That Time I Failed

Like I mentioned yesterday, I’m taking a break from fostering. But just because I know I need a break doesn’t mean that my house doesn’t feel extra empty and the spot at the end of my bed doesn’t long for a furry body to occupy it – so when the opportunity came up to dog sit for another foster, I jumped at the chance.

The writeup of the dog Mylo described a sweet but energetic eight month old Target dog mix puppy. I figured I could handle some leash pulling for a few days, and Mark was thrilled at the thought of a dog who would play ball with him. I was to watch Mylo for only two days while his foster family was away. Easy peesy.

We picked up this goofy, bouncing puppy on Thursday evening. He came with us to Mark’s apartment, and we marveled at his adorable antics. He settled down nicely, which was a relief because I was starting to get the feeling that he would be bouncing off the walls for the next 48 hours. When I took him out to go to the bathroom he barked a few times, but it was dark and I figured he was just doing dog-in-a-new-place things.

When I took him back to my house, he began to act differently. He had a problem with my dad, and became increasingly reactive each time they saw each other. To Mylo’s credit, my dad is a pretty tall guy with a big beard – probably not a type of person he’s been in contact with much before.  This really frustrated my dad because he didn’t understand why Mylo was acting that way and I think, quite frankly, he took it personally. It was difficult keeping everyone separate in my house, and soon I found myself totally overwhelmed with an on-edge dog and an agitated dad. I was at a total loss of what to do, quickly realizing that I have no idea how to handle a reactive dog.

We hid out in my room that night, and the next day I took Mylo for a run in hopes that the new day would be a fresh start. Mylo is a phenomenal running partner, despite being a puller when you walk. However, it seemed he hadn’t totally forgotten the previous night of stress, and was still acting a bit out of character.

Long story short, Mylo continued to display behaviors I wasn’t comfortable with handling. I was freaked that I didn’t know how to combat it, or even manage it, and I decided to leave Mylo in the caring hands of our shelter workers for the second night instead of bringing him back home. I just kept wondering what if something escalated and he gets himself into trouble on my watch?

Leaving him there was horrible. I felt so, so guilty that I had failed him and couldn’t even get it together enough to stick it out for one more night.  As a dog person, especially someone who is so active in this online community, I felt like a quitter. I continually give advice on here about how to work with dogs – building confidence, socializing, basic training – and yet I didn’t have a clue how to help this one.

Mylo is now back in the comfort of his own foster home, and he’s getting into a training program.  He’s a young dog who needs guidance and structure, and I don’t blame him for that. He is sweet, loving, and has so much potential – he just needs to harness some of his energy and brainpower. I’m not worried about him.

While everything turned out fine in the end, the experience has left a big gaping hole in my confidence. I feel so defeated. What happens next time I bring a dog out of the shelter, whose personality I don’t know, and they end up having some sort of issue that I don’t know how to handle?  I know I quit this time around – but I can’t shake the feeling of what if he was one I signed up to foster long term and I quit on him?

Even Mark thinks that I wouldn’t have been able to keep Mylo long term because of how tough the living situation would have been with my dad. I agree, and now I know how those people who give up their dogs feel when they think there are no options. But the truth is, there are options.

Fostering a dog can be tough work, but you have to remember you are not alone. Often times the rescue or shelter you are working with will have trainers available to help with behavior improvement and social skills. Jasmine’s House has a wonderful trainer Meghan from Canine Lifestyle Academy who will do anything she can to help fosters with their dogs. Our shelter’s trainer recently started a Foster Dog Alliance class for anyone who has a foster dog, no matter what rescue group they are with. There are people out there who want to help you and your dog succeed.

Safety is of course everyone’s top priority, and it’s important to recognize when things need to be changed in a situation. Perhaps in the long term Mylo would have succeeded better with someone other than my family, like he is doing now with his current foster – or perhaps we could have worked through it. We’ll never know because he was with me for such a brief amount of time. At any rate, he certainly was a wake up call that fostering is not always a “walk in the park.” Sometimes you are going to have harder dogs than others, but no matter what dog you have – you are not alone.

