When Hannah pet-sitted for her neighbors, she noticed an unusual change when she walked the small grey and white dog. Everyone wanted to pet it. When out walking her own, equally cute, small fluffy black dog, it was largely ignored.
Dogs with lighter coloring tend to get more attention than black dogs, and this tendency even extends to adoption. Black dogs tend to wait four times longer than lighter colored animals to get adopted.
No one knows for sure why black dogs are typically ignored but the adoption rates are consistent all over the world.
What Scientists Have to Say
Although rescuers, humane societies, and dog owners have noticed this trend, science is mixed on whether black dog syndrome actually exists. So far, research has been mixed.
A recent 2021 study found that whether it exists or not, the ability to recognize facial expressions in black dogs is not the cause of it. In the past, difficult in reading the emotions on dark faces was one reason people gave for the possible difficulty in adopting black dogs.
A study that controlled for other factors did find that black dogs were more likely to be euthanized and have more time in the shelter than dogs who were not black.
Other studies show slightly more interest in black dogs. The truth is, it’s actually extremely difficult to determine whether coat color is the cause for a dog not getting adopted. Most people select for purebred dogs first (29%), and size second.
A purebred scottie for example, is likely to be more adoptable than a giant white mixed breed. Gizmodo wrote a great article on this topic that may help explain the conflicting research.
What Causes Black Dogs to be Less Adoptable
Part of the conflicting evidence may not be conflicting at all. It’s likely that the reason why some shelter studies find no evidence of black dog syndrome, and others find the opposite, may be because of the location or even the year the data was taken.
If a black dog was portrayed as extremely aggressive in a movie that came out that year, perhaps adoptions of black dogs would decline. If more purebred black dogs end up in shelters, the fact that it’s purebred might help adopters choose them instead.
What You Can Do
The best way to help dogs is to keep the one you have. If everyone took care of their own pets, there wouldn’t be any abandoned dogs. When selecting a dog, it’s best for you to look at the dog’s personality, energy levels, and temperament rather than coat color.
Although it might be tempting to adopt a black dog simply because they are less adoptable, if you can’t keep the dog because it’s incompatible in other ways it won’t help the situation.
If you’re adopting a dog, ask for a trial period to meet the pet and live with it before committing to ownership. If the dog happens to be black but fits all your other criteria, keep it! Black dogs can be just as friendly as lighter coated dogs.
Whether black dog syndrome is there or not, the problem of lonely dogs in need of a family is very much still there. Adoption is a great way to help fix that problem, if you have an empty space in your home for a dog.
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