Does it take longer for black dogs to get adopted?

Black dogs might have a harder time getting adopted simply because of their color. This logic mostly applies to big, black dogs. And also black cats. I’ve written about the topic before on this blog and for other publications.

But lately as I look at the black beauty sleeping at my feet I wonder if this “black dog syndrome” really exists.

Are black dogs truly harder to place into homes? Or is “black dog syndrome” another animal sheltering myth? Is it a way for us rescue volunteers to put the blame on the public?

“It’s not our fault he hasn’t been adopted yet,” a shelter volunteer might say. “No one wants a big, black dog.”

Shelters and rescues are not doing black dogs any good by spreading these negative messages.

People want to hear positive messages. Something like, “Did you know our rescue saved 100 black dogs from the pound last year? We have 20 black beauties waiting to be adopted today.”

Positive energy goes a long way.

The problem with “black dog syndrome” is not whether it exists – it very well might. The problem is how shelter and rescue workers don’t even question it.

There are no professional statistics to back up “black dog syndrome.” (If you have some, show me.) Black dog syndrome is nothing more than an urban legend.

Questioning big, black dog syndrome

Do people really seek out lighter-colored dogs? Spotted dogs?

Is the American dream to own a golden retriever or a golden lab?

I don’t think so.

The KC Dog Blog did a nice job questioning this very issue of “black dog syndrome.” It asks: Could it be that it seems like shelters are full of black dogs because there are so many of them in the first place?

We do know, for example, that the Labrador is the most popular breed in the United States, according to the American Kennel Club. It has been the most popular breed for years. Not only that, but black is the most common color for Labs because black is a dominant gene for the breed.

It’s safe to say the black lab is the most popular dog in the United States.

People are obtaining their black labs somewhere. Perhaps rescues and shelters need to work harder to compete with breeders, pet shops and people re-homing their dogs. There is definitely a demand for black labs. We need to step up our game.

How to help black dogs get adopted

For the sake of argument, let’s just assume black dogs are harder to get adopted. If that is the case, then it’s just a reason for rescues and shelters to try harder.

That means making it easier for people to adopt by getting these big, black dogs out into public every day of the week, lowering adoption fees and offering adoptions during convenient hours. Getting rid of the “home visit” would also make adopting more appealing.

Rescues should offer reduced adoption fees on any long-term animals, regardless of color.

They should offer adoption specials on black animals for at least a month each year.

They could also create a fun photo contest with judges to see who can get the best pictures of the black dogs up for adoption. That could be a lot of fun!

A costume contest for black dogs could also make an entertaining fundraiser.

Obstacles for big, black dogs

Cute black lab mix for adoption in Fargo
Photo: 4LuvofDog.org

There are, of course, certain points I just can’t argue.

Black dogs are definitely harder to photograph.

This is not an excuse, though. It just means shelters need to make sure to get better photos of the black dogs. It’s not that hard to get a good pic of a black dog outside with good lighting. I do this every day.

Another factor is that black pets have a distinguished look even if they have just a hint of gray. They look old. Few people want to adopt old dogs. Right, Cosmo? 🙂

It certainly does seem like black dogs and cats are overlooked. I’ve known many black dogs locally that waited years to get adopted. There are also black cats in our local shelters that have been waiting for homes just as long.

I chose a “big, black dog” from a local rescue to sponsor, and I hope to sponsor another big, black dog after this sweet boy named Dex gets adopted.

Nearly every shelter, pound or rescue worker I talk to will back up “black dog syndrome” based on her experience that black dogs do get adopted last.

Some shelters will even kill black animals as quickly as they legally are allowed because they “know they won’t be adopted.” Why waste money on a dog that will sit in the shelter for months? It’s better to “euthanize” and open up space for “more adoptable” animals.

That’s just as bad as killing a healthy dog (of any color) based solely on her breed.