I may have failed with Mylo, but he helped me become more prepared for the next dog I foster (including making me realize I’m sticking to ages 3+ from now on!).  This stuff isn’t easy, but it’s so important to pick yourself up and keep going after a fostering set back. If we all quit after one tough go around, there would be no more foster homes left. Yes, that’s how many of us have had, “Holy crap, what am I doing??” moments. I owe it to Mylo to use my experience with him to become a better foster in the future.

25 thoughts on “That Time I Failed

  1. Aimee

    Reactive dogs ARE hard! Please don’t ever think you failed, there is a first for everything. I live with a reactive dog, who is afraid of people (and who is leash reactive to people and dogs). I am a social butterfly but he is not. Learning to train reactive dogs can be frustrating but when they hit a milestone its so much more fulfilling! We had a great day at the vets office yesterday and I left beaming over my good boy! Its not for everyone but I only have the option of positive training (with the help of a professional of course). He’s not a foster, he’s mine and my first reactive dog….he’s A DINOS. Love your blog.

  2. Please don’t think of it as a failure as much as a learning experience and a reaffirmation on a age range that you are comfortable with. I’ve writen several different times on my blog about how I never wanted a puppy, but here I am with a puppy that I helped rescue. Although he has turned into my heart dog, I still vow…no more puppies!
    Have fun on your internship at Animal Farm, I’m so envious!!

  3. Janet in Cambridge


    You, quite reasonably, saw that you didn’t have enough experience to handle this particular dog’s issues. With time you will learn. You’ve clearly stated that this will be a lifelong endeavor, so give yourself a pat on the back for recognizing that you DIDN’T have the experience to deal with this dog NOT, but that you will in the future. You just have to get more experience under your belt. THAT IS NOT FAILURE!!!!!!!!!

  4. What a great post … I’m so glad you’re open and honest about the times fostering is hard or makes you feel less-than-stellar.

    That being said, you ARE stellar! My current fosters consist of two very, very, reactive yorkies. They are my full-time dogs, but I live alone (you’re right: tall man + beard is most reactive dog’s kryptonite). Even then I sometimes get frustrated to the point of tears. Trips to the vet clinic are nightmare. Thank goodness for you, love and a leash, two pities in the city, ect for your guidance on dealing with reactive dogs! I love that you were brave enough to decide you weren’t ready for him and not to force it.

    Keep up the awesome work! I’m no expert, but I really think the depth and eloquence of your posts has really improved by leaps and bounds recently. Maybe someday I’ll get there :)

  5. Confession: I was worried I was going to have to take Polly back to the shelter because I didn’t think I could handle her anymore. Her anxiety was out of control and nothing I tried seemed to help. Luckily, when I was just on the brink of giving up, she turned a corner.

    You knew Mylo had another foster home to go to. You didn’t fail him. You just realized you weren’t the right fit. If it had been your own foster dog, I know you would have worked a lot of angles before you have thrown in the towel. And even then, you would have tried to figure out a way to make it work. I’ve seen you do that with each of your fosters individual issues. Don’t call this a failure – call it a learning experience and move on. :)

  6. Laura

    I agree with the previous posts: I do not view this experience you described as a failure. You AND Mylo AND his foster home had a learning opportunity! That is what life is about: trying new things, learning from them, and applying lessons learned to future moments. I know that I can get really down on myself with our dogs (who aren’t fosters, but def have their issues) but being sad, frustrated, and defeated don’t help anyone move forward. I think you are doing a great job and have a great outlook and attitude ~ keep it up!

  7. Haha wow, what a switch for you and I from two months ago. Listen, you remember that time I looked at you with eyes welling up while you said “this is going to make you the best dog owner ever”? And I said back, “even if I fail?” And you said, “YES oh my God. And it’s not failing. You’re doing everything you can.”

    As someone whose first experience living with a dog full time is living with a REACTIVE dog full time, I know what a shock that feeling is that whoa, maybe I can’t handle this animal that has sharp teeth and might want to use them. It is a total blow to your confidence – but here’s the thing: 1) you didn’t fail. If Mylo had been your long-term foster, you know you would have had him in a training program right away, and if your dad hadn’t been cool with having him around, there’s nothing you can do about that until you have your own place. So not your fault. 2) your experience with Mylo alerted the fosters to potential issues with adopters they might not have anticipated otherwise. I see that as a success, not a failure.

