In my review of Pat Miller’s How to Foster Dogs (spoiler: it’s great! if you are thinking of becoming a foster parent, you should totally get it!), I mentioned that I would have liked a little more discussion about how to market foster dogs to adopters. Finding great, loving homes for your foster dogs is crucial — you want to make a good match not only so that the dog and the adoptive family get to live Happily Ever After, but so that you, the foster parent, can be completely satisfied that you did the right thing for your foster dog. Second-guessing your placements, trust me, suuuuucks. And good marketing helps you avoid that.
So, in the spirit of putting money where is one’s mouth, I figured I’d write up a couple of posts on How to Hock Your Homeless Dog.
Today’s installment is geared mostly toward “easy,” highly adoptable dogs — young, cute, medium-energy dogs who are sociable to people, friendly with other animals, and don’t have major behavioral issues. These dogs should do well in a variety of homes, are generally suitable for novice owners, and don’t require any special considerations in their placements.
For these dogs (and, well, also for the others, but with Complications), marketing pretty much comes down to three things:
(1) Be Positive;
(2) Be Honest;
(3) Be Thorough.
Pretty simple, right? But like so much else in dogdom, simple ain’t easy, and also simple-in-theory isn’t always the same thing as simple-in-practice.
Be Positive is probably the most straightforward of the three. Put your foster dog in a good — honest, but good! — light. Present his traits in a way that makes it easy for the right home to imagine that dog being a part of their lives. Take pictures that show the dog being adorable (and calm!) in household settings, playful (but manageable!) in outdoor settings, sociable in the presence of other dogs, well-mannered in the face of minor distractions.
When it comes to Petfinder postings, I aim to get three standard shots: an indoor shot of the dog being relaxed (because everybody wants a dog they can live with in the home!), an outdoor shot of the dog doing something that communicates whatever I want to show about that dog (actively playing if she’s a more energetic dog, being mellow if she’s more laid-back), and a “group” picture where the dog is in frame with at least one other animal or person. One of the pictures (doesn’t matter which) should focus on the face and show the dog making direct eye contact with the camera in an engaging way, one should be a full-body shot, and the third can be either of those or something in between.
If you have a reasonably trained resident dog or dogs to use as props in your picture-taking, this is gold. Once you have a 2-second Sit-Stay (even a “fake” Sit-Stay that’s 100% lured and bribed), you can line the foster dog up in a posed group picture with your own dogs and people will be amazed. Seriously. The Fake Family Portrait is a subgenre I have mastered, and is a super simple thing that takes less than half an hour of effort to accomplish in most instances… but it never fails to impress prospective adopters as visual proof that this dog has Good Manners.
Be Honest is slightly trickier but probably the most important aspect. Be candid about any behavioral quirks, the dog’s probable lack of training/manners (every foster I’ve ever gotten has been completely untrained on arrival), and — important, but often overlooked — the limitations of your own assessments. Since this post is geared primarily toward “easy” dogs, I’m assuming that whatever issues your foster might have (isn’t potty trained, doesn’t know how to walk on leash, etc.) are minor and pretty easy to fix. Whether or not they are, though, be forthcoming about them. Adopters deserve to know exactly what they’ll be getting.
I try to be as blunt and unvarnished as possible about whatever “bad stuff” I see, because my experience has been that good adopters are understanding and flexible, and are willing to meet whatever challenges they believe are within their ability to handle. And bad adopters? I want to discourage them from the get-go, so if hearing that a dog has a temporary issue with submissive urination puts them off, great! My foster dog deserves a home who’ll rebuild his confidence with love and patience, not someone who will dump him the first day for peeing out of fright. So I’m not going to gloss over anything. No euphemisms here.
Another aspect of “honesty” is that if you are evaluating the dog based on its first few days or weeks in your home (as I usually am), then it is possible for an experienced eye to see some things and get the broad contours of the dog’s personality, but there is a ton of stuff that nobody, no matter how experienced, is going to be able to spot while the dog is still in the process of emerging from its shell. Based on a week’s acquaintance, I feel confident judging a dog’s general demeanor, confidence level, and sociability with other dogs and people… but then there are other traits (such as one foster dog’s fondness for picking out unauthorized “treats” from the resident cat’s litter box!) that surprise me to learn about later. I’m just not going to see that stuff in my own home.
So I try to be candid about the fact that there are limits to my early observations and what I can extrapolate from them. There are loads of things I’m not going to see in the relatively short timespan that I keep a foster dog, and there are other things I see today that will probably not be there a few weeks or months down the road. A lot of less-confident dogs initially present as much more mellow and subdued than they really are, for example; they may not show much interest in other dogs or critters on leash at first, but can start yanking hard toward squirrels and pigeons when they relax enough to be interested in chasing things again. If I don’t know for sure, I’m not going to promise a dog is neutral to squirrels on leash. Might be true today, but it probably won’t be in a month.
Then, finally, Be Thorough. This one can be time-consuming, but in my experience, it pays off hugely in the end.
I try to record every little bit of minutiae that might be of interest to a prospective adopter… and yes, it does take some time to do that, and yes, it can be hard to find the time between work and side-job commitments and training my own dogs and training the foster dog. But since I started blogging, and putting down all those little details and posting all those pictures, the caliber of adopter I’ve been able to find has absolutely skyrocketed.
What I have learned is that the most serious adopters — the most conscientious, responsible, thoughtful homes of all — love having all that information, because they really want to make a carefully considered choice about which dog will be the best fit for their families (which is also the exact same thing that YOU, the foster home, are aiming to achieve).
Many of these homes are also cautious about committing too soon. The more they can read about a dog, without any pressure to make a decision right away (because the blog post is just there, it’s not like a private email that might carry the implicit pressure of “I spent all this time writing this just for you!”), the more confident they’ll become that yes, this is the dog they want. And the more forthcoming they’ll be in exchange, because they feel like they’ve gotten to know you through the posts, and therefore they’re more comfortable telling you about themselves. It just puts everybody on a much friendlier footing.
I genuinely, absolutely feel that I have been able to place my fosters in some of the best homes on Earth since I started blogging intensively about them, and my only regret these days is that I don’t have enough dogs to go around. I’ve been forced to turn down awesome homes just because I only have one dog to place. I hate disappointing them, because these are FANTASTIC homes, but I also recognize that this is very much a good problem to have.
Meanwhile, impulsive and ill-considered adopters who just want to know “how much is the dog and when can I get him”… my experience has been that these people click on the link, see a huge wall of text, realize that there’s another huge wall of text under that one, and ANOTHER under that… and then they vanish silently into the ether of cyberspace and I never hear from them again.
Which, again, is just fine with me.
So! There’s a novel on how to market easy dogs. Next time: what happens when your foster is a little more challenging to place.