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Black Dog Syndrome: Is It Real? Plus 16 Reasons To Adopt Black Dogs

The famous phrase "don't judge a book by its cover" can be applied to many things, including dogs. For instance, black dogs are sometimes associated with bad omens, aggression, and fear. However, a dog's coat color does not impact their temperament or personality. Beliefs and judgments of this nature can manifest in devastating ways, resulting in black dogs sitting in shelters for longer and being at a higher risk for euthanasia - a phenomenon called Black Dog Syndrome (BDS). But is BDS real? Here's everything you need to know about Black Dog Syndrome and 16 reasons to consider adopting black dogs!

What Is Black Dog Syndrome?

Black Dog Syndrome, or BDS, is the term used to describe a phenomenon observed in shelters and rescues where black dogs are often passed over for adoption in favor of other dogs, especially those with lighter-colored coats. Consequently, black dogs tend to experience lower adoption rates, prolonged stays in shelters, and higher euthanasia rates.

Why Does Black Dog Syndrome Occur? Why Are Black Dogs Overlooked?

There are several theories regarding why Black Dog Syndrome might occur:

1. Photographic Challenges

It is typically more challenging to photograph dark subjects, especially without proper tools. This means they may not look as good in photos, making it harder to discern their facial expressions (and those puppy dog eyes). As a result, people may interpret them in negative ways, perceiving them as less approachable, scarier, or angrier.

2. Visibility In The Shelter

Black dogs may not stand out as much in shelters compared to lighter-colored dogs, especially in kennels with low light or shadows. Experts believe it takes 70 seconds or less to assess a dog in a kennel, putting black dogs at a disadvantage if they aren't as visible. 

3. Superstitions And Breed Stigmas

Black has long been associated with evilness, darkness, and bad omens - a connection that continues to be perpetuated by movies, TV shows, books, and folklore. This superstition extends to black animals, including dogs, and contributes to negative perceptions. Additionally, many large, dark dogs belong to breeds that come with stereotypes, such as Pit Bulls, Staffordshire Terriers, Dobermans, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, and more.

4. Concerns About Dark Fur

Some individuals worry that the dark fur of black dogs will be more noticeable on light fabrics, particularly for those with lighter furniture, home decor and clothing.

5. Perceived Lack Of Individuality

Some people view black dogs as more generic, perhaps because a decent portion of the overall dog population is predominantly or entirely black. And appearance does indeed plays a significant role in adopters' decision-making processes, as demonstrated by surveys over the years.

6. Lack Of Awareness About Black Dog Syndrome

There's a decent chance that people simply aren't aware of Black Dog Syndrome. If they were informed about it, they might recognize when they are overlooking black dogs and take steps to avoid it. Increased awareness could also boost interest in adopting black dogs and help address this issue.

Is Black Dog Syndrome a Myth?

There has been some debate over whether Black Dog Syndrome (BDS) is a real phenomenon, and science hasn't provided much clarity. This is due to conflicting studies that both confirm and debunk the BDS theory.

On one hand, several studies, unofficial surveys, and anecdotes support the existence of BDS. For instance, Petfinder found that member shelters and rescue groups reported that, on average, pets spend 12.5 weeks on Petfinder, while "less adoptable" pets (such as seniors, those with special needs, and black-furred ones) spent nearly four times as long. And one study published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare in 2002 looked at nearly 1,500 dogs and found that black dogs were less likely to be adopted. Yet another study from the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare in 2010, which examined over 3,000 dogs, also found that black coat color was a negative factor in adoptions.

And while a study from December 2016, which utilized data from one shelter (7,440 dogs between the years 2010–2011), found no straightforward connection between coat color and adoptions, that changed after adding controls. With controls, the study did find that entirely black dogs had slightly lower odds of adoption and higher risk of euthanasia compared to dogs with partial or no black fur. Another study from 1998 also found that certain coat colors (such as white, gray, and gold) were significant predictors of adoption, along with small size and a history of indoor life.

