My Dogs Foster Other Dogs — And Teach Them the Occasional Bad Habit

I foster a lot of dogs and get them ready for adoption. My own dogs are the best teachers. Well, most of the time.


I’ve been fostering dogs for a long time, and my house is usually quite full of dogs. In preparing dogs for adoption, I’ve found that my own dogs are amazing helpers.

First off, by observing them together, I get good information about how the foster dog interacts with other dogs. Beyond that, my dogs teach fosters a great deal about how to get along in our household. The fosters figure things out by observing my dogs –- the household flow, what behaviors get rewarded –- and then they imitate my dogs. Mostly this is good. Sometimes it is not.

One of my first fosters, back when I worked for Best Friends Animal Society, was a puppy named Clementine. She was a Beagle/Chihuahua mix and darling as could be. My own dog at that time was Duncan, also a Beagle. According to many afficionados of the breed, Beagles have a reputation for loving each other’s company, and these two were no exception.

Clementine idolized Duncan and followed his every move. He doted on her. Quickly, she learned from him about where to do potty business, where the softest napping spots in the house could be found, where the most interesting-smelling plants were located in the yard, and how to get attention just by striking a cute pose and then staring at me.

Unfortunately, he also showed her all his tricks for finagling illicit table scraps. His best trick was to sit nearby –- but not so close as to be rude –- when I sat down for a meal, and if I happened to glance his way, he’d wave one paw in the air several times. Seeing Clementine pick up this move was unbearably cute. With apologies to Clementine’s eventual adopters, I did succumb more than once, so she got one bad habit started.

Years passed, and Duncan played host to many more foster dogs and puppies, an amazing teacher for them all. He welcomed them, played with them, and chilled with them on the couch. He also offered corrections, especially to young puppies when they became too rough, boisterous, or pushy.

At one point, while we were living in Louisiana, Duncan and I found ourselves fostering an adolescent Standard Poodle named Sally. She’d been rescued from a neglectful owner by an advocacy group I was working with at the time. Duncan took to her right away. Although Sally had spent her most of her puppyhood tied up in a garage, Duncan immediately taught her the ins and outs of being a house-dog. Indeed, Sally fit in so well in our home (and both Duncan and my other dog, Chachi, agreed) that we decided she should stay with us forever. So, I adopted Sally.

Of course, being a member of my pack, Sally became a host to other new foster dogs. And she proved adept at teaching fosters, too. She was, in fact, the most enthusiastic of all my dogs when it came to playing with them. Her energy was joyful and seemed to be in endless supply. I relied on her to help me wear out the foster puppies so that they’d be ready when it was time for sleep. For her part, I honestly think that Sally thought I brought home fosters just for her. “Oh, you brought me a playmate? Good, I was bored! Thank you!”

Fast forward a bit in time, and now I live in Rhode Island and manage my own homegrown rescue, Southpaws Express. Needless to say, I am very active in fostering.

One particularly fascinating aspect relates to the layout of my house, as the main access to the fenced backyard is through a walk-out basement. My own dogs run up and down the stairs and through the basement multiple times a day. I’m always amazed at how fast the foster dogs and puppies get used to the rather steep stairs, just by following my dogs. Even some quite young puppies learn to navigate them. My dogs tend to get in a cluster and rush together down the stairs, and the fosters will get caught up in the excitement and race down after them.

Duncan sadly has gone to the Bridge, and my current dogs are Chachi, Sally, and the latest addition, Rain, a scruffy black Terrier mix. Rain was a special friend to my most recent foster, a puppy named Rufus. Rufus had arrived with his littermate brother and sister, but they both got adopted pretty soon, leaving only Rufus behind. He turned to Rain, and they bonded nicely –- Rain is still rather puppyish herself at two years, and she loved playing chase and wrestling around with him.

In the house, however, Rufus picked up a bad habit from Rain. She likes to bark at passers-by at the windows. As a hound mix, Rufus has quite an ear-splitting yodel, which he tends to use instead of a bark. When he started yodeling next to Rain, I knew it was time to separate them when they were the house.

After all, my dogs are only supposed to teach the fosters good behavior. But no one’s perfect!

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