What Happens When Your Foster Isn’t Working Out?
If you already follow Part of the Pack, then you’ve probably read my previous post titled “Fostering is Being Happily Heartbroken.” That post explains how rewarding fostering truly can be, and even the “good” and “bad” than can happen. However, what happens if fostering that specific dog is more “bad” than it is “good?”
One part of fostering that people don’t often talk about is when a dog just doesn’t work out. Most rescues do their very best to assess dogs for serious behavioral issues (dog aggression, fear aggression, leash reactivity, resource guarding, etc.) prior to intake, but sometimes the dog doesn’t exhibit those behaviors in the shelter environment. Sometimes behavioral issues can pop up, after the dog settles in their new environment and gets comfortable.
Most rescues have rules and expectations for integrating a new foster dog into your home with kids, cats, and other dogs. Decompression time, patience, slow introductions to pets/kids, and supervision are a few examples of expectations. But what if you followed all the rules, and things still aren’t going well?
Reasons to Return a Foster Dog
Most rescues might be a little annoyed if you’ve had a dog less than 24 hours and already want to return it. A couple of days is not enough time for a decompression period, especially if the dog is fearful. However, if you’ve had your foster for weeks or even months and it’s not working out, then please remember that it is OK to return a foster dog. You should not have to “put up” with the dog no matter what, and there are always other dogs you can foster. Believe me, the steady intake in shelters will always allow for another life to be saved. If you are truly thinking about returning the dog….and I mean days of thinking about it, not just that one day you were angry because it pooped in your shoe……then you probably should return it to the rescue. You should not feel guilty returning a dog, especially if you are new to fostering.
Below are some legitimate reasons for wanting to return a foster dog. All of these issues can be worked through over time, but it takes the right person to work with some of these issues. If you are frustrated on a daily basis, then it’s not a good situation for you, your family, or the dog.
1. You don’t have the experience or time to work with the dog on a SPECIFIC training issue
Aggression is not something an inexperienced foster should be dealing with alone. Even if you have lessons with a trainer, but you have uncontrollable factors (such as a toddler) you might not be the right home for the dog.
2. The foster dog is Displaying aggression towards you or your dog
Personally, this is one of my limits with fostering. I won’t put my own animals in danger. If there are any issues, they live separate lives. However, you can only crate and rotate for so long before you move to #3 below.
3. You or your family members are constantly stressed
Have you ever seen that person with an anxious dog and you look up and see a neurotic human holding the leash? See the connection there?
It’s commonly said that around 90% of human communication is nonverbal (and only 10% is verbal). Your posture, head carriage, gait, and of course facial expressions speak volumes about your mood and motivation. Act happy and your dog will wag excitedly and present her favorite toy for you to toss. Hang your head in sorrow and she’ll slink over and affectionately press her head in your lap.
A dog’s understanding of body language probably explains their uncanny ability to find the one person in the room who doesn’t like dogs. A fearful person tends to tense up and stare. Dogs tend to misread a fearful person’s behavior as a “challenge” posture, like that of a dominant dog squaring up to an opponent. This immediately puts a dog on the defensive.https://www.doghealth.com/behavior/how-and-why/1994-how-dogs-sense-emotions
If you are stressed or angry, then your foster dog is likely going to experience that same spike in cortisol on a daily basis. If you are trying to work with the dog on basic training, then that’s not a good environment to learn new skills and curb bad behaviors. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you angry at the dog all the time? Too forceful with it? If so, the dog might be better off somewhere else.
4. Your own pets are not adjusting well to the foster dog
I’ve had a previous foster that was so mentally unstable and unbalanced that he caused a huge disrupt to my pack structure. If even slightly raised my voice, Aslan would dart upstairs or cower. If the foster dog got excited and jumped on the other dogs, two of my pack members would growl at him. I’ve even had one situation where a foster cornered me in the back of my garage over a bone that was hidden under the stairs. It was truly one of the few moments where I KNEW that I royally screwed up, and I was actually worried for my safety at that point. Thankfully my pack heard the dog growling and walked in, which quickly diffused the situation. I’m learning to really trust the overall condition of my pack, because they will always be able to read other animals better than I am able to from a human perspective.
Other examples of pets being unable to adjust have involved cats. It’s VERY hard to get a cat test (or an accurate one at least) on a dog in the shelter environment. If your foster dog thinks your cat is a snack and wants to kill it on a daily basis, then you might not be the right fit.
5. The foster dog displays severe separation anxiety leading to property damage
When I say “severe,” I don’t mean vocalizing in the crate because the dog wants out….I’m talking full on PANIC where the dog could potentially hurt themselves or ingest something in the midst of their stress.
You have the patience of a Saint, if your dog somehow escapes the crate, does this level of damage, and you DO NOT feel that slight flicker of potential murder bubble up.
Don’t look at returning the foster as a complete failure, whether this was your 1st foster or your 50th…..screening of foster homes is just as tedious as screening for adopters. Sometimes, it’s just not a good fit. Take the experience and learn from it. “Okay, my dog doesn’t do well with ____________.” Keep that in mind when looking for your next foster dog. You may have even came to the conclusion that fostering isn’t for you, and that’s okay too. There are many other ways to help in rescue:
- Social Media & Marketing
- Administrative Tasks
- Financial Support
- Adoption Events
- Supply Drives
- Storing Supplies
It takes a family to run a successful rescue, and every member plays a vital part of saving lives. ADOPT. If you can’t adopt, FOSTER. If you can’t foster, VOLUNTEER. If you can’t volunteer, DONATE. If you can’t donate, EDUCATE & SHARE. Everyone can do something to help make a difference.