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Black Dog Syndrome: Why Black Dogs Have Trouble Getting Adopted

Have you ever heard a dog referred to as a BBD? It means “big black dog” and it’s a term often used when talking about black dog syndrome.

Black dog syndrome isn’t a disease, it’s actually a psychological phenomenon that is believed to leave more black dogs (especially large ones) behind in shelters while their lighter companions get adopted.

As the owner of a wonderful BBD named Ozzy (who I consider being my hero), I think it’s sad that other awesome dogs like him may be missing out on their forever homes just because of their color!

So today, I’d like to shine some light on Black Dog Syndrome: Why Black Dogs Have Trouble Getting Adopted!

Black Dog Syndrome - Why Black Dogs Have Trouble Getting Adopted

Black Dog Syndrome: Why Black Dogs Have Trouble Getting Adopted

The Origins of Black Dog Syndrome

While people only really started talking about black dog syndrome in the early 2000s, it’s likely something that’s been around for as long as animal shelters have existed.

It most likely comes from the superstitious belief that black = bad.

After all, if you look in folklore you’ll find a whole set of phantom black dogs like Black Shuck and Gytrash that are believed to be evil.

Black dog syndrome may also have evolved further when the Internet began and shelters started posting pictures of their pets online.

Appearance tends to be a major factor in whether a dog gets adopted or not, especially if a person is looking for a dog online and isn’t able to meet the actual dogs.

Black dogs can be harder to photograph than lighter-colored dogs, meaning that their photos may not get clicked as often.

The fewer people that click on their photos, the fewer people that read about them and hear what wonderful dogs they are!

Yet another possible source of BBD is the fact that black dogs can look “scary” if in a shadowy area (like a poorly lit shelter!).

Imagine a big, black dog standing in the shadows of a kennel, head low, eyes glittering up at you out of the darkness.

It sounds like something out of a horror story!

But in reality, it’s just a scared and abandoned BBD cowering in the back of its cage.

Black Dog Syndrome Today

Regardless of its exact origin, black dog syndrome appears to be a real phenomenon.

More and more studies show that people prefer lighter-colored dogs, and records show more light-colored dogs getting adopted than black ones.

To counteract the phenomenon, many shelters have worked to take better pictures of black dogs.

They put them in a white room or take them outside on a sunny day for their photos.

Others put bandannas, bows, and brightly colored collars on them to help break up all the black.

Black Dog Syndrome - Silly Big Black Dog
Our goofy big black dog Ozzy loves to act silly!

If you don’t work for a shelter, the best thing you can do to help is to adopt a black dog, especially a big one!

Then take photos of your smart, kind (and not at all scary) black dog being their sweet, silly self and post them online!

Because when you look past superstition, fur color is just based on a color gene and doesn’t affect temperament.

A black Labrador isn’t any less kind than a yellow one.

A black one may be a bit harder to see in the dark, but it’ll love you just the same!

Have you ever owned a black dog? What are your thoughts on black dog syndrome?


Sunday 17th of October 2021

Last three dogs I’ve had have been black pups. And they’ve been the best dogs ever! Two girls and a boy. Black lab/chow mixes, although the one I have now is black lab/Austrian sheep hound mix. And every October 1, I celebrate National Black Dog day and buy my sweet puppy a new toy!


Monday 12th of December 2016

My Podenco-mix Merlin had died in 2014, and in 2015 I was ready for a new dog. I searched a website, and at first I didn't even look at photos, because I had other criteria. I wanted a male dog, not too small so he could walk the stairs to my apartment, but not too heavy so I could carry him when necessary. They had three dogs that fit, and one of them was black, a Galgo-mix, 57 cm at the shoulder.. He had been found in the street at 3 months old, and even as a puppy no one wanted him. And in his three years at the shelter he hadn't been asked for even once. That broke my heart, and after I applied for him I began researching Black Dog Syndrome. Echo has been living with me for 18 months now. Admittedly, he is a bit difficult, but not because he is mean or aggressive, but just the opposite, kind of traumatized. But we're making progress, and he's the sweetest little guy.

Jodi Stone

Friday 19th of August 2016

I've never had a BBD, but I've often thought when the time comes for another dog, it will definitely be black, and more than likely a lab.

Having a chocolate lab myself, I know how hard SHE is to photograph. Most of the pictures I get don't do her beauty justice. In fact, when I saw her picture, I thought to myself, she's really not a pretty dog. But oh was I wrong!

It's true, getting a light background behind her, or her in bright sunlight really does make a difference.

Thanks so much for keeping this topic of conversation going!

Rachel Beltz

Wednesday 17th of August 2016

Wow I've never heard of Black Dog Syndrome but I would agree 100%. It's such a shame though.. they are no different from any other colored pet! They need the love as well!!

Jerry Marquardt

Wednesday 10th of August 2016

I did not understand, but I loved your post to enlighten the situation. I think that they are all very beautiful.

Love these woofs?

Help spread our waggie tales. You're pawesome for doing it!