Adoption & Fostering

17 Tips for Fostering a Dog [Advice from Real Foster Pet Parents]

smiley girl dog

As a foster pet parent myself (and a proud foster fail twice over!), I can tell you firsthand that opening your home to a dog in need is one of the most rewarding experiences out there. Yes, there will be chewed slippers, muddy paw prints, and maybe even the occasional late-night whining session. But the love and gratitude in those big, hopeful puppy dog eyes? Completely worth every challenge.

woman holding paw of dog

In this post, we’ll share 17 tips and tricks to help make your experience as smooth and joyful as possible for both you and your temporary furry houseguest.

Tip #1: Do it for the Love of Dogs

First things first – make sure your heart is in the right place. Fostering a dog is hard, messy, and, at times, smelly work. If you’re doing it for any reason other than a genuine desire to help a pup in need, those tough moments will burn you out quickly.

When your sole motivation is wanting to provide a safe, loving environment for a dog in transition, the challenges become more than worth it. 

appy woman lying on sofa with cute purebred dog

If your heart is truly in the right place, your fostering journey promises to be one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling experiences you’ll ever have. Believe it.

Tip #2: Find the Right Rescue Match

Your fostering experience can vary greatly depending on two factors – the pup you’re matched with and the rescue organization you’re working with. Do plenty of research to find a good fit.

dogs in cage in shelter

Reach out to local shelters and rescues, ask questions, and get a sense of their support system and supplies provided. An ideal rescue will give you a helpful starter pack, access to advice from veteran fosters, and plenty of reassurance when you need it.

Tip #3: Honestly Assess Your Skill Level

Being a foster dog parent requires different skills and commitment levels depending on the pup’s age, size, and potential behavioral issues. Realistically evaluate your experience level before getting matched.

If you’re new to dogs entirely, an older, calmer dog with basic training may be best to start. An adult or senior dog will demand less intensive around-the-clock monitoring compared to a puppy.

train the dog

Now, if you do have some prior dog experience, a rambunctious puppy could definitely be manageable for you. Those little fluff balls are boisterous as can be and will keep you running, but their adorable antics make up for the extra work…most days.

Don’t rule out bigger dogs based on size alone either. Larger breeds frequently have lower energy levels and tend to be more laidback compared to many hyper small pooches.

The key is precisely matching your foster to your individual skills and bandwidth. Be honest about what you can realistically manage, and the rescue will do their best to pair you with your perfect temporary fur baby.


Tip #4: Provide Easy Outdoor Access

Having a fenced yard or other secure outdoor space makes fostering exponentially easier. Many rescues actually require foster parents to have a private outdoor area before taking in puppies or certain dogs with behavioral issues.

Why? Puppies aren’t fully vaccinated, so they can’t go on walks or to dog parks until they’ve received all their shots. This protects them from dangers like parvo and other illnesses. A fenced yard allows them to potty, explore, and get exercise without risking their health.

pug dog pet canine animal fur

For adult foster dogs, a yard provides a safe training space before introducing them to the outside world. Many rescues have difficult pasts, making them unsuitable for public walks right away.

Tip #5: Start With Adult Dogs, Not Puppies

While watching a tiny puppy grow is irresistibly cute, their needs are very demanding, especially for first-time fosters. Between potty training accidents, non-stop energy, and destructive teething behaviors, puppies require intensive around-the-clock supervision.

For your first foster experience, I always recommend starting with an adult or senior dog instead of jumping straight into the puppy madness.

two people holding short coated tan dog 1

Puppies typically require a considerable amount of effort and attention compared to older dogs. Plus, older dogs often face greater challenges in finding foster homes and permanent placements, so they are much more in need of your help!

The reality is shelters struggle to find fosters for adult dogs, who face a much higher euthanasia risk if they aren’t adopted. Meanwhile, puppies get snatched up quickly. Do an older pup a solid and opt for one past the puppy stage, at least for your first foster experience.

brown and white short coated puppy

Tip #6: Prepare for Crying on Night One

Your foster’s first night in your home will likely be tough for both of you. Feeling displaced and afraid, your new furry friend may whine, bark, or cry when confined to their crate or dog bed. As challenging as it is, resist the urge to cuddle or soothe them.

The most effective strategy is to minimize attention to these behaviors as much as possible, helping your foster adjust to the routine more smoothly. It’ll definitely be tough and will test your patience and determination, but in the end, everyone will be better off in the long run.

dog cute animal pet puppy looking

The crying is completely normal and expected, especially if your foster came from an abusive situation or spent time in a stressful shelter environment. Comforting them only reinforces the unwanted behavior.

