Down with “Black Dog Syndrome”! Get Ready for Black Dog Appreciation Day

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Everyone is familiar with the old superstition associated with black cats: a black cat can bring bad luck to the person who sees it, especially if said cat’s path crosses with theirs.  Silly, right?  Well, did you know there were similar superstitions associated with black dogs?

In folklore from the British Isles, a “black dog” was the name given to a devilish nocturnal apparition whose appearance portended death.  Remember the Sherlock Holmes adventure, “The Hound of the Baskervilles”?  Although in the story the ghostly “hellhound” that stalked the Baskervilles turned out to be a regular, flesh and bone dog, to this day there still exist stereotypes against black dogs.

This stereotype is a very real phenomenon known to the animal welfare community as Black Dog Syndrome.  Black dogs are the last to be adopted from shelters and often the first to be euthanized because of the difficulty of finding them homes.  I first heard about Black Dog Syndrome several years ago after I had already adopted two black dogs of my own and I was shocked and puzzled by the statistics.  Why would so many beautiful, sweet animals have trouble finding homes just because of their color?

New Picture

What’s wrong with my color?

There are a few theories about the root of Black Dog Syndrome, one being as basic as the way the human eye discerns images.  These days, many people search the internet for a dog to adopt and unfortunately, darker colored objects simply do not photograph as well as lighter colored objects.  Therefore, a black dog’s picture may not show up as well and thereby not resonate as well as a light colored dog’s picture.  Or, a black dog’s picture may be overlooked entirely because the human eye is naturally drawn to a lighter object.  Shelters are typically not lit well either, compounding the problem of photographing a black dog in a flattering way.

Black dog laying by the pool

You can’t deny I’m photogenic.

Another strike against black dogs being adopted may be popular depictions of good and evil.  You have never heard of a “black knight” riding in to save a maiden, have you?  In movies, television and literature, the color white is traditionally associated with “good” and the color black is traditionally associated with “evil.”  Big, black dogs are perceived as more menacing than their same-sized, lighter counterparts.

Black and tan dog sitting

Do I look evil to you?

Slang and culture may also play a part in tipping the odds against black dogs.  First coined by the Roman poet Horace, and later used by Winston Churchill, the term “black dog” has been used for centuries as a metaphor for depression.

Black dog lying on floor

Being a metaphor for depression is depressing.

Even though you and I realize that none of these are valid reasons to discount adopting a black dog, the problem still persists, so I would like to challenge you to share these misconceptions with others and spread the word about why black dogs are awesome and adoptable.

I’ll go first:

Because they’re so gorgeous and sleek, having a black dog at my side makes me look ten pounds thinner!  Ok, no it doesn’t.  But here are some reasons why I love my black dogs:

Black dog on edge of boat looking into water

They share my sense of adventure…

black and tan dog running in the snow

And love of the outdoors.

black dog wearing happy birthday glasses

They help celebrate milestones.

black dog carrying a pink ball

They’re always up for a game of fetch…

Dog playing tug

Or a spirited game of tug-o-war.

black dog and cat napping together

But they’re just as good at relaxing…

black and tan dog laying in the sun

and just chilling out.

black dog laying by the pool

They are light-hearted…

2 black dogs laying together on the hardwood floor

And play well with others.

black and tan dog laying in the gravel

They are loving and loyal…

2 black dogs begging for food

And always love spending time with me.

cute black puppy on red plaid sheets

Do you really need another reason?

Is there a special black dog in your life?  Share your story with us (pictures too please!) or leave a comment below.

24 Responses

  1. Glenda Sims says:

    I came across your website one day, and was blown away. I had no idea that black animals suffered discrimination, as I have always found them especially beautiful, adopting several black cats and dogs over the years. However, when I lost my 16 1/2- year-old Jocko ( a pure black Schipperke-Terrier mix) after 15 1/2 wonderful years, I determined not to adopt a dog that resembled him, fearing that I might unconsciously expect the new animal to be another Jocko. But almost a month later, I spotted a beautiful little black dog on the website of my local Animal Shelter and was smitten. He has been my new companion for almost a month now and I couldn’t be happier– of course he’s not my Jocko,
    but he’s my Pugsley, and I love him.

    • Annie M says:

      Hi Glenda,
      Thank you for sharing that sweet story. Both of my dogs ended up being pure black too and I agree, black is beautiful! A lot of times it just comes down to the fact that black pets don’t always “show” as well as other pets in the shelter. People may be more drawn to that grey brindle with the cool stripes and ice blue eyes in the kennel next door. Every time we post about black pet syndrome we get great support and feedback from our fellow black pet lovers. Your dogs are lucky to have and have had a great mom like you!

  2. ramona meda says:

    I have a nine yr old boy who wants a dog. I’ve allways said he wasnt ready. But i see he is now ready to give love and lots of it.But everywhere it seems they are so expensive to adopt. I live in a two bedrrom apt. with lots of room . can u direct us whjere to go?

    • Annie M says:

      Hi Ramona, If you adopt from the animal shelter the adoption fees are usually around $125. If you adopt an eligible Twelve Pets of Christmas pet before Dec 23rd, from any of the animal shelters listed, you can save $40. Don’t forget when you adopt the adoption fee covers spay or neuter surgery, shots and a microchip.

  3. Willows Friend says:

    I was puzzled when I saw black dogs not be adopted. I felt blessed because it took me almost a month to finalize my decision to adopt a dog and my black friend was still there waiting for me, not one person even inquired in that month delay. My black scruffy 25lb. terrier mix Willow has been the best dog I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.