My black mutt

Whether big, black dogs are truly harder to get adopted or not, they have a special place in my heart. I love my big, black mutt Ace. Black is beautiful. I am attracted to black dogs and cats. Sleek, black dogs tend to be my favorites. I’m a “black dog person.”

When the time comes for me to adopt another dog, I’m going to have a hard time not adopting a “black lab mix” that looks exactly like Ace.

My “black pearl.” My beautiful boy.

26 thoughts on “Does it take longer for black dogs to get adopted?”

  1. I’m not really a religious person, but I would bet a lot of them would tell you that just because you can’t quantify something or prove it, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I disagree with you on quite a bit of this.

    1. You state that you think by telling people that black dogs have a harder time getting adopted, we’re spreading a negative message that somehow makes people less likely to adopt a black dog. In general, I agree that positive energy usually goes further, but not in this case. Lots of people rescue animals because it makes them feel good, like they are helping a dog that needs a home. When people hear that black dogs often take longer to get adopted, that’s educating them, and many, many of the people that I have adopted black dogs to have chosen to do so because 1) they have found a great black dog and 2) knowing that black dogs often wait longer to find a home makes them feel like they really helped the underdog. People want to feel good about themselves, they feel good about helping a black dog that may otherwise have a hard time finding a home.

    2. I fully agree that there are a lot of black dogs, lab in particular. And yes, there is demand out there for them. I think the demand is for purebred black labs and purebred labs in general. Just about any dog that ends up in the pound that is black and medium to large in size gets labeled ‘black lab mix’ by the Vet. A black lab mix – sometimes you can pinpoint what breeds it might be, sometimes not, but very rarely do they look like a purebred anything. I think there is a difference between what people that buy a dog from a breeder want vs. what people that adopt a dog want. People that want a black lab for particular reasons buy a purebred black lab. People that want a rescue dog expect to get a ‘mutt’ – and they would rather choose a unique looking mutt than a regular black one.

    3. I love the idea of getting the black dogs out in public more often, what time would you like to pick them up and take them out and about?! 😉 For an all-volunteer rescue, volunteers are stretched thin. I happen to love the black dogs and have pushed them in to the spotlight every way I can think of – ‘black dog Friday’ on Facebook and trying to get as many of them to Adoption Days as possible, I’ve photographed the ones that are in boarding and at NDSU several times to try to make their profiles better – in fact, your original post about Dex had a picture I took of him in it. The more exposure we can give them, the better it is, but there’s just only so much time in the day.

    4. I would like to say that lowering the adoption fee would help, but I don’t actually think it does. You have possibly had more people ask about Dex since agreeing to sponsor part of his adoption fee, but I’ve seen no additional interest in him because he has a lower fee. There are reasons for the home visit and I know we won’t agree on that, but I will always advocate for a home visit so that any dog that I know that any dog I have fostered goes to a safe environment.

    I love that you love black dogs! I do too! There needs to be more of us! If I had endless amounts of time, I would start collecting statistics on black dogs in rescue, and maybe I’ll find the time, we’ll see. But, there are lots of things that affect adoptions, and I don’t know that my numbers would be particularly reliable. I have talked several applicants in to black dogs after another dog is gone, I have recommended black dogs every time an applicant asks for a suggestion. There is really no way to ‘control’ for all these factors that influence people in their decision, and I think I’m too much of an over-thinker to just keep raw numbers.

    Lastly, shelter and rescue workers didn’t just wake up one day and decide to say that black dogs wait longer for homes. They said it because they observed it. They may not have kept statistics, but they saw for themselves that black dogs didn’t get a second look as dogs of other colors got adopted twice as fast. I know you foster, but I think your viewpoint is more from the outside looking in. The people you are asking on the inside may not have time to keep logs, but they all tell you it’s real, because they see it – not because it is a convenient excuse.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Thanks for the discussion, Randi. What ideas do you have for getting the black dogs in front of more people or making them stand out a bit more? I believe there are volunteers who would be willing to help. They just need to be told they are needed.

