Black dog syndrome is a myth



Myths and negative stereotypes do not help dogs get adopted. Shelter volunteers love to use them, though, and it’s hurting the dogs.

“We have so many unwanted pitbulls,” a volunteer might say to a potential adopter.

But pitbulls are far from “unwanted.” They’re among the most popular types of dogs in America.

“We also have tons of black dogs,” the volunteer might say. “They’ve been here for months.”

Yikes! What the heck is wrong with those dogs?

We have to let go of these myths. They’re just not helping dogs get home. If your shelter is full of black dogs, it’s not because the dogs are unwanted. It’s because your shelter has a marketing problem.

Cute black lab pitbull mix for adoption in Detroit Lakes, MN‘Black dog syndrome’

Shelter workers cling to the idea that black dogs are the last to get adopted.

“Black dog syndrome” is a negative stereotype, and I’d like to see it gone.

It may or may not take black dogs longer to get adopted, but repeating a myth does not make it a fact.

Here’s why I’d like people to let go of the black dog syndrome myth:

1. It reinforces the idea that some dogs are “less adoptable.”

Shelter workers kill healthy dogs every day for “space.” If a shelter worker is going to kill 15 dogs, he’s going to start with the “less adoptable” dogs.

“Less adoptable” could be any dog. It’s a matter of opinion.

“Less adoptable” dogs could include pitbull dogs, senior dogs, injured dogs or black dogs.

It’s terrible to think that my sweet, gentle boy could end up killed in a shelter just because he’s black. Oh yeah, he’s also gray. That’s two strikes.

Please stop repeating that “black dogs are the last to get adopted.” People are killing healthy black dogs every day because they say “no one wants them.”

2. Black dogs are popular. 

Black dogs are not “overlooked” or “the least desirable.” Black dogs are normal dogs, and they’re popular! Just about everyone knows someone with a big, black dog.

The Lab is the most popular purebred dog in the United States, according to the American Kennel Club. And black is the most common coat color in Labs. Shelters should embrace that fact – “You want a black dog? We got’m!”

There’s more good news. People don’t always want purebred dogs. They just want good dogs, dogs that are friendly, calm and obedient. Potential adopters can be convinced to take home a mixed-breed black dog if he’s a nice dog.

3. It gives rescues an excuse for poor marketing.

I could list so many ways for rescues to step up their marketing skills.

Many groups are doing amazing work, but others have no marketing ambition. They place the blame on the dogs or on the public.

“This dog’s got issues.” Or, “No one wants black dogs.”

But how can a rescue blame the public if it only hosts two adoption events per month?

How can it blame the public if it doesn’t post updated information about each dog?

How can it blame the public if it highlights negative information such as “he’s been here for months”?

We have to let go of these animal sheltering myths.

Please, stop hurting the black dogs by calling them “unwanted.”

Instead, let’s send them all home.

What are some ways you highlight your shelter’s black dogs in a positive way?

Does black dog syndrome exist?

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12 Readers Commented

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  1. Josh on February 15, 2013

    I would just like to add that shelters take horrible photos of dogs and black dogs are some of the hardest to capture with a camera. If they invested in some time on taking better photos I bet more dogs would be adopted including black dogs.

    • Katie on February 15, 2013

      I agree. I bet if they actively sought out relationships with good photographers who were willing to come by to take pictures of the dogs (and cats!) with coloring that didn’t photograph well, they’d have a lot more luck getting those pets adopted. And it’s a really great way that animal-loving photographers could give back in a really unique, skill-specific way.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 15, 2013

      I agree. Some groups certainly take the time to get beautiful photos of all the dogs, or at least decent ones. Others, mostly pounds, make no effort at all.

      My post from last week is a perfect example of pound photography at its finest. I know pound workers might be busy, but if they truly care about saving more lives, they could take five minutes to get a better photo.

      http://www.thatmutt.com/2013/02/08/to-save-a-pound-dog/

      • Amelia on April 25, 2013

        I’m thankful I didn’t have a chance to see my dog’s website photo prior to adopting him, or I would have been laughing too hard to fill out the application correctly. I have to give them credit–they tried. They took him outside where his black fur would shine in the sun, and they moved his upper lip to hide his snaggletooth (grr), and they gave him…blue bows to highlight his almost nonexistent ears…I mean, nothing quite says ‘regal’ like a lion cut with frilly blue bows, right?

        I have that photo framed, now. It’s much easier to believe the bows were the reason it took him a while to get adopted, rather than putting faith in ‘black dog syndrome.’

  2. Dawn on February 16, 2013

    Excellent points! Could it simply just appear to be more black dogs not being adopted because there are more black dogs in society as a whole? Because black is the most common dog coat color, I bet more black dogs also get adopted than any other color.

  3. Lisa Jazani on February 26, 2013

    Yes you’re right – we have a black dog and she’s beautiful. Glad to see someone challenging the stereotype. We ran a feature on our Facebook page (healthmuttuk) recently called ‘black dogs are beautiful’ and our fans sent in their best black dog photos to share – they are harder to photograph but not impossible as we got to see!

  4. Autumn on August 26, 2013

    This is the first I have heard of the “black dog” myth. I just adopted a black lab, pit bull mix from the pound. She had been there for 3 months according to her paper work. She is a one of the sweetest and friendliest dogs I have ever had. Very smart too. She learns very quickly. It would have been an awful shame, if she had been put down because of her color and breed. I’m so happy to have her as our newest part of our family.

  5. jannelee on February 3, 2014

    I’ve been at a shelter for 2 years. Recently this Black Dog Syndrome was posted on one of our sites. It was posted by a person who is member of several other groups, some of whom I would consider fanatics and not at all helpful to the cause of getting our animals adopted; but rather at alienating people that we need. I have NEVER seen anything showing that black dogs are adopted less. Never. And in researching, I have come across NO facts or evidence to support this. Seems to have started with some saying ‘I think I’ve noticed that black dogs are harder to place…’ Nothing but this. And it has gone on to become ‘syndrome’ and newsworthy. This is a shame for all of us. It’s not true and yet it has snowballed. Please don’t believe everything at face value. It is an attempt for attention. Attention to shelter animals is good, but it should be factual.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 3, 2014

      So glad you agree! Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who thinks black dog syndrome is a bunch of B.S.

      • jannelee on February 5, 2014

        the problem with this BS (beside being based on nothing) – is can do harm. Since it’s become so fashionable, I’m afraid people are going to start wondering about black dogs. This kind of thing does NOT help our animals get adopted. And that is what I’m at the shelter for.

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