Black Dog Syndrome

Did you know that black dogs are generally the last to be adopted from shelters? Although there are no scientific studies providing definitive data on the problem, most shelter owners will tell you that Black Dog Syndrome is s real problem, with real consequences such as a higher euthanasia rate for black dogs than for others.

Black Dog Myths and Issues

There is no real difference between a black dog and any other color dog, but people tend to believe certain myths about black dogs, and they end up being overlooked more often than not.

  1. Because Rottweilers and Dobermans are primarily black in color, all black dogs must be aggressive. So, following this line of thinking, a pure white Pit Bull would automatically be less aggressive than an all black Pit Bull, right? Wrong. The truth is that dogs are bred and socialized to a desired temperament regardless of breed or color.

    Over a number of generations, breeders select traits they think will bring the most profit. In the case of Pit Bulls, many breeders have found they can make the most money by selecting for aggressive, dominant traits. This has resulted in dogs with aggressive tendencies, which can be enhanced or overcome through socialization and training. A dog bred to have a dominant temperament requires a firm training hand to eliminate aggressive tendencies, whether the dog is black, white or purple.
  2. Black dogs are evil. Throughout history, even going back to ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman mythology, black dogs are often used to foreshadow death or to symbolize the devil. There seems to be the same spookiness attached to black dogs as is associated with black cats. The perception persisted even as late as the mid-20th century when Churchill was quoted as saying he struggled with his "black dog", a euphemism for depression. In Australia, a facility for depression and bipolar disorder is called the Black Dog Institute.

    Are people really influenced by these superstitions? It's hard to say for sure, but it is likely that at least sub-consciously, historical references play a role in the choices people make.
  3. Black Newfoundland Dog Closeup
    Black dogs are harder to photograph and direct sunlight can be unflattering.

  4. Black dogs are harder to photograph. Although it's true that the pictures of black dogs posted on online adoption sites such as PetFinder are not often flattering, this is often due to poor lighting conditions in shelters. A poor representation online can mean a dog will be overlooked when people are browsing for a new family member.
  5. What can be done to promote black dog adoption?

    There are many ways shelters can encourage the adoption of black dogs. Even something simple like taking their pictures outdoors, but not in direct sunlight, can go a long way. A black animal can also be photographed wearing a colorful bandanna or playing in an area where there are bright colors (rather than in a dingy grey concrete cell) to set off the dog's features.

    Many shelters offer black dogs at lower prices, hoping to attract budget-conscious adopters. Black dogs are also often given super-hero names to encourage people to notice their positive attributes.

    Shelter workers who are especially attuned to the plight of black dogs will make a special effort to have some of the black dogs out of their cages when prospective adopters are around. A black dog sitting in the back of his cage is not going to attract anyone's attention. However, a black dog out playing in the yard can be a star.

    What can you do to help?

    If you're in the market for a new dog, make a special effort to get to know the black dogs at your local shelter. Ask the shelter workers to bring the dogs out of their cages so you can get a good sense of their personalities before you reject them based only on the color of their fur.

    If you are not in a position to adopt a black dog for your own family, consider becoming an advocate for black dogs at your local shelter. Make posters to advertise their availability, post pictures on bulletin boards at the vet's offices near you, and promote black dog adoption at community events or in your work, school, or church newsletter. Visit Start Seeing Black Dogs for more tips on how to promote the adoption of black dogs.

    This is how Tamara Delaney of Black Pearl Dogs started out. She got so attached to Jake, a black Labrador Retriever who had been in her local shelter for three years, she ended up adopting him herself. Then, she started her website to encourage others to do the same. She has since been featured on MSNBC and CNN, as well as in BARK magazine, Dogs Today, and People.

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