      I love all your ideas about recommending black dogs to people. I do think people will adopt a black dog because they think they are helping a “less adoptable dog.” That’s probably why I’m even drawn to them. I just think we need to have a positive attitude in general about believing they WILL get adopted because they are great dogs! If I’m at an adoption event with a black dog thinking “No one wants this dog because he’s black,” that’s not going to have a positive effect on the situation. But if I sit there thinking, “This dog is so obedient and gentle around other animals. Whoever adopts him will be so fortunate. Heck, I should adopt him!” it will only have a positive effect.

      Although there are people who specifically seek out black labs from breeders and people who specifically seek out “black mutts” from shelters, there is a third group of people (probably most people) who don’t really care. They just want a retriever-type dog. Those are the types of people we should be targeting. As far as lowering the adoption fees, it’s worth a shot.

      I think we are on the same page more than you think. The only part about your comment that surprised me is how you said I’m on the outside looking in.

      Thanks for all you do for the dogs!

      1. Outside looking in, meaning you see the dogs and you see them get adopted or stick around, but don’t see the applications and what sometimes goes in to getting a black dog adopted. That is what really opened my eyes to how ridiculous it can be, how even though people write on their application that they want a dog they don’t have to put a lot of work in to, they will still apply for the yellow or chocolate lab that has feedback listing issues that have to be addressed… even though there are three black labs with feedback saying they could fit right in pretty much anywhere. Working applications solidified my belief in black dog syndrome – I don’t know why it is, but I believe that it is.

        I’ve had pretty good luck getting my black fosters adopted, maybe because I do love them and at adoption events I do have the attitude that ‘this is a great dog, check it out’ – I guess I have never noticed anyone acting like they thought having a black dog there was a hopeless effort. Maybe I’m too busy with whatever dog I brought to pay attention – I’m not exactly an enforcer when it comes to making them chill out, LOL.

        I’ve thought quite a bit about other things we could do to help the black dogs. I really think adoption events are the best way to get them out there, people need to meet them and see their personality. It’s easier in the summer to find events to take them to. A lot of the responsibility does come down to the foster for those things. At one point I thought about a black dog calendar. I think using a beautiful picture of a black dog for fliers, etc… helps show them off more since yeah – they are harder to photograph, and the average person with a point and shoot doesn’t take the time or maybe doesn’t have the know-how to get a good shot. We’ve had some photographers offer some things, but they can be very restrictive on what they allow us to use the photographs for. Also, I think we have some great photographers that volunteer, one of the issues is getting at the dogs since they are spread out all over. You take awesome shots of Ace – if you are ever interested in photographing the dogs we have at NDSU, let me know 🙂 I’ve been trying to get back over there to do that again but time has not allowed. In general if you have other ideas too, let me know. At the Silent Auction my nametag said, ‘ask me about black dogs’ – it has turned in to a crusade to move as many black lab mixes as I can because they are some awesome dogs.

        1. Lindsay Stordahl

          I also think adoption events and other public events are the best way to get the black dogs noticed. I always thought some sort of “black dog walk” in a park could be fun in the summer, getting all the rescues involved to show off some of the black dogs. Of course, that takes some planning and there are liability issues and that sort of thing. I would love to get some photos of the NDSU dogs. Maybe I could get over and do that next week. Which dogs are at NDSU these days? I liked Marji’s suggestion to try for some black and white shots of the black dogs. I agree that tends to show them off a bit.

          1. One that is at NDSU that needs new pictures really bad is Sisco. She is an awesome dog and have been wanting to promote her on FB but her pictures are just awful. Maggie May isn’t black but her pictures aren’t great either. I think Benny is there too, but someone that applied for a brown dog (LOL) got interested in him so I’m hoping we’ll have an adopter, who knows though. Message me at apps@4luvofdog.org and I can hook you up if you feel like taking pics. They have certain times they are working with the dogs and certain times they are free. I totally agree that black and white pictures are great for black dogs, that’s a great suggestion!