  4. T says:

    I have never understood this phenomenon regarding black dogs. I seem to be drawn to black dogs and have two black mixed breeds of my own (though I do agree that they don’t photograph well. I had professional photos taken of my female dog in a natural setting and those aren’t even great. Wish I had gotten studio shots against a white background as I think they would have turned out better). Surprisingly I also have 4 cats and none of my cats are black. I have nothing against black cats, and the best cat I ever had was a black and white tuxedo, but I am just not drawn to black cats the way I am to black dogs. I’m glad there are people trying to educate about this and to alleviate the problem by trying to find black animals homes.

    • Annie M says:

      Hi T, I also have a black dog and he is one of the most photogenic pets at the office. Here is a trick to getting good photos of black pets. 1. you need to overexpose by 1 or 2 stops if you have a bright background (usually your background will always be brighter because black is black) your camera is metering for the background and losing all detail in the blacks. Even point & shoot digital cameras have exposure compensation that is marked with a button with a +/- symbol. You can also point the camera at the ground for example, hold the shutter button halfway down to “lock it” then point it back at your pet and shoot it.

  5. Terri says:

    We love our two black labs. One came from a friend and the other was a shelter dog who may have Great Dane in him. They are now our children since our boys are grown. They are both so gentle and loving. My husband had several black labs growing up. LOVE A BLACK LAB and PLEASE ADOPT!
    You’ll never regret it.

  6. Laura says:

    My puppy, Amadeus, is the darkest black dog I have ever known. It would have been hard to pick him out of a picture because he looks two-dimensional in them (he’s a GSD mix, so he’s fuzzy, not sleek-furred). He is also the most resiliant, affable, joyful dog I have ever met. My parents also have a black dog, a 14.5 year old farm dog mix who is the easiest dog to train EVER. Our black dogs come in various shapes and sizes, various inherent abilities, different temperaments, and they are all the BEST DOGS EVER.

  7. Nique says:

    I LOVE black dogs. I have two black Labradors and they are gorgeous, sweet, kind an frankly my best mates. Plus: black dogs age so graciously with that grey snout. There is no reason for black dogs to be underdogs. Adopt one today, please!

  8. Cheyenne says:

    My dog name is Ajax, he is a black pit bull lab and he is the sweetest thing ever. One there is nothing wrong with black dogs they can be just as lovable and two there is nothing wrong with pit bulls. Anyone could have a sweet and loving dog if they have good owners.

  9. Blanca Xochitl Barajas says:

    I just wanted to comment that I have been raised with all types of animals especially dogs. I have had all types of breeds, sizes, shapes, and colors of dogs. As we speak, I own 7 dogs. I have had black dogs which were doberman and other mixed breed dogs, and they have all been wonderful! I was not aware of people staying away from black dogs due to their ignorance, but it is shameful of these animals. Please do not believe all these myths!!!!! Black dogs are beautiful and eye-catching plus wonderful like all dogs. My sister recently rescued two black female labradors from the streets abd she is very happy with phoebe and iris….

  10. Betsy says:

    I’ve volunteered in lots of shelters, for lots of years. I think the biggest problem with getting homes for black dogs is similar to the problem with black cats. It’s less a negative association, more just too “plain.” Many people pick out pets like they were picking out cupcakes or something–the more unusual colors and patterns attract their attention.
    But there is an AWESOME visual advantage that black dogs have, particularly if they are short or medium coated, and that is that they make the BEST fashion models for any color or style of collar, harness or clothing. Every color looks great on a black background, including busy prints, etc. If you like to have a lot of accessories for you pup, black is the perfect color. So for all you fashionistas out there, a black dog is a lot like a little black dress!

  11. Jen says:

    This was a great article… Though I don’t have a black dog ill keep this in my the next time I’m looking for another dog. Also I shared this a few friends and we agreed w some of ur thoughts on why black dogs don’t get adopted…. Thanks for the article…

  12. helene says:

    I made the cutest flyer for the shelters to put up on black dogs kennels. They never did.

    Reasons to Adopt a Black Dog…
    They don’t clash with furniture or clothing
    Their color hides dirt well
    Black is easy to accessorize
    You can always find them in the snow

    Reasons to Adopt a Senior Dog

    Don’t Let the Gray Face Stop You…
    Adopt a Senior!We have lots of life, love, and long walks left in us
    We won’t chew your remote
    We make great therapy dogs
    We’ll sit quietly when you need someone to listen
    We’re not old … We’re experienced

    too bad I cannot send youthe flyers

  13. Miz Craig says:

    Funny–I suffer from “The Black Dog” (depression) and have always known, and even used the term, but it never registered with me as referring to REAL dogs, and in fact I have CHOSEN, and been blessed by, black dogs more often than any other color! Not because I went to the shelter looking for black dogs; I just happened to chose dogs which happened to be black.

  14. Paula says:

    I have had many black dogs in my life and have one now. They were all very loving. If I could afford it I would have another!!!!!!!

  15. Carolina T. says:

    My first childhood puppy was a gorgeous black labrador named Lucky. We got him from our local shelter when I was 9 and he was 6 months old. I was lonely as an only child and he was my sole companion. I told him all my secrets, and he always listened and never told a soul. During my difficult teenage years, I was rebellious and misunderstood. Lucky loved me anyway. When my first love broke my heart, Lucky kissed away the tears. When I left for college, he was the family member I missed the most. He was my best friend. Lucky died when I was 21, of old age. His legacy lives on in family stories and fond memories. RIP LuckyBoy!

  16. Robert Urkofsky says:

    That made me so sad to know black dogs have a tougher time. My wife and I have two rescues we adopted, both black lab mixes. One mixed with pointer, the other mixed with terrier.

    We’re biased like most dog owners, we think our boys are the most loving, fun, loyal puppies ever. Regularly, when we take them out, people tell us how beautiful, well-behaved and happy they are . Reading your article made me sad to think what might have happened if we hadn’t picked them, but I’ve always known we were the lucky ones.