How I Integrate New Foster Dogs

One of my chickens

One of my chickens

You would think it would be difficult, bringing in dog after dog to a household with existing pets. I now live on my own, in my parents guest house. I have dogs, cats, and chickens. So, how do I do it?

It’s easier than you might think. The cat part is the easiest – they don’t live in my house! They live in my parents house. One is “my” cat, the other is my mothers. As much as I love my cat, it’s nice having a cat-free home when it comes to fostering dogs. I don’t have to worry about dogs being good with cats, or bringing home a dog that wants to kill my cat. It was manageable, fostering dogs and having cats, but it’s much easier having them live in my parents house. I still get to see them every day without having to worry about them being injured by a dog. I cat-test new dogs by bringing them to my parents house and letting them see a cat while on leash. If they do well, they’re allowed to get closer to the cat. If they show that they want to chase or injure the cat, they leave and are not allowed to go to a home that has cats.

Nelly playing with her favorite of all my foster dogs, Tweed.

Nelly playing with her favorite of all my foster dogs, Tweed.(AKA Tweedles & Tweedledee)

Introducing new foster dogs to my dogs is harder. Since it’s summer and I am fostering two dogs at a time, there are 2 dogs that my new foster dogs need to meet – my personal dog Nelly, and whatever other foster dog I have at the time. Usually, my foster dogs are pretty good with other dogs so that is not a problem. Nelly, however, is a brat. People don’t believe me when I say it because she looks so sweet and innocent, but don’t let that cute face fool you. She is a possessive jerk. She guards doorways, gates, chickens, cats, food, toys, you name it. However, I can’t complain, because when I got her she wanted to rip the throat out of every single dog she saw. Using positive reinforcement training, I taught her that other dogs are not something to fear(aggression is rooted in fear) and now we are at the point where she can usually meet another dog with just raised hackles, sometimes a little bit of growling is involved but lately there hasn’t been any. I’m very proud of the progress she’s made so I have to say that I’m happy with raised hackles and growling. I continue to work on teaching her that she doesn’t need to be scared of other dogs. It is a never-ending process.

A former foster dog, Kipper(Kip)

A former foster dog, Kipper(Kip)

When I introduce new dogs, it always through a crate for everyone’s safety. Usually what happens is this: I bring the new dog home – they ride in a crate in the back of my car. I let Nelly out and she right away jumps into the car and sniffs the new dog through the bars of the crate. She feels safe this way and usually there is no growling or hackles raised. This is the safest way to introduce new dogs, as I don’t always know if the new dog will be good with other dogs or not. If they do try to attack, they won’t be able to hurt my dogs as they’ll be separated by the wire bars of the crate. So far, I’ve never had a dog try to hurt another when introducing this way. This is not how I would recommend someone adopting a new pet introduce them to their existing dog, though. I do it just because it’s easy and safe, but it’s not the best way to go. If you have any concerns about your new family member getting along with the existing one, make sure they meet on neutral territory, then walk them home together.

Dustbathing chickens.

Dustbathing chickens.

The chickens can be a bit difficult to do introductions with, as they are scared of new dogs(which is pretty smart of them!). They will all start clucking and run away. What’s really nice is that my chickens now have their own yard, separate from the dog yard. It is separated by 6ft chain link fence, so a dog would have to try VERY hard to get to them. If a dog obsesses over chickens at the fence, they are not allowed to be outside alone as I don’t trust them to not hop the fence to get to them.

Nelly with a baby chicken.

Nelly with a baby chicken.

When I introduce a dog to my hens, I leash the dog and bring them into the chicken yard. If they try to chase, it’s over and they’re not allowed to be around the hens. It seems there’s two types of dogs: the ones that pretty much ignore the chickens, and the ones that want to tackle and hurt them. In my experience, most dogs want to chase the hens, but I still do get dogs that are okay with chickens.

Tweed had severe separation anxiety.

Tweed had severe separation anxiety.

When I first started fostering dogs, they would be out in the house with me almost all the time. I quickly learned that this was a fast way to cause separation anxiety in a new dog. They go from a scary environment(a shelter) to a new environment(my house), so naturally they are feeling pretty scared. This causes them to cling to their person, and consequently they start to freak out when that person leaves their sight or the house. Now, my dogs do not get much freedom when they first come to me. In the morning when I wake up, they go outside and that is where they stay until it gets hot out. Then, they come inside and go to their crate. They usually get no time out in the house with me on their first day. Their second or third day, they get about an hour, and we work up from there. Since I have started doing this my instances of separation anxiety have dropped tremendously. Separation anxiety is a problem that greatly increases the difficulty of getting that dog adopted. I will soon write up an article on separation anxiety – how to prevent it, and what to do if your dog already has it.

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