Black Dog Syndrome

Black dog

While working at the Washington Humane Society (WHS) in Washington, DC, I was thrilled when I found out that King, a large and handsome black Labrador mix was finally adopted after spending many months at WHS.  King had been at the shelter for so long, everyone knew and loved him.

King was a black adoptable dog at Washington Humane Society.

When black colored dogs spend more time waiting for their new home than their lighter-colored kennelmates, this is known as Black Dog Syndrome (BDS). When I left WHS to pursue graduate work in anthropology at The George Washington University I conducted research into BDS.

BDS is observed by shelters and rescue groups throughout America and affects black dogs, as well as cats. It is possible that there may simply be more black pets in the shelter and rescue population. However reports from across the country seem to illustrate the problem, and  multiple national organizations have long recognized BDS as an issue that adversely affects the adoption rates of black pets.

What is Black Dog Syndrome?
In a survey, Petfinder member shelter and rescue groups reported that most pets are listed for 12.5 weeks on Petfinder, whereas, less-adoptable pets (such as black, senior, and special needs pets) spend almost four times as long on Petfinder. (

Through my research I learned that Black Dog Syndrome may be caused by a combination of:

  • Size
  • Unclear facial features
  • Dimly lit kennels
  • The “genericness” of black pets
  • Negative portrayals of black pets in books, movies and other popular media
    • A big, frightening black dog can be seen in The Hound of the Baskervilles, the Harry Potter series, both movie versions of The Omen, and even on the common “Beware of Dog” sign.
    • Black cats are readily associated with witches, superstition, and bad luck.

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. 
  • 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!