What is Black Dog Syndrome and What Can You Do to Help?

Black Dog Syndrome

Black Dog Syndrome

Black Dog Syndrome is something I have mentioned more than a few times on my Twitter feed.

A lot of my followers work in rescue and are already familiar with this phenomenon. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, though, I want to explain it to you today. It is my hope that by making you more aware, you can help me to make a difference.

What is Black Dog Syndrome?

Black dog syndrome (also known as “big black dog syndrome”) is a term used to describe the phenomenon of passing over black dogs in shelters and rescues in favor of lighter colored dogs.

Black dog syndrome happens with dogs of all breeds, although it is most often associated with mixed breeds. It is seen among purebreds too, though.

Having assisted various rescue groups with Labrador placement, I can tell you that yellow Labs are always in much higher demand. Black Labs and even chocolate Labs are overlooked. It’s not just Labs either, lighter coated purebred dogs of any breed are almost always preferred over their darker counterparts.

Big Black Dog Syndrome

Black dog syndrome influences the adoptability of dogs in shelters and rescues, but when you’re a big dog AND a black dog, the outlook is even worse. Large black dogs are among the dogs least likely to be adopted from shelters and rescues.

Why Does Black Dog Syndrome Exist?

Why are black dogs less preferred than lighter colored dogs? And why are big black dogs even less preferred than other black dogs?

Black Dogs Are “More Aggressive”

Part of the reason black dog syndrome exists is the misconception that black dogs are aggressive. People are more fearful of black dogs for this reason.

Why do people generalize black dogs like this? One school of thought is that it’s a subconscious connection between the color black and “evil” versus white and “good”. Then, when you add size into the equation, you have a “big evil” on your hands and no one wants that…

Are black dogs more aggressive or “evil” than other dogs?

Saying that black dogs are more aggressive than other dogs is as ridiculous as saying that black people are more aggressive than other people.


We’re talking about the color of fur, the color of skin, these things have absolutely nothing to do with personality traits.

Aggressive dogs and aggressive people are aggressive for a number of reasons – medical or health conditions, neglect or abuse, through a learned pattern of behavior, or an exterior influence such as drugs or medications.

Many components play into the personality of a living being, but the color of hair or skin is not one of them.

Black Dogs are “Unlucky”

Superstition plays into black dog syndrome as well.

Throughout history not only has the color black been associated with evil, but black animals, in general, have been associated with bad omens and “Witchcraft”. For some people, these superstitions still prevail.

Are black dogs unlucky?

Again with the assigning generalizations to hair color? It’s just not true that black dogs are “unlucky”.

The legends, superstitions, and myths that attach bad luck to black animals are the result of ancient beliefs that were used to explain the unexplainable. Humans have a terrible habit of needing an explanation for everything and when no explanation is readily available, they will make one…even when that explanation lacks justification.

These days we should know better than to attach unjust labels to anything or anyone based on fear or ignorance.

Black Dogs Aren’t Photogenic

One cause of black dog syndrome that does have some truth behind it is that black dogs are less likely to be adopted because they are not as photogenic.

If you have ever owned a black dog, you know that capturing a good photo can be difficult. Black dogs don’t show up as well without good lighting and a contrasting backdrop.

When photographing dogs in a shelter setting, capturing a good photograph is even more difficult. Unfortunately, most shelters don’t have the time to devote to professional or staged photographs so black dogs end up with poor quality pictures. These pictures are a potential adopter’s first impression of a dog and it only makes sense that a good picture with a more visible dog is going to appeal more to an adopter than a hard to decipher photo.

While there is truth in the fact that black dogs are hard to capture in photographs, this does not mean that they are not photogenic, it means that a little more effort should go into their adoption photos. (Are you a good photographer? Why not volunteer to take adoption photos for your local shelter?)

It may be harder to capture a quick snapshot of a black dog, but when it comes down to it, being a dog parent isn’t about taking photographs, it’s about living, loving, and companionship!

There Are Too Many Black Dogs

The idea that there are too many black dogs so people tend to overlook them is something of a self-perpetuating myth.

When people refuse to acknowledge black dogs or block them out, less black dogs are adopted and so shelters become even more crowded with them. This cycle continues and increasing numbers of black dogs are killed in shelters around the world.

So…are there “too many” black dogs?

Not really, but there is an overabundance of black dogs for adoption because fewer people are opening up their homes to them.

What Can You Do To Help Eliminate Black Dog Syndrome?

As a dog lover, there are plenty of things you can do to help to eliminate black dog syndrome!

  • If you are considering adopting a dog, give a black dog a fair chance and assess them based on personality and not the color of their fur!
  • If you work with, volunteer for, or advocate rescue work, help to educate people about black dog syndrome and show your black dogs in a positive light. Give them a chance at a forever home.
  • If you are a talented photographer, volunteer a few hours a week to take professional photographs of dogs in your local shelter or rescue to show them in their true light.
  • If you own a well-behaved black dog, act as an ambassador for black dogs everywhere. Let others meet and greet your friendly black dog and show them that all of these myths just aren’t true!
Previous Loving a Dog is Like Reading a Good Book
Next 28 Stocking Stuffers For Dog Lovers Under $12 with Free Shipping!

1 Comment

  1. November 20, 2017

    It’s odd that I’ve never known anything about “black dog syndrome” and thank goodness because my current dog is black, and I couldn’t imagine life without her! Hopefully your advocacy will increase the rate of black dogs being adopted.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *