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Black Dog Syndrome: Does It Exist? Explaining Problematic Phenomenon

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By Nicole Cosgrove

black pug resting on a dog bed in a crate

Dogs have evoked several myths and folklore stories, but one common tale you may have heard is that black dogs are often the last to be adopted and the first to be euthanized. This idea is known as Black Dog Syndrome (BDS), but does it exist?

There is validity behind BDS, which does exist to some degree, but there is a little more to the story than you may realize. In this article, we’ll examine the evidence and the possible reasons behind the phenomenon.

Divider-Dog Paw and Bone- New

What Is Black Dog Syndrome?

The Black Dog Syndrome (BDS) concept claims that smaller, lighter-colored dogs are often in favor and more commonly adopted than dark-colored dogs. This results in more black dogs spending longer stays in shelters and being euthanized more frequently than other dogs.

BDS is a problem that has a negative impact on the adoption rates of black pets, and it is a sad phenomenon because the dogs’ features don’t make them any more dangerous or less lovable than any other dog.

While the reason behind this strange idea is uncertain, there are numerous theories to explain why prospective adopters would be wary of black dogs, and many studies have been published to determine whether Black Dog Syndrome genuinely exists.

a black great dane lying on a dog bed
Image Credit: trwirth, Pixabay

Does Black Dog Syndrome Exist?

BDS has a lengthy historical background and has been researched for many years. Several studies and reports from animal shelters suggest that black dogs have a harder time getting adopted. Some shelter workers and rescue groups have observed that black dogs, especially larger breeds, often spend longer in shelters before being adopted than dogs of lighter colors.

Due to the phenomenon, many black dogs are put to death. Though some people believe that black dogs have a harder time getting adopted, science has not supported or disproved this belief, and numerous studies oppose one another.

1998 and 2002 Studies

A 1998 study in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association uncovered that dogs with black coats were more likely to be put down, whereas dogs with white, gold, and grey coats were more likely to be adopted. Another study in 2002 found that pure-black colors negatively impacted the rate of adoptions since the dogs were seen as aggressive and unfriendly.1

2013 Study

Those findings appear to conflict with other scientific research, such as one that examined the length of time dogs spent in two shelters in New York in 2013.2 The research found that the length of their stay was unaffected by the color of their coat and indicated that black dog syndrome might only occur in specific regions of the world due to cultural variations.

According to some studies, dogs with black coats are more common since the color is a dominant gene, which may explain why more black animals are in shelters.

young black great dane dog lying outdoor
Image Credit: Vera Reva, Shutterstock

Why Are Black Dogs “Less Adoptable”?

There are several explanations for why black dogs have lower adoption rates. Due to the stigma associated with particular breeds, such as Pit Bulls, adopters may avoid black dogs.

Superstitions

According to history, black dogs are associated with negative superstitions and folklore. These cultural beliefs could potentially influence an individual’s decision to adopt a black dog.

Some legends go back centuries, and as adopters look around the shelter, the myths may be in the back of their minds. Not only do the myths play a part in the preconceived idea that black dogs may be evil or dangerous, but they are also in film and media, where black dogs are usually portrayed negatively, usually as aggressive dogs.

Additionally, some people think that the black dog syndrome may be brought on by potential owners’ associations of the color black with evil and misfortune, which stay subconsciously in their minds when choosing a dog for adoption.

Photographic Problems

Some people even believe it may depend on how attractive the dogs seem in photos. Black dogs are typically challenging to photograph, and lighter-colored dogs may have the advantage when shelters or rescues photograph their adoptable animals to post on their website or social media.

Their facial expressions and features may not appear as clearly in photographs, making it harder for potential adopters to relate to them. In an era where high-res digital photography is as available as the smartphone in your pocket, this is one of the weakest arguments for Black Dog Syndrome.

black dog lying on floor
Image Credit: tonyfortku, Pixabay

How Can You Help Black Dogs?

The only difference between black dogs and other dogs is their coat and appearance. The way they behave and the love they give are all the same.

Adoption

Adopting one is the best way to help reduce the effects of BDS, and if you can afford and manage it, consider adopting a pair for companionship! Furthermore, adopting from a shelter or rescue provides extra space for new occupants.

Helping Local Shelters

If you are unable to adopt, you can donate your time to your local shelter and help promote awareness and organize events. Take photos with all of the black dogs and share them on your social media pages.

Share your thoughts and knowledge about BDS with as many people as possible to help spread awareness and change the unconscious story in people’s minds. You can also encourage them to go out and adopt a black dog to bring home and love.

Black Markiesje dog laying in the grass
Image Credit: Ev_Parasochka, Shutterstock

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Conclusion

Even while there is evidence to support the possibility that Black Dog Syndrome exists, it’s crucial to remember that each dog is an individual with a distinct personality and traits.  Aggression and other behavioral issues aren’t unique to black dogs, and a dog’s coat color does not determine their temperament.

By adopting a black dog, you’re giving them a loving home and helping break down the barriers associated with Black Dog Syndrome.


Featured Image Credit: charlesdeluvio, Unsplash

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