Every foster home wants to do their best to keep their new foster dog safe. There are several things that should be done to reduce the risk of your foster dog getting lost. These same things should be shared with adoptive homes to ensure a safe transition into their forever family.
Out and About
First, all dogs need a tag on their collar or harness that includes contact information should the dog get loose. When one of my foster dogs is adopted, I send them to their new home with a rescue tag AS WELL AS a tag from their new family. In this way, should a newly adopted dog get loose, anyone who finds him will have the new family’s contact information and also HRI’s contact info and hopefully, an understanding that this dog has recently been in rescue’s care.
To reduce the chance of a dog getting lose while out on a walk with you, use two sources of attachment between you and the dog. You can either use two leashes, one attached to the collar and one to the harness or use a coupler to attach the leash to both the harness and the collar.
Be sure to check the collars and harnesses for proper fit and adjust them as necessary. This is especially important after grooming. It’s very possible that a collar is big for a Havanese that has recently received a haircut. Check the fit BEFORE you leave the groomer’s.
Many new owners don’t know that it’s useful to put your arm through the loop and wrap the leash around your arm once or twice before holding onto it. This significantly reduces the chance that your dog can be lost if you trip as you can’t really just “drop the leash”. It’s still caught on your arm even if your fingers let go. Share the tip with others, particularly if a child may sometimes help walk the dog.
Walking your foster dog with one of your own dogs that’s well behaved on a leash is helpful. Our foster dogs often learn by watching our own dogs. Many of our foster dogs also bond more quickly to our dogs than they do to us.
On the Go
Always secure your foster dog in a crate or a seatbelt when you are out. HRI requires that dogs be secured in the car for transport. This includes travel to and from the vet or any social outings you’re doing to help your dog in socialization. Remember, it’s useful for a foster dog to experience short, positive car rides even if you’re not actually going anywhere.
Just as your own dog can assist your foster dog on walks, taking one of your socialized dogs on short car rides or trips to the vet or pet store can be helpful in teaching your foster dog what is expected. Keep your trips short and positive. If your dog is ready for a trip to the pet store, remember this is not the time to stock up on every pet item your household needs. You want the experience to be safe, calm and positive. It’s useful for an adoptive family to know that their newly adopted dog has been to pet stores before and knows how to behave in that setting.
To keep my foster dog and my own dogs safe in a pet store, they ride inside the cart, sitting on a blanket or crate mat. Their leashes are attached throughout the trip and are tied to the cart. We choose times that are not overly busy and gear dog-to-person interaction based on how the foster dog is responding. The first few trips out might be nothing more than exposure whereas all foster dogs are accepting a treat from the clerk at check out before they are adopted.
Be especially careful in transferring dogs from the car to the cart and back. Running your arm through the handle of the leash and looping it in your hand is useful in assuring you won’t simply drop it when moving the dog to/from the car.
In the Home
At any door that leads to the outside, a baby gate or x-pen should be set up to block access. Dogs can be very quick and it’s easy for people to become distracted at the door. Having a baby gate or x-pen set up puts one more barrier between your foster dog and the danger of the world outside.
In addition to the baby gate or x-pen, it’s useful to put a sign on your door that lets visitors know there is a risk of a dog escaping through the door. Something as simple as, “New Dog in training. Please keep door closed” lets people know to wait until you open the door. It also puts them on alert for a dog that might dart out the door and explains it might take you a little longer than usual to get to the door.
Use commands you’ve already taught, such as “wait” or “sit”, in connection to the door. Your foster dog can learn to wait until you give the command to go through the door, for example, or can be taught to sit before the door opens. Again, this practice while in foster care helps your foster dog when he or she is adopted.
When a foster dog is new to your home, it’s a good idea to attach a long line to the harness so you can easily take hold of the dog, if necessary. Once your foster dog is accustomed to you and is coming when called, you can remove the line. Be sure NEVER to leave the dog on the long line in the x-pen or the crate. Your dog could strangle himself in the line when you’re not there to supervise.
Finally, just in case the unthinkable happens and one of our dogs is lost, having a Lost Dog Poster created and ready for distribution helps us get a search off to an immediate start. This poster should be updated as information changes for your dog during their stay in foster care. And, of course, send an updated poster along with your foster dog when he or she is adopted. I print out a copy as well as emailing the family a copy so that they can continue to update it and make changes as need be over time.
By following the suggestions in this article and sharing them with the adoptive family, you reduce the chances that you’ll ever need to use your Lost Dog Poster!