Why place Greyhounds in foster homes?
Greyhounds which have been brought up on rearing farms and later housed in kennels during their racing careers have a regimented lifestyle and have little or no experience of the day to day happenings in the average family household. The first two or three weeks of a Greyhound’s transformation into a companion dog represents a huge learning curve and may be stressful to the dog unless handled sympathetically.
The fostering period allows for an assessment of the Greyhound’s personality and behavior traits which may not be apparent in a kennel environment. It allows the dog to be introduced carefully to a range of new experiences so that when faced with these in their future adoptive home, the dog can cope without apprehension or fear. This is also the time when spaying or neutering can be arranged.
The idea of fostering a dog prior to adoption is to help prepare that dog for the different experiences, lifestyles, and situations he/she will encounter in their life as a pet. More times than not, this will be a home where people work full time and can only have the dog with them for limited periods of time. We are also getting an increasing number of people looking for dogs to live in villas, townhouses, condominiums and mobile homes with small or no fenced backyards.
Therefore, it is far more beneficial for the dog to get used to the sort of lifestyle that he/she will be placed into as a pet during their fostering stage. This also helps RDRP to determine which dogs are best suited to the many different types of living environments that our dogs now live in. The wider the spectrum of foster homes available, the wider the spectrum of adoptive homes in which we can place our dogs.
What are the criteria for foster homes?
Ideally a foster parent/family is someone who has been around dogs for some time and has some dog handling/training skills and a general knowledge of canine behavior. Experience in handling Greyhounds or other sighthounds would be advantageous but not essential. A stable home environment with established routines is important.
A foster home ideally would have a fenced yard and/or a secure pen. The foster family would preferably be someone who has some time that can be spent each day introducing the dog to new and novel experiences and increasing his general confidence. So many things we use daily are new experiences. Mirrors, screen doors, sliding glass doors, pools and children are all new.
The presence of children and/or other pets in the foster home would be seen as an advantage so long as careful supervision of any interactions can be assured. Many of these dogs will eventually be placed in adoptive homes with children, dogs, cats, birds or other pets. It is therefore important to assess each Greyhound’s response and prey drive potential, so that good matches can be made between dog and adoptive family.
Many of our adopters work full time so there isn’t someone home all the time, some live in an apartment, some don’t have much of a backyard, some have young children, and some don’t have any other animals. Strangely enough, these are reasons that actually make these people more suitable to be a foster parent.
How long is the fostering period?
Each individual dog would stay in a foster home for typically three to four weeks but foster periods can be short term or longer depending on the foster parent’s objectives and the needs of individual pets. We are always in need of short term, 7 – 10 day fosters to provide a safe and healthy space for post procedure (spay/neuter) surgeries. If a suitable adoptive home is not available after this time, the dog may stay for a longer period, or be moved to a second foster home, which may have other experiences to offer. Although most Greyhounds are remarkable in the ease with which they adapt to their change in lifestyle, some may take longer than others to gain confidence with certain aspects of their new surroundings. Every family that fosters an RDRP Greyhound has the first right of refusal to adopt the dog should they wish. Letting the first foster go is the most difficult decision but the reward from watching other dogs go to homes is more rewarding than one can imagine!
What are some of the things Greyhounds need to be taught?
Many Greyhounds have never had to walk up or down stairs, and some find them awkward or even frightening at first, especially if the steps have a slippery surface. Greyhounds are very long in the body and also have a very high center of gravity – this can sometimes make them a little clumsy as if they are unsure of where their feet are being placed. Gradual introduction to low sets of stairs initially (numbering no more than three or four) to gain the dog’s confidence can later be followed by steeper stairs or those with varying surfaces (carpet, cement, wooden floorboards, linoleum etc.). Despite the above, many Greyhounds will have no difficulty with stairs right from the outset. They should not be permitted to race up or down several steps at a time, as injuries could easily occur.