  8. ShannonCC

    You didn’t fail, you just recognized it was something you couldn’t handle. I admire that. I also really admire that you considered your father’s feelings instead of just expecting him to deal with it :-D

  9. Honestly, I don’t think you should consider it a failure. One of the most important things to remember is that you can’t know everything about every dog and all the quirks they might have. At some point one or several of them will stump you and sometimes you have to ask for help. This time you did, you realized that you were in a tough spot and found Mylo a safe secure place to stay. In my eyes you did the right thing.

  10. I don’t think you failed at all. You made a decision that would not only keep your family safe but that would also be in Mylo’s best interests. Reactivity is tough, I had to learn that the hard way. If I had known my dog had such issues before I adopted her, I probably would have found a different dog. If you didn’t feel comfortable keeping Mylo in your home, you made the right choice for him and for you. That doesn’t sound like failure to me, especially given how hard it was for you, that sounds like being smart – and a great foster mom. :-)

  11. I think the hardest training issue to deal with is reactivity. Dealing with my dogs’ various levels and kinds of reactivity is frustrating, scary, embarrassing…the list goes on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt over my head and didn’t know what to do or how to go forward. Because it was just a couple nights, you did the best thing that you could for your temporary foster. And that’s what good foster moms do. You couldn’t solve his reactivity towards your Dad in 48 hours. But Mylo needed to feel safe, your Dad needed to feel safe and you made the best decision for your situation. Don’t beat yourself up about it! Your knowledge and skills with all kinds of dogs will continue to expand and someday, I know you’ll feel like you’ve got all the tools to handle this kind of reactivity. Admitting that now isn’t that time doesn’t make you a failure – it makes you smarter than the average bear!

  12. Mona Erdrich

    I think it was a success for you, not a failure. You were fully aware of your limitations, and acted in the best interests of the pup and family members. The times that fail are when people are afraid to admit shortcomings, and someone or something ends up paying a very high price for it. You did well, learned from it, and now know that there is assistance available if the need arises in the future. A wise boss once told me, “You don’t need to know everything – you just need to know where to find it.”

  13. Corey Ayres

    Give yourself some credit. It was only 24 hours. I don’t Foster but have a pack,5. Just brought in new pit pup into the scene. I have a lot of dog experience but its been almost a month and still some rocky traveling. It really helps to have a mature dog to help show a puppy the ropes
    I am fortunate to have a very gentle pit-rodesian ridgeback who is very patient. But I have never had so much difficulty potty training a puppy

    • Oh my goodness. I agree. My 8 month old pittie foster is just not getting it. Nothing works, potty pads, taking him out every 1/2 hour. Saying “No” praising him. If you find a trick that works, please update your post cause I’d sure like to know. I’ve never used so much Nature’s Miracle.

  14. apenner

    Thank you for your honesty! I am in a foster situation now that is tough. Not with my foster dog but my resident dog. My foster had one not so great reaction to him on day two in our home. I pulled her from a shelter within hours of being EU’d. I am convinced that dogs that come out of the shelter have a little “crazy” to work out. She was became “protective” of the new attention and love she was getting from us. When our boy Boon came to us she turned and snapped at him. While she has never done it since she does try to block us from giving him attention, and this makes him very nervous. It almost paralyzes him. He seems depressed and just does not want to have anything to do with her.

    Unfortunetly I was not able to find a rescue group to work with or foster through in time to save her. So I don’t have the support of a group to get training or “market” her. I would like to be able to take her to adoption events but don’t have that opportunity. She really a fantastic dog, she loves Boon our boy, and only wants to be with him. I don’t regret for one second saving her life, I was just not prepared for Boon to be so traumatized.

    So from someone who is in a not so perfect foster situation I appreciate hearing struggles from someone else. I am guilt ridden for causing Boon to be depressed.

