When black dogs were thought to be taboo, even though they weren’t

Adopting a dog can be a way to express our personality. If the dog breed is rare, there’s a high chance its members become status indicators for owners – as would an expensive car, a big house and other things that mark success. But if a dog breed is common or has commonly found traits – for whatever reason – then the opposite might happen. It’s a sad reflection on our pet choosing habits that we split dog breeds into desirables and undesirables; and yet maybe there’s room for hope.

In recent times owning a dog for the sole purpose of companionship has become a common occurrence all over the world. And it’s due to this that owners have started shifting preferences from usefulness (such as labor dogs in days past) to other more humane characteristics, like friendliness, intelligence, playfulness and, or course, beauty and looks.

Are all dogs man’s best friend, or is there a preference for certain kinds of dogs?

Having said this, research would seem to point to the fact that certain types of dog have a harder time finding good and stable homes. Human preference for their canine friends is something that shifts all the time. The most popular dog in the US, all time, is the Cocker Spaniel – a breed that has held that spot for a total of 26 years. And yet for the past 25 years, the top breed has always been the Labrador Retriever.

While we can explain the Labrador’s success due to a mixture of its characteristics, it would seem (say some) that there’s one specific variable that seems to make people shy away from adopting a dog: a black coat of fur.

In fact, there’s even a term for this: it’s called ‘black dog syndrome’. Put simply, it’s the belief that dogs with black coats are harder to put up for adoption and are less prone to having stable homes than are dogs of lighter colors. This belief seems to have originated in American kennels, where workers started seeing patterns in how people chose breeds they wanted to adopt. So the story goes that lighter-colored puppies are easier to place, whereas darker shades make successful adoption far more difficult.


This belief gained so much momentum over the years that even the scientific community has taken a liking to the idea – giving way to results which are disputable, to say the least.

A team of researchers published a study in 1998 that suggested dark or black coats predisposed shelter dogs to euthanasia, with lighter colors being far more likely to result in successful adoption. And this is not a single result – another study from 2002 hinted at the fact that Californian shelter dogs with all-black coats have a tough time being adopted.


Explanations come from all walks of life. Some have stated that it’s due to mystical thinking (by which dark animals are associated with black magic and the occult), the bias of modern culture which skews towards happiness (and thus avoiding the sombre attitude of black) or due to the blandness of the color itself that these animals are less preferable than are ones of lighter coats.

And yet there’s more to this than first meets the eye.

Using science to debunk the science of dog adoption

While there might be some truth to the belief that dogs of darker shades are harder to adopt, critiques have crept up and follow-up studies have been published in recent years. And in short, it seems that the science behind our lack of sympathy for all black dogs was more myth than reality.

First off, it was found that people showed a vastly more powerful tendency to adopt purebred dogs, thus misconstruing the data of most research. Age was also not taken into account in all situations – and neither was size. Given how the majority of people living in apartment blocks couldn’t easily adopt larger breeds (that also have the tendency to be darker in shade of fur) the conclusion by which black dogs are no-no’s stands on very shaky ground.

In fact, a recent study from Canisius College that constructed on the faults of previous research found that factors such as age and breed were much more important elements for would-be dog owners than was the color of the dogs themselves. It’s nowadays evident that previous results were victims of what’s called the base rate fallacy – which means that, simply put, there are a lot of very large dogs (which aren’t that easily adoptable) that are, coincidentally, black.


The truth of the matter

While it’s true that dark-coated dogs aren’t as easy to photograph as those of lighter shades, that certain people might have superstitious beliefs about them or that they might seem mean or even wild – the truth is that color plays very little role in either a dog’s temperament – or, indeed, in its chances of being adopted by a loving home.


As depicted above, results from a 2015 analysis of over 400.000 adoptable pets in the US show that not only does having a dark coat not count with respect to how likely a dog is to become someone’s new family member, but that black coats are actually quite popular – with golden and dark scoring the same when it comes to how many dogs get adopted from animal shelters.

So go ahead and give black dogs a look if you’re in the market for a new friend for life. You wouldn’t be the only one.

This post wasn’t planned – I whipped it up on short notice for an animal adoption website. I thought it can’t hurt to share. If you’d like to get in touch about this, you can tweet me at alexgabriel_i


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