- Floor surfaces:
Like stairs, often Greyhounds have never had to deal with slippery floor surfaces like tiles, linoleum or polished floorboards. As above, time and experience should sort out any difficulties here as long as the dog is introduced slowly and without force. If a new dog is very hesitant, placing squares of carpet pieces or mats across the floor at intervals may help, later increasing the distance between the mats, thereby requiring the dog to walk on the floor surface.
- Glass windows or doors and screening:
Some dogs will not recognize glass as being a solid barrier when first brought into a house. Showing the dog around each new room on a lead and gently tapping on windows or glass doors may be all that is required. Temporarily placing a strip or two of masking tape or window cling stickers across glass barriers may make them more obvious. In cases where strong visual stimuli are present on the other side of the glass (eg. cats), and the dog is showing excessive interest, drawing the curtains or removing the dog from that room may be necessary.Screens often present an invisible barrier to greyhounds and placing furniture or hanging of items such as Frisbees or sheets of paper often provide enough visual stimulus to prevent passing through. Again presenting the screen by walking your new pet by the screen area and gently tapping or scratching at the screen or placing a scent such as Lavender oil or other scents should be sufficient to introduce this new barrier.
- Household noises:
The sound of such devices as televisions, hairdryers, food blenders, vacuum cleaners etc. can be frightening to any dog that has never experienced these before. Even the flushing of a toilet can be quite novel. In most cases, short exposure to such noises on repeated occasions (if carried out in a non-threatening manner) is all that is necessary.
- Toilet training:
Most Greyhounds do not come toilet trained as such. However, they are generally very clean dogs. Living in a kennel environment, most dogs do not like to soil their sleeping quarters and will wait until turned out to relieve themselves. When first brought into the home, the Greyhound should be treated in a similar manner to a puppy being housebroken – taking the dog outside every couple of hours for the first day or so, especially after meals, play and long naps. Praise the dog as soon as it performs in an appropriate place. Gradually, over a few days, increase the intervals between toilet breaks until a mutually acceptable routine is established. The majority of Greyhounds will virtually toilet train themselves and have limited accidents inside. Some males may need to learn the difference between indoor (potted) plants and outdoor vegetation and may try to mark their territory inside. A verbal correction or a spray from a water bottle is typically enough to correct the behavior as well as positive reinforcement when elimination is done in the preferred areas.
- Car rides:
Most Greyhounds are veterans when it comes to rides in the car, and usually, love to go on an outing. Motion sickness would be a rare entity. However, getting into and out of a car may need to be taught. Most racing Greyhounds are transported in either a station wagon, panel van or dog trailer. Trainers will generally lift a dog into and out of the vehicle to avoid injuries. The easiest way to begin is to lift the front end of the dog and rest its forefeet on the seat or tailgate. Then transfer your hands to the rear end of the dog and lift the back legs in. Many dogs, with repeated practice, will learn to hop in themselves, but some will always expect a helping hand. Experience at climbing onto a rear (bench) seat of a car and laying down whilst driving should be gained as not all adoptive families will own station wagons.
Although not all foster homes will have children, it is necessary to ascertain a dog’s reaction to young children. This could be done to some degree by visiting a local park or sports field, especially on weekends. Unlike adults, children tend to move rapidly, not always in a coordinated manner and may shriek out in high pitched tones. To a young excitable Greyhound, this may be an incentive to chase. Such a desire may be exacerbated when rollerblades, skateboards or bicycles are added to the picture. The majority of Greyhounds are excellent with children in the home environment, preferring to walk away if harassed by a persistent child, but close supervision is essential as with any breed. Any tendency for the Greyhound to exhibit dominance posturing towards a child, barking, growling etc., should be noted.Toys are often provided to a new greyhound but care must be taken to educate children that a greyhound may mistake a fluffy slipper as an acceptable toy. Retrieval of toys or Drop commands must be learned by both children and pets. Any toy aggressive behaviors should be noted and reported to RDRP. Foster Family’s children are often aware of “sleep startle” or the ability of a greyhound to sleep with their eyes open but care must be given to instructing visiting children that calling a dog’s name before touching it should provide enough stimulus to prepare the dog for impending interaction.
