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The Beginner’s Guide to Becoming a Foster Dog Parent

The Beginner’s Guide to Becoming a Foster Dog Parent

Are you ready to welcome a dog into your home but don’t know where to begin? Learning how to become a foster dog parent is the first step. We put together a guide to help you navigate it all and determine if fostering is right for you. 

Keep reading to learn was it means to foster a dog, the benefits, and the downsides. And we share the steps to becoming a foster pet parent. 

Let’s jump in! 

What Does It Mean to Foster a Dog? 

Foster dog programs are designed to get animals out of the shelter environment and into temporary foster homes while the animal awaits adoption. 

Some rescue organizations operate 100 percent through foster homes. While this is a wonderful way to keep the dog in a home-like environment, finding enough foster homes to take on all the animals in shelters would be nearly impossible. Shelters are always looking for new foster families, so its highly likely your local shelter is too.

Foster programs are perfect for getting the following types of dogs out of the shelter:

Newborn Puppies

Most shelters and rescues don’t adopt out puppies until they’re old enough to be appropriately separated from their mothers and be spayed or neutered. During this approximate eight-week timeframe, they do best in a home that can be sectioned off from other animals living there. A clean and quiet home is also best for the sake of the mother and puppies’ mental wellbeing.

Sick or Injured Dogs Requiring Extra Care
Sometimes shelters take in dogs with injuries or illnesses that require more care than they really have the capacity for. These dogs may need more rest, less stress, medications, close surveillance, or other special care instructions that aren’t conducive to a typical shelter environment. The goal is to nurse them back to health before adopting them out. 

Extremely Shy or Stressed Dogs

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that not every dog is cut out for shelter life. Shelters do their absolute best to provide clean accommodations, adequate nutrition, medical care, and enriching activities for animals. But some dogs simply don’t flourish in this setting, whether their personality is shy, they’re senior dogs, or for some other reason. These animals need a foster home to rest more easily until their new forever home is found.

What Are the Benefits of Fostering a Dog? 

The benefits of fostering a dog are numerous, including the unconditional love they provide and the love and care they get from you. But let’s focus on the top four advantages of fostering. 

dog in shelter
Getting dogs out of shelters is one of the biggest benefits of foster programs.

Gets Dogs Out of Shelters

One of the most important benefits of becoming a foster dog parent is getting it out of a shelter. The more freed-up shelter space, the more animals can be rescued and cared for. Too often, shelters become overcrowded because of a decrease in adoptions or an increase in unwanted animals. These situations depend on a plethora of factors, such as the state of the economy, busy times of the year like back-to-school time, and stray animal breeding seasons. In worst-case scenarios, some of those dogs may get euthanized. Foster programs are a crucial way to help save the lives of dogs.

A Short-Term Versus Long-Term Commitment

Becoming a foster dog parent is typically a short-term situation. It’s the perfect way to help a dog without a long-term commitment to caring for it and adjusting your schedule around it. People looking to help a shelter dog but can’t commit to adopting can still enjoy the short-term benefits of having a dog around and helping out.

Low Costs Involved

Foster dog programs typically cover all medical expenses, vaccinations, and spaying or neutering that has to happen before or during your foster period. Therefore, the costs involved with dog fostering are low. They only include food (which some shelters may also provide), toys, bedding, and anything else you want to provide to care for or pamper the dog with.

Since fostering a dog is typically a short-term commitment, these expenses are also short-term. They are considered a donation to the shelter, and if you keep track of them you can have the shelter sign a receipt that you can claim on your taxes.

A Way to Learn More About Dogs

Fostering can also be a good way to determine if adopting a dog is right for you. Often dogs from a shelter need some refreshers on their training, so it is a great way for you to brush up on or learn more dog training skills. If you’ve never had a dog before, you’ll get to learn all about what it takes to care for one.


Many shelters use foster programs as a way to send dogs home on a trial basis. This enables the adopting family to make sure the dog is a good fit for the family before taking on the full commitment. These foster-to-adopt programs are usually very successful, as it can be very difficult to return a dog once you’ve spent time with it in your home.

Sometimes these “foster-to-adopts” happen accidentally. You may have heard of “foster fails”. Well, that’s when a foster dog parent falls head over heels for the dog they were temporarily caring for and ultimately adopts it. It’s one of the best fails, in our opinion!

dog standing outside
Downsides to fostering can include not knowing a dog’s background.

Are There Downsides to Becoming a Foster Dog Parent?

Being responsible for a dog, whether fostering or adopting, can have some downsides. Here are three that apply.

The Dog’s Background May Be Unknown

You may not know your foster dog’s background, especially if it was a stray and the shelter had no connection with the previous owner. Unfortunately, this may mean an unexpected health issue or behavioral problem may arise. We recommend asking the foster program any questions you may have to get as much information as possible. It’s also a good idea to research the breed for typical characteristics.

