A-Lot Friday: Fostering as a New Years Resolution

Earlier this month — could it have even been the last day of last year? — my mama and I were featured on the Facebook page of My Pit Bull is Family, a very popular organization that promotes the image of dogs like me and the ‘Bug as dogs like me and the ‘Bug (that is, as normal family dogs). The message was clear: “2013 Resolution: FOSTER. Before, as, and after you party tonight, think about a gift you can give this year that will save a life and bring you boundless love in return.” And this mandate was followed by this photo of my mama and me goofing off, and a little snippet of our story together and how we started fostering dogs.

Only the thing is, we’re not fostering anymore — at least, not right now. We fostered and fostered and fostered all the way up until we met my ‘Bug, and then we had to quit. In our home, two dogs is enough dog. Some families can only handle one dog, some families (who I don’t understand) can only handle no dogs, while others can handle three, or four, or even more. Those are some brave families. And they must have some very good dogs.

But the truth is, everybody has their own limits. My mama and dad sometimes say that my brother and I are enough or a project for the two of them, and they wouldn’t be able to handle a third dog. I don’t know what she means, because we are most definitely not a project. We are two dogs. But still — she says that we are still working on our Canine Best Behaviors, and because of this, she doesn’t want to bring more dogs in. On top of that, mama is busy with her job helping other people with their dogs, so more dogs at home sure won’t help that much. And on top of all that, we are going to be adding a new two-legged puppy to our family in a few months, and from what mama has told me, things are going to get real busy for a while after that happens. So for now, we’re not in the game.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be. Ever since my brother started his advice column, we’ve gotten a number of pee-mails from people wondering if maybe they could start fostering too. Even though I should let my brother answer them, I’m gonna call seniority on his junior self and answer this ponderance for myself. So if you’re thinking about fostering this year, here are my advices on how to get ready:

1. Come up with a plan of how to separate your household.

This could entail a system of dividing your house into two houses, or it could involve a “crate and rotate” system where dogs swap spots every couple of hours. Even if you plan to integrate your dog and the foster dog, you won’t want to do it right away — trust me. And the better you’ve thought through your separation plan, the less you’ll be tempted to rush the dogs together because of convenience. You’ll be more willing to wait until the dogs are actually ready– which is a very good thing.

In fact, many folks foster without ever integrating dogs in their house. I bet you didn’t even know that, huh? When we were fostering, I never even met Little Zee, the apple of my mama’s eye. Other dogs — like Lollie Wonderdog and Dora the Explorer — I got to go for walks with and hang out with supervised sometimes, but for the most part we were separated while at home. Those broads were just too pushy for my tastes, and mama figured out early on that everybody would be happier, the house would be calmer, and there would be less stress if we just took turns. And it worked!

There is a bonus to this plan component too: if it turns out that — despite your best intentions to integrate — you have to keep dogs separate (because they don’t get along, because one is sick, etc), you already know what to do — and nobody gets bounced out of a foster home!

2. Get a really good recall on your dog.

If you’re like most foster folks, you probably want to integrate your new foster dog with your own dogs. That’s great! Dogs can learn all kinds of wonderful things from each other and many enjoy the company, too. But before you take this step, you’ll want to take at least one precaution — train a really good “come when called” with your dog. I’m not just talking about when you ask him for a “sit” and then walk 10 feet away with a piece of rotisserie chicken and then call him. No, I’m talking — teach your dog to come when you call him even if he’s in the middle of playing with a buddy or stalking a cat or rolling in a particularly yummy piece of dead animal in the grass.

Wanna know why? Your foster dog may not come into your home with the best habits, and you don’t want your dog picking up on any bad habits from your foster. So if your dog and your foster start playing a particularly rough game of bitey-face, you will want to call your dog out of it without any drama. Or if you end up with one dog getting into the personal space of another dog, you can get one dog to move without rushing over and grabbing any collars. A good recall will help keep everybody safe.

3. When it comes to integration, you’ll need a helper.

Typically, it took me about 3-5 weeks to integrate fully with foster dogs. Those first few weeks were spent very deliberately building my foster sibling’s basic skills, his relationship with my people, and slowly increasing our exposure to each other. We’d go for walks together, for example. But at first, we’d walk across the street from each other, with different handlers. Eventually, we’d walk side by side, still with two handlers to move us apart if anybody got too excited. Over time, we’d be able to walk together with just one person like my dad, below.