  2. That’s a good question. Does black dog syndrome exist because people belive it does? I know that I felt more comfortable deliberately seeking out a black dog, because I thought there would be less competition among other adopters for one & that I’d be more likely to find a “good” (e.g., easier behaviors to work with) dog.

    That said, it wouldn’t be that difficult to figure out how long it takes black dogs to be adopted as compared to lighter dogs. I’m surprised no one has done this before.

    Find one or two large rescue or shelter organizations that heavily rely on Petfinder and maintain fairly current listings. It’s ok if the organization doesn’t list young puppies or if they don’t update every listing daily, so long as they are reasonably consistent & that consistency would be equal no matter what kind of dog it is.

    Labs are a great example, because lab rescue organizations will have a mix of black, chocolate, and yellow labs/lab mixes. And the “big black lab mix” label seems pervasive.

    The key is not how many dogs are listed by color. As you noted, black is the dominant coat gene in labs. The key is if you record ALL the dogs based only on their coat color, age, and sex, and you check on a frequent basis (every 3 days or weekly), you can see how long a dog remains listed. If the yellow dogs of the same age and sex are listed for much shorter times than the black ones (rather than at the same adoption rate), you’ll have demonstrated “black dog syndrome.” It doesn’t matter if there are always more black dogs available. If they are rotating through at the same rate, that’s just genetics. If they are rotating through at a much slower rate, that’s people cherry picking off the non-black dogs, i.e., what’s being called black dog syndrome.

    If you examine a few different organizations, preferably ones with more dogs that can be classified or tracked this way, you can feel more confidence in the results. This sample size issue is especially because you want to make sure you have some slack to account for random distribution, inconsistencies in how fast listings appear or disappear, and the occasional dog whose listing is removed due to factors other than non-adoption (e.g., dog is ill and must be treated before being adoptable).

    As someone who has adopted dogs before (both the black and the non-black kind), I suspect that color matters, but so do the pictures, the text of the profile, whether a dog attends adoption events, and the interaction that potential adopters have with the volunteers in the organization. Proving that black dogs are adopted at a slower rate, whic I suspect is true, doesn’t prove the WHY, though. So you would want to test different efforts to improve the rate of adoption of black dogs within an organization (e.g., do black dogs with more pictures or adoption events attended catch up to the other non-black dogs? are certain volunteers more successful at getting black dogs adopted than others?) to start isolating factors.

    One other tip – besides taking the pictures in natural light, if a black dog is wet, the pictures come out much better too. Not all shelters will have the opportunity to have dogs who are wet and happy & there might be some people who see a wet dog photo as a negative thing (dogs drip water everywhere!), but one wet photo can really highlight the dog’s features.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Thanks for the thoughts, Sean. I think “black dog syndrome” probably does exist on some level, just not as much as shelters and rescues think. There are just so many black dogs. It always seems like there are more of them around, because there just are. But I do think they tend to get adopted a bit slower.

      It does seem like a fairly easy thing to track. I’m sure someone has done it.

  3. The rescue I volunteer for actually does keep this data and we have it within our software, the issue is pulling it out. I just spent a few minutes trying to gather some info, but then realized that I have a 15 minute span in which to either:

    a) answer emails from potential adopters about dogs * or *
    b) dig for this information

    I chose option a. I suspect this might be why there are no hard and fast statistics…too much work and not enough suckers to do it :). Plus, why waste time validating a fact?

    Humans breathe air. I know this to be a fact, so I don’t spend any time trying to figure out why it is or how it is, it just is. Same thing with black dogs. I don’t care why we have more, or how we have more, or the genetic reasonings why we have more. Fact of the matter is, we have more and they take longer to adopt. That doesn’t change anything for us, whether they be black, 2 legged, or purple, we’ll take ’em all and give them the time they need to find a home. 🙂

    Some day I hope to have the time to actually dig in our software and validate this with numbers though!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I would love to see the data. Obviously we have all seen that it does take longer for some black dogs to get adopted. What ideas do you have to help them stand out?

