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Black Dog Syndrome: Is It Real?

Black Dog Syndrome

Have you ever heard about the term “Black Dog Syndrome”? Although it might sound like a mythical disease, it is not, neither is it contagious. It is a phenomenon in the shelter and rescue community that is quite alarming: black-colored dogs often get left behind when it comes to adopting dogs from shelters. Sad, isn’t it?

Many professionals, as well as ordinary dog-lovers, are pretty much aware that black dogs nowadays don’t always attract attention because of their color and reputation. They end up usually being euthanized first, but adopted the last. Even people who come for dog adoption prefer light-colored ones such as white, brown, or similar colors. To clarify, here are some reasons why black dogs are subconsciously treated as outcasts by some people:

Black Dog Syndrome

  • Their black color doesn’t do well with the public in general. Some prefer lighter coats because they are more eye-catching.
  • Most owners find it hard to read a black dog’s expression and what it wants.
  • Because they are black, they may be difficult to see at night or when they are in darker places. This can be a hassle if they get lost or suddenly ran off in the middle of the night. It can also be dangerous to them and to other people because not many people will notice them. They might suddenly attack people or get hit by speeding vehicles during those hours.
  • In popular media and culture, black dogs are stuck with the bad negative image of being the villain and being aggressive.
  • Similar to the reason above, black has always been the color most commonly used to represent negativity, evil and misfortune. For this reason, some people tend to believe that black dogs are unlucky.
  • Many black dogs are known as dangerous dogs and are prone to aggression. Some of which are Pit bulls, Doberman Pinchers, black Labradors, Chows and Rottweilers.

For the stated reasons, black dogs seem to be discriminated against. And it’s not just dogs; even black cats experience the same kind of sad fate. These pets are in great need and danger if they do not find love and care from human owners.

An excerpt from a Wikipedia article gives some further understanding of the phenomenon:

The phenomenon may be due to a number of factors, including fear stigma against certain breed types, and the fact that large, black dogs are often portrayed as aggressive in film and on television.

Some people believe that during the pet adoption process some potential owners associate the color black with evil or misfortune (similar to the common superstition surrounding black cats), and this bias transfers over to their choice of dog.[1] Additionally, many shelters feature photo profiles of their dogs on the shelter website. Because black dogs do not photograph well, lighter-colored dogs have an advantage with potential adopters browsing the site.

But fortunately, help is on the way from a friendly non-profit organization. Winnipeg Humane Society (WHS) from southern Canada has recently implemented the “Black Dog Club”, a program that will surely benefit black dogs. It gives special benefits and discounts to anyone who adopts a black-colored dog. They are also automatically made as members of the club when they adopt the dog, and they receive lifetime discounts on WHS items. For other dogs, they have to be at least 50% black or more to get special offers. Other black dogs can also be registered as members.

WHS has already taken the first step in fighting against Black Dog Syndrome. We can help too, by making our black dogs look more attractive. Try buying him a bright collar, colorful toys, and other added attractions. When you’re going to do a photo shoot, make sure the room is well-lit to attract online communities into buying or adopting dogs like your precious buddy. But the bottom line is that, dogs and cats need love and care, regardless of its color, size, or whatever. As owners and dog lovers, we should also do something to further prevent Black Dog Syndrome from lingering in the community.

Do you have any ideas to help combat this phenomenon? If so, please share your thoughts below.

46 Responses to Black Dog Syndrome: Is It Real?
  1. Kristel m
    June 15, 2014 | 11:18 pm

    I never understood the why’s behind this. I think people just need to be more aware that black animals are portrayed as evil by Hollywood, not by the dogs themselves.
    I have 3 cats, 2 black and 1 tortie (mostly black)! I think they’re all gorgeous and their eyes are capable of saying so much more because they stand out better!

  2. Jennifer M
    June 14, 2014 | 10:09 pm

    I have a very sweet Yorkie Poo! He’s extremely affectionate. Loves to cuddle & is protective of me.
    He LOVES to eat anything that won’t eat him first. Loves to run around & play.
    I can understand why some ppl might think a black dog is mean because I’ve notice most dogs in movies that are mean….are mostly black. I’ve had my (2) black dogs since the day they were born & they are anything but mean.. Quite the contrary… Loving & kind…

  3. Sanne
    June 14, 2014 | 11:02 am

    I Have a beautiful black lab. He had some problems in the beginning, but it wasn’t his fault. The previous owners just didn’t look after him. I spent a lot of time teaching him stuff. Now he’s the most adorable dog I’ve seen. He’s happy, lovable. A nice dog. I’ve forgotten all the times I was angry with him. It’s been worth all the effort I’ve put in to him. Our story is that he helped me overcome my problems and I’ve helped him overcome he’s problems.

  4. Rajendra Prasad M
    June 14, 2014 | 1:09 am

    I have a cute lookingBlack Lab. I love him like anything .. He is so precious to me . He is very naughty and always loves to play with me.. He is apart of my family and everybody loves his antics… P

  5. Tanya
    June 14, 2014 | 12:44 am

    Love my almost all black rescue. She’s so beautiful and sweet.she’s not my 1st either. I prefer gray and black animals. Maybe I’m weird?

  6. […] Many professionals, as well as ordinary dog-lovers, are pretty much aware that black dogs nowadays don’t always attract attention because of their color and reputation. They end up usually being euthanized first, but adopted the last. Even people who come for dog adoption prefer light-colored …read more     […]

    • teresa Maddox
      June 13, 2014 | 9:38 pm

      I have a black shihtzu and I wouldn’t take nothing in this world for her she’s very small and I love my baby girl more than life.

  7. French Bulldog Times
    June 13, 2014 | 12:10 pm

    […] Because they are black, they may be difficult to see at night or when they are in darker places. This can be a hassle if they get lost or suddenly ran off in the middle of the night. It can also …read more […]

  8. Sara
    November 29, 2013 | 7:47 pm

    You (the writer) forgot something very important… With black dogs, it’s infinitely easier to see their SMILE! I’ve been owned by Scotties most of my life, and while I now have a rescue terrier-corgi mix, I expect to be owned again by a beautiful black baby… As an aside, I’m glad to say, the week we rescued ‘Bones’ there were NO black dogs (or cats) at the pound!

  9. Jeanne Bashore
    November 29, 2013 | 5:05 pm

    My almost 6 month old rescue, Luna Skye Bleu, is a black with tiny white markings on chin and chest and a toe or two – chihuahua / mini pin mix. So she has the black, chihuahua, small dog prejudices going against her to begin with. Other side is that she is the most loving, affectionate, personable dog I have ever met and doesn’t have a yippy reputation. She loves everybody unless they cross her by ignoring her and then you may here a sharp YIP as if to say “Yo, Over here, No, down here, I’m the little cute one in a long black coat and whatever my people dressed me in today. Yeah, now you see me…. Adios ! ….”
    I would love to be part of that group as well.

  10. Melissa
    November 29, 2013 | 2:12 pm

    My Murphy boy is a black lab and boxer mix, people are often scared of him, because he has boxer in him and he is black, he almost looks like part pitt, which dosent bother me either. I raised him to be gentle and loving, he is now 4 years old and can get a little rowdy at times, but he is harmless. Two of my good friends have 2 year old sons who Murphy just adores, and is great with, but it is sad they get such a bad name!

  11. Mariana Vasconcelos Paulino Lima
    November 29, 2013 | 11:15 am

    I really don’t get it why people are so ignorant about black dogs. I LOVE SO MUCH my BLACK LAB named Pantera that I can’t understand when someone deslike this beauties!

  12. Ann Casert
    November 29, 2013 | 11:13 am

    How sad people can be influenced by the color of an animal. You choose a dog or cat because you are atrackted to it by its character and mutual kindness for eachother. We took 2 black dogs from the chelter and they are both adorable and very kind. Their color has nothing to do with their lovely character! We love black dogs for ever !!!

  13. Lisa
    November 29, 2013 | 9:23 am

    Funny this. Something I have never thought about before. We are a fairly easy going family and four of our 6 adopted cats and dogs have all been dark grey or black (the other two were ginger). Each and everyone peaceful, loveable, and a joy to share life with each and every day. Currently we are loving a big, beautiful, bodacious, black, Briard, who at a very young age (3) is going grey. Perhaps more people will be less afraid of her as she turns grey?

  14. Brenda
    November 29, 2013 | 9:06 am

    There are two black dogs in our famiy, and they are sweeties!!!!!

  15. Melinda Kirkley
    September 27, 2013 | 1:03 am

    I had never heard of this until a black dog was featured on the news. Our local news at noon every Thursday features pets that are up for adoption at the Southeast Missouri Humane Society. Kelly mentioned “black dog syndrome” and how hard it is to place black dogs. WOW! I would own a black dog as fast as I would a white, brown or any other colored dog. I think black dogs are beautiful just like I think black stallions are beautiful. Being black doesn’t say anything about temperament. It’s just a color.

  16. Sue Eanes
    July 17, 2013 | 8:42 pm

    I love my 2 big black dogs. I found both of them in the street and they are big babies and so sweet! When I found them-that is when I first learned big black dogs are the last to be adopted. I have a T shirt that says “I like my dogs big,black and rescued.” I get lots of comments when I wear it-and notice people reading it!

  17. Jackie Johnson
    July 17, 2013 | 6:43 pm

    I have two of the most loving black dogs! One is a true shelter dog, Maxx, almost 11 years old, and Sully, almost 2 years old, who came to us by way of a friend finding him and a golden pup on the side of the road. Someone had thrown them out of their car! They were only about 7 weeks old. No hesitation in asking for the black one. Sight unseen and absolutely no regrets!!! Wish we could have more!!! =)

  18. mike young
    July 17, 2013 | 5:32 pm

    One of the most stupid things I have read. Sorry,anyone that discounts a dog because of a color shouldnt own a dog. I love my black dog! What a freak and rebel I am! :-)

  19. Linda Rogers
    July 17, 2013 | 4:57 pm

    I am the owner of a five year old black rat terrier lab mix. He is the sweetest, smartest dog I have ever owned and we rescued him when he was only 4 weeks old from a local shelter. He was going to be put down because he was black and no one wanted him. I had never heard of this and was appalled that a shelter would put down a sweet little black bundle of wonderful joy. I had just lost a dog and was looking for a dog so my son and I rushed over to this shelter and picked up our now wonderful 5 year old family member and I have since studied about “Black dog Syndrome.” The more I read the more horrified I have become. I can tell you that I wouldn’t trade anything for our wonderful little guy and if I could I would own 1,000 more like him. He is the light of my life and I would love to belong to your group.

  20. gail proulx
    July 17, 2013 | 3:26 pm

    I adopted a all black Lab pit bull mix from our local Humane society. Could not have chosen a better dog!!! She is the best love her so very much!!!

  21. Patricia
    July 17, 2013 | 1:24 pm

    I first heard about this when I adopted my black Lhasa apso from Lone Star Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso Rescue here in Houston. I was told most people don’t go for the black ones! I was shocked. I love black animals. (except for the part where you are looking for that one tiny flea on them and you can’t find it because the darn thing blends in!)

  22. martha
    July 11, 2013 | 10:42 pm

    I have a black dog and use a light up collar to see him at night. It helps A LOT!

  23. susan
    July 11, 2013 | 8:07 pm

    I have 2 shihtzu one gray and white and the other pure black. The gray and white one is very laid back but the black one is active and funny as heck. love them totally would never part with either of them.

  24. t.fitton
    July 11, 2013 | 7:57 pm

    I have a yellow lab and golen retrevier mix but he all black he is not agressive to any one the most he will do is loke you to death lol i also have a cur mix hes more agressivee then my other dog my boys are very protective of me and my girls and will not let anyone in the house that dosen need to be their I totaly agree with amy above its not the dog its the owners that train them that way its not the dogs fault

  25. Amy
    July 11, 2013 | 6:23 pm

    I have a black lab mixed with German Shepard and chow chow…her aggressive? No way. She is so loveable. her tail might be the most aggressive thing about her. I adopted her at 10 weeks old and the other day we saw the most beautiful black lab wondering down the street with no tags. I wish I could have taken her home myself, but I called the humane society where I know she could be cared for. She looked like she had been thrown from a car. Poor baby. I love black labs and Rotties too. We lost ours in september and neither are aggressive breeds. No dogs are aggressive. It is the owners who train them to be that way. They are not born that way. Its bad owners! Not bad dogs!

