What makes a great foster?
Updated: May 14, 2021
There are so many dogs in need of rescue. It is well documented that a shelter environment is stressful and not ideal for the adoptability of a pup. Fostering a dog is an ideal option for the dog by and large, but even with the best intentions some fosters can create bad habits or fail to manage poor behaviors. Fostering a dog is a great way to learn about life with a dog. It is a rewarding, selfless experience and can teach responsibility and impact to children. Choosing to foster a rescue dog is a huge commitment and having some goals and mileposts to follow may help the foster dog transition and become the most adoptable versions of themselves.
Rescue dogs are uncertain of their new environment at best. They may have had a history of neglect or negative experiences with people, animals, places or things. They may express their lack of comfort with shy behavior, aggressive behavior, reactive behavior, etc. In the first few days, it is in everyone’s best interest to give that pup space to decompress. Offer them the choice of experiencing something new to them (as best possible). Keep the changes minimal as they experience this new normal. Allow them to come to you for attention rather than pushing your love onto them. This time period is the first 3 of the Rule of Threes.
The Rule of Threes
There are a few forms of this ‘rule’, but the general understanding is the following. It will take a few days for most dogs to decompress. A few weeks for most dogs to start to trust their new pack. It will take a few months for most dogs to feel at home.
Play bow. Practice getting low when greeting the dog to reduce a dominant posture over the dog. This will come in handy when trying to lessen tensions, entice a recall or initiate play reward.
I know, it seems counterintuitive, BUT if you are the pack and you run off in excitement it will trigger the dog to follow. Follow up by getting into a low play posture and without any reward, you can use your body to recall a pup!
Touch. Offer a hand low to the bottom of a dog's head/ neck. Motions to the topline of a dog are threatening. If you are met with interest you can continue to pet along the dog, but notice their comfort and respect their cues to stop before you break their trust and/ or comfort.
This week the games are scaled back to allow the dog space to settle rather than pushing them out of their comfort zone.
Gotcha! (Collar Grab)
Practice holding the dog’s collar when you are petting or playing. This becomes part of the recall cue for the dog and ensures that not only does the dog come, but you are able to take hold of them, leash them or redirect them as necessary. Making a collar grab a positive association is the first step.
Tugging is an instinctual behavior, but tugging with a human is not as familiar. You can build a dog's tug drive by losing the game to them, which also helps to build their confidence. Offer a toy and when they take it, let go. Then try to hang on for a moment before letting go. They may lose their grip, but offer it back and be sure to keep losing. Eventually, a drop command will be installed, but until then confidence is best built through play.
Come the Classical Way
Classical conditioning - think Pavlov’s dog. Food makes a dog’s mouth water, so anything associated with feeding triggered salivation. Call the dog and when they come give them a treat. Do this somewhat randomly and you will classically condition the dog to expect food when they come.
Taking notice of your dog’s first language and using ours can help begin a trusting relationship with a new-to-you pup if it’s a foster or not! Take notice of the change from day one to day three? How about by the end of the third week? Then a few months in… Would you describe the dog the same way?
When play is work, work is play.
Jackie Ward; Citali Dog Training