      1. If we’ve “obviously all seen that it does take longer for some black dogs to get adopted” what is the point of this entire debate? Just to stir the pot?

        We have volunteers who work diligently to get black dogs updated pictures, exposure, and updated feedback. Obviously, there are those who will never think we do enough, but I’m satisfied with our efforts and we have been getting more black dogs adopted. Without the efforts of dedicated volunteers doing the above things, I’m sure most would still be in a foster home.

        1. Lindsay Stordahl

          This discussion is important.

          Just because we have all seen some black dogs take a bit longer to get adopted, that doesn’t mean we have “black dog syndrome.” Even if it takes a black dog longer to get adopted than a yellow dog, that still doesn’t prove we have black dog syndrome. Let’s say someone comes to a shelter and wants to adopt a yellow dog. There might only be one yellow dog to choose from, so he takes that one yellow dog. Someone else might come in seeking a black dog, and there are three black dogs. So he takes one and there are two left. It takes those two black dogs longer to get adopted than the yellow dog. But even if the same number of people come in seeking black dogs as yellow dogs, there will always be more black dogs. That doesn’t mean there is “black dog syndrome.” It just means there are more black dogs. And of course coat color is just one factor in addition to age, size, coat length, training, socialization, energy, breed and so on.

          Second, there are still hundreds of high-kill shelters that kill “less adoptable” dogs. Most of these shelter directors believe “black dog syndrome” is real. Since they kill “less adoptable” dogs for “space,” that means killing black dogs. It doesn’t matter if they are friendly or healthy. They are black, so they are “less adoptable.” “Black dog syndrome” is worth debating for the sake of the black dogs and cats that are being killed for no reason. I didn’t start this discussion as a way to target a no-kill rescue in Fargo, N.D. This discussion is for the sheltering community as a whole.

          This discussion is also important because it has helped us all brainstorm more ideas about how to bring more attention to black dogs. I think we all agree that it doesn’t hurt to put them in the spotlight as often as we can. There is always room for improvement.

          Black dog syndrome may or may not exist, but I have never been more skeptical.

          1. My question is, if black dogs are so p0pular, why do fewer people come in looking for black dogs than for yellow dogs – because that is what I see? If a black lab is such a popular dog, why doesn’t it translate in to black lab/mixes being a hot commodity, even if there are more of them? If they are such a popular dog, even if there are more, they should still be getting adopted at a decent pace. Maybe you would have the random ‘Dex’ that has some problems that would stick around, but there should still be more apps for black labs if they are a popular dog and there is no black dog syndrome. And I shouldn’t have to lead people to black dogs – and I do lead them to black dogs on a daily basis. I understand what you are saying Lindsay, that you think it’s a numbers issue and not a prejudice issue. Individual behavior though points to something about the black dogs that they find less interesting.

  4. I agree with the “myth”. We currently have 15 black dogs in our care and I’ve found the black ones always take a little bit longer to get adopted. We had two poodles come in from a mill in November and the apricot one was adopted right away. The black one wasn’t adopted until last weekend. Same age, same issues, but only one inquiry on the black poodle and yet we received at least a dozen inquiries for the apricot one. Both dogs had the same foster parent, so it wasn’t a matter of one foster being more proactive than the other.

    Thankfully the rescue works their butt off to get these dogs out there so it doesn’t take *that* long. The ones who tend to stick around the longest are usually the dogs with existing issues.

    Offering lower adoption fees to get the black dogs adopted is not something I would ever consider, or want my rescue to consider. Do you really want someone agreeing to adopt your foster because they’re cheaper? It doesn’t sit right with me. Obviously it’s different when it comes to foster based rescue vs a shelter, but most fosters aren’t in a big hurry to get their dog adopted to just anyone who comes calling.

