black dog syndrome

Beautiful Big Black Dog on National Black Dog Day

Yes, it is a real thing, unfortunately.

FCVC hopes you are NOT afraid of black dogs (or black cats!). As you read this article and watch the video below, you will find that there is a real bias against black coated pets, known as Black Dog Syndrome (BDS).

However, we believe informed pet parents can make a difference when it comes to making their next choice of a pet. On this Oct 1st, which is also National Black Dog Day, we would ask you to please consider: 1) an older shelter or rescue pet and 2) take a look at those sable coated pets first.

This article from our friends at relates the crux of the problem:


Black Dog Syndrome

While working at the Washington Humane Society (WHS) in Washington, DC, I was thrilled when I found out that King, a large and handsome coal 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, like so many other ebony dogs in shelters, spent more time waiting for his new home than his lighter-colored kennel mates. In the sheltering world 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 the

A black dog named King may simply be more like dark colored pets in the shelter and the 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 the dark coated 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. (See what else the survey showed on our Adopt-A-Less-Adoptable-Pet Week page!)

Through my research I learned that BDS may be caused by a combination of:

  • Size
  • Unclear facial features
  • Dimly lit kennels
  • The “generic-ness” of ink-colored pets
  • Negative portrayals of coal colored pets in books, movies and other popular media
    • A big, frightening dark dog can be seen in The Hound of the Baskervilles (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), the Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling), both movie versions of The Omen (David Seltzer), and even on the common “Beware of Dog” sign.
    • Sable 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 charcoal colored pets proudly to demonstrate that there is nothing wrong with them.
  • Encourage friends to look past their first impressions of a inky 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!

FCVC vets and staff love big black dogs and little black dogs and every black dog size in-between. We know that they have big hearts and will give you all the love you could ever want. You have to decide if you can live with a black dog – but really, it’s not any different than any other color dog.

Articles that you may also find of interest – Adopt a Less Adoptable Pet 4 Love and Adopt A Pet Search

Attribution and photo – from our friends at
Photo1 – jadon-barnes-772254-unsplash