On the other hand, a 2012 study found that adopters were more likely to be influenced by breed stereotypes than by color (e.g., a black lab was more likely to be adopted over a pit bull). A study from February 2016, published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare, looked at four years of adoptions involving over 16,000 dogs in two Pacific Northwest animal shelters. It found that age and breed, rather than coat color, were more prominent deciding factors. Additionally, a different 1998 study at a Midwestern shelter found that color was a factor in the adoption process, but not as significant as other characteristics. The main factors identified were:

  • Breed (purebred dogs and dogs that don't resemble misunderstood breeds, like bully breeds)
  • Size (smaller dogs were more desirable)
  • Age (young dogs were more desirable, despite the benefits of adopting older dogs)
  • History (some people did not want strays and preferred dogs who had lived indoors and were potty trained)
  • Color (after all of the above)

As such, many experts believe that Black Dog Syndrome is related to the fact that black dogs make up a larger portion of the overall homeless dog population. Therefore, due to the higher number of black dogs in shelters, they appear to be more often overlooked. For instance, a Los Angeles Animal Services manager reported that about 27% of the more than 30,000 dogs in his department were mostly or all black, and 28% of the adopted dogs were mostly or all black.

Do Black Dogs Take Longer To Adopt?

While it seems that coat color doesn't necessarily result in fewer adoptions, it can affect how long dogs take to get adopted. For instance, the Pasadena Humane Society found that dogs typically stay for around two weeks on average, but black dogs were often in the shelter for two months. This is especially problematic at overcrowded shelters that are not "no kill."

On the other hand, a study published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare in 2013 found that coat color didn't have an effect on how long a dog stayed in the shelter. Furthermore, a 2015 study published in the Cambridge University Press came to the same conclusion after investigating more than 16,000 dogs over four years.

Therefore, there isn't a clear answer as to whether or not black fur affects the adoption time of dogs. Shelter workers seem to believe it does, while science hasn't been able to conclusively determine one way or the other. What is known is that overall appearance is generally one of the biggest factors affecting an adopter's decision and larger, older, and misunderstood breeds remain in shelters longer than others.

How to Help

All shelter animals, regardless of their color, deserve a loving home and Black Dog Syndrome can impede this. So, here are some ways to help shelters and rescues while also combatting BDS:

  1. Adopt a black dog! Bonus: This opens up a space for a new dog in need.
  2. Donate to local shelters and rescues.
  3. Volunteer at local shelters and rescues. If you are a photographer or photography is a hobby, you can offer to photograph the dogs to ensure they have better pictures.
  4. Foster dogs, particularly black dogs, so they don't stay in the shelter for long or risk euthanasia.
  5. Encourage people to adopt black dogs and raise awareness about Black Dog Syndrome with family, friends, on social media, and in your community. Remind the world that personality is more important than appearance.

    Reasons To Adopt Black Dogs

    Black Dogs Often Have Both Beauty And Brains

    Cynologist dog trainer training Rottweiler black dog agility course

    Black dogs are just as adorable as any other dog. In fact, many possess a soulful face, enhanced by their soft brown eyes set against their black fur. Moreover, some of the smartest dog breeds are black dogs. Border Collies, Poodles, German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Labrador Retrievers, Rottweilers, Schipperkes, Belgian Sheepdogs, Flat-Coated Retrievers, Standard Schnauzers, and Bernese Mountain Dogs all rank in the top 30 of the smartest dog breeds. Additionally, many black mutts often have some of these breeds in their lineage, indicating that they are likely to be intelligent as well.

    Bonus! Intelligence translates to trainability - in other words, smart dogs can be easier to train, and some can even be employed as service or guide dogs. For instance, Labs and Poodles are known to be intelligent and are among the easiest breeds to train.

    Black Dogs Don’t Show Dirt As Much

    mixed breed black dog mutt jumping across stream during sunny spring day splashing dirty

    Black dogs tend to hide grime, debris, dirt and mud more than dogs of other colors, particularly lighter ones. This means they look cleaner for longer, allowing you to go longer between baths (as long as you still maintain a regular bathing schedule and they don't possess traits that necessitate more frequent grooming.) The convenience of this is unmatched!

    Pro Tip: Black dogs, like all dogs, still require regular bathing. The frequency will depend on factors such as fur type and length, activity level, time spent outdoors, skin conditions, and more.

