Life

Our Foster Dog Experience

I’ve been meaning to write this post for months, but just simply didn’t take the time to sit down and write it until now. We had our first experience fostering a racing greyhound through Greyhound Pets of America this past fall. We fostered a 1 1/2 year old (puppy, really!) named Josie for three weeks after she was cleared by a veterinarian and before she would be released to her adoptive family. We plan to foster a few times each year as our schedule allows, and the experience was a really positive one. We learned a lot in our short time together, some of the highlights which I’ll share here.

Josie (right) fit in so well with our girl Paisley (left)

Introduce your dog to the foster in a neutral location

We live about 2 1/2 hours from the Greyhound Pets of America kennel in southern Wisconsin, so we opted to bring Paisley with us when we went to pick up Josie. It’s important to ensure that the dogs meet one another in a territory where one is not the alpha. While we reinforced Paisley’s alpha status within our own home once we returned there, we wanted them to meet in a neutral location and get used to one another before a dominance order was established. Greyhounds can sometimes be reactive upon meeting other dogs and they are typically muzzled in a breeding kennel and race track kennel, so muzzling the foster (and perhaps your greyhound, too) is advisable.

Josie ate all her meals in her own crate. She also immediately took to this stuffed turkey toy that Paisley had never looked at once.

Establish spaces for each dog and reward them for utilizing their respective spaces

We set up a second crate for Josie in a separate room and gave her treats when she would go into here crate on her own. We fed all meals to Josie in her crate (food aggression can be a trait that retired racing greyhounds have from a track environment) and she was crated whenever we left the home. We also designated separate beds in the bedroom for both dogs. We allow Paisley (and our fosters) to sleep on a dog bed in our bedroom at night to help strengthen the owner/dog bond. We would offer verbal encouragement, pets and small treats when Josie would head to her bed on her own.

By her last week with us, Josie made herself comfortable in all areas of the house!

Connect with the future adoptive parents ASAP

We were fortunate to be able to connect by text with Josie’s adoptive parents and send updates on a daily basis. It was a wonderful way to stay connected with her parents and to keep them updated our her progress. The other huge benefit was gaining an understanding of the schedule and routine that they would have once she left our home and went to their home. We also were able to offer advice on beds, crate size, toys, and food based on Josie’s experience with those items. We were able to keep Josie on Paisley’s same routine in terms of breakfast time, dinner time, potty breaks and crate time, which was helpful in her adjustment to her new home.

Moving homes is stressful, the first few days can be rough

The first few days with a foster can be very difficult as it is scary for a foster dog to be in an unfamiliar place with new smells, another dog, and new humans. We had to adjust our feeding practices to let Josie adjust to our home. Because Paisley is so food motivated, we only leave her food out at meal times and don’t allow her to graze throughout the day. Josie initially was hesitant to eat in our home, even though we were using the same food she had been used to at the track. It took about two days to get her accustomed to eating in her crate and used to mealtimes. This meant on the second day that whatever she didn’t finish at breakfast was taken away and wasn’t offered a meal until dinner time. It also took a few days for her bathroom routine to find some regularity. We exercised patience and rewarded Josie when she followed a routine successfully.

Josie and Paisley hit it off very well, which was wonderful because Josie could shadow Paisley like a big sister.

Younger dogs can have more puppy tendencies

We just attended a training session for foster families with a greyhound behavioralist recently and one thing that they noted was that as more and more greyhound racing is outlawed (this is a good thing!), the dogs are coming with less socialization experience and are going out for adoption much younger. Many dogs never see active racing and have only ever lived at a breeder kennel or spent time schooling (training to race) but never raced. As such, they lack the routine and regimen that race dogs have. Josie came to us VERY young, which meant that she likely only schooled and didn’t spend enough time in a track environment to become accustomed to a schedule. Paisley was more than a year older when we adopted her and didn’t have as many puppy tendencies.

A recurring theme here, you have to be patient. Josie pushed the limits much more so than Paisley did. We had some shoes and furniture chewed on, and Josie was very likely to jump on furniture and get into things she wasn’t supposed to. This required a higher level of attention to be paid to her and mandatory crating when we weren’t in the house. Nothing was ruined that can’t be replaced, but it was a good lesson in realizing that younger dogs have different levels of maturity.

Giver your foster dog new experiences

We knew that going up and downstairs was going to be a necessity for Josie as her family lived in a second-story walk-up. We also knew that she’d be living in a more urban environment with plenty of distractions. We worked on stairs multiple times daily and used high value treats until she had them mastered. We also introduced Josie gradually to new experiences, such as meeting new friends on-leash at a party in our backyard, and going for walks in parks where she’d see more people and other dogs. You can’t prepare a foster dog for everything in the short time you have them, but you can introduce them gradually to new things and report back to their parents how they did.

Walking two greyhounds who are very distracted by squirrels is no easy feat.

Fostering is a great way to measure your capacity for more pets!

You often hear about foster fails, where a foster family ends up adopting their foster because they grow so attached to them. I completely understand how this happens! We had Josie with our family for three weeks and if she hadn’t already been adopted, we very likely would have adopted her ourselves because she was such a sweetie! It was wonderful knowing she was going to a loving home. This was one of the reasons why I like the setup of the foster program through Greyhound Pets of America in Wisconsin, is because by the time a dog goes to their foster family, they are already adopted. You know that they are going to a good family and you are very likely in communication with that family. It makes goodbye much less difficult.

We had been discussing possibly adding a second dog to our family and decided to try fostering as a way to measure the capacity of our family to add a second one. After fostering we realized that two is a lot of extra work, particularly because it is not easy to walk two dogs simultaneously. Between our schedules and commitments after work, there are plenty of times when one person is responsible for walks and having to walk two dogs is a big commitment. We are thankful to have realized this and are thankful to be able to open our home to foster dogs in the future.

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