So at first, a second walker was super helpful for us. We got to have all of our fun times together without any of the stress of being forced together before we were ready, see?

4. Have a support network ready.

Speaking of helpers. Fostering is mega-fun, but it’s hard work, too. And it will teach you more than you even realized you didn’t know about dog behavior. But to do all that learning and give your foster dog all she deserves, you’ll need a support network — at least 2-3 people you can lean on when things get hard or when you have questions. These can be me and my ‘Bug (even though we are dogs and not people), folks from your rescue group, your local dog trainer, or just good friends who like dogs and are willing to come over to give you a hug and fix you a strong margarita the first time your foster dog pees on your couch (which may or may not happen).

5. Set your expectations and have lots of patience.

Although I kind of dreaded fostering at first (new dogs in the house sharing my space, my toys, and my peoples? NO way!), mama thought it would be all sunshine and lollipops. Boy was she wrong. In reality, being a good foster family takes a lot of hard work. It takes sacrifices in time and space, it takes a lot of creative thinking and hard work, and it takes a willingness to learn a lot and be flexible. But here’s the secret: we found that with every dog we fostered, it got a little easier. Our expectations became a little more realistic, we got the hang of it a little more, and we gained a sense of humor about the whole thing. By the time we fostered the Little Zee / Curious Georgia flurry, we felt like old pros. After all, those two lived with us while we were selling our house and getting ready to move across the country!

6. Enjoy!

This one might be the most important of all. Yes, fostering is hard work. If you stick with it long enough, then yes, you’ll have to clean up poop inside the house. Yes, you’ll occasionally take an extra long walk in the morning before dawn when it’s freezing outside. Yes, you’ll jump too quickly from one step to another and end up with a disagreement between dogs or a misstep in training or trust. Yes, you’ll have your heart broken by would-be adopters who seemed perfect but disappeared. Or by ones who adopted and then returned. All of these things happen.

But in the grand scheme, these inconveniences are just a drop in the bucket. You will save lives. You will give dogs a chance who wouldn’t have had one. You’ll learn and stretch and grow and cry and laugh. And you’ll fall in love over, and over, and over again.

So what do you think? Could 2013 be your year?

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39 responses

  1. Very slick way of sneaking in that announcement ;) CONGRATULATIONS!! I’m so excited for you guys! :D

    Awesome tips! We are definitely maxed out at 4 dogs (!!! <<really that's a number of dogs I never counted on having at home!), but I'd love to foster again eventually – probably when we're down to two dogs. No matter when it is though, I'm really looking forward to it :)

  2. I fostered my first pit bull type dog this past June. It was a wonderful experience and is responsible for me falling in love with the breed! Someday, my next full-time dog will be a pittie but for now, I’m fostering them with my partner and our black lab mix. :) Love your blog!

  3. CONGRATULATIONS!

    I would love to foster but there is absolutely no way that my landlord would allow it, especially in MD and me having to fenagle even being comfortable with my two well trained pit mixes in the house. I plan on buying a place in the next year, so I hope that I can foster then…

  4. Love that last photo! Congrats on your new addition. We have three dogs right now and seriously considered adding a 4th last year but luckily she got adopted. I’ve seriously thought about fostering but just not sure I can add another either. One of our three has some aggression issues and I think the house would be pure chaos with 4!

  5. Sneaky sneaky! Congratulations on the upcoming two-legged addition to your family! Chickerdoodle are going to be fabulous big brothers thanks to all you’ve taught them. :)

    Your blog was a great resource for me when I started fostering over a year ago. And, like your experience with the Bug, I found my furry “One” over the summer and had to step away from the fostering game for a bit. I’m looking forward to the day when I can pick it back up but until then I continue to spread the good word and have encouraged others to give fostering a try.

  6. Two dogs is our apartment’s limit, but if (when) we get our own place, we’ll definitely be thinking about fostering. Also, congrats on the upcoming 2-legged puppy! I’d be interested in hearing how y’all are preparing.

  7. Hooray for a love-and-a-leash human baby! That is very exciting, way to go! I’ve been fostering for about 18 months now, and you guys were a HUGE part of that inspiration.

