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Adopt a Black Dog

Updated on October 13, 2008
Photo by Phil Romans
Photo by Phil Romans

Although the problem has never been studied, there is anecdotal evidence from animal shelters and humane societies around the country that suggests that black dogs, especially big black dogs (BBDs), are the hardest dogs to place in new homes. The phenomenon has become so widespread that among animal rescue professionals it even has a name: "Black Dog Syndrome."

My family has owned three big black rescue dogs in my lifetime. Jack, Critter, and Kaleah were among the lucky black dogs who found new homes after being abandoned at the shelter, but too many of their compatriots do not.

Photo by kathycsus
Photo by kathycsus

Possible Causes of Black Dog Syndrome

  • Black dogs photograph poorly. Especially since the onset of internet pet adoptions, photographs have become important ways for prospective pet owners to get a first look at their potential pets. Unfortunately, it is often harder to see the facial features and expressions of black dogs in photographs, making people potentially less likely to click through for more information.
  • Black dogs are harder to see in dim kennel conditions. A similar problem may afflict some black dogs in animal shelters. In dimmer lighting, black dogs stand out less than lighter dogs and may have a harder time working the puppy eyes.
  • Black dogs can look old. For many shelters, the only dogs harder to place than black dogs are old black dogs. People want a cute puppy, or an energetic young dog to play with, and they're wary of potential vet bills and the prospect of losing a beloved pet too soon. Unfortunately, many black dogs gray more quickly than lighter dogs, so even relatively young dogs can look old.
  • Black dogs are stigmatized. Black dogs,especially large black dogs, have long been associated with death. In British mythology, a Black Dog is a spectral creature whose appearance is a harbinger of death. Hellhounds are often portrayed as black dogs with glowing red eyes, as is Cerberus. Popular culture from Sherlock Holmes's Hound of the Baskervilles to the Grim of Harry Potter has also commonly associated black dogs with death.
  • Black dogs are feared. Although many modern people would laugh at the old legends of the black dog that carries your soul to Hell, black dogs are still perceived by many to be fiercer and more dangerous than lighter colored dogs. This may be because several of the most commonly used police and attack breeds, including the Rottweiler and the Doberman Pinscher, are black. Vicious dogs, however, are nearly always the result of poor socialization and training on the part of the owner, not of coat color, or even breed. Pit bulls (which can be black, but are generally light or mixed color), the most feared dogs in America, make excellent family dogs with proper socialization.

Take Me Home

Photo by visualpanic
Photo by visualpanic

How To Help

For shelter employees and volunteers, read this excellent post by Shel of the Saving Pets blog: Beating the Black Dog Blues. Many shelters offer special events or discounts to draw more attention to their black dogs, especially those who are slow to be adopted.

For potential adopters, the most important thing is to give black dogs a chance. Black labs and mixes in particular are so common at pounds that it's easy for them to run together when you're browsing the aisles of a kennel. Try to pay attention to each dog and find something unique and special to help differentiate them when you're trying to decide which dogs to meet and, later, which to adopt.

Most importantly, don't add to the problem! Unless you are a professional breeder, spay or neuter your black dog, even if you think you'll be able to find homes for a whole litter of puppies. Encourage friends and family who are considering getting a pet to visit their local humane society first.

Photo by Phil Romans
Photo by Phil Romans

HubMob Project

This hub was written for the HubMob challenge, week five: All About Pets: The different stories, advice and tips that have to do with them.

Come over and join the fun!


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    • BulletRescue profile image


      6 years ago

      Glad you're bringing attention to this issue. Although my dog is multi-colored, he has two large black spots covering his eyes and it is sometimes very difficult to get a good photo of him without looking like he has no eyes! He was the last to be adopted from a batch of dogs and spent weeks at the rescue before we found him (his picture was posted on a website too). Unfortunately, with the rise of the internet many potential adopters are viewing photos online and making decisions based on what they view there. Rescues thus need to place extra care and focus on lighting when photographing black dogs to bring out their features... when they do, these photos are absolutely stunning (such as the ones on your hub, beautiful dogs!). Thank you for bringing attention and support to these "black sheep" of the dog world. They are as much deserving of a loving home as any other dog!

    • Nettlemere profile image


      7 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      Great to see a hub on this issue, in the UK the black dogs who have most problem finding a home are ex racing greyhounds, partly because a higher percentage of them are black than any other colour - so it is the other colours which stand out more.

    • myawn profile image


      7 years ago from Florida

      I love black dogs and black cats see nothing wrong with them.

    • Larry Fields profile image

      Larry Fields 

      7 years ago from Northern California

      Voted up and interesting.

      There's a flip side to the Big Black Dog issue. Suppose that you live in a rough neighborhood, and do not feel safe taking walks by yourself. And for whatever reason, you would not be comfortable owning one of the 'image' breeds, even though a German Shepherd walking companion would help you feel safer.

      Adopting a BBD could be a good solution for you. A black Lab would probably be out of the question, because everyone regards a Lab as a nice family dog. This includes the bad guys.

