The Best Way to Rescue a Dog
by Robin MacFarlane
5 things to know about fostering a dog.
I have been fostering a little terrier mix with the intention of finding him a new and forever home. He came to me through my veterinary office. They called me about a stray they had been caring for and asked if I knew anyone who might be interested in adopting him. He had been found in the county roaming and turned into their clinic. Veterinarians aren't in the business of sheltering homeless animals, and they weren't going to be able to keep him a lot longer.
So I decided to take him in based on their assessment and some preliminary observations that helped me decide he would likely be a good candidate for a pet dog home.
Over the years I've fostered and trained a few dozen dogs and found them new families. The process is always rewarding, particularly because I feel like I 'get it right' in creating a dog that can make a successful transition into a potential new home.
What do I mean by get it right? Let me share my 5 top tips for fostering dogs.
* these also apply to anyone bringing a new dog into their home, whether a new pup, or a newly adopted dog.
1. Liberties are earned, not freely given. I never allow a new dog immediate, free reign of my home. Dogs are kept on a leash and kept attached to me or attached to a piece of furniture in the room I'm occupying during their first days or week that they come into my house. Because the supervision is so tightly monitored this way, it allows me to easily show the dog the rules of good house behavior, including what you can and can't put in your mouth, whether or not you can be on furniture, and absolutely no taking a potty break in the house. As the dog demonstrates an understanding of what the rules are, he gains more freedom and drags the line with him as he is allowed access to an entire room. Eventually, after a period of time, when I feel comfortable knowing he can be trusted, the line is removed, and he can have access to the house unrestrained. It is a process, and each dog moves through it at a pace determined by their maturity and the time I can devote to the training.
2. When Fido is not on that leash attached to me, he's in a kennel or crate. Learning crate manners is essential for a dog transitioning to a new home. How else can an owner be certain that the new pooch is safe and out of trouble when they have to run a few errands, head out for dinner or go to work on Monday? It is not healthy to ALWAYS take the dog with you. Those dogs never learn how to cope while alone and often end up with significant separation issues. The crate should be treated like the dog's bedroom or playpen, and it is in everyone's best interest that a dog learn to be calm and settled when confined for moderate periods of time.
3. We begin basic training on day one. There is no reason to wait on training a new dog. A dog is not rationalizing "well, I just got here, can't we have an acclimatization period before starting to work right away?" The truth is, dogs do best with structure and routine, so establishing it from the get go is in Fido's best interest. I start out with simple house rules, like sit and wait to go out open doors, sit before I feed you or give you a treat, lay down on your pillow and stay there when I am eating dinner, walk nicely on a leash and stop barking when I tell you to. If every dog has just those simple manners instilled, they would likely be welcome guests in most homes.
4. I keep a long line attached to the dog when he is outside in the yard. And I do this even though I have a fenced yard! One of the most common frustrations for pet owners is a dog that will not come when called. I never allow the recall to be an option with a new dog in my household. The line stays attached as a security measure until I know I've done enough training that coming to me when I call is a non-issue. This is all about setting up for success rather than failure. If I allow the dog to practice ignoring me, then I shouldn't be surprised when he does.
5. Exposure and lots of positive experiences out and about in the world. I take my foster dogs on lots of little adventures. We go to the local farmer's market, take walks along busy streets and hike in the quiet woods. We hang out at the park and take a drive through the car wash and the drive up at the bank. I take them with me often to expose them to life's experiences. I want the dog to meet people and other dogs to find out if there are any quirks that I need to put extra training time and attention toward. My job when I foster a dog is not to simply provide a roof over their head and sympathy about their prior situation. The job is to prepare them to live successfully in a new home. Since I have no way of knowing the specifics of what that lifestyle may be like, I go out of my way to bomb-proof the dog as much as I can by making sure he is relatively social and at minimum, polite, when out in society.
Fostering dogs is a rewarding experience, and there are usually a couple tears when they move onto their new home. But they are happy tears knowing a pooch is well prepared to stay in a forever home because I laid the right foundation. If everyone who gets a dog originally would do these simple 5 steps there wouldn't be so much need for shelters and rescue organizations in the first place, but that is a post for another day.
Robin MacFarlane is a professional dog trainer and owner of Thatís My Dog in Dubuque, Iowa. Her best-selling dog training DVDs, JUST RIGHT and JUST RIGHT 2 have helped thousands of dog owners teach their dogs basic obedience and fix problem behaviors through a system of training that you can easily work into your daily routine.