Do you “knock on wood” when hoping for good luck? Perhaps you avoid walking under ladders and breaking mirrors? A lesser-known phenomenon that has similar superstitious roots and affects dogs is called ‘black dog syndrome.’ Black dog syndrome is the notion that black dogs are often overlooked in shelters in favor of their lighter-furred counterparts.
But is black dog syndrome a real thing? The answer is no; dogs do not get adopted less because they have black fur.
Below, we dive deeper into if black dog syndrome exists and what factors actually affect dog adoption.
Does Black Dog Syndrome Actually Exist?
All the research points to black dog syndrome as false. For example, a study published in 2023 found that black dogs did not experience longer adoption times or higher rates of euthanasia. Another study found that a dog’s coat color did not affect the duration of their stay at the shelter.
So, is there any research to confirm black dog syndrome? Well, one study performed in the 90s found that the color of a dog’s coat played a role in how likely they were to be adopted. However, the study did not show to what degree the success rates differed compared to darker fur colors, and the research seems outdated.
Why Black Dogs Might Get Overlooked
So if the scientific research shows that black dog syndrome doesn’t exist, why does the notion still prevail? This is likely due to the anecdotal evidence which supports it.
Lots of shelter and rescue workers are adamant that black dog syndrome exists and see black dogs getting adopted less at their shelters. Alternatively, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that contradicts black dog syndrome. For example, Cody Costra, from the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, says that their shelter hasn’t seen a noticeable difference in the adoption rates of dogs based on their fur color.
So why might black dogs be overlooked in the shelter? There are several common hypotheses:
- Superstitions: Just like with black cats, people may think that black dogs also bring bad luck. Black animals are often associated with bad omens.
- Depression: “Black dog” is used as a metaphor for depression. This was popularized by Winston Churchill, who referred to his “black dog” in times when he felt unmotivated and unproductive.
- Pop culture: In literature and movies, black dogs are often portrayed negatively. Examples of this include The Grim, an omen of death; in Harry Potter, an evil spirit taking the form of a black poodle in Goethe’s play, and in the Hound of the Baskervilles novel, a demonic black dog haunts the heirs.
- The facial expressions of black dogs are often harder to capture in photographs. Since adoption shelters will post pictures of their dogs, black dogs may be overlooked due to their photo not connecting emotionally with potential adopters.
- Senior black dogs can often appear older because their aging white fur contrasts more with their black fur. This may decrease the likelihood of them being adopted because older dogs are more likely to stay in shelters for longer.
What Factors Actually Affect How Quickly Dogs Get Adopted?
Since ‘black dog syndrome’ is mostly a myth, many more important factors are considered when adopting a dog compared to the color of their coat. These include the following:
- Age: Puppies get adopted quicker than senior dogs
- Breed: Dog breeds perceived as “aggressive,” like Pitbulls, are less likely to be adopted.
- Size: Extra-small (teacup) dogs spend less time in the shelter than medium-sized dogs
- Personality: A playful dog has a higher chance of being adopted
- Information: Adopters noted that having information about the dog helped them decide whether they would be a good fit for them
Additionally, one study that looked at dog and adopter interactions specifically found that the way the dog looked did not influence whether the dog was adopted or not. Instead, dogs were more likely to be adopted if they:
- Spent time lying in proximity to the adopter
- Engaged in play with the adopter
- Interacted with an adopter in an outdoor area
If you’re considering adopting a dog yourself, remember a dog of any color can fit your lifestyle. Don’t overlook that dark-coated beauty waiting in the shadows. You might miss out on your new best friend.