Failed Fosters Dog Adoption

An odd way to describe a successful match
By Karen B. London PhD, November 2016, Updated June 2021
woman and dog

“She’s a failed foster,” is commonly said with a smile and a shrug in certain circles. That’s because a failed foster just means that a dog found a forever home one step ahead of schedule. Often, a foster family plans to help a dog get ready to be placed in a good home but falls in love with that dog. Unable to give up the dog, the foster family adopts him, and voilà, it’s a failed foster. (Though many people like the term and find it charmingly ironic, others object to the use of negativity or humor related to the serious issue of dogs in need of homes.)

On the one hand, the situation is obviously positive because a dog has found a home. Even better, that home is with people who really want him, are committed to him, and are okay with whatever issues, if any, he happens to have. On the other hand, many rescue organizations lament failed fosters because it limits the space they have available for future fosters.

A lot of families who adopt their foster dog take a break from fostering to devote time and energy to their new dog, which makes sense. In other cases, the former foster family may not be able to take in a foster dog because their home now has the maximum number of dogs allowed, according to local ordinances. In a year, a typical family may be able to foster two, three or even six dogs during their path to a forever home. A failed foster can mean that rescue organizations have to find two, three or six spots for other dogs in need of temporary care. It’s not easy to find really good foster situations with dog savvy families who can welcome dogs on short notice to a dog-proofed home.

Despite the drawback in terms of lost foster space, it’s hard for me to hear of a failed foster without great joy. When someone’s decision to adopt a dog is motivated by pure love and acceptance, that’s a great moment, even if we joke about the “failure” it represents.

Have you ever had a failed foster?

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Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life