- Other pets:
Greyhounds are generally used to being around other Greyhounds, but many have little or no experience of different dog breeds, cats or other pets. It should be remembered that Greyhounds have been bred for centuries to chase and the prey drive in some individuals means they can never be fully trusted with small animals. Many, however, will learn to accept other pets if introduced slowly and carefully, always with strict supervision. Any introductions should always be carried out on lead, and with the Greyhound properly muzzled, until the dog’s reactions can be assessed. If the foster parent has to leave, even for a brief time, the Greyhound should be penned, created or closed securely in a separate room from other animals. Risks should never be taken with the safety of your own pets.
- Being alone:
Because most racing Greyhounds are used to having at least one (and often many) other Greyhounds around them all the time, some have trouble adjusting to a more solitary existence. This may not pose an immediate problem if the foster home has other pets, especially dogs. However, the future adoptive home may not have other animals and separation anxiety may develop. When a Greyhound first enters a home it often becomes your second shadow (the “Velcro” dog syndrome), following you all over the house, even to the bathroom. Usually, after a few days, this behavior will ease as the dog becomes more secure in its new surroundings. It is important to provide the Greyhound with a place of its own to relax (dog bed, crate etc.) and to regularly ask it to “go lie down” “kennel up” or a similar phrase. If possible the dog should be placed in an outdoor run or free in a secure yard on its own at least once a day for a short time or taken for several walks to help exercise or release pent-up energy. Long walks will need to be gradually introduced as these animals are, by nature, sprinters not marathon runners.
Two things a Greyhound (or any other dog) may feel possessive about their food and its sleeping quarters. During the fostering period, the dog should learn to accept its food and food bowl being handled in a non-threatening manner. Any foster dog should be fed separately from other pets, especially when first introduced. After the first three or four days, when the dog should be learning to trust the foster parent, food can be added to the bowl gradually by hand as the dog is eating. Eventually, by the end of the foster period, the dog should accept the food bowl being taken away and, ideally, food or other objects being taken from its mouth. Needless to say, great care should be taken in these circumstances and an assessment of the dog’s temperament made before proceeding. Introducing children as feeders often helps establish a hierarchy. Having a child place the bowl down and saying “OK” to allow the dog to feed will help create an established level of dominance. Children should use care and be supervised and should not be introduced as feeders until the initial assessment of food possession is complete.The Greyhound should also permit its bedding to be handled, sat in etc. but should have a space that is deemed their safe place free of child interaction. Their crate is often an out of bounds location for children. Sleep startle is reported in some Greyhounds, usually in response to being woken or disturbed suddenly during a nap. Some Greyhounds do sleep with their eyes open, so it is important to ensure that the dog is awake before touching and surprising it. Greyhounds tend to sleep very deeply and may take a while to arouse. As they are generally housed individually in racing kennels, they are not used to other dogs, children etc. tripping over them in their sleep.
Racing Greyhounds are quite used to being bathed, groomed and massaged. However, it is important to determine that the dog does not have any “sensitive” areas, which may indicate injuries. The dog should accept its feet being handled, nails clipped, ears cleaned and eyes and mouth inspected, as well as being groomed all over with a soft brush. Some like water, baths, kiddie pools or even swimming and some do not. Due to their low-fat content and small paws, they are often not good swimmers. Introductions to pools, waterways, lakes, and ponds must be supervised and individual pet’s tolerance noted. With their fine coat and minimal oils, bathing is not a routine item but should be done regularly to feel and assess the entire body for any changes or sensitive regions. The greyhounds’ teeth are cleaned during the spay/neuter process but routine dental care is encouraged. Diet and treats often play a role in the freshness of breath and visible attraction of tarter.
