We haven’t been fostering very long, but these 10 essential things have been SO helpful to us in our dog fostering adventure. So, here are some items to have on hand for your venture into the world of dog fostering.
- A crate. Crates will be your lifesaver! Crate training keeps a dog safe when you can’t watch them, prevents them from tearing up your house until they know better, separates dogs when necessary, and gives adjusting fosters a sense of security. Many fosters will be unused to crates, so it may be rough at first, but make the crate a happy place for sleeping and receiving good things. We give our fosters treats once they’re in their crates and reward them warmly when they are calmly crated. Never use the crate as a place of punishment! We love crates, and our dogs do, too!
- Baby gates. A corollary to crates, baby gates will also save your sanity as a new foster parent. Since you don’t want your dogs to always be crated, baby gates in key areas of the house will help you keep dogs separate while feeding or when you can’t keep an eye on one of them. We have a baby gate to our kitchen walkway, and it has been a huge help. We have this gate, and I really love it. The swinging door makes it much more convenient for humans, too!
- Martingale collar. I am a huge devotee of martingale collars, like the ones made by Premier. If you foster shy dogs, as we often do, being involved in German shepherd rescue, martingale collars will be immensely helpful to you. A nervous dog cannot back out of these collars, but they do not endlessly and dangerously tighten, like a choke collar. Love them. I have a martingale collar in every size for all of our fosters! (Note: We often just use martingales for walks and outings. They can catch on things if they are too big for the dog or during dog-on-dog play.)
- ID tag. Make some generic ID tags with your name, contact information, and address for your fosters, particularly if your rescue does not provide this for you. Make sure your foster is wearing this tag at all times! Jeffers Pet has some very affordable ID tags in a variety of sizes, and I bought a number of them with our info on it for our fosters to have, while we are waiting to get tags from Southeast German Shepherd Rescue (SGSR).
- Kongs, sterilized hollow bones, or other stuff-able toys. Dogs are going to get bored, and new fosters are likely going to be anxious about their new environment. A Kong or a hollow, sterilized bone, stuffed with something like kibble, canned pumpkin, or peanut butter is a great way to keep a dog occupied, happy, and out of trouble.
- Vehicle restraint. If you can’t fit a crate in your car, find an alternate method of restraint for a dog in your car. I made the mistake of assuming that other dogs would be as calm as our dog is in the car. Not so! (Brando, particularly, was a NIGHTMARE in the car.) Get a car harness that straps down or buckles into the seatbelt. Or get a grate that prevents the dog from clambering up into the front seat and endangering you while you drive. If you’re like us, you’ll probably be transporting your foster often, so a trustworthy method of vehicle restraint will be very helpful to you.
- Lots of old towels and blankets. I’ve given up on expensive dog beds. Our dog and our fosters like to rip them to shreds, and they can often be difficult to wash. Instead, I’ve been going to thrift stores and buying lots of old, cozy blankets and old towels to put in their crates. These can provide just as much comfort as a dog bed; they’re inexpensive; they’re easily replaceable; and they’re easy to clean in the event of accidents. (Old towels will also be very helpful in the car and around the house on wet, muddy days.)
- A trustworthy local groomer (or self-serve grooming station). Fosters often come in reeking of what we like to call “the shelter stank.” (You’ll know it once you’ve smelled it.) A reliable local groomer or a self-serve grooming station will be your best friend. Grooming makes a lot of dogs, especially rescue dogs from uncertain backgrounds, very nervous. We don’t have a great set-up at our home for bathing indoors, and so our local self-serve grooming operation has been a godsend. We’re huge fans of Wash & Wag!
- High-quality food. Most rescues have been eating pretty poorly. As SGSR recommends, we get our fosters on a high-quality kibble immediately. Grain-free kibble is important to me, so we are always researching what’s best for our dogs. Even though we can’t afford (financially or time-wise) to feed our dog or fosters raw, we are passionate about improving their health right away through a four- or five-star kibble. Dog Food Advisor provides great information and reviews on dog kibble.
- PATIENCE. And this is the most important thing of all! Foster parents need lots and lots of patience. But you probably knew this already. It’s hard work, but it’s rewarding work. There’s nothing quite like helping a dog transform into a happy, healthy, functional member of a family!
For those more experienced fosters out there, what do you recommend? Anything I’ve missed on my list?