Looking to adopt a dog? Be colorblind!

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When my friend Mark told me he was taking his family to his local animal shelter to look for a dog to adopt, I asked what breed they were looking for. “It doesn’t matter,” he said, “as long as it’s good with the kids. Happy and playful. We’ll know the right dog when we see it.”

Later, after he got back from the shelter, I asked him how it went. He said he was amazed at the number of big, black dogs that were available for adoption. Walking past row after row of kennels, the family saw an array of black faces looking out at them. “It made me start to wonder if there was something wrong with them,” he told me. “Why are there so many large black dogs at the shelter?”

Though animal shelters generally don’t keep statistics on animals based on color, lots of shelter employees confirm that big black dogs are often overlooked by people looking to adopt. In fact, they’ve even coined a phrase to describe the situation, referred to as “black dog syndrome.”

Mark wonders if people shy away from black dogs because they think the dogs might be mean. My theory, though, is that it’s harder to get a read on a black dog’s personality—there’s less contrast between their dark eyes and dark face, so if you don’t know the dog well, you might have trouble seeing and understanding his expressions.

No matter what the reason, if you’re ready to adopt a shelter dog, overlooking large black dogs would be a mistake; you’ll probably miss out on some real gems. After all, there’s no evidence that fur color has anything to do with an animal’s attitude or behavior. And plenty of black-dog owners will testify that they’re often loaded with personality.

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So what kind of dog did Mark’s family choose? A sweet, loving black lab they named Skipper. “She may be a black dog,” says Mark, “but she has a heart of gold.”

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