All Things Dog

Black Dog Syndrome

If you're a dog lover, you LOVE dogs. You love them for their magical connection to humans, their ability to enrich our lives, their amazing range of personalities, and their beauty, majesty, grace, and gosh-darn cuteness.

Those of us who are as devoted to dogs as they are to us, embrace all the unique qualities that make dogs special with a capital "S." To us, a dog's particular color is a secondary characteristic. If he or she can win us over with their personality, end of story. A precious connection has been made.

There seems to be some evidence, however, that many people are put off by black dogs. This may be difficult for those of us with black—or dark-colored—dogs to understand.

What is Black Dog Syndrome?

Black Dog Syndrome (BDS) may sound like a disease or a medical condition, but it's really a term that describes something that animal shelters have come to realize: It appears that black dogs have a harder time getting adopted compared to their lighter-colored kennel mates.

The evidence is more anecdotal than "scientific," but the observations of many shelter workers seem to confirm that BDS is real. According to these people, visitors to a shelter are more likely to take a pass on black or dark dogs. This may explain why shelters have more black/dark dogs in their care for a longer period of time. And, as a consequence, why black/dark dogs are more likely to be euthanized.

Some people dispute this observation by pointing out that, in the general dog population, there are more dark-colored dogs, compared to light/white dogs. If that's true, they argue, then it's to be expected that shelters would have a higher percentage of darker dogs.

What is it about black?

It's a cliché in old Western movies that the bad guy wears a black hat. Diabolical powers are often referred to as "black magic." Black is often characterized as the color of evil, the unexplained, and the mysterious. Could it be, then, that black dogs have come to be the unfortunate canine embodiment of our cultural superstitions?

Beyond that, however, there may be practical reasons why some people don't give black dogs a second look when exploring listings of adoptable dogs. One of these has to do with the dogs' photogenic qualities. If you've ever taken a photo of a black dog, you know they can be very difficult to light. All too often, the black or dark coloring comes out underexposed, leaving just eyes and teeth as visible details. This can make even the sweetest, most good-natured dog look unfriendly or downright mean. For that reason, some shelters are taking particular care when photographing the darker dogs in their care.

Another color-related reason why black/dark dogs get passed over in a shelter has to do with the lighting conditions in the facility. If the kennels are in dark areas, these dogs seem to be lurking in shadows (even if they're not), and they simply don't "show" as well as lighter-colored dogs. In improved lighting conditions, someone might see the beautiful rich luster of a black dog's coat. But the lighting in many shelters is not optimal, and this works to the disadvantage of darker dogs.

What can you do?

If you're considering adopting a dog, please remember these tips:

  • Never judge a dog by its color
  • Go out of your way to seek out the black/dark dogs in the shelter
  • Take the time to get to know the dog by playing with it

And, of course, remember: All dogs rule. That includes dogs of every color, size, shape, breed, and mixture. How fortunate we are that love and devotion come in some many beautiful forms—and they're all DOG.

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