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What Is Black Dog Syndrome?

face of a black dog it's head tilted slightly, brown eyes looking forward. Dog is chained and outdoors.

It has been noted that black dogs are often overlooked in shelters due to a phenomenon known as ‘Black Dog Syndrome’. What is Black Dog Syndrome? Let’s dig into how a dog’s coat colour may impact their chances of adoption and what you can do to help!

It’s hard to believe that it’s already October! This year has been flying by for us…

Does anyone else feel like we were just starting to embrace the summer weather and now it’s time for pumpkin everything?

Today, October 1st, is National Black Dog Day!

It’s a day dedicated to encouraging the adoption of darker-coated dogs, as well as celebrating the darker-coated dogs that hold a special place in our lives!

They come in every size and shape, but they all have one thing in common… They deserve ALL the love!!

If you’ve been around Shed Happens for any length of time, then you’ve likely seen our boy Indiana featured across our social media accounts.

Indy is a Flat-Coated Retriever mix that we adopted from Ohio.

He’s a MAJOR cuddler, a goofball and the ‘court jester’ of our family. If something is happening in our house that has one of us in tears, it’s often due to him.

Shout out to our boy and black-coated dogs everywhere!!

In an effort to help encourage the adoption of black-coated dogs, I would like to take today to highlight an issue that many of these pups will face in their adoption journey.

Today we’re going to talk about Black Dog Syndrome – What does that phrase mean, what impact does it have on dogs around the globe and what can we do.

So, let’s get to it…

What Is Black Dog Syndrome?

Black Dog Syndrome (BDS) is a phenomenon seen in many shelters in which black-coated dogs (especially larger black-coated dogs) are overlooked in favour of their lighter-coated counterparts.

BDS was first introduced in the early 2000s.

This led to studies and research examining the adoption rates, euthanasia rates and average time spent in shelters based on a dog’s age, sex, coat colour, breed, and other factors.

Sure enough, many experts found that larger black-coated dogs often spent longer waiting for their forever home.

Unfortunately, in many areas of the world, spending too long in a shelter can be a death sentence.

Related: ‘14 Ways to Help Your Local Shelter or Rescue Organization Without Adopting

For this reason, many shelters, rescues and photographers have dedicated their time and effort to adoption campaigns focused on black-coated pets.

(Cats are also included as studies show that they, too, are often overlooked)

These campaigns highlight the beauty of these animals, helping to draw attention to those waiting for their forever homes – and with great return!

For this reason, many shelters, rescues and photographers have dedicated their time and effort to adoption campaigns focused on black-coated pets.

(Cats are also included as studies show that they, too, are often overlooked)

These campaigns highlight the beauty of these animals, helping to draw attention to those waiting for their forever homes – and with great return!

Some shelters have even found that black pets are now adopted faster than lighter-coated pups, a response to their efforts.

While this is GREAT news for those that have been adopted, many continue to wait.

For this reason, it’s important to continue discussing their struggles, the challenges they face and the reasons to support adoption (including, specifically, adoption of black-coated dogs).

They need us to speak up for them!

NOTE: There are other factors that can greatly impact a dog’s ability to be adopted that should also be considered. This includes:

  • Breed (American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, etc.)
  • Age (Senior dogs)
  • Size (Larger dogs)
  • Behaviour (Shy, Nervous, Less Playful dogs)

That being said, I am a firm believer that there is a ‘best shelter dog’ for every family.  No two families are the same. No two dogs are the same.

It is important to highlight this individualized approach to adoption.

black lab wearing a red collar standing outdoors in the grass, tongue hanging out

Why Black Dogs?

There are many theories why black dogs tend to be looked at differently.

However, it’s important to note that they are just that – theories. There is no definitive proof identifying the exact reason that Black Dog Syndrome exists.

Many point to the portrayal of black dogs throughout mythology, folklore and the media.

When discussing ‘bad omens’ or ‘the underworld’, black dogs are often seen as an important piece of the puzzle.

Looking at more recent media portrayals, black dogs are regularly shown as vicious, dangerous or ‘evil’.

While most people don’t outwardly believe that a black-coated dog is evil, this messaging can create a subconscious bias.

It has also been pointed out that black dogs don’t often photograph as nicely.

Their faces are often seen as less expressive due to the fact that their features don’t stand out as much as they do on a lighter-coated dog.