Shelters often try to match dogs with appropriate skill-level homes. If you have previous experience or none at all, be sure to explain that so you’re matched with a suitable foster dog. That said, you should be prepared for some common shelter dog behaviors, such as not being fully potty trained, jumping up, not knowing basic commands, and improper leash training.

Requires a Time Commitment

Dogs are a time commitment. They must be fed, let outdoors, played with, and exercised. If you haven’t had a dog before, fostering may require adjustments to your routine and schedule. And you may need to do some dog proofing in your house. This is exactly why fostering a dog is a great way to determine if you’re ready to permanently adopt one and keep it for the rest of its life.

Eligibility Requirements

Foster programs often have eligibility requirements. For example, you may need to be a certain age, have a fenced-in yard, or schedule regular vet appointments. Each program differs in its policies. So, if one program doesn’t work for you, check out another. 

dog in kennel
The first step to fostering a dog is finding a shelter with a foster program.

How Do You Become a Foster Dog Parent? 

How to become a foster dog parent is pretty straightforward. There are three steps to follow. 

Find a Dog Foster Program

First, you’ll need to find a shelter with a dog foster program. You can find many online. We’ve put together a guide for the best pet adoption websites, many of which also have foster programs. For example, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary has a program. And Petco Love provides a tool to search for fostering organizations. 

Fill Out the Application

Once you’ve found a dog foster program, you’ll need to fill out a foster application. As we said, each organization has requirements for taking a dog home. Be sure to read through their policies to determine if it’s the right program for you. And if it is, fill out the application and wait for a placement. 

Prepare Your Home

The third step before bringing your foster pup home is to prepare your living space. Since you won’t have the full picture of the dog’s behavior until you have it home, it’s best to think of it as bringing a puppy home. Get some toys, a bed, food, and treats. Having a dog crate in the home is also a great idea to create a safe space just for the dog.

puppy on couch
Providing a temporary home for a dog can be extremely rewarding.

What Makes A Good Animal Foster Home?

​A good animal foster home starts with the humans in it. Anyone who loves animals and is willing to donate their time, providing lots of tender love and care. Retirees, homemakers, and people who work at home or have flexible work schedules are good candidates for fostering dogs.

Ideally, foster homes should have a separate room or space for dogs. Sometimes shelters like to perform inspections to ensure the space is adequate for the animal in question.

You also want to make sure other pets in the home are up-to-date on vaccinations and appropriate preventatives. While most shelter dogs are up to date on these as well, it’s just best practice to make sure there are no risks of disease transmission.

Foster programs usually require the dog to be under the care of a person 18 years or older. And all foster homes must sign and complete an application, agreement, and waivers before they are allowed into the program.

Are You Paid to Foster a Dog? 

Getting paid to foster a dog depends on the rescue organization. Some may offer a stipend, especially if they have difficulty placing pets. But most of the time, fostering is a way to donate to the shelter, in a sense, your time, home, and care for the dog. 

What Is the Average Stay of a Foster Dog? 

The average stay of a foster dog is around two months before being adopted. However, several variables contribute to the timing. For example, if it’s a senior dog with medical issues, it may take longer to find an adoptive pet parent. Mother dogs with newborn puppies will probably need about 8 weeks before the puppies go home and Mom is ready for the adoption floor.

While the average is two months, some foster dogs are adopted within a few days, and others after six months or longer. So, keep that in mind when you’re considering fostering. And talk with the rescue organization about their efforts to help get the dog adopted. 

scared dog in shelter kennel
Some dogs just aren’t suited to shelter life. They get scared and appear withdrawn when really they just need a safe place to show their true loving personalities. Foster programs help these dogs get rehomed faster.

How Do You Know If Fostering a Dog Is Right for You?

Knowing how to become a foster dog parent is one thing, but knowing if it’s right for you is another. If you’re struggling to know if you want to welcome a foster dog into your home, we recommend visiting some shelters and talking with others who have fostered. You’re likely to learn a lot and get a sense of how fostering will work for you. 

Also, determine if your schedule will allow for a fur baby. It might not be right now, but it may be in the future. So, don’t shut the door completely on fostering if it’s not right for you during this season of your life.

Are you considering fostering a dog?

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About Caitlin Morton, Petrics Co-Founder

Cait has had animals her whole life, from family cats and dogs as a child, to caring for the class reptiles over breaks, to getting her first horse at the age of 12. She swears she never would have gotten through her Business Management degree without the help of her late soul dog, Mocha. She's worked in animal shelters in roles from kennel staff, management, and as a board member for over a decade, and has a serious case of the animal welfare bug.
At house parties, she's that weird friend that makes friends with the host's dog or cat instead of with other people. Currently, Cait travels full-time by RV with her husband Tom and their rescue dog, Luna.
She started Petrics to share her passion for the wonderful world of pets with others.

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