    Black Fur Is Often Easier To Hide

    black cavoodle cavapoo small cross breed dog Cavalier King Charles Spaniel poodle sitting on couch furniture indoors

    Not only is a black coat beautiful and luxurious, but the fur is also less noticeable. Imagine all the black hair that won't stand out on your favorite black leggings, pants, dress, sweater, etc. This is particularly beneficial for pet parents who work in an office! That being said, black fur will still be more visible on light and white fabric, of course.

    Black Is Always In Fashion And Goes With Anything

    black spaniel dog sitting between owner woman's legs during walk leather jacket beige pants black boots

    Black is chic, versatile, sophisticated, always in fashion and goes with everything. This means black dogs will always be able to match (or at least complement) your fashion style and outfit as well as your interior design style and decor. It also means you dog can wear pretty much anything - such as collars and leashes of any color or pattern (like ours!), harnesses, accessories, dog beds and beyond. Plus, black is a slimming color, so stand next to a black dog and watch the pounds appear to melt away.

    Bonus! Black dogs are always ready for Halloween (you don't even need a costume for them) as well as formal occasions (just pop on a costume, bow tie or fancy accessory and you're good to go)!

    They'll Stand Out In Snow And Be Protected In Sun

    mixed breed black dog mutt standing on gravel in winter snow snowy windy

    Black fur isn't just aesthetically pleasing; it can also be incredibly useful. For instance, black fur stands out in snow, which can help keep your dog safe during winter walks, hikes, and other winter activities. Plus, darker dogs are less prone to sunburn (though not entirely immune to it).

    Pro Tip: Black dogs can still get sunburned, particularly in areas where the skin is more exposed (such as the nose, ears and ear tips, belly, groins, inner thighs, tip of the tail, and more). This is especially true if they are hairless, have short fur or bald spots (like scar tissue), enjoy lying outside on their backs and exposing their bellies, or have certain health conditions. 

    Many Black Dogs Make Good Family Dogs

    mother and children sitting on park bench with black dog mutt mixed breed bully breed

    Some of the best family dogs and breeds that tend to do well with kids are black dogs. For instance, Labrador Retrievers, Newfoundlands, Pugs, Poodles, Flat-Coated Retrievers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Boston Terriers, Great Danes, Cane Corsos, Pit Bulls, Staffies, and more! Black mutts often have these breeds in their lineage, which means they can also make great family dogs!

    Many Black Dogs Are Loyal And Some Will Protect Their Pack

    black labrador retriever mix mutt mixed breed dog out for walk on farmland with horses in back watching over livestock

    Many black dog breeds are known for their loyalty, and some even excel as good guard dogs - whether it's for a home, farm and livestock, and beyond. Labrador Retrievers, Border Collies, Newfoundlands, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Cane Corsos, Pit Bulls, Staffies, Giant Schnauzers, and more fall into this category.

    Bonus! Black dogs are more challenging to spot at night, potentially catching intruders off guard with their presence.

    There's An Abundance Of Potential Names

    Cute Black Dog Halloween Costume pumpkin and stars

    The list of possible dog names for black pups is nearly endless. You can lean into the color and choose names like Onyx, Coal, Ebony, Enigma, Jet, Obsidian, Inky, Charcoal, Noir, or Raven.

    Alternatively, you can opt for a sky theme, such as Luna, Midnight, Dusky, Galaxy, Celeste, Aries, Moon, or Astro.

    You could also consider names related to food and drinks, like Blackberry, Oreo, Licorice, Caviar, Pepper, Beans, Balsamic, Garlic, Sesame, Chia, Eggplant, Olive, and Cola.

    Lastly, you can choose names inspired by famous people and dogs, such as Sirius, Batman, Morpheus, Morticia, Toto, Wednesday, Zoro, and more!

    They're Built In Heating Pads

    Close Up of black Dog in Owner's Arms black pug sitting in kid's arms

    While all dogs provide warmth, black fur is known to absorb heat. This means dogs with black fur may feel extra warm, which is perfect for fall and winter!

