Black Dog Syndrome at Shelters; Fact or Myth?

Sadly, black dogs, especially larger black dogs are a staple at animal shelters. At any given time in most animal shelters you’ll find lots of black dogs whose intake dates have long since passed. Other dogs have come and gone while these sleek black animals with dark soulful eyes patiently wait for someone to notice them. Black Dog Syndrome, as it’s commonly called in the shelter world, is very real and very sad. It can be so frustrating to see these loving, deserving dogs continually passed over at animal shelters and rescues.

Why are black shelter dogs so often overlooked in favor of lighter colored dogs?  I think there are two main reasons for this.

🐾 Animal shelters notoriously have poor lighting.  Because of this, very dark colored dogs are not as visible; they don’t catch your eye as much and are easy to miss.  I’ll admit there have actually been times when I’ve arrived at the shelter and I’m running around helping people, and I’ve missed a black dog or two sitting in the back of their poorly lit kennel.  I’ll do a double- take and think, wow where did that one come from?  I simply didn’t see him!   I feel so guilty when that happens.     

Poor lighting also makes for a poor photograph, so when  people view photos of the shelter’s adoptable dogs online, the photos of black dogs are usually not good and don’t entice people to come see the dog.  People now go online when they are looking to adopt a dog or other pet.  They no longer run to the shelter first, they scroll through photos of adoptable pets on animal shelter and animal rescue web sites first.  If the photo doesn't grab them, they may never go to meet that adoptable dog or other pet.

Black Dog Syndrome at animal shelters and dog rescue is real and can prevent a dog from being adopted
Even in sunlight, it's hard to see Dusty's beautiful dark brindle coat

🐾 Another thing that contributes to Black Dog Syndrome is that some people think big black dogs look scary.  If they’d only look closer and give the big guy a chance, they would see a dark, gentle giant with soulful eyes, one that would make a great best friend.

Awhile back, I vowed to do something to help combat Black Dog Syndrome at the shelter where I volunteered.  As I arrived at the shelter, I checked every kennel to see if we had black dogs.  We always did.  If a smaller black dog was in the bottom row of kennels, I'd move them to an upper kennel or place them into a larger play area or a meet and greet room so they can get more visibility.  

I moved larger black dogs into a larger area as well to help them stand out more.  I'd also put a colorful bandana, sweater, harness, or collar on them, or place a brightly colored blanket in the kennel to help draw peoples’ attention as they pass by.  “Oh, look how cute that dog looks in her pink bandana!”  A black dog will really pop against orange, red or pink.   Bright multi colored patterns are even better, they have “movement” and really catch the eye.    

Black dogs are often overlooked at animal shelters and rescues
My foster dog, Howdy.

We once had a beautiful jet black pit bull puppy about 6 months old at the shelter.  He was in the bottom row of kennels and hardly anyone noticed he was even there.  I took him out, tied a colorful bandana on him, and placed him in a meet and greet room to make him more visible.  I also gave him a bright blue squeaky ball to play with.  As people entered the shelter and passed by the meet and greet room, they could see him clearly…. and hear him continually squeeking his ball.  Let me tell you, every person that came in noticed this little guy and he was quickly adopted.  

I have since added colorful squeaky toys to my bag of tricks to help combat Black Dog Syndrome.  It’s such a small thing but it makes a huge difference.    If you want to help your local shelter combat potential Black Dog Syndrome, donate some brightly colored bandanas, dog clothing, collars or harnesses.  I find fabulous collars and harnesses at discount stores.  I started buying bunches of them to donate to the shelter regularly. 

Black dogs are often overlooked at shelters due to poor lighting, poor photos, or people thinking larger black dogs look scary.
This beautiful large black dog got noticed more when we moved him into a large play kennel and gave him a squeeky ball!  A colorful bandana would have helped even more. Yes, he did get adopted!

Check out photographer Fred Levy's gorgeous photos of black dogs, which he creatively photographed against a black backdrop in his Black Dogs Project at,



ruckustheeskie said...

Ooo I never thought about that given that Ruckus is a white fluffy dog. Im sure if an eskimo was all matted and desheveled then it would still be a problem.

Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them said...

Yes, if a dog is really matted it can be a total turnoff at the shelter, not everyone has the vision to see a dog's potential beauty both outside and within. If they come in looking like a hot mess, we try to groom them or get a groomer to donate their time. Thanks for your comments, it's nice to connect with you!

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