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Home > Dogs > Black Dog Syndrome: Are Adoptions Affected? Important Facts to Know

Black Dog Syndrome: Are Adoptions Affected? Important Facts to Know

close up of black labrador retriever dog

Ever wonder why shelter workers sigh and shake their heads at the arrival of a litter full of black puppies? It’s not the dog, we assure you. It’s the idea of the dog—it’s black dog syndrome.

Black dog syndrome is when black dogs are ignored while potential owners snatch the lighter-colored dogs. This would mean black dogs stay in shelters and foster families longer than other dog colors. But is black dog syndrome a fact or theory? Let’s explore.

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When Did Black Dog Syndrome Begin?

It’s hard to say when the theory of black dog syndrome began. The issue gained public attention in the early 2000s, but it’s been a problem for centuries 1.

In folklore, black dogs and cats represent evil, demons, and guardians of hell. Black animals usher in bad omens, curses, evil spirits, and much more. Scripts and paintings depict these animals contorted because their origin is more unsettling.

Over time, these myths began to fade, but the damage had been done—animals with black fur represent darkness.

Even if you don’t believe it, the idea is ingrained in us from shows, movies, and books. It’s hard to find a Halloween store without a black cat, a witch without a crow, or a dark scary cave without a black dog.

black dog sitting on grass
Image Credit: photosounds, Shutterstock


Black Dog Syndrome and Adoptions

We know now that an animal has no control over its fur color. Still, black dogs seem to attract fewer adopters, according to shelter workers.

Some who have witnessed black dog syndrome believe it’s because black dogs are hard to photograph. Black animals don’t show as much detail because the shadows blend in with their fur.

Have you ever browsed adoption websites or searched for a lost pet? If so, you know how difficult it is to see beyond a shadowy silhouette. It’s no wonder that most Instagram-famous animals are light-colored. Trends come in colors, too.

Why does this matter? Because more than 27% of dog adopters say appearance is the most important deciding factor.

Cultural differences and location can be a reason, too. It’s possible that black dog syndrome doesn’t exist in certain areas, or isn’t as obvious, compared to other shelters.

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Black Dog Syndrome: Fact or Theory?

Truthfully, no hard evidence proves dark-colored animals stay in shelters longer than light-colored ones.

An animal’s history with children, pets, health, age, and behavior all blend together to help owners make the best decision. Even the first introduction can make or break an adoption deal. But shelters and veterinary workers would disagree.

black dog lying on grass at the park
Image Credit: Los Senderos del Mundo, Shutterstock



So, is black dog syndrome real? It’s hard to say. The best possible answer is that it’s real in some places and not real in others. Regardless, you can do something to help the problem.

Adopting and fostering are great ways to keep animals out of shelters. If you can’t commit to more animals in the home, try volunteering at your local shelter. There are all kinds of roles, like spending time with dogs, taking them on walks, feeding them, and cleaning their rooms. It depends on the shelter’s needs and your level of commitment. No matter what, your time makes a difference.

Featured Image Credit: Dimedrol68, Shutterstock

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