What’s wrong with black dogs?

A sad black dog waits to be adopted.
By: Liz Blackman
Founder of TheBlackDogMission.org
For Pets Best Insurance

Would it surprise you to know that black dogs have a harder time getting adopted than dogs of any other color? The news shocked me. My childhood was spent in the company of one black dog after another, sometimes more than one at a time. All adopted. Some big, some small. Some smart, some not. But all of them great dogs. It wasn’t intentional. The ones who came our way just happened to all be black. They were lovely, loving, lovable dogs, every one of them in their own way.

So when I heard that black dogs have a tough time getting adopted, often lingering in shelters long after other dogs go off to a new home, sometimes never to be adopted, I couldn’t believe it. Why? I knew that shelters were overcrowded with dogs who need a good home. I knew that the problem worsened in a bad economy. But I didn’t know that black dogs in particular have it tougher than the rest and that the bigger or older the black dog, the slimmer are his chances of being adopted.

The problem is so big and so real that shelter workers have a name for it: Black Dog Syndrome. And there are several theories as to its cause. Some think the problem is that black dogs are hard to photograph and don’t show well on online adoption sites like AdoptAPet.com and PetFinder.com.

Well, I can attest to that. I have hundreds of horrible photos of all the black dogs in my life. Big black blobs in the middle of the photos with a hint of some white teeth and the certainty that there must be eyes in there somewhere. They are hard to photograph. Without the proper lighting and good equipment, it’s almost impossible to capture their soulful brown eyes, their smile or their expressive brows. I finally gave up and took our dog, Willhe, to a professional photographer recently in hopes of capturing even a little of his winsome, wonderful ways.

Another thought is that the problem lies in the dimly lit shelters. How is a little black dog, even a big black dog, supposed to make a good impression and catch the attention of someone shopping the rows of countless cages at a shelter when you can’t even see them because the lighting is so poor?

A third possible explanation is the most difficult to explain. Some people mistakenly think that black dogs just aren’t friendly. Ask anyone who has ever loved a black dog and they’ll surely tell you otherwise.

So what can you do? Well, this is what we did. My husband and I went online and looked for the oldest, biggest, blackest dog we could find. What we found was an 84-pound, 9-year old, purebred English Labrador Retriever who had been at our local shelter for nearly a month and whose time was running out. The only thing she had to her name was her name, Connie.

Day after day, week after week, Connie was passed up. The shelter staff described her as a love of a dog who played well with others and loved to fetch. Why was she there? Her family was moving and couldn’t take her with them. What was wrong with her? Nothing. At least nothing that a good, new home couldn’t fix.

She would have been a perfect choice for an active family with kids. She’s patient and she loves them. She would have been a great match for someone older or disabled. She’s happy to sit quietly at your feet. She knows how to sit and to shake and to use the bathroom outside. And she’s got plenty of good years left in her. Instead she wound up with us. But she could just as easily have wound up being put to sleep because not enough people choose to adopt. And of the ones who do, not enough choose a black dog.

So, give a black dog a chance. Behind those awful photos, the poor lighting and the misconceptions may be the dog of your dreams, waiting for the chance they deserve to be someone’s companion, confidant and kindred spirit. Maybe yours.

Note: Liz Blackman is the founder and president of 1-800-HELP-4-PETS (www.Help4Pets.com), a 24-hour, nationwide pet identification system, and the driving force behind The Black Dog Mission (www.TheBlackDogMission.org), a grassroots effort to improve the number of black dog adoptions.


  • Pam Straughn

    As the owner of one year old Wendy, border collie lab mix black dog, I couldn’t agree more! Wendy is sweet and lovable, if a bit goofy. We love her to pieces!

  • Tonya

    I, too, could not believe it when i learned about Black Dog Syndrome. I have so many black dogs in my life. I can’t imagine anyone passing over them because they are black. They are so sweet. Well written, Liz. Give black dogs a chance!!

  • lovemydanes

    I rescued Moose from barkes of love 2 years ago. He is a 160lbs big black great dane that is the best most loving dog ever. I have had 2 black great danes and both were a perfect addition to my family!! When I saw Mooses picture he was skinny and abandoned. His big black eyes were so sweet I just had to meet him!. We now run at the beach and meet up with Long Beach Great Dane meet ups. Where he plays with up to 20 danes at a time. Thank you Barks of Love! I love my big black great dane!

  • Angie

    I had no idea it was harder for black dogs to get adopted! How sad!
    We’ve only had 2 dogs, and both were black (with a little bit of white.)
    Our dog Spike is 12 yrs old, and is getting more white around the muzzle.
    Dogs are like people… they come in all colours, shapes & sizes.
    Gotta love them all! *hugs*

  • Mari

    I became aware of the ‘black dog syndrome’ quite on a fluke,
    after I developed an affinity for black dogs, without knowing. I find them to be the most beautiful dogs in the world. However, after i was made aware, i won’t INTENTIONALLY adopt any BUT black dogs…now i have a tan dog named Kirby who was hit by car and left to her own devices with a messed up hip when she was about six weeks old, and well, the sound of a screaming pup just could not be ignored so she is the exception to the rule but family friends tell me that she just doesn’t fit with the rest of my pack, wrong color and TOO SMALL (she only weighs 34 lbs). Kirby makes three in my pack for right now, dwarfed by Abigail (black lab/great dane mix) and Dezdemona (black lab/plott hound mix) but as I am accustomed to AT LEAST four, i’m thinking it might be time to add to the mutt pack.

  • Breann

    Sadly, what you have written is so true. Another thing that I have noticed about “black dogs” is the fear people have for them as they bark at the door or walk down the street. I have a male chocolate “lump of love” lab and a female boxer (tan) and we live in a very yellow lab-golden retriever neighborhood. I have found that as we walk in the mornings and the chocolate lab barks to say hi to the other dogs in the neighborhood, the other owners will cross the street to pass. They may smile and sometimes give a little head nod, but from day one, we have never been accepted in the neighborhood. It seems that everyone else, none of which have a dark colored dog, have any problems being social as they stroll through the neighborhood every morning. It is quite frustrating and utterly embarrassing that our society is this way. Don’t judge a book by its cover!

  • Deborah Biediger

    One day over three years ago, I walked out of my house just at the right time to see a starving black lab mix stumbling down into a ditch to die. He could barely walk and had a tooth lodged in his head, possible from an attack by another dog. I pulled him out of that ditch and after a week at the vet he blossomed into a big, beautiful, lovable goofball! How many dogs with Walter’s potential are dying every day? It makes me sick. People are really missing out when they do not choose a mixed breed black dog…BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL for sure! If they ever met my Walter they would become a true believer!


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