Shelter workers across America keep reporting a sad truth: black dogs (and cats) are adopted at a rate alarmingly lower than that of lighter-coated dogs. Why could this be? While some black dogs are the victims of breed stereotypes that lead people to believe that they are dangerous or aggressive, dogs such as cuddly Lab mixes find themselves with lower adoption rates as well. So, why doesn’t America adopt black dogs? The reasons for this phenomenon, known as Black Dog Syndrome (BDS), are varied.
Throughout the history of superstition, black dogs have always received the short end of the stick. Dozens of traditions and mythologies hold that black dogs are harbingers of death and destruction. Of course, they don’t have as bad a rep as black cats!
In Greek mythology for example, Cerebus, the three-headed dog charged with guarding the gates of Hades, was a big, black dog. It is possible that this centuries-old superstition is still influencing people seeking to adopt a dog and that, on a subconscious level, they may associate black dogs with bad things. Fear of black dogs goes hand in hand with superstition.
Many black dogs, such as Rottweilers, Newfoundlands, and Dobermans, are the unfortunate victims of rampant breed stereotypes. These dogs are often seen as being aggressive and fierce, although this is typically not true. While special care does need to be paid when choosing to adopt a large dog of any breed, it is not fair to judge each individual dog by often-unfounded breed stereotypes. And you certainly can’t judge a dog by its color!
Many shelter workers theorize that it is slightly more difficult to read a black dog’s expression, which may serve to induce fear in people who are unfamiliar with the dog. Since black dogs are dark, their features do not stand out as much as a lighter-colored dog’s. Although the gene that makes dogs dark does not make them aggressive or unpredictable, many people assume that, because they cannot immediately read the dog’s face, the dog may be angry or vicious.
The Illusion of Premature Aging
Many dog breeds, such as the Labrador, start graying-out early in life. While it is not uncommon for a black Lab to start developing grey hairs on the face and muzzle around age two or three, the obvious gray hairs on the black background may make the dog look older than he is, therefore reducing the dog’s chances of adoption in the shelter.
Black Dog Syndrome is an unfortunate truth of shelter life for many dogs. In fact, the problem has gotten so bad that many shelters hold special events and promotional periods to project positive attention onto their resident black dogs. Fortunately, awareness of the issue and willingness to give a black dog a chance is all that is needed to reverse the problem. Pet parents who adopt a black dog will often find that the dog is every bit as loving, personable, and dedicated as his light-coated counterparts.