  26. Dee Wheat
    July 11, 2013 | 6:13 pm

    Good heavens! Are you telling me my 30′ chihuahuaX should not have been named Cujo??? I mean, I got him and his two female littermates as fosters that decided there was no reason to move. The girls are Zelda and Zoe. I was going to name him F. Scott, but didn’t because I knew I would spend years explaining it. Since he was the runt, two weeks behind his sisters giving up his bottle, inordinately fond of a pacifier I finally gave him, and the sweetest, most humble little guy I’ve ever seen, what else was I going to name him?

    All I can say is, people seriously limit their sheer pleasure in life by walking away from ANY dog for any reason, and that’s the stupidest reason I’ve heard in a while!

  27. Diane McDowell
    July 11, 2013 | 6:01 pm

    I’m 60 yrs. old and have three small black dogs 2 of which are rescues – a 10lb.min schnauzer, and 9″ Peke/shih Tzu. They have all turned out to be Therapy Dogs making several visits a week to nursing homes. I dress them up with brightly colored handkerchiefs and I always wear bright colored tops. They are adored by the patients/residents. The # 3 dog is blk and w/ a white bib,12 lbs. I got him from a neighbor that had an accidental breeding and the other 3 pups were white. Iwanted him because white dogs have a propensity to skin allergies. I love my little blk herd.

  28. mary shannon
    July 11, 2013 | 5:57 pm

    I had a black dachshund as a child, a black lab mix as an adult, and now a reverse brindle boxer their love and devotion is no different than any other color. I love them all the same. I have never had an aggressive or mean dog.. Pooh on the people who think black dogs are aggressive or different..

  29. Ronald
    July 11, 2013 | 5:21 pm

    My daughter had two labs as guide dogs. Pita was total white and Promise is total black. It is interesting to observe the different responses of people to two very well behaved dogs. While there were individual differences, they were and are wonderfully behaved dogs. I observe the people are somewhat more stand offish to black dogs. Figure it out.

  30. Terri
    July 11, 2013 | 3:53 pm

    I think it is true! The number of people that cross the road to avoid walking past my dog is amazing! She is a black Labrador, she is a tiny Lab and so loving not aggressive it all! Weird the preconceived ideas people get!

    • Sandra
      July 17, 2013 | 3:30 pm

      LOL! The same thing happened to me once. Three teenage boys crossed the road to avoid walking by my two 50 pound mutts!

  31. norma
    July 11, 2013 | 3:45 pm

    if you can not read a black dog then are you really reading any other color dog?
    i have 6 dogs 7 lbs up to 125 lbs 5 females one male 5 of them are rescues, 2 of them i aquired as puppies from friends. the myth of the black dog is just that. the reason dogs that are black in color or dark colors arent adopted as much as lighter color breeds is because they are miss understood. for me well i love black dogs and i read all 6 of my dogs very well, i talk to them and of course they talk to me. i may not always understand what they are saying but i read their physical stance, mannerisms and temperment. sometimes i can read a dog better than a human. as for me animals are unpredictable of course but there is no animal as unpredictable as the human. so leave the black dog myth as it is. learn the breed, research and them make your own decision. thank you for reading my opinion. have a pleasant day woof woof

  32. charlotte Wideman
    July 11, 2013 | 3:42 pm

    I have 2 black labradors and they are the best and their smiles light up a room like their is no tomorrow. I think they are like a black stallion strong and friendly loveable and courageous. My boys are so playful and friendly. Thank goodness god gave them to me.

  33. Lois Hochstedler
    July 11, 2013 | 3:42 pm

    we rescued a mix pure black lab – she is the most wonderful dog we have ever had – she was 18 months old when we got her – she was very attached to my husband and I lost him in April – she is now my companion and goes everywhere with me that I can take her – she is very gentle – she played with my grandchildren at age 3 and 5 and let them do anything to her. I worry about her getting away from me in the dark but she sticks pretty close to me – does not want me out of her sight but I do go to work.

  34. Sandra
    July 11, 2013 | 2:47 pm

    I adopted two of them. One at the shelter; one off the streets. I love my mysterious black dogs!

  35. Rebecca
    July 11, 2013 | 2:32 pm

    The Seattle Humane Society (a private organization not associated with the Humane Society of the United States) found a fun way to help combat the issue. They sell Black Dog Club and Black Cat Club t-shirts. Whenever I wear my t-shirt, I get asked a lot of questions about what it means. By the end of the conversation, someone has decided to adopt a black dog or cat! It’s been a great way to get the word out locally. I hope others will consider purchasing a t-shirt to help get the word out in their own communities, too.

