Black Dog Syndrome

Black dogs—particularly large-sized canines—are adopted at much lower rates that their lighter-colored counterparts.

In a recent survey, Petfinder.com reported that most adoptable pets are listed for 12.5 weeks—whereas less-adoptable pets (including black dogs) spend almost four times as long on the website before being welcomed into their new homes. So why are shelters around the United States reporting that they have disproportionately high numbers of black pups?

Possible Reasons

In today’s internet-focused world, most families who are looking to adopt a pet start their search online—where dark-colored pets often don’t show up as well as other animals in photographs. “Dark animals can be hard to see in pictures, making them look expressionless, less friendly, and harder to connect with than brown or other light-colored pups,” says one volunteer in a Seattle-area pet shelter. “Even the friendliest dogs in the world have a hard time getting out of shelters if their online profiles don’t make them seem safe and approachable.”

Because they’re hard to see, black dogs may be more likely to get lost in dark places or at night. In some areas, this might mean that a disproportionate percentage of dogs in a shelter are dark-colored, making them seem less desirable.

Black has traditionally been a color that represents negativity, misfortune, and evil in literature, drama, and legend. (For example: the big, frightening dogs in The Hound of the Baskervilles, the Harry Potter series, or The Omen.) In popular media, dog blacks are often portrayed as scary, aggressive, or villainous. In other cases, black dogs are considered synonymous with depression. The Black Dog Institute, for example, is a nonprofit organization that specializes in “…the diagnoses, treatment, and prevention of mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder”—a name which plays off that negative connotation.

What You Can Do

Talk about Black Dog Syndrome! Experts suggest that it’s an unconscious prejudice, and once people understand their biases toward sweet-tempered dogs with dark fur, they’re less likely to make decisions based on knee-jerk reactions.

Display your love of black pets proudly! Post photos, give black dogs extra attention, and encourage friends in the market for pups to check out their local shelters for charcoal companions.Consider volunteering at your local shelter. No matter what your skills sets might be, the chances are good that a local rescue group is desperate for your help. Volunteer to walk dogs, clean kennels, shoot flattering photos of adoptable pups, work on the shelter’s website, or just donate $20. Even if you can only spare a smidgen of help, it’ll be welcome to all animals in need—especially those facing extra challenges in their search for a forever home.

Meet the Author: Charlotte Austin

Charlotte Austin is a Seattle-based writer and mountain guide. She has climbed, explored, and led expeditions in North and South America, Nepal, Europe, Alaska, and Patagonia. Her writing has been featured in Women's Adventure, Alpinist, Stay Wild, and other national and international publications. When she's not guiding in the Himalayas, she's exploring her hometown (Seattle, Washington), trying new recipes, and hanging out with Huckleberry, her giant black Great Dane-Lab mix. Read more about their adventures at www.charlotteaustin.com.

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