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What I Learned Fostering 300 Puppies

By Deborah Durbin, Marketing Coordinator

Nanook with my daughter, Ali, in 2002.

My first foster puppy was a Husky blend. He was a single puppy about 7 weeks old; we named him Nanook. I had three dogs at home that I had puppy trained. I was confident I could foster one little homeless puppy for a couple of weeks for our local nonprofit animal shelter, SICSA.

Well, my confidence flew out the window the first night. I’d put Nanook’s crate next to my bed, gave him fluffy bedding, toys, a bone and made sure he was tired before bedtime. While I was congratulating myself on my well-laid plans, my adorable little foster puppy cried all night. Not only did he cry, but bit the crate and jumped around like a wild animal. Over the next few restless nights, there were few positive changes. Day by day, Nanook began to adjust to his new surroundings. We got into a routine. I received permission from the school where I was teaching in to bring him to class every day. I don’t think any of my students were absent the 2 weeks Nanook came to school with me. The principal ended up adopting him.

Each experience fostering puppies has taught me something, not just about puppy behavior, but also about myself. It’s been 14 years and 299 puppies since fostering Nanook. I’ve been volunteering at SICSA for 14 years and working here for 9 years, which is why I have fostered so many puppies! What a wonderful, rewarding experience it has been. Not only have I helped to save their lives, I’ve also helped them get ready for life. In return they’ve taught me about patience, given me many laughs, shown me how to love unconditionally, and how to enjoy living in the moment.

I have learned a few things along the way that may help anyone thinking of fostering puppies. Here are my top 10 tips for fostering puppies:

  1. Two puppies are better (easier) than one. They cuddle together, play together, keep each other company, and learn important lessons like bite inhibition.
  2. You need the right supplies. Necessary items include a crate, baby gates, bedding, newspaper, play yard, bowls, toys, calf hooves for chewing, trash bags, paper towels, baby wipes (to wipe off poopy paws or fur), human nail clippers, cleaning spray and air freshener.
  3. Designate a sleep space and potty place in the same area. Dogs don’t want to soil their sleep space. Take advantage of this for potty training. Keep bedding at one end of their space and newspaper at the other end of the space. *If you only have a few puppies, and they are older than 3 months, you can put them individual crates and begin house training.
  4. Puppies have a potty pattern. Puppies will always go potty at these times: as soon as they wake-up, as soon as they finish eating, and when they finish playing. They will also start sniffing and moving in a hurried circle when they have to go poo.
  5. Make the last feeding about 2 hours before bedtime and pick up water bowl at bedtime. However, I sometimes leave a little water or ice cubes in a bowl overnight. Take the puppies outside for about 15 minutes right before bedtime, for a last potty session.
  6. In the morning, carry the puppies outside. As soon as the puppies wake up, they will have to go potty. If you let them walk through your house, they will go potty in the house. Pick them up and carry them outside.
  7. Clip their nails. Puppies have sharp nails, but they are really easy to trim with human nail clippers. After they have eaten and played, you can clip their nails easily.
  8. Put on collars a few days before they leave. Puppies will adjust to having a collar in about a day. There will be lots of scratching and pulling at first, but they will need a collar at the adoption center and adjusting to it ahead of time will be less stressful for them.
  9. Get them ready for vet visits. Every day when playing with the puppies, take their paws and rub them and pretend you’re cutting their nails, just for a few seconds. This will help them tolerate nail clipping. You can also gently put your fingers in their mouth and play with their ears to help them be comfortable when visiting a veterinarian. If the puppies will need regular grooming, like poodles, you can pretend you are cutting their hair by petting them and letting them hear electric trimmers or hair dryer at the same time.
  10. Socialize them without taking them out in public. The more you can socialize the pups, the better. You can’t take them out in public because they will not have their full vaccines just yet, but you can have friends and neighbors visit and play with them. Also have the puppies around household items they will hear every day, like the television, blow dryer, and dishwasher. Have them walk on different surfaces like carpet, hardwood, cement, and grass. Wear different hats and open an umbrella around the puppies. Anything they may experience in life, try to help them get used to now, like children, wheels on a stroller, canes, stairs, vaccinated pets, etc.

Find out how to become a foster care provider at SICSA. Your help is always needed and very much appreciated.

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