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Proper Introductions: Bringing a New Foster into Your Pack

I started fostering dogs for several rescue organizations in my area over a year  ago.  I got sucked in through several cute pictures and sad back stories on social media and then even more so after my first foster got adopted. One of the biggest issues I hear from other fosters is regarding the initial panic that happens when you bring that freshly sprung pound puppy into your current pack of routine-based canines.

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The advice I’d like to offer is based on my own personal experience and from advice I’ve received from my fellow fosters.  I’m not a professional canine behaviorist but I do have three of my own high-maintenance four-legged, fur children that often have strong feelings about the revolving door of fosters that have entered my home.

Know YOUR Dogs

I love to think that my babies, Abbey, Penny Lane and Rigby, are the poster dogs for perfect behavior.  I’m lying to myself.  My cocker spaniels, Abbey and Penny are 5 and about 8 (respectively) while our Great Dane, Rigby, is almost 3.  My older dogs are couch potatoes who do not enjoy being chased, sat on or nipped at.  Rigby is typically game for a good chase, exploring the backyard and loves playing tug of war with her rope toys.  Knowing your dogs is half the battle.  Our ideal foster is around the age of 3-5 with moderate energy.  Also, because I have three girls, we’ve had better luck with male fosters, especially those that tend to be a little more submissive.

Meet on Neutral Turf

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This isn’t always feasible for us but it really does help when it’s possible.  The theory here is that since the territory is neutral, no one can guard it as his or her own.  When neutral turf isn’t an option, we have all of our dogs meet the new foster in our backyard one at a time.  It’s less overwhelming to meet one dog at a time than to be cornered by three who all want to sniff your butt at the same time.  On days where it’s raining, we put my dogs in the back of the house and bring them out one by one with all toys and food out of reach.

Keep Them on a Short Leash

Based on the personality of the dog, I sometimes keep the leash on the foster until everyone gets settled.  If the foster is incredibly submissive, I leash my dogs.  Often, my dogs have the urge to crowd and almost bully the new foster.  If their leash is on, I can grab it and remove them from the situation.  It is a safe way of allowing humans the ability to control a situation if tensions escalate.

Be Careful Around Food, Treats and Toys

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You don’t always know the foster’s backstory or previous experience.  They might have come from a situation where he/she was the only dog.  The dog may have spent most of its life in a shelter environment or lived on the streets and had to fend for itself.  Food, treats and toys can all be triggers that offer an opportunity for aggression.  Until I know how the foster will react and my own dogs will react around the foster, I feed them separately.   All rawhides, bully sticks, antlers and any other large treats are only given when the foster is in the crate so that my dogs aren’t able to steal it. We’re extra cautious about toys but I usually like to monitor the play situation and I keep a spray bottle filled with water to use if play gets a little too rough.  The leash trick can also be utilized here until everyone’s comfortable.

Don’t Be Afraid to Utilize Time Out

Any dog that becomes overly stimulated or starts getting aggressive goes to time out. This could be the foster or my dogs.  Whoever is out of line gets put in the crate for about 10 minutes or until I see the body language change and the aggressor calm down.  If a certain toy becomes too much of a problem, it’s removed from play.  I want all of the dogs to understand that the humans are in control.  If you misbehave, you will be corrected.

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It usually takes about 5 days until my girls just give up and acknowledge that the foster dog will be with us for awhile.  By that time, we usually have a routine and no one’s a threat anymore.  If behavioral issues are not improving after a week or if you feel as though your dogs or the foster is in danger, please seek professional assistance through your rescue group or a trainer.

Fostering is one of most worthwhile things I’ve done in my life.  I know I’m giving each dog I foster a chance at a better life.

Do you have any additional ideas for introducing a foster to your pack?  Leave your advice in the comments below!

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