Aleksandra from Love and a Six-Foot Leash asked me and a few of her other readers (including some wonderful bloggers like Happyolks, A & A Friese, and My Life With Tommy) to say a few words about being a new foster parent. So please head over to her blog to see what we had to say about it…

Since she is highlighting why we foster, I thought today would be a great day to highlight some of the W.O.N.D.E.R.F.U.L support/advice she has given me since we brought Ginger home to foster.

1. Thoughts on fearful dogs…

The hardest thing about working with a timid dog is forcing yourself to leave her alone. It is so tempting to try to snuggle her fears away, or show her that you are not scary by petting, scratching, and giving treats. However — and it was a big breakthrough for me when I finally was able to understand this — the dog doesn’t interpret it that way at all. If the dog hasn’t had much positive human interaction in the past, she can easily interpret your actions as threatening. She doesn’t understand that you are different from others in her past. In dog language, a dog that confidently makes eye contact and approaches without hesitating or making any calming/non-threatening gestures (yawning, sniffing the ground, looking away, lip licking) is most likely trying to challenge the other dog. You don’t want the dog to think that way about you. Just picture a stranger who doesn’t speak your language rushing up to you while you’re minding your own business and insisting on touching you, talking to you, and trying to hand you snacks.  You probably wouldn’t have any of it.
The key principles I have learned are these:
  • The dog will approach you to interact when he/she is ready; you can’t rush it.
  • It will happen much faster if you avoid putting any pressure to interact on the dog.
  • While the dog is getting used to you, don’t talk to it, don’t look at it, and don’t touch it (this is very hard but it really helps!!).
  • Once the dog will readily be near you without appearing nervous, you can start incorporating treats.

2. On describing your dog to possible adopters…

I want to caution you to avoid the very tempting assumption that she was abused, neglected, fought, bait, or whatever — unless you know for a fact that it’s true. As dog welfare people it makes our hearts open a little bigger to consider this possibility, but studies have shown that adopters don’t really care, and many are actually more likely to hesitate to adopt dogs that have some kind of sad/traumatic history. What I have learned from my seasoned dog rescue friends is that focusing on the dog’s current and future, not their past, is the best way to get people interested. And the truth is, most dogs who end up at shelters, even the ones who have scars or are very timid, were not abused or neglected, just undersocialized at a young age, undersupervised, and left out on their own too much.

3. On making sure your forever dogs don’t feel neglected…

Don’t forget to ALWAYS treat your guys like they’re more special and more important than the foster. It’s hard sometimes because with a foster you want to make up for all their sad past by giving them extra love and cuddles, but you really can’t. Forever dogs get treats first, get walked first, get fed first, and get petted more.

It was so nice to have a fostering veteran like her to help walk me through some iffier moments with Ginger. She actually inspired me to name my foster Ginger Rogers (since she gives adorable names to her fosters, like Lollie Wonderdog, Gonzo Bunny Ears, and Stevie Wonder)! She inspired me to blog about my fostering experience. Shoot, she inspired me to foster in the first place!

So thanks, Aleksandra, for all you’ve done for Miss Ginger and for keeping me from feeling like a complete foster mama failure!!! With your help, Ginger has blossomed from shy and scared to an outgoing and confident creature!

Ginger would totally be willing to share her Kong or let you have some of her treats as a thank you…if you’re interested.