To help them adjust more quickly to the crate, leave the door open during the day and do short training sessions feeding high-value treats inside. Make it an inviting, safe space with a cozy bed. With time and patience, your foster will adapt to their new cozy crate.

Tip #7: Follow Your Foster’s Lead

Switching environments is hugely stressful for rescue dogs. They’re leaving behind the sights, smells, and routines they’ve known, which can understandably leave them feeling disoriented and unsettled at first. Do your foster pup a huge favor by avoiding any added pressure or forced interactions during those initial days.

The wisest approach is to simply let your new furry houseguest set the pace. Refrain from crowding them with demands for playtime, cuddles, or overwhelming affection right away. Ease into normal routines like leashed potty breaks, but otherwise, allow them to dictate when they feel comfortable enough to start bonding and engaging.

sleeping shih tzu dog pet animal

Many fosters take a few days or even a week to shed their initial anxiety and warm up to their surroundings. By giving your pup the freedom to approach you in their own time, without subjecting them to additional stress, you create a calm, welcoming environment perfectly conducive to helping them gradually relax into their temporary new home.

So resist those urges to smother your foster with love from day one. Showers of affection will mean so much more once they’ve had space to decompress and come to you willingly with tail-wags aplenty!

dog garden terrier fun

Tip #8: Manage Your Expectations

With fosters, you never know their full background – an abusive past, life in a puppy mill, or neglect could all factor into their behavioral quirks and fears. Minimize disappointment by assuming:

  • You won’t see their true personality for a week or more
  • They aren’t housetrained
  • They can’t be left alone unsupervised
  • They may have undetected health or behavioral issues

Coming in with a measured, patient perspective allows you to take everything in stride. If your foster ends up being an easy case, it’s a pleasant surprise!

photo of a black and white dog biting a seahorse toy

Tip #9: Tap Into Support Resources

While all the pre-fostering tips and advice are helpful, keep in mind that no one understands your specific foster pup better than the rescue staff and volunteers who have directly worked with them. Don’t hesitate to lean on their expertise!

The rescue organization is there as an invaluable resource, so take full advantage. I always advice you to reach out with any questions, concerns, or need for guidance that comes up along the way. A reputable foster group will be thrilled to provide advice, brainstorm solutions to any issues you’re facing, and ensure you feel fully supported every step of the fostering journey.

dog pulling his toy

Frequent updates with photos and videos are also hugely appreciated by the rescue team. The more they can see and understand your foster’s progress, quirks, and personality development firsthand, the better equipped they’ll be to market that pup effectively and find them their absolute perfect forever match when the time comes. Think of it as your foster fur kid’s biggest cheerleading squad!


Tip #10: Prepare, But No Need to Over-prepare! 

That oatmeal shampoo sure does smell lovely, but hold off on splurging on fancy beds, toys, and pampering products until you’ve gauged your foster’s needs. Often, all those hyped products hold zero interest for pups coming from a shelter.

Start with the essentials – a cozy basic bed, a simple dog puzzle toy, standard food and water bowls, a leash, collar, and treats for positive reinforcement training. Puppies especially tend to destroy even the nicest accessories with their energetic play and potty accidents.

thinking toys for dogs

Please wait until your foster is settled, then invest in toys and extras once you know their preferences. This approach keeps your personal costs down until you can make more informed purchases.

Tip #11: Double Up on Leash Safety

When venturing out for walks with a foster dog, it’s essential to amp up your street smarts by doubling up on leashes! Many rescues may not have received leash training and could respond unpredictably to external stimuli.

Option 1: A harness + a collar, each with its own leash

Option 2: A harness OR collar, paired with a leash, along with a slip lead for extra security.

Having multiple leashes ensures immediate backup control in case one becomes detached, offering added security for your four-legged companion.

a dog on a leash sitting on the sidewalk

Tip #12: Introduce Resident Pups Slowly

Already have a fur baby at home? Make sure introductions with your foster happen gradually and on neutral ground outside your home’s territory.

Don’t be discouraged if your resident pup and the foster aren’t immediately cuddly BFFs. They’re still two animals trying to figure each other out! It may take several meetups and a slow, steady progression before they get fully comfortable as an inseparable duo.

smiling woman walking dog at park

Always prioritize supervision and separate your pets when you can’t provide it. This eliminates stress and squabbles. Your resident pup may also appreciate some extra loving reassurance that they’re still numero uno in your heart.

