Ask the Expert: Foster Hacks


Tips From a Foster Mom and Rescuer

As a foster mom who has fostered a hundred – maybe more – dogs or puppies in the past decade, I have realized some helpful tricks and tips to save time and money. I am going to share five of my top “foster hacks.” Keep in mind: I am not a vet or professional, so these are personal tips and tricks that have worked with foster dogs in my care. These suggestions are based on common questions I have been asked, what I have found most useful as a foster, and knowledge that makes things easier on the rescue organization.

Foster Dogs volunteer Megan with her adopted dog Zoey. Photo by  Sarah Brasky

Foster Dogs volunteer Megan with her adopted dog Zoey. Photo by Sarah Brasky


When taking in a new dog, many times they arrive smelly and dirty right off of transport. They might be coming from a shelter out-of-state, and have been stuck in a crate for many hours, or even days. With puppies, it can sometimes be difficult to keep them clean for more than a couple minutes. While bathing is not something that should be done multiple times per week (if possible, baby wipes help in-between baths), sometimes a bath is the only option.

Flea baths are also a headache. Instead of going out and buying a nice bottle of dog shampoo or for flea dip, look no further than your kitchen! Dawn dish soap, as advertised, helps clean animals impacted by oil spills. After some research, while there are debates on this product, many agree that it can be extremely beneficial when used in emergency situations, like when a new poo- or flea-covered foster pup arrives. Yes, Dawn can kill fleas! This is especially useful since you can use the rest of the product on dishes, or you might already it in your home. For long-term use, a natural dog shampoo is helpful to have on hand. However, for a quick fix, Dawn is a fantastic alternative. You can find a number of other non-dog uses for Dawn here.

Another useful product, Mane ‘n Tail, is also helpful, and you can find it in many pharmacies & grocery stores (in the shampoo aisle). While this product is advertised for horses and humans, it also works on dogs. So, if you are looking for something both you and your foster pup can share, it's an economical option. Note: human shampoo and Dawn should not be used as a routine default shampoo, since PH levels are different from the dog’s skin and could over-dry pup skin.


In many cases, your foster dog will experience a period of dry skin, extreme shedding, or you may receive a dog recovering from a skin condition such as mange or food allergies. While allergies also need to be addressed with certain foods, and mange requires veterinary care, there are ways to alleviate itching and facilitate the healing process.

One simple and common trick is to add a little olive oil to your foster dog’s food. Olive oil helps add shine and health to your dog’s coat, and moisturizes skin (you can also put it on dry skin spots such as a dry doggy nose). While it helps with itchy problems, it is also medically beneficial to weight loss, general health, and brain function! See more reasons to add olive oil to your dog’s food here.

Another beneficial additive to a dog’s diet, or even as a spray, is apple cider vinegar (which is also beneficial to humans). Apple cider vinegar is filled with nutrients that will benefit your dog’s health and immune system. This will also help promote healthy skin and curb shedding. It is a common home remedy for humans and dogs alike, alleviating rashes and skin irritation (see this in-depth article on ACV). Note: some dogs with yeast allergies may also have an allergy to apple cider vinegar. Dogs with intestinal track issues could also experience problems.


Separation anxiety and fear are some of the most talked-about issues/concerns with foster dogs. Here are some tips that you can try.

First off, it is important when you leave a dog alone to have items to keep them occupied. Useful products are Kongs, or similar dog products that allow you to stuff with treats or peanut butter (Planet Dog, Busy Buddy, etc). With the Kong in particular, you can put your dog’s favorite treat or dog food inside with a little water, and freeze it. This makes it a little harder to get the treats. You can do the same with peanut butter or sweet potato/pumpkin puree. You don’t have to freeze it, though freezing helps it last longer.

Having a variety of safe toys also helps. It is beneficial to have different toys for when you are home than when you leave, so the pup doesn't get bored. You can rotate the toys in and out to maintain interest.


Keep in mind safety if you leave a dog alone with bones or edible chew toys. Some bones can shard, while other bones or chew toys can break off into choke-able pieces, or cause intestinal blockage. It is advised to only give pups bones or other edible chews when they are supervised by humans. Always make sure whatever chew toy you give your pup is appropriate for their size. 

Besides toys and treats, sometimes covering the crate with a towel or blanket can help – or even playing music. If you go on YouTube or search online, you can find many free doggie playlists with soothing sounds and music. Some assist puppies by incorporating a heartbeat in the background of the music (this saved me when I had two 8-week-old Bloodhound puppies). There are also calming treats and remedies you can buy at the store or online. My personal favorite has been Rescue Remedy (there is a human version as well if you need some yourself, just make sure you do not give the dog the human one since it contains alcohol). This is a natural, flower-based liquid that you put in the dog’s water and/or in food or treats. It has been a lifesaver as a foster mom. Eventually, I started using it for the first few transition days for a foster so that it was less stressful. Calming treats are also available. This helps alleviate some of the anxiety/fear, but is not always a longterm fix since the roots of anxiety can vary among dogs.

Another option I sometimes pair with rescue remedy is a ThunderShirt. It mimics the effect of a dog being held and comforted, and looks like a shirt. I prefer Rescue Remedy, though, since one vial lasts me for a number of foster dogs, and I don't have to worry about size since I foster dogs of all shapes and sizes.


