I want to preface this section with a couple of notes:
- Dogs are not perfect. Nobody's dogs are perfect. When I first started getting into training, I thought that professional trainers' dogs must surely be impeccably behaved near-robots who never barked at strangers, always executed their cues with total precision on the first request, and probably didn't even shed. Yeah, no. Turns out they bark and blow off commands and leave hairballs everywhere, just like my mutts. Dogs are dogs. Expect them to act like it.
- Most troubleshooting in foster care is about management. The dogs that come through WAGS generally do not have serious behavioral issues. Most of what you'll be dealing with is relatively simple stuff: chewing, counter surfing, nuisance barking, and so forth. These issues are best dealt with by not giving the dog a chance to practice bad behaviors, i.e., by managing his environment to keep him out of trouble. That's really all you have to do; nuisance behaviors tend to die out on their own if the dog doesn't have the chance to practice and get reinforced for them.
- Reward good behavior. Whenever you catch your dog doing something right, reward her. If you've been having a problem with jumping, and one day your dog looks at you quietly with all four feet on the ground, praise her! Pet her, hand over a treat, toss her favorite ball a few times -- whatever she likes, do it. Always reinforce good behavior, even if it's just with approving eye contact and a quiet touch. If you only reward your dog for sitting after she jumps on you, that's the only time she'll ever do it... and what you'll have trained will be not a polite Sit as greeting, but a Jump-and-Sit sequence. Every interaction with your foster dog trains her to do or not do something, whether you intend it or not. Be mindful of that, and always be willing to reward any behavior you want to see again.
In the unlikely event that you end up with a dog whose issues go deeper than the basic problems discussed here, please consult with your foster coordinator. Severe fearfulness, aggression, or separation anxiety may warrant professional intervention and are certainly beyond the scope of what the average foster caregiver should be asked to handle. Under no circumstances should you have to keep a dog whose behavior puts you, your household, or the dog herself in danger.
Also, please do not hesitate to reach out if you are feeling overwhelmed by any problems. If they're causing you serious stress, they're not "minor" issues -- and please believe me when I say that it is much, much easier to intervene before a behavioral problem develops into a habit. It's never too early to ask for help if you have any cause for alarm.
You can always rely on the foster network for advice, help, or just to vent. We all love our foster furballs very much, but we also all recognize that they can be a giant pain in the ass sometimes.
With that in mind, here's a quick guide to troubleshooting some of the most common problems you may encounter.