Lessons from the foster dog: What Rainer taught us

We learned a lot from Rainer, likely because we had him with us much longer than our other fosters (Brando and Laszlo). We are going to miss him, even though our life with him wasn’t always easy.

He is a sweet boy, and we are so happy that he found his forever home! I’ve heard a bit from his adopter, and it sounds like he is really settling in and learning to love being doted on as an “only child.”

Dogs in the yard on Sunday
Rainer in our yard.

What Rainer Taught Us

  1. A dog’s personality can change over time. This is especially true of shy dogs. We already knew this with Pyrrha, since she really blossomed into a happy dog since adopting her, but it was rewarding to see this shift occur in Rainer too. The first few days, he would hide from us in corners of the backyard. Everything made him nervous. I thought he had a neurological disorder because of how much he slunk around and moved in such strange, stiff ways. But after more than a month living with us, Rainer turned out to be a totally different dog. He was so content being in our house. He wanted to be EVERYWHERE I was (I mean everywhere; private trips to the bathroom did not happen with Rainer in the house). In the latter days, he was affectionate with Pyrrha, whereas he first made her pretty uncomfortable. They even got to the point where they would sleep side by side, something I NEVER thought Pyrrha would allow in a million years. His whole physical demeanor transformed; he started jumping and sitting and letting his tongue hang out — all of these things that I thought he was incapable of doing when he first came to us.
  2. Correlated with that, a dog’s personality (and the canine power dynamic) can be different in different environments. This one surprised me. In the house, Rainer tended to take charge and let Pyrrha know her place. But in the backyard, Pyrrha ruled; she initiated play with Rainer, she got him belly up all the time, she taught him how to patrol for her feline nemesis. I’d never seen this dynamic before, and it still interests me. Rainer also reminded us that new environments are still very stressful to shy dogs. Getting groomed, going to the vet, and even going on walks made him extremely anxious, despite the fact that he was the picture of calm in our house. Again, good reminders to be vigilant in training and rehabilitation.
  3. Let dogs figure out the power structure. Obviously, do this within reason, and don’t let scuffles get out of hand, but Rainer taught us to hold back a little bit. Dogs are better than we are at figuring out canine dynamics; they suffer when we try to impose our human rules on them. For instance, it rankled me at first that Rainer laid claim to Pyrrha’s bed when he came here. My human instinct was to intervene, thinking that this is Pyrrha’s bed, she was here first, etc. But Pyrrha was OK to let Rainer take it. By the end of his stay with us, they were happily sharing the bed, and there were no more bed-territory scuffles or warnings.
  4. Don’t let strange dogs meet face-to-face, and don’t underestimate the protective instinct. We learned this lesson the really hard way with a dog fight (between Rainer and a potential adopter’s dog). I was naive, I didn’t trust my gut instincts, and I really, really should have known better. This is not a mistake we will ever make again. (And thanks to you all for your kindness and advice. This incident certainly revealed me to be capable of dangerous amateur mistakes, and you were all gracious with me. Many thanks.)
  5. Pyrrha really enjoys having a canine sibling. Even though their relationship had a somewhat rocky start and even though his presence in our home was very isolating to her social life, I think Pyrrha misses Rainer’s company. Particularly in our last weeks with him, Rainer and Pyrrha shared so many sweet moments: kissing each other’s faces, play bowing in unison in the living room, just sitting side-by-side in the yard and watching the birds and cars and people. They were happy and gentle with one another (especially Rainer, who was so tolerant of Pyrrha’s antics!).
Someone's not so shy anymore
Good luck, buddy!

You taught us a lot, Rainey Baby. We’ll miss you! But we are SO happy that you are starting a new life with your new family.

We are taking a few weeks off from fostering. Carrie from Tales and Tails reminded me that this is OK, that you shouldn’t feel guilty about taking a fostering hiatus. I appreciated hearing that. I feel like I need to spend more time with Pyrrha, particularly refocusing on her training, so we’re enjoying this little respite.

What have your foster dogs taught you?

7 thoughts on “Lessons from the foster dog: What Rainer taught us

  1. All good lessons to be learned! I particularly like number 3 🙂 I don’t really fall into the “let them work it out” trap, because that can cause fights, but I do let my dogs get into scuffles more than some. I try really hard not to micromanage their interactions, that’s something my boy Panzer taught me. He’s really really fearful and interfering with him when he’s in the zone and in his happy place makes him nervous and stressed out, so as often as I can within the boundaries of safety, I let him and Shelby roll with whatever they’re doing. They are both less neurotic for it! Enjoy your hiatus and give that cutie of yours a big kiss on the nose from my family to yours!

  2. Each foster brings about a book’s worth of knowledge into our house.

    I’ve enjoyed watching Honey tell us about the fosters who come into our home. She understands them better than we do and I find it helpful to take her lead sometimes.

    And I agree that it’s good to have breaks between fostering. You’ll find the Pyrrha reacts differently to each dog that comes and goes. Sometimes Honey is depressed when a foster dog leaves. Sometimes she’s relieved. Other times I see no difference in her behavior whatsoever.

    But you’ll find this time between fosters very special time with Pyrrha, I’m sure.

  3. I’ve only ever had one foster. 🙂 Well, not exactly. Someone found a stray chihuahua and took it to where I work, and I kept it until we found the dad. I learned a lot from that little dog. Some good, some bad.

  4. And I have learned a great deal from your posts following the journey that you all took together and how things progressed. Thanks.

    This will be helpful if I foster a dog.

  5. I think taking breaks sometimes made us better foster parents. When a new dog was coming, we had a list of things to do and take care of and it was good to remind ourselves of those things sometimes so we didn’t get lax. I am so happy for Rainer, and you gave him a wonderful start! My bet is that if you see him again, he will be over the moon to see you, even though he’s happy in his new home. I remember the first reunion we went to after we became foster parents. One of the little girls, who’d always been a sweet, mild-mannered little lady, literally leaped up and tackled us. It was one of the best moments of fostering for me. She was happy and confident with her adopter, but she remembered us fondly! We learned a lot as foster parents, too, and I think it made us better dog parents.

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