How to Fail with Your New Foster or Adopted Dog

How to Fail with Your New Foster or Adopted Dog

So many good-hearted people want to save a “rescue” dog either through foster or adoption. And while their intentions may be beautiful, their actions may actually set the dog up to fail. There are several key mistakes that people make when bringing home a rescue dog that must be avoided in order to avoid failure with your new charge.

(1) Give your dog so much love!

Your new dog may have been neglected, abused, or otherwise mistsreated by humans. You must shower this dog with love and affection!!!! Snuggles, treats, praise at every movement…


Even a small amount of calm praise and affection is going to go a long way with a dog with a sad history. For dogs that are fearful or shy, overwhelming them with affection can actually be counterproductive. Giving affection while a dog is in a fearful state can actually (positively) reinforce that state… meaning encourage that behavior.

The Pet You Pet Is The Pet You Get!

That means, if you pet a dog in a calm state, you will get a calm pet. If you pet a dog in a fearful or anxious state, you will get a fearful or anxious pet.

When your dog is feeling startled, fearful, unsure, it’s better to provide calm leadership and wait for the dog to follow your lead and settle. THEN, provide praise! Do not coddle a dog in a fearful state.

My advice for fosters/adopters with fearful dogs: Try not to feel sorry for your dog and try to treat your new dog as though s/he is “normal.” (Dogs will often meet our expectations!) Give appropriate amounts of crate time, exercise, potty breaks, and affection.

(2) Give your dog so much freedom!

Your new dog has been crated or cooped up, tethered, or banished to a yard… they must need freedom, so go ahead and give them free reign of your house. Better yet, DON’T!

Please, for the sake of the dog’s success, do not give your dog foster or adopted dog too much freedom right away. Restrict access to the house, and whatever you do, DO NOT let your foster or adopted dog on the couch or bed (right away). These are “high value” areas and may create conflicts with other members of the household (human/canine/feline).

Provide strict boundaries and routine in the beginning and you will reap the rewards of a happy well-adjusted dog in the end

Practice the umbilical cord or crate approach for at least the first 3-5 days.

That means, if the dog is not crated, it is on a leash with you. This will prevent potty accidents, chewing, or other unwanted behaviors. It also has the added benefit of promoting bonding!

Take the dog out regularly on leash for walks and to potty. After a few days, you can relax the strictness and increase freedom.

(3) Give your dog so many treats!

Treats are GREAT for training new behaviors, (or things a dog doesn’t know) such as sit, down, shake, roll over, agility, etc. However, treats are far less useful for deterring negative behaviors (i.e. barking in the crate — wait until behavior ceases — treat). Without the help of a professional trainer, treats should not be used to address unwanted behaviors, because the situation and timing is so important. As much as possible, save treats for learning “tricks” and rely on your bond (the dogs desire to please and communicating clearly yes/no) for feedback in other situations. Don’t be afraid to create clear boundaries for dogs; they thrive on structure!

11 Comments. Leave a comment

    • Steven Runnion

      Great advice.
      Ive worked with dogs most of my life.
      And have done alot of reading.
      Great information

  1. Wiki

    Hello ,

    I saw your tweet about animals and thought I will check your website. I like it!

    I love pets. I have two beautiful thai cats called Tammy(female) and Yommo(male). Yommo is 1 year older than Tommy. He acts like a bigger brother for her. 🙂
    I have even created an Instagram account for them ( ) and probably soon they will have more followers than me (kinda funny).

    I wanted to subscribe to your newsletter, but I couldn’t find it. Do you have it?

    Keep up the good work on your blog.


  2. Tammy Wicklein

    Love the leash umbilical cord suggestion for the first few days .

  3. Professional Dog Trainer

    The following two statements in this article are 100% wrong and incorrect:
    “Giving affection while a dog is in a fearful state can actually (positively) reinforce that state… meaning encourage that behavior.”
    “If you pet a dog in a fearful or anxious state, you will get a fearful or anxious pet.”

    Fear is an emotion and cannot be reinforced. You absolutely can comfort a fearful dog and it will not make the fear worse. Any professional animal behaviorist will confirm this. It would be nice if the author went back and corrected this article as she is perpetuating a bad myth by passing on incorrect information and this does not help any dog.

    • Jenny DB Nordin

      The information shared in this article has been gleaned from professional dog trainers as well as our own experiences helping to rehabilitate hundreds of dogs, coming out of the shelter environment. In my experiences with fearful dogs including feral dogs and dogs from hoarding situation, the LESS talking, petting, and coddling, the more comfortable and confident they become. I have also seen this with dogs that are fearful reactive, that praising and petting them in that state is not effective at easing the situation. This is not the same as, for example, an otherwise confident dog that is startled by something or in a state due to environmental factors (ie fireworks) and in those cases you can usually talk the dog through it… “it’s okay” but for those dogs there is already a relationship where they are looking to the person for guidance. For dogs coming out of the shelter with no relationship with the human, and in the first 72 hours, which is specifically what this post instructs on, the best way for the dog to begin to trust you is not through comforting or coddling. It’s through quiet and calm existence, with lots of structure and predictable routine.

  4. Carrie N.

    Thanks for all info. I appreciate the extra discussion about fear reinforcement vs self soothing. I’m currently setting up a nice corner where I’ll also have classical music near the crate, lavender oil for the blanket and a frozen kibble kong ready for when I need to leave (my tip for distraction when one leaves, stuffed only with healthy items and/or 1 tsp of organic pb to seal the top).

  5. Alyssa Falshaw

    Really good read! Will definitely be using this as a strong guide for when we get a second dog through you guys. Thanks so much!

  6. Anne Quade

    Reading DGS info prior to a Meet n Greet. Terrific solid advice. I needed to know that on the bed is of high value, and I will be sure to TRAIN me to give that some time. And it won’t be easy!!!!!!

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