The Joy of Fostering Litters
The Starter Pack:
5 High-Impact Tips
If you're fostering puppies, you are likely already giving them lots of TLC, handling each one every day. That alone is fantastic! After all, maybe this little family would be
in a shed or under an abandoned porch
if not for you offering up your home.
You have already dramatically changed
the trajectory for these pups.
If you want to kick it up a notch, though,
try something from this Starter Pack
once pups are about 3 weeks old:
Make a change to the pen each day:
add a new toy, offer a different surface,
put a colorful towel over one pen side,
move the bed, or play music.
Invite a different friend over every week to engage with the puppies.
Take each pup on a five-minute "field trip" through the house every week.
Every now and then,
drop a book, or slam a door.
Reward the sitters.
Rather than hugging (by default) the ones who mob you, make a point of stroking the ones sitting quietly making eye contact.
Feel ready for more detail? More tips?
More info on what the research shows
that this does for the puppies? Click on the detailed week-by-week guides below.
To A Great Start
When you foster litters of rescue pups, you don't have any say on the "nature" side of the equation, but you sure can impact the "nurture" part!
First, though . . . There's a lot of information here, and that can feel overwhelming. Just know that if you agreed last night to take in, for example, that nursing mom and her 7 pups found in that vacant lot, you're already a hero. Just getting them healthy can be a herculean task. So don't read this and feel an anxious knot forming in your stomach about all that you can't possibly do. Instead, glance through to see if there's anything here you might easily incorporate. If not? No worries! Those puppies are already so very lucky to have you.
WHAT TO DO, WHEN
(In an ideal world... )
Training: Clicker at 4 Weeks
This guide draws from
various assistance dog programs,
and from breeder/trainer/author
Jane Lindquist’s phenomenal 5-hour film “Puppy Culture.” It is captivating viewing, available on DVD or VideoOnDemand. Watch it if you can.
Of course, in rescue we don't have
the resources, space and time that
top breeding programs have,
but knowing what to shoot for
helps us shift the outcomes just a bit.
"We have the power to change a puppy's life by doing exactly the right thing,
at exactly the right time."
– Jane Lindquist,
breeder, trainer, author
and creator of "Puppy Culture"
The Incredible Impact of Fostering Puppies Well
When we fosters take in litters of puppies, we have a powerful opportunity to stack the deck in their favor. With just a little effort on our end during those critical weeks, we can dramatically improve the likelihood that those pups will become confident, stable adults -- the kind never turned over to a shelter with behavioral issues.
The science becomes more definitive all the time:
the first few months of life offer an almost magical ability to shape a puppy's future. An increasingly robust body of research has shown that this "socialization window," when handled well, can have a positive effect on a puppy for the rest of its life. As puppy guru Jane Lindquist says, "During this brief phase, it takes just the lightest touch to make a permanent impression on a puppy. We have the power to change a puppy's life by doing exactly the right thing, at exactly the right time."
That ability to make a lifelong difference is one of the things that makes fostering litters immensely satisfying. (That, and the fact that it's just amazingly fun to have a pile of puppies to play with whenever you want!) It started as a whim, but our family has now fostered almost 200 puppies. (For a happy, photo-filled glimpse into this adventure, here's my book.)
At first I didn't know what I was doing. Our first litters got loads of TLC, and some great socialization simply because our house was naturally filled with kids, friends and other animals. Once it became clear we were hooked, I began to read anything I could by the professionals who raise litters (breeders, dog-assistance organizations). Bit by bit I started to be more intentional about my days with each litter. I figured if it was a good start for the "best" puppies in the world, it could certainly benefit the little ragamuffins who landed in our house.
Then, about two years ago, somebody lent me a copy of "Puppy Culture," a 4-DVD set created by breeder/trainer/author Jane Lindquist. The film pulls together all of the research on puppy development, and makes it come to life as Lindquist details her approach to raising a litter. I'm only a little embarrassed to say that I wept as I watched. I'd been feeling my way toward all of this in a scattershot manner, and here it was suddenly made crystal clear with precise, science-and-experience-driven instruction.
Then I got the chance to put it all in play, because sometimes, even in rescue, everything goes right! Our latest foster mama came to us pregnant, healthy and with a wonderful temperament. That meant her nine pups got the full benefit of the Puppy Culture treatment, starting in utero and continuing through adoption. Boy, does it show. Five of those pups landed in our neighborhood and I see them all the time. The best way I can describe it is that they are all optimists! These confident puppies are 100% sure the next thing around the corner -- a new person, a new animal, a new place -- will be a fantastic opportunity. Folks, that's a safe dog. A non-biting dog. A dog who can go to the big Thanksgiving gathering at grandma's. Most important, that's a dog who will never be given up for behavioral issues.
This stuff works. And it's my fondest hope that more people who foster puppies will try just a few of the best practices used by top breeders and assistance dog organizations all over the world. Of course, when you're fostering rescues, there are often plenty of obstacles. That's okay! Remember that even picking just one easy thing -- say, carrying each pup on a "field trip" through your home once a week -- will shift the puppies' outcomes toward the better!
Whether you’re taking in a pregnant mom and have eight weeks of impact in front of you, or you’re just getting a darling pair of 8-week-olds for the weekend, if you zero in on a few key concepts you can make a permanent difference.
Check out the Starter Pack on this page. Give it a go. Are you hooked? Then click on the detailed guide.
PHOTOS: The photos throughout this guide are all of the same litter -- showing them at each stage. Meet Mama Cookie her nine pups: Sugar, Nilla, Thumbprint, Gingersnap, Snickerdoodle, Chip, Figgy, BiScotti, and little runt Crumb.