    As a fun note, I once found myself in a CGC class that had all black dogs so we took a picture of the dogs & their handlers with their Black Dog Club t-shirts on and sent it to the AKC. I may be able to get a copy of it for The Dogington Post if there’s interest.

  36. Lindsey
    July 11, 2013 | 2:28 pm

    I am a Rottie owner. He is a rescue at that. I love him to pieces. He is so smart and affectionate! I wish people who want to own a dog would do more research on them, maybe then they would learn black dogs are the same as any other, being a black dog doesn’t make you mean and scary, if you are someone who thinks that, I don’t think you should be owning a dog. Some people may just have a preference in colour or breed which is fine, but to not rescue a black dog due to lack of knowledge and false accusations is just silly.

  37. Trevor Reynolds
    July 11, 2013 | 1:50 pm

    Black labs listed as aggressive/dangerous??

    • margo
      July 11, 2013 | 6:15 pm

      Travis, i’m with you.

    • Patti
      November 27, 2013 | 2:49 am

      Since when are ANY Labs listed as aggressive, much less the black ones??? The black Labs happen to be my favorite!!

      • Patti
        November 27, 2013 | 2:51 am

        P.S. I own a black cat, too, that like the black Lab, is also a rescued animal…..Black animals have always been my favorite!

  38. Gisela
    November 24, 2012 | 11:45 am

    This information about black dog syndrome has been very useful, as I just rescued a Black Lab off the street about 3 months ago and have been trying to place him ever since. This makes me wonder if the local no-kill ASPCA wouldn’t take him because of his coloring! I currently live in San Antonio TX and the situation here with strays and unwanted animals is overwhelming – last I heard, 3K dogs are killed each month for lack of placement.

  39. Wendy Little
    November 20, 2012 | 3:50 pm

    My lab mix rescue is mostly black and is the most adorable dog ever. I can’t imagine someone not picking him because of his coloring. The only thought I can come up with is that they don’t photograph as well. I, however, found Aidan on Petfinder and he was picked because I fell in love with a pic. I fell in love with a lot of black dogs. Unfortunatly, I could only adopt one as we already had 1 dog and a parrot who thinks he is a dog. Aidan is not only phycically adorable, he has a wonderful soul and beautiful spirit!

  40. MARIA K
    April 14, 2012 | 7:48 pm


    • Anne Gregory
      November 29, 2013 | 11:26 pm

      I have just had a look at this being an owner of 2 black Labradors and always had labs since 41 years the first 1 was a black one and 2 golden 1 chocolate and the rest black.
      I love my Black Labradors to the stage that my beautiful was given a bait I got such a shock my pancreas seize up I went into a diabetic coma that they thought I would die,I came out of it and was told because of the shock of my BLACK LAB DIEING i am now diabetic. I rescued This young black lab who from owner who was roaming the streets: never been microchip,trained was street wise no collar or leash,no bed or dish had been abused very badly and was very scared, my family and friends just looked and said “give her way she is to unruled for me” She cowered, was scared of men What a job a bad diet in fact I did not think she was a pedigree I did not care what she was her coat was bad, in fact she was Just BAD nothing was NICE about HER!!! So here i am with this unruly lab and will be my last and everyone saying give her to the RSPCA!!! I dug my heels in I am a 62 Type1 diabetic Epileptic with heart disease!!! So This very bad black dog 2 years later now everyone wants her!!! she can now tell me if I am having a diabetic hypo! smiles all the time and…..WHAT A BEAUTIFUL BLACK LABRADOR WHO IS KEEPING MY OLDER BLACK LABRADOR NEARLY 11yrs old young and happy and my human 2 cats are beginning to accept her to. I look on my verandah with my 2 human dogs 2 human cats having my coffee and feel so sad that people by pass black dogs When they don’t know the pleasure they are missing !! But I guess you get racial in HUMANS……WHATS THE DIFFERENCE IN DOGS !!!! IF IT WASN’T SO PATHETIC THIS WOULD BE FUNNY SO WHAT I SAY TO THOSE PEOPLE GOD HELP YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!

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