How to Understand and Help Prevent Black Dog Syndrome
It’s a truism among dog lovers that black dogs are less likely to get adopted at shelters. But is it actually true?
Black dog syndrome or big black dog syndrome is a disputed phenomenon in which black dogs are passed over for adoption in favor of lighter-colored animals. Animal shelters often use the term BBD, or big black dog, to describe the type of larger dark-colored mixed-breed said to be typically passed over by adopters.
The phenomenon may be due to a number of factors, including fear stigma against certain breed types, and the fact that large, black dogs are often portrayed as aggressive in film and on television.
Some people believe that during the pet adoption process some potential owners associate the color black with evil or misfortune , and this bias transfers over to their choice of dog.Additionally, many shelters feature photo profiles of their dogs on the shelter website. Because black dogs do not photograph well, lighter-colored dogs have an advantage with potential adopters browsing the site. A study done by the Los Angeles Animal Services challenges some of these claims, saying that a full 28% of adopted dogs are black. However, the bias theory simply asserts that predominantly dark animals take longer to be adopted than their lighter counterparts, and that large dogs take longer to adopt than small ones.
The issue has been gaining media attention since the mid-2000s. Tamara Delaney, an early activist against black dog syndrome, developed a website called Black Pearl Dogs in 2004 specifically to address the issue, both by educating the public about its existing, as well as showcasing individual dogs available for adoption. The website caught on quickly in the sheltering community, and helped lead
However, appearance in general does play a role in potential adopters’ selection of shelter dogs. In a 2011 study by the ASPCA, appearance was the most frequently cited reason for adopters of both puppies (29 percent) and adult dogs (26 percent).
- A 1992 article in the journal Animal Welfare, found that color was not a major factor in adoptions at a Northern Ireland shelter; black-and-white coats were most prevalent among adopted dogs, followed by yellow, solid black, gold, and black-and-tan coats.
- A 1998 study of 1,468 relinquished dogs offered for adoption at a local humane society found having a primarily black coat color was a variable associated with euthanasia, while gold, gray, and white coats colors were significant predictors of successful adoption.
- A 2002 study published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science of dog and cat adoption in California animal shelters found pure black coat colors to be negative factors in adoption rates for both dogs and cats.
- In 2008 the general manager of the Los Angeles Animal Services department reported that twelve months of data on the intake of 30,046 dogs showed slightly more dogs that were predominantly or all black were adopted than dogs who were not predominantly or all black.
- A 2010 PhD thesis analyzing multiple factors found a measurable variance contributing to dogs with primarily black coats being euthanized rather than adopted.
- A 2013 study of dogs’ length of stay (LOS) at two New York “no-kill” shelters determined that canine coat color had no effect.The study noted that coat color’s effect on LOS may be localized, or may not generalize to traditional or other types of shelters.
- A Masters thesis analysis of 16,800 dogs at two Pacific Northwest shelters found that black dogs were adopted more quickly than average at both shelters.
- A 2013 study of cat adoption rates published in The Open Veterinary Science Journal concluded that “Results indicated that black cats, regardless of age or sex, require the longest time to adopt. They are followed by primarily black cats with other colors.”
What you can do
Whether or not you’re currently looking to adopt, you can do a lot to help pets who suffer from BDS!
- Display your love of black pets proudly to demonstrate that there is nothing wrong with them. Share our Black Fur Badge on your website (see it below)!
- Encourage friends to look past their first impressions of a black pet.
- Tell people about BDS! It’s generally an unconscious prejudice and most people will move past it once they’re aware.
- Remind people that their parents were right: personality is more important than appearance. It’s just as true for pets as for people!
- Understand why BDS occurs. If you’re going to tackle the problem of BDS, then you need to understand the motivations behind it in order to respond to them.
- Train the black dog. Several cute tricks may be the ticket to help get a black dog adopted. A higher education is many dogs’ hope for a successful interview with a new family.
- Use a bright background when photographing a dark dog, even a quilt will do. Dark dogs don’t stand out in photos, so they don’t tend to look their best photographed in a shelter. Black is a difficult color to photograph well, so select someone from the shelter staff or volunteers who loves a photography challenge!
- Sell the breed, not the color. Think of all the qualities of the breed that will suit the person who might be adopting the dog and make these a strong selling point. For instance, rottweilers and dobermans are both very loyal breeds, and would be good for a one-master home. Perhaps print up a card or make a poster with the great new photo of the black dog and point out all the excellent traits of the dog’s breed, using bullet points to make them stand out.
- Make good points out of bad points. If the person considering the adoption of a dog says something like, “Oh, but he’s too big!”, promote the qualities of a big dog. Large dogs may be much more laid back than smaller, more energetic breeds, and also many large breeds have been shown to get along better with other dogs, which can be helpful for an owner looking to create a multi dog household. If the person wants a dog for security, point out that people tend to be more afraid of black dogs than dogs of lighter colors.
- Tell everyone to spay and neuter all their pets. None of the black dogs came on a UFO from a distant planet; each came from a non-fixed pair of pets, as a result of poor human decision-making . Encourage all owners to be responsible by having the dogs spayed or neutered before they leave the shelter.
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