    And I’ve said it before, but if someone can’t deal with a home visit then they’re not the right person for this dog, or even the rescue for that matter. Don’t want a home visit? Go adopt from a shelter who doesn’t require home visits as part of their adoption process.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Yeah, that doesn’t surprise me about the apricot poodle. Around here an apricot poodle would also get adopted pretty much immediately. And then the black one would get adopted immediately after, especially if we are talking about toy poodles. But pretty much any poodle would get adopted quickly.

      On lowering the adoption fee, it shouldn’t matter what someone pays as long as you have a good application/screening process in place.

  5. I’m not educated enough to truly comment on this post, but, I just want to say that as always I appreciate your thoroghly thought out response. You have my brain thinking of things I never thought it would…

    …and that’s a good thing!

  6. I advocate some b&w photos for black dogs… e.g. http://www.flickr.com/photos/rinalia/5993891395/in/set-72157606112768004/. Alice’s adopter not only loved the videos I took of her, but also the b&w photos that showed off her more sensitive side (which comprised approximately 2% of the whole).

    There’s one survey “study” that shows black dogs remain in the shelter system -overall- 24 hours longer than other colored dogs. “PetPoint collected numbers from more than 700 adoption agencies covering roughly 380,000 adoptions and found that black dogs usually stay just one extra day. And all of the black dogs in the study eventually found homes. ”

    As to cats, there is one “study” from 2002, but it is a singular entity (one shelter) so there are serious issues with survey numbers. Plus the shelter seemed to kill a lot of cats, period, color be darned. “A 2002 study in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science that examined adoption rates over nine months in a California pound found that black cats were about half as likely to be adopted as tabby cats and two-thirds less likely than white cats. But for cats in general, the odds are not good: of the three thousand cats of all colors offered for adoption during that time, only around 600, or 20 percent, found homes. Those remaining were euthanized.”

    That’s what I could find anyways. I think the big point is to not needlessly create or perpetuate a problem whether it exists or not. It’s like with bans on adopting black cats during Halloween, despite overwhelming evidence that people DO NOT go out and sacrifice them to Slor.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Thanks for sharing your opinion on this, and thanks for sharing the info that you found. I love the idea of black and white photos for dogs. That is an excellent idea!

  7. Currently, I am fostering a lab mix who appears to look like Ace, he also has some white on his chest. I have to hear from one rescue group that it takes longer for black big dogs to be adopted. It makes me cringe. I grew up with a black lab, my dad being a vet, had lots of animals, all at once, 2 turtles, 1 dog, 3 cats…. anyhow, when I have the opportunity to adopt another dog, it will be a black dog mix as well. I fell in love with Tommy the one I am currently fostering, if he was not to find a home, I would adopt him but it appears that he may have found a permanent loving home. If he goes, I will foster another black dog that needs to be saved. I pull dogs from anywhere that are out of time and risk being put down. People are uneducated, prejudicial and cruel: black is not the color of “evil” thus the fear behind “black cat”, many of us who had a black lab or any black mutt and black cat knows how untrue it is.

  8. I adopted a little black dog from our local pound. She has a lightening streak on her chest, some scattered white hairs on a couple of her toes. And the rest is black. She’s elegant and adorable and I love her to bits. And so does practically everyone who sees her.

    But she didn’t present well when I went to look at her (found her pic on PetHarbor.com) she was sick, we found out later with pneumonia, and wouldn’t even uncurl and look at me. She is a very lucky dog. They had tons of other little terrier/chi/who knows what mixes. But I fell for her photo.

    My black dog.

  9. I don’t think we have that problem at our local shelter. I’m sure it is because I have adopted all the black dogs!

    Somehow, my three dogs are all almost solid black. It wasn’t a conscious thing picking them. It just made sense at the time because they needed a home. However, growing up, we had a black poodle and black lab mix.

    All dogs need love despite their superficial color. Color is the least of my worries when adopting a dog. I’m not sure I even set out to find a “black” dog previously. It just happened.

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