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Fostering an animal is an incredibly rewarding and impactful service! If you’re involved with a rescue or shelter group in your community that uses foster homes- you are making a huge difference by providing emotional support to a pet and expanding a rescue’s lifesaving resources!
There are many types of fostering opportunities. You can bring animals that are sick or injured into your home until they are recovered enough to be adoptable. Or you can take animals just to give them a change from the shelter environment and to help expose them to a bigger audience of adopters. And one of the most common foster reasons- taking orphaned puppies or kittens needing round-the-clock care that a shelter can’t provide.
Whatever type of fostering you do or are considering doing, there can be a whole rollercoaster of emotions throughout the process! And one of the hardest parts is when it comes time to give your foster up to their new adopter. You may wonder, will my foster dog think I’ve abandoned them? Will they feel scared in a new home? The feelings of guilt can really weigh on you.
Rest assured, your foster dog will not feel abandoned and you make the transition to their new home smoother by keeping them on a consistent routine that can be used by the new owners, offering simple training, and providing them with some familiar items to take with them!
We’ll discuss a few different emotions your foster dog will feel in their new home and why these tips are helpful!
Dogs Do Remember You, But Not in the Way You Remember Them!
First, let’s talk about how dogs experience memories and emotions like abandonment. We all know that dogs are extremely intelligent animals and though they do feel primary emotions like fear, love, excitement, and distress, a dog’s emotional development stops at about the same stage as a 2-year-old human. And most people don’t remember things from when they were two years old, right? Dogs are similar in that they can remember specific people and make associations to the feelings that person provided them, but once they are gone, in fact- within about 2 minutes– they aren’t thinking about them anymore!
So why do we see dogs struggle to adjust to new homes so often? It’s not that they’re missing their previous home, they are just reacting to their new environment. Dogs are very habitual creatures. They like routine and predictability. When their world gets flipped upside down, like going into a new home, they are going to experience some stress as a result. Everything is new to them and it can be very overwhelming. Dogs will show this stress in many different ways, but some of the most common are:
- Excessive whining, barking, or pacing. Restlessness or acting like they just can’t relax is a very common issue when dogs first enter a new environment.
- Velcro-ing themselves to you or someone else in the home. They just can’t seem to be even an inch away from you and need to constantly be touched.
- Attempting to escape out an open door, jumping over, or digging under a fence.
- Destructive behavior such as chewing household items or furniture. Or scratching at walls, and doors, or trying really hard to get out of a crate.
- No interest in toys, treats, or even food.
- Hiding and seeming fearful of you or other people in the home.
These signs can range from minor to extreme. Generally, if a dog is refusing to eat for more than a day or two, or they are showing these types of signs with other symptoms of distress such as excessive panting and drooling, loss of control over their urination or defecation, or they are injuring themselves when attempting to escape- you should call the rescue group you are fostering for right away! A veterinarian may need to rule out a medical cause of the behavior and/or prescribe medication to help with the dog’s anxiety.
How Can I Help My Foster Dog Adjust To Their New Home?
Every dog is going to experience some anxiety transitioning to their new home. But there are many things you can do as their foster parent to help set them up for success in their new home!
Get Them on an Easy Routine
Dogs love routine! Help your foster dog establish an easy, generic routine that their new adopters can easily incorporate into their home. Provide a timeline of your foster dog’s routine to the adopter as well, so they can try and keep it consistent. Crate training your foster dog, taking them on potty breaks at the same time every day, and getting them used to a collar and leash will help them in their new home.
Use Simple, Generic Commands
Start to make associations with words like “potty”, “dinner”, “yes”, “good girl/boy”, and “kennel”. These are really common terms and the adopters will easily be able to start using them. Type up a list of all the things your foster dog knows and is familiar with. Give this to the adopter so they can try and incorporate them.
Socialize and Expose Your Foster Dog Frequently
Many rescue dogs are undersocialized or have bad associations with cars, kennels, loud noises, and even hard floors! Helping your foster dog to develop confidence in new environments and with new people can make the transition to their new home smoother. Take your foster dog to parks, farmer’s markets, breweries, and even just out with you when you’re running errands. Have people come over to your home whenever possible and meet the dog, while giving them lots of praise and treats!
Please be sure to talk with the rescue or shelter group the dog came from first though! Some shelter dogs have restrictions that are medical, behavioral, or legal that would keep them from being able to go in public places.
Also, be sure that your foster dog is not overwhelmed by all these new things! Take it slow- you wouldn’t want to take your foster to a brewery on the first day you have them. That may be too much, too soon. Look for signs of stress and pull back if you’re seeing any of them. Stress or fear may present like some of these things:
- Your foster refuses to walk on the leash or tries to get away from whatever is scaring them. They may pull back to try and get out of their collar and away from you.
- They are showing aggressive signs towards people or you when out in public. If the dog is barking, growling, lunging, or attempting to bite take them out of that environment right away! Their fight or flight reflex has kicked on and they are extremely stressed! And we want everyone to be safe.
- They are trembling, yawning frequently, or giving you “whale eyes”. They may also try to hide under or behind things to try and make themselves invisible.
If You’re Able, Come To The Meet and Greet With Adopters
If the rescue or shelter group allows it, meet the potential adopters with the foster dog. This will help the dog to feel more comfortable around new people. It also gives you the opportunity to talk with the adopters about your foster dog’s likes and dislikes, routines, and behaviors.
It can be hard to not be protective of your foster dog and critical of potential adopters. But try to keep an open mind and trust that most people want to provide a great home for their dogs! The rescue or shelter group screens the potential adopters to ensure they’ll provide a safe and happy environment for the dog.
Give The Adopters Blankets, Toys, and Food The Dog Had With You
Providing the adopter with any items that have been in your home will help with the transition into the new home. Dogs can smell 1,000-10,000 times better than people! Having items from you will not make the dog miss you, but instead feel comforted by something that smells familiar.
Give the adopter a small amount of the food you’ve been feeding the dog, or at least the name of the brand, so they can keep the dog on a consistent diet. This helps as it’s familiar to them, we all like comfort food! It will decrease the chance of an intestinal upset. It’d be hard to be happy in a new home when your stomach hurts!
Stay In Touch
If the rescue or shelter allows it, and the new adopters are okay with it, exchange contact info! The adopters will feel better knowing they can reach out to you if they need information about the dog, and you’ll feel better knowing how your foster dog is doing!
Fostering is so rewarding! But it can also be hard to let your foster dog go! Remember, your foster dog is not feeling abandoned or resentful towards you! They may be a little stressed and confused, but it’s a temporary feeling as they adjust to their new home. You did an amazing thing, helping a dog get a second chance with a new family!