Furthermore, their dark coats can make them a little harder to see in darker cages and kennels. Meanwhile, lighter-coated dogs stand out, catching the eye of potential adopters.

Other theories include the fact that black dogs are seen as ‘common’ or ‘boring in their appearance or they ‘look older’.

I have also heard of fears that black dogs will shed more, or their hair will be more noticeable.

Spoiler Alert: We have a black-coated dog and a lighter-coated dog, and it’s the second dog responsible for most of the hair around our house! Shedding is dependent on breed, not coat colour.

Related: ‘Find the Best Shelter Dog for Your Family by Following This Advice!

What Can We Do to Make A Difference?

If you’re reading all of this and wishing that there was something you could do to make a difference, good news!

While we can’t snap our fingers and eliminate the challenges faced by shelter and rescue dogs around the world, there are things that we can do to make a positive impact!

One of the easiest ways that you can assist black-coated dogs (or any dogs, for that matter) in finding a home is to help spread their story.

Look up the website or social media accounts of your local shelter or rescue organization and share the stories of the dogs that are currently in their care.

Each share helps to increase the number of people who will see that dog’s story, boosting the likelihood that the ‘right’ family will see.  Word of mouth is powerful!

It’s completely free and takes only a few seconds of your time… What do you have to lose?

Talk openly about pet adoption and the challenges shelter dogs face.

Don’t be afraid to answer the question ‘What is Black Dog Syndrome’ for those who haven’t heard of it.

After all, this type of bias often isn’t a conscious choice. By making someone aware, you help break down the obstacles that shelter dogs face in their adoption journey.

Other great ways to support local shelter and rescue organizations include volunteering, making a donation, or running a fundraising event.

Whatever you choose to do, know that you are making a positive difference in the world!

Black dog wearing a black leather collar sitting outside in the grass, mouth open in a happy expression with the text 'What is Black Dog Syndrome?'

Have you ever heard about black dog syndrome before? What factors influence your decision when it comes to adopting a pet?

About Author

Britt is a digital/social media marketer and the owner of The Social Alternative. When she’s not working, she enjoys spending her time with her ‘pack’ which includes her husband John, their 2 dogs Daviana and Indiana and their 2 cats Pippen and Jinx. A proud pet mom, she shares all her pet-related tips, tricks and funny pet antics on Shed Happens.

38 Comments

  • Artie
    October 1, 2020 at 12:28 pm

    This makes me so sad because two of my dogs have been either all black or mostly black and they were lovely amazing lovig dogs and they did photograph really well actually, my black lab has such a beautiful shiny coat and big smiley face and our mix breed had fun little eyebrows and a stripe up his nose. I love dog sm!!! Always makes me sad I cant adopt more.

    Reply
    • Britt
      October 1, 2020 at 2:30 pm

      Yes! As you can see from the picture of our boy Indiana, he has the cutest little tan eyebrows lol

      Reply
  • Bekka - Feelings of a Fake Adult
    October 1, 2020 at 12:46 pm

    I can’t believe this is a thing! I absolutely love black dogs (and cats), and plan to adopt some in the future. It’s so sad they are discriminated against and overlooked, and I think they look gorgeous in photographs! Thank you for sharing and raising awareness of this!

    Reply
    • Britt
      October 1, 2020 at 2:28 pm

      Right? Honestly, our boy Indy is SUPER photogenic – you just have to know how to take pictures of him right!

      Reply
  • Yolanda
    October 1, 2020 at 2:35 pm

    I personally love black dogs. I had a black labrador retriever growing up and she was the most loving dog and the sweetest.

    Reply
    • Britt
      October 1, 2020 at 3:37 pm

      Our boy is the snuggliest, most affectionate dog that I have ever known.

      Reply
  • Sophie Harriet
    October 1, 2020 at 4:50 pm

    It makes me sad that black dogs are often overlooked. The same happens for cats as well! When we were looking around rescue centres for our current cat, I wanted to get a black cat because of this. We ended up getting a tabby but that was based on her personality, not colour. I agree there is a best shelter animal for every family! xx

    Reply
    • Britt
      October 1, 2020 at 7:39 pm

      I feel bad admitting this, but I totally adopted both of our cats based on their coats. That being said, it’s more than just appearance… I have a serious weakness for Torties. Both of ours are torties, one short-haired and one long-haired. I’m not sure where they fit in the bigger picture of adoption stats as they are darker in colour and would fit a lot of the concerns mentioned – harder to see features, not standing out in darker cages, etc.

