All About The Foster Dog

Well folks, we have a foster in the house. His name is Edgar, aka Ed, aka Egg. He’s been with us for about a week and a half as of this posting. He was picked up off the street by a local rescue. When they found him, he was extremely lethargic to the point that they were concerned. He didn’t do much but sleep and couldn’t even walk up the stairs for the few days that he was at the rescue. He’s definitely an older dude, but in the short time that we’ve had him, we’ve seen such a transformation. He is bright, enthusiastic, super loving, and has even shown us little moments of playfulness. 

Edgar is the fourth rescue dog that I’ve brought home in the past six years. Jack was the first - he came along before I knew anything at all about what I was doing. I’m so grateful that I know so much more now! Bringing in a rescue dog is always very rewarding, but that doesn’t mean that it is without its challenges. Here are my words of wisdom to you who may be adopting or fostering a new dog, or even if you are purchasing a new puppy from a breeder. Many of these same principles apply.

Take It Slow

Don’t have the whole extended family and all your neighbors bombard the dog the moment they step in the door. Allow them time to adjust and warm up. This applies to people, activities, and especially other household animals. 

Here’s how we introduced Egg and Jack. This is by no means prescriptive, but it’s what worked for these two individuals. The best plan is a plan that suits the needs of the dogs involved. The rescue had already evaluated Edgar and said he really liked other dogs, and after meeting him I felt that we could safely do an introduction fairly early on. I knew that Jack wouldn’t do as well going to meet Edgar at the rescue, and that he wouldn’t have any issues meeting a new dog on his own property, so I decided to do the introduction in the backyard. I wish so much that I had taken video, but I’ll try to describe how things went the best I can remember. 

As soon as we got home with Edgar, I took him on a leash in the backyard and followed him around as he sniffed. This allowed him an introduction to Jack’s scent. Once the novelty of the location had worn off, I handed Edgar’s leash to my husband and brought Jack out on leash. We kept them on opposite sides of the yard while I observed each dog’s body language. Edgar was very eager to greet Jack, which made Jack a little nervous. Jack was reluctant to approach Edgar, due to Edgar’s enthusiasm, so we kept them apart to let Jack warm up. I also gave Jack a short break back inside so that there was no prolonged pressure. When I did decide to let Edgar approach Jack, we did it through our chain link gate, one dog on each side. This allowed both dogs to sniff each other and interact through protected contact, and also allowed Jack some security. If the interaction became too much, Jack could easily move away and Edgar would not have been able to follow him. 

This went well, so the next step was to let them interact without the barrier. Both dogs were still on leash, but we were very intentional about keeping tons of slack in the lines. On-leash greetings are often contentious because dogs are straining to get access to each other while nervous handlers pull back and grip the leash tightly. This prevents the dogs from moving freely around one another and forces them to come nose to nose while being half-strangled by a super tight leash. Nice loose leashes, quick sniffs, then move on. After just a few of those interactions, neither dog really cared that the other was there anymore. Perfect! 

Again, this is not how I would intro every pair of dogs. If a dog had a history of fence fighting, for example, I wouldn’t have had the first interaction be through a fence. This worked well for the individuals involved. I still don’t leave them unsupervised together for long periods of time, or around hot resources (see next section), but I can trust them to coexist very peacefully without having to monitor every second. 

Be Smart About Resources

Especially if you have other dogs in the home. Feed them separately. Don’t let them dive for the water bowl at the same time. Don’t leave valuable toys lying around until you have a better idea of whether the dogs will guard from one another. If the new dog gets hold of something they shouldn’t have, trade them for a treat rather than just taking it from them. Luckily, Edgar has shown zero signs of resource guarding, but I’d rather find that out through success than through failure.

Be Prepared for a Transition Period

And it may be rough. That’s normal! It will get better. Dogs don’t come pre-programmed to fit into our human world. Having no information about Edgar’s past, we don’t even know if he had ever lived in a house before. He spent a lot of time pacing around the different rooms, vocalizing, not really sure how to settle. He had two bathroom accidents. He REALLY disliked when anyone would leave the room and close the door behind them. But, he quickly learned where all the comfy spots are, how to get us to take him outside so he can go relieve himself, and that people always come back through the doors they leave through. We’re still working on ideal sleeping arrangements - Edgar thinks “on top of Jill” is ideal. Jill slightly disagrees. Overall, he’s settled in very nicely. It gets better.

Reward What You Like

My favorite way to build habits is by catching the dog in the act, then throwing food at them. In more technical terms, this is known as capturing behavior. I helped Edgar learn how to settle in the house by praising, petting, and giving a treat when he naturally did it. I’m also working on teaching him the right way to beg. Let’s face it, the dog’s going to want what you have on your plate regardless of whether you’ve given it to him or not. Staring directly at it and drooling on my knee is not going to get him any of it, though. Going to a mat or dog bed just might. The same goes for access to real-life reinforcers. Barking at me doesn’t get me off the couch to take you for a walk. Settling quietly probably will.

Expect New Behavior to Emerge

As the dog settles in, they will begin to feel more comfortable and may try some different things. Part of the fun is seeing their true personality come out. Once too tired for stairs, Edgar now has moments where he actually attempts to initiate play. As I was typing this, he had a 5-second case of the zoomies and threw a toy around. Be prepared for changes, both good and bad, and don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help if you see something start to develop that you’re not sure how to handle! 

If you're interested in adopting a sweet senior whose only wish is to walk around the block every once in a while, lick your face whenever possible, and snooze on your couch constantly, fill out an application at Rebel Dogs Detroit.

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