  8. You know I started reading your blog a few years ago when some publication (?) hosted an all night blog event for charity (you posted on the hour for a night — or did I make this up?). Anyway, you have been an inspiration almost daily to so many, thank you!!! As soon as I master having two dogs I’m seriously thinking about fostering. (PS. All of the above help with integrating a 2nd dog also!).

  9. Thank you for this post. You are an inspiration ~ and I too am considering fostering at some point. Looking for land to move to this spring, so maybe then….

  10. Congrats!! We have three pups because we failed Fostering 101 … we thought two was enough and a third would be challenging, but not tempting — little did we know!!

  11. Congrats, Chick, on your new brother or sister! You are so wise and will make the best big brother.

    You and your mama did a great job last year inspiring me to foster a dog in my already full house. We figured we had three seniors, why not give one more a chance for a great home. Well, it turns out that great home is ours. So now we have 4 dogs! I think you need to give advices on how to not get too attached – I cannot seem to figure that part out. Fostering a dog is more like interviewing,a temp for a permanent position, and they all seem to be the perfect fit for the job. :)

    I have so much respect and admiration for foster families, so please keep giving your great advice and inspiring all your readers.

  12. First, congratulations! Second, Chick, this was a really interesting and informative post. We’ve never really thought about all the ins and outs of fostering. Thanks!

    -Bart and Ruby

  13. Congratulations! I am hoping when I move later this year, I maybe able to convince my roommate/landlord to let us foster. Fingers crossed and will definitely be sending her the link to this post.

  14. Congrats!! That was quite the sneaky way to let everyone know. :) Thanks for this very informative post. Fostering is something that I’d love to do & is always in the back of my mind. Realistically I can’t do it right now but this gives me lots more to think about!

  15. I currently am a foster and I usually work dogs into my pack of 2 canines rather quickly. My two are quite used to the revolving door of fosters in the house. Do you think that is bad for their stability that I work new ones in so quickly. Often I foster dogs that are puppy to 9 months so we’ve yet to have any “incidences”. The only reason I ever think I might bedoing something incorrect is that my female – I have a boy and one girl- he doesnt seem to care much about the fosters but she plays the first day with the new kid but then tends to ignore them and me for a week or so, preferring to cuddle with dad (which he loves).
    Ant thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

  16. Congrats… you really hid that announcement in there… what a great new adventure!

    I’ve always said that as a responsible pet owner you need to know when enough is enough, you have to know how many animals you can handle at once and if the time isn’t right to foster or adopt another you shouldn’t feel bad about saying no, you can’t stop caring for the ones you have to take on another… the level of loving care should remain the same. This is currently where we are, we can only have two dogs and I’m OK with that… for now…

  17. This is wonderful advice Chick! Fostering can be difficult, time consuming, and typically does involve urine or feces IN the house. I’m VERY fortunate that my two dogs have been able to integrate smoothly with all of our fosters but I think it’s important to have separate time as well. It gives my dog some special alone time with their humans and it gives the foster time to get used to being the only dog around. And congrats on the 2 legged puppy!! That will definitely be an adjustment!

  18. This is so timely. I lost my oldest dog last month, and I’ve decided to foster now, but I’ve got to get my 2 dogs trained to be up to the task. One of them will be going to her 2nd obedience class tomorrow morning. I hope before the year has come and gone that I’ll be able to say I’ve accomplished my goal of getting them both properly trained and have begun fostering. :)

  19. Good advice for those of us who rescue in our homes, too, Chick. I have a new Beagle, Sydney. He is a lovely, small boy dog with a loud bay; he is a resource guarder, whether he needs to “guard” or not (like me from my dog Justus or the food bin from everyone else). I’m taking your advice to heart and keeping him a bit separate using a crate throughout the day especially, like now, when I’m not supervising interactions. Thank, Chick!

  20. I can’t foster dogs, unfortunately, because I have four dogs in my family already. But I really enjoy reading this blog. I love your two dogs and I love reading about them. They are adorable and have such personalities.

  21. Thanks for sharing this great advice. This is pretty much the same system we use to set up each of our new fosters. It’s well worth it to put in the time to construct small positive interactions and then build on them slowly as you work towards integration.

    And this would be helpful to adopters looking to integrate a new pup into their household with existing dogs. Double advices!

  22. Congratulations! I love the way you announced it!

    Fostering is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but with five dogs, it would be really though. One though, one day.

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