      However adopting a Flatcoat Retriever, if you can find one in a local dog rescue, would be a reasonable choice. Flatcoats have nice temperaments, like Golden Retrievers, but they do give heads-up barks. And most people have never seen or even heard of Flatcoats. The black color may discourage the neighborhood thugs. One consideration is that this a fairly active breed.

      Another possibility is a black-colored Lab/Golden mix. These are easier to find in dog rescues. The hair in these mixes is typically longer than Labs' hair.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thank you for writing this!!! I've worked with many rescues and some that ONLY pull out black dogs just because they are black and don't stand as much chance of adoption.

    • myawn profile image


      7 years ago from Florida

      I love black dogs. And all other colors of dogs. I had a shiny black lab once he was so smart.I'd love to have another one day when I have some land.Very nice hub!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      The same is true with black cats . . . I have black cats and a black dog. All adopted/rescued. Beautiful animals, inside and out. It's all about the eyes anyway . . . black animals usually have the most beautiful brown eyes that make my heart melt!

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 

      8 years ago from Deep South, USA

      Unfortunately, she still has the dogs, and she still lives too close to me for comfort. I think the hefty fine she had to pay got her attention, so at least she doesn't let the dogs roam free off-leash throughout the neighborhood any more. And, you're right. It's not the dogs' fault. It's hers for being so irresponsible (and malicious).

      After she had to pay the fine, she left a very nasty letter in my mailbox calling me names and acting as though my calling the police was worse than what her dog did on my property. Go figure!

    • kerryg profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from USA

      JayeWisdom, how awful! I hope her dogs get taken away from her before they do even worse damage. Unfortunately, the poor things will probably have to be put down, through no fault of their own. You're absolutely right that any breed of dog can be taught to be dangerous by a thoughtless or malicious owner. I'm so sorry you landed next to such an irresponsible one! People like her really make me see red.

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 

      8 years ago from Deep South, USA

      I can understand the sentiments behind this hub, but a big black dog would never work out at my house. You see, one of my neighbors actually trained her two black Labs to chase and catch squirrels and other small animals. The problem escalated and, long story shortened, several years ago one of her big black Labs attacked my granddaughter on my front porch, grabbed her puppy and then pushed its way through my front door into the hallway!

      It took two people to get that Lab back outside, but not before she knocked me down on the floor and traumatized my miniature Schnauzer. I had to summon a lot more strength than I actually have to hold my little dog off that big one. Her hackles were up and she thought she was a Rottweiler! She was ready to defend her human. Since then, any sight of a big black dog and my dog goes berzerk! When I take her to the vet, if there's a black Lab or any large black dog, they have to send us on back to an exam room because my dog has fits.

      I realize, of course, that all of this was the fault of my not-nice neighbor instead of her dog. Labs are generally mild-mannered dogs, but any dog can be trained to be aggressive by someone who doesn't care about safety. My neighbor's dogs also nearly killed another neighbor's Chihauhua. (This woman got furious at me because I filed charges against her at the police station, and she had to pay several hundred dollars fine for her dog's actions. Needless to say, we aren't friends.)

      Anyway, now you understand why I can't adopt a big black dog! It's because of what my crazy neighbor caused....

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I love the part about pitbulls being excellent family dogs with the proper training and socialization. I have had pitbulls all my life growing up and never had one be just outwardly vicious. I have been preaching this for years and been criticized numerous times for my view on the subject, but I totally agree with that comment. Also, want to say I own a black dog now that was abandoned on the side of the road, picked up by a friend of mine, who was not able to keep her due to his living situation. I agreed to take her and she is better than any pedigree dog I have ever owned. I think she is truly greatful. To show my appreciation to her I contacted Out of the Woods and they have arranged for her to get spayed, bc I am a college student at the time and could not afford it myself. Thank you for all donors to orgs like them you are greatly appreciated. Jasmine appreciates it and so do all the shelter animals waiting to be adopted.

    • EmmaCarlson profile image


      8 years ago from Toccoa Georgia

      Thank you for this Hub! :) I too know how hard it is to find adoption (and even rescue) for many black dogs!I see it all the time in rescue, also we had a BL named Isaac dumped on us a year ago and JUST found a home for him (now trying to work out transport from Ga to Canada!) He is one of THE best dogs Ive ever known, as perfect as they come! I wrote this in his honor......

      The me behind the disguise

      "You see me as black and plain but do you see too, my pain?

      Inside my dark disguise, the beautiful soul shining thru chocolate brown eyes?

      Did you even bother to take a second look?

      Or do you think because... you saw the cover you've read the book?

      There is SO much more to me than what you see!

      There is a lifetime of love bursting from inside of me!

      Im sweet,smart and eager to please, so why do you avoid me like a decease?

      All I want is to love and be loved back, my only crime? Being born black!"

      Written by Naomi Carlson (Nomie Carlson on FB) in honor of black dogs everywhere. May be used and shared with credit to the author

    • profile image

      Margaret Kishimoto 

      8 years ago

      I am so happy with my baby Catie. I needed her and she needed me. Lots of love and trust. We go to Pet co for training and walking good now.No crate and a big yard to run in.Not a out side dog.Comes in and out as she wants. In our home sleeping with us. Love her.