How strict should the foster home be with a new Greyhound?
As mentioned earlier, racing Greyhounds are used to a fairly regimented life with few options or choices to make in its day to day activities. The majority of Greyhounds are creatures of habit and are most relaxed when a set routine is in place. Family life does not always fall into a perfect routine, but the establishment of set meal times and regular exercise and toileting opportunities will help a new Greyhound to feel at ease.
When a Greyhound is suddenly given the freedom of an entire house and has some choice in how it spends its time, it may revert to a (temporary) second puppyhood. It is important that some basic ground rules are established for the dog early in the foster period and that all members of the family abide by them. Restricting the dog to certain rooms in the house, at least initially, may make supervision easier. This may be achieved by simply keeping doors closed or by using baby gates or other barriers. Most Greyhounds will discover soft human beds or lounge chairs within the first few days (or hours) after arrival. Although Greyhounds are the ultimate “couch potatoes”, taking lounging almost to an art form, it must be remembered that their future adoptive home may not condone such practices. Therefore it is required that fosters are discouraged from reclining on the furniture.
A soft bed of their own, located in a quiet corner, should be provided, and the dog encouraged to retreat there. The bed should be positioned so that the dog can take in most of the household activities without getting in the way. You may wish to move the dog’s bed to just inside your bedroom or close by at night, so that the dog feels secure by your presence, and so that you can supervise the dog’s nighttime activities. Many Greyhounds have been reared in a crate environment and are crated at night or if left in the house for short periods during the day.
Another vice of some Greyhounds newly introduced to the home is pinching food left on kitchen benches or tables (also known as “counter surfing”). Because Greyhounds are so tall, reaching such places is quite easy. The obvious solution is not to leave anything tempting lying within reach. Keeping one or more squirt bottles filled with water and ready to use can be effective in stopping such practices.
Certain concessions need to be made for a foster Greyhound which is encountering many new experiences over a relatively short period of time. However, some will need to be given firm guidelines as to acceptable and non-acceptable behavior within the home, and when out in public. Most Greyhounds are quite sensitive creatures and gentle disciplinary measures such as a stern, disapproving tone of voice or a quick spray with the squirt bottle are usually sufficient to get the message across.
In spite of the warnings mentioned above, many Greyhounds will walk into a house for the first time, and proceed to take all in their stride, as if they had been there all their lives. They are generally fairly laid back creatures with tremendous adaptability and understanding.
What support does the foster home receive?
All foster homes must be inspected and approved before receiving their first dog. A meeting with all household members (human and otherwise) is necessary to assess everyone’s attitude and to discuss any specific issues.
All dogs are at least wormed, flea/tick treated and bathed prior to arriving at a foster home. Some will have already undergone their full range of treatments, including desexing/castration, teeth cleaning, microchipping, vaccination and heartworm testing. An appropriate collar and lead is provided, as well as the dog’s muzzle and a temporary ID tag. During the cooler months, a warm coat is often made available. If required, a crate may be loaned to assist a new dog’s transition.
Extensive follow-up and monitoring of the dog in foster care is made, generally by phone. We realize that foster families are generously opening up their homes and hearts to these dogs, and all support/advice necessary will be given promptly. We also appreciate that foster homes may not wish to care for dogs continually. Some may only try it once and decide it’s not for them. Others may want a break between dogs or may have holidays or other commitments planned for the near future. Whatever offers an approved foster home can make will be accepted gratefully.
RDRP will support the foster family in any way possible and offer the family first right of refusal should they decide to adopt the dog. We do ask that you assist in showing the dog at some local events and post any pictures or comments about the dog’s personality.
So, if you think you wouldn’t be suitable for a foster family, think again! Remember, even if you try it once and decide that it’s not for you, then that’s one life that you’ve been directly responsible for saving. Next time you look into the soulful eyes of a greyhound, think about the satisfaction you’d feel if you knew that YOU were the person who made it possible for that dog to move onto their new life.