3 Tips for New Pet Foster Parents
By Travis Brorsen
Pet Expert, Trainer and TV Host
There you are at the supermarket, visiting with your friend about how much you love dogs. As you continue chatting, you can tell someone is listening to your conversation. It’s not long before the lady down the milk aisle starts to approach you. She just happens to run a rescue group, and they are in need of foster families. The next thing you know you are headed to pick up a dog.
You get home and walk through the door—pooch in tow. You’re now the favorite parent, and your kids couldn’t love you more. Your spouse … well, it all depends. Regardless, the dog will now be living with you, and the game is on!
Maybe you have had dogs before, maybe you haven’t. Either way, there are many unknowns when it comes to a foster dog. Where was he before? Did his family not want him? Was he abused? What kind of food has he been eating? The list goes on and on. True events much like the above scenario inspired this article.
Below is the diary of a busy, real-life family, detailing the first three days of fostering their new “dog.” Whether the dog is fostered for a while and then adopted into another home or kept permanently, I hope the advice offered here can help your foster dog become a forever family member.
Day 1 With Dog
He’s a good boy, but I have a lot to learn! Apparently, he has separation anxiety, and he destroyed my blinds and curtains while I was gone for 30 whole minutes. Our friend told me to buy a crate, so I put him in our shop, and he OPENED THE DOOR and ran out! Thankfully, he came back when I called him! So, I get him inside. … mud everywhere … I buy the crate, get home, set it up, cut my thumb, get the dog into the crate. … and I’m DONE!
Day 2 With Dog
Not wonderful. Take 2.
Dog busted out of a giant metal crate and destroyed more of my house. I had to rush back to my house to stop him from eating my house. I get home and decide to video the destruction, get to my door, and the door I left unlocked is LOCKED. Dog knows how to lock doors. Cool. I contemplate certain things, then decide that dog has to come with me to coach basketball practice. I cannot get Dog into my car, so the neighbor kindly helps me lift him into the truck (as she’s laughing at me under her breath). I get to the school, and the Dog is kept in a classroom full of doting children. Then, Dog drags me wherever he wants to go as we wait for my daughter to get out of cheer practice. My hands have leash burns on them. We leave to go home, and I hear my child quietly saying, “I love you so much…” I look back, and she is loving the dog. OK, maybe he can stay. … maybe. … So, Dog clearly has severe separation anxiety. 48 hours down … and we are hopefully moving in the right direction to make this work.
Day 3 With Dog
It was a good day, minus the never-ending mud! I was able to stay home most of the day, so the dog was a happy/good boy! Every muscle in my body is aching from my wrestling match with him yesterday. … I had him crated when I picked the kids up from school. He did try to get out, but the zip ties did the trick! I would talk to him over our cameras, and he would settle down….
Many of my clients live this very story at some point in their lives. So, if you are one of these fosters or know someone who is, here are my three tips for new foster parents.
1. Exercise, Exercise, Exercise
I can’t stress enough how important exercise is. I have clients in New York City that exercise their dogs three hours per day. Now, I must specify that they aren’t doing all three hours themselves. Most of it is being done by a dog-walking organization, but it’s still necessary and still needs to be done. If you can’t do it yourself, hire a dog walker or take your pup to a daycare so they can socialize and play with other dogs. Think of your dog as a ball of energy, and everything your dog does is driven by energy. Bad behaviors, like chewing curtains, shoes and furniture, all require energy. Good behaviors, such as sitting on cue and walking to their favorite spot to nap, also require energy.
It’s no secret that the behaviors you want require less energy than the behaviors you don’t want. So, if it’s that simple, then you need a dog that’s always tired. Guess who doesn’t tear things up? A tired dog. Guess who doesn’t bark at cars out the window? The dog asleep on the floor. Tired dogs don’t bark in crates or dig up yards. They don’t jump on people or pull you down the street. You know why? Because they don’t have the energy!
2. Create Boundaries
Just because a dog is coming from a rescue group and you don’t know its history doesn’t mean when you open the door to your home the dog should get to do whatever it wants. It might feel like the thing to do, but you or someone down the road will suffer, I promise you. When you create boundaries and rules, you are setting the stage to earn your dog’s trust and respect.
Dogs need boundaries so they know what’s expected of them. When they know what’s expected of them, and they achieve those things, it builds their self-confidence and starts a relationship with the human that is creating structure. For example, if you want to make a rule that the dogs aren’t allowed on the couch, then that rule needs to go for all furniture, not just the couch. Dogs don’t understand the difference between the couch, bed and recliner—except that one is more comfortable than the other. So, if you’re going to make a rule, stick with it and see it though.
3. Give Them Purpose
If you don’t give him something to do, don’t be mad when he acts like a dog. What I mean is, dogs need jobs. They need to challenge their brains and constantly be learning. Make some goals for your foster dog and yourself. Maybe you want him to sit and come when called. Head to YouTube, find some great videos and teach your dog! For ideas, visit my YouTube page www.youtube.com/TravisBrorsen #nomoreexcuses.
I tell my clients all the time that you can’t love your dog too much, but you can love him in the wrong way. Don’t show your foster pet love by spoiling him with treats and freedom. Show him love by spending quality time, exercising his mind, body and spirit.
Now, back to our foster family: I’m happy to report by day seven the family began to find their groove with the new pet and “dog” was officially named Pistol Pete. Now, Pete is learning the ropes of family life and snuggling one of the children every night, helping to ensure safe, sweet dreams. Former foster—now forever—mom’s latest update is, “He’s 100% worth it.”