      Reply
  • shyla
    October 1, 2020 at 4:54 pm

    While I see that some believe black dog syndrome isn’t a real thing, I can honestly say that I believe it’s true. People tend to gravitate toward the more light, spotted, or different colored dogs. In the past when I’ve visited a shelter I did notice more older dark colored dogs that had not been adopted and were being overlooked. I adopted my cat from a shelter where I saw this happening. When I was a child I had a black lab mix and I have to say he was the best and most loyal dog I could have asked for. I hope more people choose to adopt the older dogs and even ones that don’t appeal to them right away because their personality could mean all the difference. All dogs are beautiful in my opinion. I will definitely be spreading the message about this. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Britt
      October 1, 2020 at 7:37 pm

      I do believe that there are some shelters where it is no longer the case – especially those who have gone out of their way to advocate for black dog adoption, causing the stats to turn. That being said, and being involved in rescue for a good part of my life, I can say that I’ve seen it happen firsthand for both dogs and cats. It’s heartbreaking to see AMAZING animals overlooked simply due to their black coat.

      Reply
  • Sam | Smarter and Harder
    October 1, 2020 at 5:46 pm

    I had no idea this was a thing! I’ve lived with a few wonderful dark-coated dogs in the past, and had never heard that they faced this issue. Thank you for spreading awareness, and putting action in our hands! Hopefully this will be a good year for National Black Dog Day, with adoptions being way up due to all of the people spending more time at home.

    Reply
    • Britt
      October 1, 2020 at 7:35 pm

      I have heard many shelters talking about record adoptions this year! I just hope that everyone adopting is prepared for the commitment that comes with it vs just adopting with time at home in mind only to find that they ‘don’t have the time’ when their lives return to a normal schedule again.

      Reply
  • Jodie | That Happy Reader
    October 1, 2020 at 6:00 pm

    What a great post! I firmly agree that there is a shelter dog for everyone – and I’m looking! Thanks for sharing about the difficulties of black dogs being adopted.

    Reply
    • Britt
      October 1, 2020 at 7:29 pm

      The search can be a bit of a challenge. I still remember the process of finding our boy Indy. That being said, it’s totally worth it when you find that ‘right fit’!

      Reply
  • Richie
    October 1, 2020 at 6:02 pm

    Hi Britt. Great article. It’s so sad that this is a thing. We currently have a yellow Lab (called Harvey) but we have decided that our next dog will be black (and the one after that will probably be chocolate!).
    btw, Indy sounds awesome 🙂

    Reply
    • Britt
      October 1, 2020 at 7:28 pm

      It is sad, isn’t it? I hate that there are dogs that may have a hard time finding a home simply because of their coat colour.
      Indy is SUCH a big baby! He’s our snuggler – wanting nothing more than cuddles 90% of the time lol

      Reply
  • Sophie
    October 1, 2020 at 6:18 pm

    I had no idea this was a thing!! I’m aware that certain breeds put people off, and age too but I didn’t know that poor dogs were overlooked because they have black fur. They’re just as cute as the others!! I’m kinda sad now…😂 x

    Sophie

    Reply
    • Britt
      October 1, 2020 at 7:25 pm

      It is definitely a sad thing to think about. Our black-coated boy is a total cuddler – SO full of love!

      Reply
  • Sarah
    October 2, 2020 at 3:36 am

    It’s the same with black cats 🙁 We got our black cat Archie from the blue cross after no one wanted to adopt him 🙁 So sad xx

    Reply
    • Britt
      October 2, 2020 at 1:17 pm

      Yes, it does, and for the same reasons listed. It’s sad to think that the colour of a pet’s coat could impact their chances of being adopted. However, I’m proud to show off our black pup and challenge people to really think about it for National Black Dog Day!

      Reply
  • Jenny in Neverland
    October 2, 2020 at 4:22 am

    I knew this was a thing with cats but didn’t realise it extended to dogs as well. I think that’s so sad. Black dogs are absolutely beautiful!

    Reply
    • Britt
      October 2, 2020 at 1:16 pm

      Unfortunately, both species struggle with it. However, there’s been A LOT of work put into highlighting darker-coated pets at many shelters and rescues, with great results! Goes to show how understanding something like this actually empowers us to make a difference.

