Things to Know if You Want to Foster a Dog in College

Growing up, I’ve always had dogs. I have had so many pets throughout my life and college was so strange to not have a pet. At JMU, we have the opportunity to go and play with pups and kitties at the shelter, but even then it’s just for an hour or few. When I finally got an apartment, one of my roommates got a kitten, so I had a full year of having a pet on campus again. The following year, when living with new roommates, I started fostering pups from the nearby shelter.


Some may say the hardest thing is giving the pups up, but I also work part time at a boarding facility, so I’m used to falling in love with pups that are never meant to be mine. I also have an adorable pup at my parents house that I could never replace. I went into this by saying I won’t be taking any fosters that I have. Which is extremely difficult with the one I have at the moment.


The hardest part was doing it by myself. My roommates tolerated me having a pup, but they said it was all my responsibility. Which is fair, it’s just difficult when I have limited access to a car and taking anywhere from 16 to 19 credits.


Despite all of these ideas, I was able to do it and give some wonderful pups a place to crash before they found a forever home. I’ve had some very sad and scared pups, some of endless energy, and some that were so extremely intelligent despite their previous conditions. While I was able to do it, you should really consider if you should foster. Nothing upsets me more than the people who take in a dog for 24 hours before deciding they can’t handle them anymore. Not only is this a toll on the shelter and other fosters, it’s a terrible thing for the dog to have to go through. Please understand your limits prior to your commitments.


  1. If you don’t understand dogs, don’t let that limit you -- other fosters will help you and so will the shelter. Just be there for the dog and give it some love while it’s in this stressful transitional time. Ask around to see if you would be better with an older dog or a puppy. They both have their challenges, and I can say that one is not easier than the other. Also, you can ease into it: the first couple pups I fostered was me just fostering another fosters pup as they had to go out of town for a few days. I’ve also had the long term pups that have taken a lot more of my time and energy.

  2. Don’t be afraid to train the dog as it’s with you. It will make it easier for the future owner, as well as for you when you have the pup. Use the correct treats for training, or even just break up a slice of ham. I normally just use pieces of kibble because that’s a treat enough for puppies.

  3. A good amount of shelter dogs aren’t potty trained. Pee pads can often help a lot, but you will be doing a lot of potty training on your own. Buy some carpet cleaner.

  4. You don’t actually have to spend every minute with the dog. You have a life too, and so will the future owners. The pup will have to get used to being on their own for extended amounts of time. But that being said, dogs do need attention. If you have one that is potty trained, it could put a lot of strain on their bowels and bladder if you don’t get them out when they are trained only to go outside.

  5. Crate train. The amount of fosters who return the dog to the shelter because they feel bad they have to crate train their dogs is terrible. I would be shocked if the future owners don’t crate train, because as said, they need to learn to be by themselves for an extended amounts of time.

  6. Be careful with food. You have no idea what allergies the pup could have. The last thing you want is for the pup to go into shock.

  7. While it’s not terrible to spend a little of your own money on a pup, don’t break the bank. The shelter should provide a lot of things like food, bowls, meds, a crate, a sort of bed, and often some toys. You can do as you wish, but speaking from someone who bought 4 toys for a foster I ended up only having for 2 days, I wish I would have waited.

  8. Don’t be afraid to tell them no. Don’t be afraid to push them off the couch. Don’t be afraid to give them a smack on the nose. They need to learn. While positive reinforcement is more beneficial than negative, the negative reinforcement of a no can be taught and taken a long way.

  9. Don’t freak out about loose stool and even a little blood in there. I know we normally freak out about that, but both of those things are common for a stressed dog, or for a pup who is getting used to a new type of food. Panting and yawning also are signs of stress in a pup. If the dog does have any extreme diarrhea with blood, vomiting, lethargy, or uncontrollable panting, along with shrieks of pain ever, even when using the bathroom, contact the shelter immediately. You should also stick your thumb in their ear on occasion to check for any extreme amount of heat.

  10. You can do it yourself. I know it makes it a lot easier if you have someone who helps you with the walks and such, but it’s not impossible. As I said, I’ve done every foster by myself and I’m making it work for the day to day. But I also have many friends will willingly volunteer for puppy sit for the day. Still, if it does become too much, you can return to the shelter or find a new foster parent. Just please give it longer than a few days to get used to the change in routine.


Remember, your foster may be with you as short of days, or as long as months. Depending on who you are, you could get attached. Understand that you were a crucial member of that puppies journey, and that the pup will have a brand new home and family, most likely because of your influence on it. If you do get too attached and think you can handle having a dog for a long term, there is a great collection of people known as Foster Fails who can’t see anyone with their foster except themselves.