I’ve had the fortune of fostering a Momma and her 7 (yes 7!) puppies! I’ll be describing my experiences in a series of blogs. Here’s part 1- Welcome Home!
I’ve always felt fostering is something I needed to do to contribute to animal rescue. While one dog patiently waits for his/her forever parents in the comfort of my home, we have also successfully opened up another kennel, in the hopes that one less dog will be euthanized. My dog is used to new dogs coming in and out, and we’ve mastered the art of getting to know the new dog and making him/her feel comfortable. But when a Momma and her 7 puppies needed a foster and I had an open home, I knew I was in for an adventure.
Although I’ve had the fortune of fostering many adult dogs, I’ve never fostered puppies. I saw the picture of the Momma, but had no idea about anything else—didn’t know her story, her breed, her weight, her age—nothing. I had my fingers crossed she was housetrained, but other than that, I figured, “Why not? How hard could it be?”
I spent hours researching. I scoured every book I had, read every internet site I could—How do I care for newborn puppies? How do I give Momma the most comfortable place I can? I knew the importance of socializing puppies when they were young, but I needed a refresher on the weekly play-by-play so I could make sure to set the puppies up for success in the real world.
So I was ready. I was going to help Momma and socialize those puppies. Here goes nothing.
I showed up at the shelter to pick up Momma, and she was less than thrilled with the idea of coming home with me—or having me near her or her puppies for that matter. But the loud shelter just wasn’t a great place to nurse and raise those pups. Although the trust was lacking at that moment, I knew with proper technique, time, and really yummy treats, we could get somewhere. We found a safe way to get Momma on a leash, put the puppies in a crate, loaded everyone up in the car, and we were on our way home.
We had already decorated a “lavish” separate area for her arrival, equipped with nutritious food and water for Momma and lots of comfortable blankets and towels for Momma and babies. We put the puppies in there, Momma did her outside business (woohoo for being housetrained!), and I put Momma back in with the puppies. As soon as she was in the room, she turned around and growled. And anytime I came near her area for the rest of the night, she growled more. So much for my dreams of snuggling up on the ground with Momma and her puppies right away.
So, long story short, Momma didn’t want to snuggle with me or let me cuddle her puppies that day. She was terrified. She had no idea who I was, and I wasn’t about to force an introduction. Think about it– she was running stray- captured and brought to one strange kennel- plucked out of Animal Control by more strangers- off to another weird shelter- people took the puppies- put her in a strange kennel- I put her in a scary car- welcome to a brand new house- oh there’s another smelly dog around here- and “please can I pet your puppies”? I don’t think so. I can’t blame the girl for giving me a “Hey, I’ve been really freaked out, please step the heck out of my area” growl. In fact, I thoroughly appreciate the growl so that I had time to remove myself from her area before she got really upset. Although I gave her plenty of space, I was not going to give up. I knew, over the next few weeks, I was going to work with her at her own pace.
So the rest of that day, I left her alone. I put on the infamous calming “Soundscapes”—relaxing music on the TV. She calmed down and was excited for more food, but overall still didn’t enjoy my presence. But that’s okay. Because I understood where she was coming from, and I knew over the next few weeks, I would slowly show her that she could trust me.
Although the first day wasn’t how I dreamt it, it makes an essential point for dog trainers, owners, foster parents, and anyone else involved with dogs. Having a relationship with a dog is a two-way street. Although I had hopes and dreams for snuggling up with the puppies on the first day, Momma just wasn’t down for that yet. It’s not that she won’t ever be—it’s just that she wasn’t ready on the first day. I have to respect her needs just as I hope she will respect mine. Thankfully time is on my side, and I have the opportunity to develop a trusting relationship with Momma at a pace that is unique to us.
I can’t emphasize enough to consider how your own dogs are thinking and feeling during normal interactions, training, introductions to new people, dogs, environments, and everything else. Although we have our own agendas, be sure to consider that dogs can feel things too—fear is real for dogs, especially if it comes to their puppies. And the most important thing, those feelings will shape the interaction that you and your dog have. Moving too fast can make your dog feel more threatened, which may lead to undesirable outcomes. On the other hand, moving slowly and giving your dog the opportunity to build trust will undoubtedly lead to a better long-term outcome, as well as building the relationship between you and your pet. So when you want to interact with your dog in a particular way, consider what your dog might be feeling and think about the best way of approaching them. It takes two to tango—don’t forget your four-footed dance partner.
*****In this series, I’ll be describing my experiences with Momma and the puppies, and I’ll show you how I work to build a relationship with Momma and how I introduce the puppies to the real world. This is my first time raising puppies, so this is a huge learning experience for me! I can tell you that Momma has come a VERY long way since this first day, so I am so excited to be sharing this all with you!