  15. Kelly

    We have all ‘failed’ at some point. I had a very embarrassing failure in front of our other favorite foster blogger that wasn’t entirely my fault, but em embarrassing and a failure nonetheless. I am confident you are an A1 foster mommy :)

  16. Karen Wagner

    I can’t imagine how hard it was for you but you did the best that you could. That is all any of us can do. You are an incredible young lady and what twenty something year old’s have the tenacity that you do and the drive as you do? You can only move forward from here and learn from this one experience. Believe me…life is full of up’s and down’s…that is just how life is. Grasp it by the bootstrap’s and hang on….it will be bumpy at times but those bumpy ride’s will be the one’s that you will learn from!:) I will be missing your blog for the next week:( I will be out of town on vacation but will check back and read the rest of this week’s when I return. I love your is the BEST! I still miss our Mr. Otis:( I hope he is doing well:) Have a great week all of you and have a safe Labor Day weekend too! xoxo

  17. Trish

    In my recent foray into fostering (and eventually adopting), we encountered an unexpected negative reaction from our foster dog within the first few hours. We have three other dogs and were mostly concerned that the new guy would not take well to our pack. However, after my boyfriend good-heartedly went in for a hug, he was met with a face full of teeth. Luckily, it was just a warning, but for the remainder of the evening, we couldn’t go near the dog or attempt to touch him without a snap/warning. We were so disheartened. Luckily, we were able to recognize how tired and confused this poor guy was, so we backed off and let him just sleep. The next morning was better, but for about 2-3 days, all was not well. He was fearful when we went to take his leash/collar on and off and with a little bit of initial grooming. We knew he had it in him to be affectionate, but I was questioning everything I thought I knew about dogs and couldn’t believe I was in a position where I was actually afraid of him.

    You did the best you could and since you were in an environment you couldn’t completely control, I’m sure the anxiety of the others around you were not helping the situation. Had you been able to be completely alone with him and remove anything/one he feared or reacted to, things might have been easier. I was really lucky that my boyfriend and I could work trough it together, but I was feeling as uncertain as you did (and was on the phone A LOT with the rescue trying to get advice/help).

    Don’t beat yourself up – everyone needs to know when to ask for help. In your foster career, you will probably encounter this again, so you now have time to think about what you can do in advance to figure out if/how you can deal with cases like should it come up.

  18. Cyn

    There is are ophthalmologists, podiatrists, pediatricians, etc. Just because you are a “dog person” doesn’t mean you should be able to handle every dog.

  19. Rose Smith

    Those of you who foster have my utmost respect and appreciation. Taking on a dog you know little or nothing about is never easy. Not every foster situation is going to work out, but the work you do is always important. Thank you for being willing – cause that’s never a failure.

  20. I love your honesty! Thank you for sharing what has obviously been a difficult decision, but in making the choices you’ve made, it still shows that the dogs are your primary concern. You are an inspiration to me, as a 22-year-old who is just starting the journey of fostering. Thank you for doing what you do! I look forward to reading about your future endeavors, fostering and otherwise.

  21. I just had to comment on this post. I got my first foster last jan. from mchs and I was completely overwhelmed – I have a two year old wild child and a skiddish 4 yr old dog. Needless to say my plate was already full when I added penny the puppy on. Besides the basic puppy difficulties I felt there was always some wrong- kennel cough, runny nose, UTI – and at some point I was finally at my breaking point. I got up that morning readying myself to write the email that I couldn’t foster penny any longer and I read one of your blog posts. I can’t remember exactly what was said but I remember sitting back and thinking alright I can do this for penny. I felt that much less alone and that much more empowered – so thank you!! You may of felt like you failed Mylo but you definitely had a hand in saving Penny. Keep up the great work and keep blogging – you never know who you could be helping!

  22. I totally understand. I’m fostering a dog that it extremely undersocialized and frequently re-directs at me, he was 7 months old when he came to us. We are a three dog home at the moment and I didn’t know what to do in the beginning. This stubborn beast. I keep feeling like I’m failing him. It’s getting better every week, but gosh, I get what you are saying. I wanted to tell the rescue they had to make other arrangements, that I didn’t have what it took. I’m too stubborn, so I just keep working at it. He has finally learned to just lay down and stop pacing, he would literally pace for hours. We can finally love on him. It’s been 6 weeks though, and in the beginning I wanted to just cry. He is my first foster pittie and I think we were destined to find eachother. He came into our lives to teach us all how to be a bit more patient. His name is Titan, you can see pics of him on our FB page, Little Guy the Bunny Bear.

  23. Pingback: Looking Back On: That Time I Failed | Peace, Love, & Fostering

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