      Reply
  • denelia Storm
    October 2, 2020 at 12:38 pm

    I had no idea this was a thing, thanks for raising awareness about it. I always get so sad when I hear about bad things happening to animals. I don’t own a dog, but whenever I think about getting one I now notice that I tend to favour lighter-coated dogs. But thanks to you I’m now aware of this bias I hold and hopefully I can educate someone else on black dog syndrome.

    -Denelia

    Reply
    • Britt
      October 2, 2020 at 1:14 pm

      That’s the key, to recognize that we are thinking that way! As with any unconscious bias or stigma, we can’t change it until we know it’s there. The fact that you recognize it in yourself shows a high level of self-realization!

      Reply
  • Katherine
    October 2, 2020 at 8:15 pm

    My last dog was black German Shepard (not all black but close) and everyone was terrified of him. He was a good boy and very snuggly. People just thought he was scary bc he was big and black. It’s amazing what people will convince themselves of! Great details!
    Good job trying to keep the black dogs safe!

    Reply
    • Britt
      October 2, 2020 at 10:24 pm

      Our boy Indy doesn’t seem to be met with the same kind of judgement, but I think it’s the softer, baby-like features of the flat-coated retriever (they are often referred to as the ‘Peter Pan’ of dogs, always young). However, I have seen far too many AMAZING black-coated dogs met with that same prejudice. Just like the stigma surrounding certain breeds, I don’t understand!

      Reply
  • Nancy
    October 3, 2020 at 10:11 pm

    This is interesting – I see the same issue with cats as well :(. Darker-coated pets have a harder time getting adopted, but I think they tend to be the cooler pets! I agree with you – not all animals are the same. Some are friendlier than others! I know one of the issues that people have are flea management – it’s harder to detect them on darker coat furs. Thanks for sharing about this!

    Nancy ✨ exquisitely.me

    Reply
    • Britt
      October 3, 2020 at 11:03 pm

      Yes, it’s a sad truth for cats too. I just hope that in spreading the word, I can help to remind people to look beyond their appearance. Our black-coated dog is the biggest cuddler!

      Reply
  • Karalee Shotola
    October 4, 2020 at 12:27 pm

    I knew black cats were less likely to be adopted b/c they’re viewed as bad luck, but I didn’t know the same happened with black dogs. It’s great that you’re bringing awareness to this issue.

    Reply
    • Britt
      October 4, 2020 at 8:20 pm

      Originally, I only knew about black cats and the superstition connection. However, being involved in rescue in a variety of different ways over the years, I learned the truth the hard way.

      Reply
  • Kayleigh Zara
    October 4, 2020 at 12:33 pm

    This is honestly so sad, I knew this was a big thing with cats and adoption because of superstition but I never knew this affected dogs as well! That’s sad x

    Reply
    • Britt
      October 4, 2020 at 8:20 pm

      It breaks my heart to think that there are pets overlooked solely due to their coat colour. That being said, I know that a lot of shelters and rescue organizations have been doing a great job in helping to raise awareness for black-coated dogs and cats in their care!

      Reply
  • Mrs. P&P
    October 4, 2020 at 11:22 pm

    So sad. I’ve heard about this problem with other animals, too. I just don’t understand it…

    Reply
    • Britt
      October 5, 2020 at 11:57 am

      I can see the logical reasons why it happens but it’s hard to accept that we can have that kind of subconscious bias.

      Reply
  • Josh Raimonde
    October 5, 2020 at 9:36 pm

    I’ve never heard of this, but I always feel bad for all the dogs at the shelter. We go occasionally to make donations (and just to visit all the awesome dogs). Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Britt
      October 6, 2020 at 4:46 pm

      There are so many amazing pets looking for a home. We have been involved in rescue in a few different ways for a while now and the idea that some of those amazing animals will struggle to find their home just due to their fur colour honestly breaks my heart.

      Reply
  • Lisa
    October 6, 2020 at 9:18 am

    I wrote a post about this exact same issue but for black cats a while ago, and the main culprit was Instagram – because black cats don’t photograph as easily as other colours. I had no idea it was the same for dogs as well, that’s so rubbish. Thank you for writing this post, Britt, it’s such a shallow, selfish reason not to adopt an animal, it’s great you’ve raised awareness here. Lisa

    Reply
    • Britt
      October 6, 2020 at 4:37 pm

      It makes me sad to think about all the pets that are overlooked for this reason. Our black-coated dog Indy is the biggest suck that I have ever met – a total lover! I can’t imagine passing up his cuddles and snuggles just because he has darker fur.

      Reply

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