Why You Should Adopt a Black Dog · The Wildest

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Why You Should Adopt a Black Dog

Sadly, black dogs are adopted less than pups with lighter coats. Here’s everything you should know about “black dog syndrome.”

by The Wildest
September 29, 2023
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Many in the animal rescue community agree that dogs with black coats are adopted less than those with lighter coats. This phenomenon is called black dog syndrome. While its exact prevalence may be up for debate, there are a couple of reasons those in the rescue world point to in order to explain why black dogs may be overlooked by adopters. Learn more about black dog syndrome.

What is black dog syndrome? 

“Black dog syndrome” refers to a pattern animal rescue and shelter workers have observed over time that black dogs are more frequently passed over for adoption than their counterparts with lighter coats.

Over the past decade, since the term was coined, animal shelters, rescue organizations, and volunteers have been helping guide potential adopters to black dogs that often get overlooked. They’ve gone so far as to teach these dogs extra tricks, highlight their personalities in profiles, and ensure multiple black dogs aren’t housed together to help them better stand out.

While the “syndrome” is more anecdotal than documented fact, some research backs it up: A 2002 study of shelter cats and dogs in California found that black fur negatively influenced adoption rates for both dogs and cats. The syndrome may be more present in some areas of the country (and the world) than others, though; a 2016 study of animal shelters in the Pacific Northwest, for example, didn’t find evidence of black dog syndrome.

“Despite the mixed findings across studies about the adoptability of black dogs, it is no surprise that there is a [real] perception of bias,” animal behaviorist Karen B. London, PhD, wrote in 2015.

Why are black dogs less likely to be adopted?

Color bias

One possible cause for black dog syndrome? Color bias. Studies show that black dogs are sometimes perceived as less friendly, conscientious, and emotionally stable than their light-coated counterparts. And in another study, people were found to associate big black dogs as dangerous and aggressive animals. People were also more likely to change their walking direction when they saw a black-coated dog compared to a light-coated dog, regardless of the dog’s size.

Less photogenic

Another reason behind black dog syndrome could be that black dogs don’t always photograph as well as lighter-coated dogs. As potential pet parents increasingly look for pets to adopt online — through apps, online resources, and shelter and rescue websites alike — they may, consciously or not, skip over black-coated pets because their facial expressions or physical features may not be as clear.

Larger numbers

It has been found that the intake of black dogs (and cats) at shelters is higher than dogs of other colors, with one study finding up to 33 percent of dogs being black coated. This could compound the idea of black dogs being overlooked at the shelter more often.

Myths about black dogs 

While black cats are perhaps best known for their spooky associations, black dogs are unfortunately also negatively featured in a number of myths and folklore. Specifically, black dogs have often been portrayed as “hellhounds” or omens of death. Take, for example, the myth of the “Black Shuck,” a black dog-like beast said to roam the coast of East Anglia, or the “Barghest,” a black dog believed to only come out at night as an omen of bad things to come. 

While most people today may not believe in these myths, the general stereotype that black dogs are scary or more aggressive than dogs with other coats has still permeated our culture. For example, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles focuses on a murderous, supernatural black dog. More recently, the third book of the Harry Potter series introduced the “Grim,” a big black dog said to be an omen of death.

Why you should adopt a black dog 

You should adopt a black dog for the same reason you should adopt any dog: You’re ready to take on the responsibility of caring for another living being and reap the countless rewards of doing so.

“The idea that black dogs are difficult to adopt…may actually influence people into adopting a black dog. Many adopters prioritize choosing a dog who may not otherwise find a home, and this may mean that such people are gravitating towards black dogs,” London continued in her piece.

Adopting a “less adoptable” dog, including those overlooked because of their fur color or breed, is rewarding in a unique way as well — every dog deserves a chance to find their forever home, no matter their appearance.

FAQs (People also ask):

Is black dog syndrome real?

Black dog syndrome is a real phenomenon in which black dogs are less likely to be adopted. However, some studies suggest that it may be more of a localized issue or be less prevalent due to advocacy campaigns.


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