Looking For More? Check Out:

How to Introduce 2 Dogs to Each Other

Tip #13: Be an Intentional Foster Promoter

One underrated but vital role of a foster pet parent? Serving as your dog’s personal promoter and advocate. This means going above and beyond to market their awesomeness to prospective forever families.

Think about it from an adopter’s perspective. When looking for your new best friend online, what would really help you envision bringing that pup home? Just a basic bio and stats don’t really allow their unique personality to shine through, do they?

smiling woman sitting on floor in front of camera

That’s where your role becomes crucial! Take tons of pictures and videos that show off your foster’s true, quirky, lovable self. Then, put together a top-notch profile bio that reads like an entertaining puppy memoir. Highlight those endearing (or maybe not so endearing?) quirks that make them one-of-an-kind, like how they insist on hogging ALL the bed or their impressive slam-dunking of dinner bowls.

This detailed and glowing biography on platforms like Pet Finder or the rescue’s website, capturing your foster’s quirks and spirit alike, helps pave the way to finding the perfect match. Think of it as free advertising to help them discover their future soulmate!

smiling woman with shiba inu

Tip #14: Honesty is the Best Policy

While you’ll definitely want to put your foster pup’s best paw forward when promoting, resist the urge to whitewash or downplay their struggles and quirks. Transparency is crucial for setting both the dog and new owners up for lasting success.

Do not gloss over any issues or quirks your foster dog may have. That is a disservice to not only the adopters but the pup as well. You wouldn’t want your dog to be returned because the adopters were unaware of something and didn’t feel prepared to deal with it.

animal chairs chihuahua cute dog

Ask plenty of your own questions, too, when an interested family comes along. What enrichment plans do they have? How will they handle issues like separation anxiety or fear aggression if those crop up down the road? You’re entrusting this pup to them – make sure you feel confident in the match.

Tip #15: Savor Every Sweet Moment, Even the Bittersweet Ones

No matter how prepared you are for it, actually saying goodbye to your beloved foster will shred your heart into a million mushy pieces. And that’s OKAY. Soak up those final cuddles through your tears.

You invited this precious creature into your home, showered it with love, and showed it the beauty and joy life can offer, regardless of its past struggles. There’s no escaping it – you’ll feel sadness when the time comes for them to embark on their journey towards a forever home.

woman sitting on her couch with her dogs

Yet, take pride in the fresh start you’ve facilitated. Through fostering, you’ve made room to rescue another pup’s life once the tears have dried. That’s as beautiful as it gets.

Tip #16: Turn Your House Into a Foster-Friendly Haven

To make your fostering duties easier, do some prep work around the house. Create designated, dog-proofed areas for your fosters away from any valuables or hazards that could be destroyed or ingested.

You may want to use baby gates to block entryways, move items off floors and surfaces a dog could chew or knock over, and pick up any clothing, shoes, remotes, or other items that seem particularly tempting for your foster. This allows you to relax when your new fur baby is settled into their new space.

a girl playing with her dog

You’ll also want to lay down some washable, waterproof covers or pads on furniture and dog beds to make cleaning up accidents easier. Double-sided tape on the edges can keep the covers secure while you’re out.

Tip #17: Take Lots of Photos & Videos

While photos may not seem important now, you’ll be grateful to have an album documenting your foster’s growth and time with you. Photos and videos also help in their marketing by showing off their true personalities.

ethnic owner with smartphone putting sunglasses on puppy 1

When prospective adopters can “see” your foster through high-quality photos and clips shared online or in person, they are far more likely to feel an instant bond and connection. Images of your foster doing everyday things like playing, cuddling on the couch, and going for walks give a complete picture of their demeanor and temperament that bios alone can’t match.

Make it a point to take lots of photos and short videos during your foster’s stay – you’ll love being able to look back on the special memories you made together.

Final Words

While not easy, fostering a rescue dog is guaranteed to fill your heart with more joy than you can possibly imagine. Trust the process, be patient, and don’t be afraid to ask for guidance when you need it.

rough collie collie samoyed dog

By taking that leap and opening your home to a pup in need, you’re not just changing their life – you’re saving it. What could possibly be more rewarding than that? So what are you waiting for? Your next foster fur baby is waiting!


About Helen K. White

As someone who deeply believes in the power of adoption and fostering, I've seen firsthand how it can change lives—for both animals and humans alike. Through heartwarming stories and practical tips, I'm here to share insights, advice, and resources to support you every step of the way. With years of experience volunteering at shelters, fostering countless furry pals, and helping families find their perfect pet match, I bring a wealth of knowledge and passion to the table. Whether you're thinking about adoption, navigating the foster journey, or just looking for heartwarming tales to brighten your day, I've got you covered.