Black Dog Syndrome is a controversial theory that bigger, black dogs are often overlooked for adoption because of the belief that people prefer light colored dogs to darker colored dogs. Because of this, black dogs are believed to be euthanized at a higher rate. There have been many studies trying to decide if this theory is a fact or if it is just fiction. We did our research, and here are a few of the facts and myths of Black Dog Syndrome.
Some of the beliefs for the reasons behind Black Dog Syndrome are that black dogs are not as easy to see when you are looking into a cage or at a photo therefore people cannot see their distinguished features. There are also suggestions that black dogs look older than lighter colored dogs do, making them less desirable to the general public. Some even claim superstition can play its part when adopters determine not to choose a black dog. Most of these reasons however are not based in fact but mostly anecdotal stories.
Christy L. Hoffman, a PhD and Professor of Animal Behavior at Canisius College conducted a study in 2016 trying to figure out if BDS is really a factor in adoptions. She investigated the role of color, age, sex and breed on the outcomes for the adoptions of dogs in two animal shelters in the United States over the span of four years of adoption records (nearly 16,700 dogs). This study proved black dog syndrome is a myth, and the data actually showed that black dogs had a shorter time span spent in the shelter than dogs of other colors.
Her study determined that when it comes to adoptability, age and breed are much more important than color. She found bully breeds (American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers or Staffordshire bull terriers) faced a much longer stay in the shelters than big black dogs. Hoffman suggested that shelters that aim to promote the adoptions of black dogs could benefit by instead focusing their efforts on the breeds of dogs that do not get adopted out quite so easily.
It all breaks down to the number of dogs taken in. In the ASPCA’s “A Comprehensive Animal Risk Database” which pulled data from 14 communities of nearly 30,000 dogs, the results found that while black animals had one of the highest percentages of euthanasia in shelters, they also had the highest adoption rate of any colored animal.
Black dogs had the highest percentage of intakes to shelters, meaning the likelihood of there being more black dogs in a shelter than other colored dogs is pretty high, however it does not mean that they are being overlooked based upon their color. ASPCA Vice President of Shelter Research Dr. Emily Weiss discussed the persistence of the myth despite all of the research to dispute it. She believes that because there are simply more black dogs, shelter workers believe in this syndrome and have become bias towards it.
“They might see that black dogs are staying around longer, but that might just be because there are more black dogs in the shelter. I think some beliefs are hard to change, especially if someone has anecdotal evidence that there have been one or two black dogs that take longer to adopt.”
While these studies show that people still do adopt black dogs, it is common that people look for a dog that stands out amongst the rest. This is why experts recommend separating dogs that are similar looking so that they aren’t lumped together and don’t seem common to adopters.
Whether you believe in Black Dog Syndrome or not, one thing we can all agree on is no matter the color, breed, size, or age of a dog, they all deserve loving homes.