Maaaannny many years ago (well, okay, three), when I first started thinking about fostering dogs, I would have loved a little guidance about exactly how to find a good rescue, select an appropriate “starter” dog, handle introductions with my resident dog (particularly since my only resident dog at that time was Pongu the Insane, the poster child for jealous insecurity), and so forth.
In other words, I would have loved this book.
How to Foster Dogs is a book aimed squarely at that beginning-to-intermediate foster home. It starts with an overview of fostering, moves into a discussion of the different types of organizations that need fosters and the purposes for which they might place dogs in foster care, and then goes over how to choose, socialize, and train a foster dog. It talks about how to pick quality foods, how to avoid or discourage nuisance behaviors, and how to get started on basic training. There are concise chapters on the three most common behavioral issues presented by foster dogs (fear, aggression, and separation anxiety) and an extremely short discussion on placing fosters in their adoptive homes.
Three years ago, I would have latched onto this book like a life preserver. Because that’s what it would have been to me then.
[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Xqkrpi_XyI An early foster. I was a LITTLE over my head with this one at first!]
Today, I look at it and think: “hmm, there’s lots of good stuff here, but…”
First, the good. There’s a ton of solid, well-researched information in this book, and it’s packaged neatly and efficiently in a non-intimidating manner. Miller clearly knows her audience, too: right from the get-go, she emphasizes the importance of knowing your limits, respecting the needs of your own household and resident pets, and recognizing when a foster dog’s behavioral or medical issues are beyond your ability to handle. Having dealt with many, MANY rescue volunteers whose big hearts led them into big trouble, I applaud her for trumpeting the message that it’s okay to say no. That is something a lot of rescue people find very difficult, and the inability to say no is a huge contributor to burnout rates.
The training and behavioral advice is, as you’d expect, solidly grounded on scientific principles and dog-friendly ethics. Miller covers a broad variety of topics, ranging from getting a dog comfortable with body handling to humanely discouraging nuisance barking, and always provides enough information for a reader to at least get started on tackling the problems without suffocating under an avalanche of jargon.
And now, the “buts.”
The biggest criticism I have of this book is probably its price point. This is a slim volume, clocking in at just under 150 pages of informative content, but as of this writing, it’s priced at $14.95. That’s not out of line for Dogwise Publishing… but most of Dogwise’s other titles are aimed at a professional or specialist audience, i.e., the kinds of people (me! me!) who are totally used to forking over $100 for a 6-DVD set on training your dog to stand on things.
Most rescue people are not hardcore training enthusiasts. Most of them are pet owners who have a soft spot for needy dogs, and my suspicion is that a lot of them might balk at dropping $15 on such a compact volume. At that price point, it’s cost-prohibitive for most rescues to buy in bulk and provide to their volunteers for free, too. (By contrast, Patricia McConnell’s Love Has No Age Limit, which contains a lot of similar information and is comparable in length, was deliberately priced so that it would be affordable to rescues — as little as $3 per copy with bulk purchases.) That’s a shame, because this really would be a wonderful manual for shelters and rescues to hand out to new volunteers.
The second criticism I’d offer is that there’s basically no information on marketing your foster dog or screening prospective homes, and this is something that I have come to regard as critically important over time. Good marketing is crucial to finding the best possible home for your foster dog and avoiding a regrettable placement because, well, those people want the dog and you don’t have any better options. Been there, done that, regret it to this day.
Not only does marketing your foster dog open up a world of wonderful possibilities for that dog, but in my experience, it’s a powerful shield against burnout and foster failure. Every time I write a blog post, take a cute photograph, or strap on the Homeless Dog Vest of Shame to advertise my foster dog’s availability, I am not only marketing the dog to the outside world, but reminding myself that this is not my dog. That keeps me emotionally insulated against getting too attached. It also helps keep me looking forward to the eventual Happily Ever After that I’m sure the dog will have — and that insulates me against burnout.
Nothing’s ever perfect, of course, and despite my minor complaints, I do think this book is a strong and worthy addition to the literature. There’s really not a lot out there that talks specifically about fostering dogs, and I’m glad Pat Miller stepped in to cover that gap. If you’re debating whether to get into fostering and/or looking for tips on how to start on the right foot, How to Foster Dogs is a great resource and well worth the $15.