Some dogs can have extremely sensitive stomachs. Keep this in mind when you take in a foster, since many stomach problems, at least initially, are not serious and do not require a vet visit. It is good to inform the rescue group if your foster dog has constant or severe diarrhea, or if they throw up quite a bit. It helps the rescue a lot if you know what to do to help alleviate this, and in many cases get rid of the need for veterinary intervention (which can also cause stress on the dog and rescue).

When you first get a foster dog, it is important to try to know what kind of food they were eating. SO, ask the rescue. If no one knows, then you have to be careful and expect some diarrhea, and maybe even slight vomiting. Food change can be a shock to a dog’s system. If a foster I have ever starts to get loose stool, I mix a little white rice (make it, or get it for $1 at your local Chinese restaurant) in with their dry food, and/or add some sweet potato or pumpkin (canned, without pie seasoning). You can even use sweet potato or pumpkin baby food if it is natural and has no seasoning. This can help ease the transition. If your dog has bad diarrhea though, cease use of the dry food for a bit of time. Take approximately 24 hours of only giving your dog some minimal water (this is very important, since diarrhea can dehydrate your dog). This will give your dog’s stomach a chance to settle. After the initial day, stick to a bland diet (usually boiled chicken and white rice) for a few days. Once the stool starts getting better, you can slowly mix in small amounts of dry food.

Over-the-counter medications can also really help. Pepto Bismol is a popular choice. I sometimes used this instead of the bland diet if I know the diarrhea is from recently being wormed, or if I generally know why the dog is ill. The dosage is approximately 2 teaspoons (10 ml total) per 10 pounds, ideally split between 2 to 4 doses per day. You can see other medications, warnings, and bland diets on this website as well.

Vomiting can be more severe, which is why I advise that you notify the rescue group so they are aware of the issue. Pepto Bismol can help with this as well; the same goes for a bland diet if it happens a few times. Also, see if the dog has eaten any foreign objects by inspecting toys, furniture, carpets, etc. Dogs also vomit if they have empty stomachs (my dog does this sometimes since she randomly gets bored of her dry food). If the vomit is just bile and you realize your dog has not eaten, there you go. Pumpkin also works like Pepto, and can generally help make the stomach feel better. Note: Always notify the rescue if the dog becomes lethargic or defecates and/or vomits blood.

A side note: I once had an issue with a foster dog arriving with red coloring in his feces. I was really concerned, but it turned out to be from food coloring! To avoid issues, I recommend using a food with at least 3 or 4 stars on Dog Food Advisor. For dogs with a skin condition, food with fish and no grains can help a ton.


Megan and foster dog Rupert. Photo by  Stacey Axelrod

Megan and foster dog Rupert. Photo by Stacey Axelrod

Some pups can slip out of anything. I am sure most people have heard a foster "horror story" about a foster slipping out their collar or harness. One great thing to have on hand is a simple carabiner, using it to secure the collar to a harness for an extra level of security. Moving to a new place or foster home can be a shock to the system, and cause confusion for a pup. Cities also have strange noises and new, exciting things to smell, which can cause a dog to run away (it’s nothing against you).  This is why the carabiner can provide a heightened sense of security. Check out these great ways to use a carabiner as a helpful tool.

Other Helpful Hacks

There are other beneficial things I recommend to fosters:

With small dogs and young puppies, honey is fantastic (and yummy) to add a little sugar to the diet. This help when they are ill or to avoid hypoglycemia. It can also sooth a dog’s throat when they have kennel cough or throat irritation (just like when humans come down with a cold).

Having multiple puppies can be a blast. Make sure they all get equal attention, though, so they don’t feel left out.

If you get a stain on a mattress, instead of bleach here’s a fantastic home remedy to clean up those stains from whatever happened: try a mix of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda (or salt), and dish soap. Two websites on making this are here & here.

Megan's rescue pups Mellie and Zoey. Photo by  Stacey Axelrod

Megan's rescue pups Mellie and Zoey. Photo by Stacey Axelrod

To really impress your rescue and help get your dog adopted, good pictures are a must! Even if you do not have access to a photographer or professional camera, you can still make an impact. iPhone photos can be a great, if done right. The best photos are when the dog is lying down or sitting, and looking at the camera. With black dogs, a lighter background is beneficial. If your dog will not sit still, and treats or toys will not work to gain their attention, have someone hold your dog or put them on your lap. You can also go to a fabric store and make cute backgrounds! Lighting also helps, so if you have a friend with a flashlight or a moving light, you can direct that way. Do not be afraid to be creative. Creativity is fun for you and your foster dog!

If you want to be an overachiever (and there are no adoption events coming up to bring your dog to), take your dog to stores like Petco, or ask around about local adoption events in your neighborhood. Put up flyers about your pup in these stores as well (PetSmart, Petco, Unleashed, etc). I have found many adoptive homes for my foster dogs by taking them to a popular park, large pet-supply store, or popular (and crowded) neighborhood. Spend some time walking and hanging out, and make sure you have flyers or business cards with your foster dog's info, and that they are wearing an "ADOPT ME" bandana. You can make "ADOPT ME" vests using children’s aprons and iron-on letters or fabric paint, or contact Foster Dogs to get a bandana). You can also download Foster Dog Business Cards from our site.

Thank-you for checking out my tips, and good luck on your future fostering adventures! 

Contact Megan at 

Note: The original version of this blog post was published on our website in November 2014