    • profile image

      nubes mom 

      8 years ago

      I had heard this before, and it makes me very sad. I just lost my beloved black Shih Tzu/Lhasa a few months ago, and I think black dogs are the BEST. I remember her shiny black coat when she was a puppy, 18 years ago. It was one of the most beautiful things I have seen in my life. I wish I could make others see black dogs the way I do.

    • profile image

      Seb@heated dog beds 

      8 years ago

      I had no idea that it is more difficult to find a home for black dogs. I can't imagine anyone not wanting a black lab. Our mutt is mostly black although she does have a bit of white on her muzzle. I have to admit I'm leery of Dobermans but not because of their colour.

    • caninecrtitics profile image


      8 years ago from Massachusetts

      People are also more intimidated by black dogs for some reason they think they look aggressive.

    • CooperScape profile image


      8 years ago from Albany, NY

      I wasn't aware of this phenomenon--a bias against black dogs--until reading your Hub. After reading this, more people will go out of their way to choose a black dog. I personally find a black Doberman Pinscher one of the most attractive and coolest looking dogs around. And a black Lab is nice too.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I have 3 black dogs, in 3 different sizes.

      I never had any idea that they were less desirable. I specifically looked for black dogs because I thought they looked more regal.

    • Lizzieboo122 profile image


      8 years ago from Lumberton, TX

      All my dogs are black! So is one of my cats.

    • erthfrend profile image


      8 years ago from Florida

      Thank you for putting in a good word for black dogs! I heard about them being harder to adopt out and its a real shame. I had a rottie/shepherd mix so of course he was a big black dog and he was truly an awesome dog, a big gentle giant and the best dog ever! Hopefully with this article, you will help save some lives!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I was so surpised when I adopted another "black" dog that "black dogs do get adopted down here", I was told. A black will catch my eye before any other. I think a black dog is the most beautiful of all. I look any black dog and I only see calm. My little Black American Cocker x Daschund mix dogs are the best. All black and beautiful.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I have a black lab. I adopted him from a shelter when he was four months old. No one wanted him. He turned out to be the most adorable dog. Sweet, gentle and full of personalities. I love him very, very much.

    • profile image


      9 years ago


    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I Love Dogss They aree Vairrr Cutee. What can i say to persuadee my parents to let me have one,,

    • Eternal Evolution profile image

      Eternal Evolution 

      9 years ago from kentucky

      I have also found this to be true, personally love plack dogs lol.

    • valeriebelew profile image


      9 years ago from Metro Atlanta, GA, USA

      I presently have a black lab in my kennel whom a friend rescued after finding him running free in a spiked collar with no apparent owner. He has been here for close to a month, and no one has come forward looking for him. He is a very friendly dog, and does not bark very much. I have four other dogs of my own, so I do need to place him, but will wait as long as it takes. Please visit my website and ask for his picture. He is a wonderful dog, and I am giving him time to find the owner or guardian he deserves. V

    • mistyhorizon2003 profile image

      Cindy Lawson 

      10 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

      Lovely Hub, and great to see this pointed out. I have owned a black Lab cross (as a young child), and a Doberman since, I now think it might be a good idea to do a charity event up by our lake for the local rescue centres to bring up their black dogs for rehoming, and I could get the local newspapers and radio to cover it.

    • RVilleneuve profile image


      10 years ago from Michigan

      I have a black mut, she is the best!

    • glassvisage profile image


      10 years ago from Northern California

      I've never heard of stigmas or anything against black dogs! Every dog we've had has been a black lab because they're my dad's favorite. I love the photo at the top; we always give our dogs red collars!

    • kerryg profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from USA

      Sally and hotdorkage, thanks for your comments!

      Whitney, yes, that's one of the main points of the post I linked for shelter employees and I've noticed myself when I visit the pound to give some attention to the dogs that a wall of black labs and black lab mixes can start to blend together if I'm there for just a quick visit that doesn't give me enough time to really pay attention to each as an individual. Breaking them up definitely helps them stand out more.

    • Whitney05 profile image


      10 years ago from Georgia

      I'd also add that people typically want different, and when you go to the pet store on adoption day or you go to the animal shelter, because there ARE so many black dogs, people tend to go to the spotted one, striped one, brown one, white one, etc. After many years with adoption agencies, you notice that the 'different' ones go faster than when you have more than one of the same size, color, or build. We always had to break up the black dogs so that there was something different in-between them, which somehow always made them just a little more unique.

    • hot dorkage profile image

      hot dorkage 

      10 years ago from Oregon, USA

      My dog is brown, does that count? Geez we're racists even when it comes to DOGS! I love black dogs! Course I love all dogs except the ones that bite.

    • Sally's Trove profile image


      10 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      I had no idea there was such a problem with finding homes for black dogs. I'll be sure to do my part to spread your good words. Thanks so much for the excellent information!


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