    Pro Tip: Because black does absorb heat, some black dogs can be prone to overheating (especially those with thick fur, such as breeds made for cold weather). So make sure to be extra careful on hot, humid and/or sunny days if you have a black dog. Here's more about hot weather safety tips, how dogs cool themselves down and hot weather essentials (such as cooling gear).

    The Salt And Pepper Look Is Attractive

    old dog senior dog black dog looking sideways in studio graying gray fur white fur salt and pepper

    As black dogs age, they tend to develop more white and gray fur. This gives them a "salt and pepper" look, which is often considered classic and attractive. Plus, it may inspire you to embrace your natural hair as well.

    There Are Plenty Of Famous Black Dogs

    Obama Portuguese water dog bo plays in snow in front of white house famous black dogs

    Black dogs have a prominent presence in history and culture. For example, all the presidential dogs such as Obama's Portuguese Water Dogs Bo and Sunny, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Scottie dog, and the Newfoundlands of Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, and James Garfield). Additionally, Lewis and Clark's Newfoundland explored the western U.S. with them. There's also many famous fictional dogs like Sirius Black from Harry Potter series and Toto from The Wizard of Oz. Moreover, black dogs have provided inspiration to many musicians, as seen in songs like "Black Dog" by Led Zeppelin. Bonus! Black dogs have historically been winners in dog shows!

    Pro Tip: In ancient Egyptian culture, the god Anubis was worshipped and often depicted as a black dog-like creature. Additionally, European (especially English) folklore portrays black dogs as magical beings. 

    Black Dogs Make Great Photography Models

    Black Dog in Field of White Flowers mutt mixed breeds 

    Black dogs may be more difficult to photgraphy, but they can yield amazing photos. For instance, colors stand out vividly against their black fur, and they, in turn, stand out against various backgrounds. Their beautiful fur can help create stunning photos and even add a touch of drama. Bonus! If you're into photography and seeking to enhance your skills, black dogs make fantastic subjects, especially in low-light conditions! Here are some tips for taking photos of your dog!

    Pro Tip: Black dogs can be more challenging to photograph due to lighting issues, making it harder for shelters and rescues to showcase them effectively. However, it's essential to remember that dogs, like people, aren't always photogenic, and it's valuable to meet a dog in person rather than forming judgments based solely on a photo!

    Black Dogs Are Unique Too

    Heterochromia iridis in black dog

    Experts believe one reason Black Dog Syndrome exists is due to the perception that black dogs have a "generic" look. However, black dogs can be just as unique as other dogs. And if BDS does truly exist and black dogs get adopted less, then, in theory, they would be more unique. By this logic, having a black dog can be great for those who want to be unique, stand out, or set a trend! For an even greater sense of uniqueness, consider adopting a black mutt - you won't find another exactly like it.

    An Introvert's Best Friend

    A Black Labrador retriever dog at camp with owner camping

    While stereotypes about black dogs are unfounded and disheartening, they can be utilized to your advantage. For instance, these stereotypes might deter some people from approaching you, which can be beneficial if you're an introvert or shy and/or anxious - like when your black dog is barking at a bird or squirrel, but a suspicious person thinks it's directed at them. So, if you desire a "tough" or mysterious-looking dog that isn't actually either of those things, a black dog may be perfect. That being said, it's always encouraged to dispel the myths about black dogs to ensure other dogs can find loving homes!

    Young woman in animal shelter black dogs black dog syndrome

    Because some black dogs tend to stay in shelters longer than other dogs, they can be more readily available. This means you'll be able to adopt them faster! Plus, dogs who sit in the shelters for more time can often be extra loving and appreciative, having waited longer than others for their forever home.

    Adopting Black Dogs Helps Combat Black Dog Syndrome And Save Lives

    black dog in a crate shepherd mutt mixed breed black dog syndrome adopt black dogs

    Adopting black dogs can help combat Black Dog Syndrome and, consequently, save them from euthanasia. Not only does this act save a dog's life, but it can also save more lives by opening up space for other dogs. Plus, you can challenge the existing bias and showcase to the world just how great black dogs are, proving that coat color does not impact personality or temperament.

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    1 comment

    Almost all the dogs we have rescued are black and we have loved them all including Miss Sara who we rescued 5 years ago.

    Daryl Smith

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