Here's What You Need To Know About 'Black Dog Syndrome'

A recent study found black dogs are doing OK! Pit bulls and black cats still need help.
Luis Alvarez via Getty Images

Turns out black dogs may not be as unlucky as we thought.

"Black dog syndrome" describes the ruff time that dark-colored doggies are thought to have have making it out of shelters and into homes.

This supposed phenomenon -- also known as "dog racism" -- has inspired some stunningly gorgeous adoption campaigns and education efforts, to show the world what those of us who have black dogs already know: they're just as wonderful companions as those whose coats are a little lighter.

Only the world might not need to be sold on black dogs' virtues after all. And those marketing and education efforts, those adoption campaigns, could be more fruitfully directed at other groups of hard-luck animals.

A paper published last month in the journal Animal Welfare looked at four years worth of adoption data from two animal shelters in the Pacific Northwest to see how black dogs fare, compared to dogs of other demographics.

What they found is good news for black dogs -- who in fact had shorter shelter stays when compared to differently hued pups.

In the first shelter, the average length of time a dog was available for adoption was seven days, while black dogs were out in six-and-a-half. In the second shelter, the average length of stay for a dog was 10.5 days -- while black dogs were out in nine.

"This means that the black dogs spent slightly less time on the adoption floor than the average time spent by all dogs," co-author Christy Hoffman, a professor of animal behavior at Canisius College, told The Huffington Post.

There were other groups of dogs who faced disproportionately long stays at both shelters, for example bully breeds -- meaning dogs identified by the shelters as American bullies, American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers or Staffordshire bull terriers. The dogs generally called pit bulls, in other words.

When these dogs were adopted, their shelter stays were two-and-a-half to three times longer than the average.

"Bully breeds were also much more likely to be euthanized than dogs belonging to other breed categories," Hoffman said.

Hoffman cautions that her study does not prove black dogs never take longer to get adopted. (Or that black dog syndrome wasn't once a more universal problem, that has perhaps been ameliorated through those wonderful adoption campaigns.)

It does mean that individual shelters and rescue groups should carefully examine their own data, to make sure that marketing and education efforts are being directed most usefully.

"If a shelter invests effort into promoting black dogs when, in fact, black dogs might have the same success even if they were not promoted, these resources could be better spent promoting other animals in the organization that are actually overlooked," Hoffman said.

That includes black cats, who are the subject of another of Hoffman's recent papers -- these guys, the data shows, still could use a good PR push, to show everyone that they're just purr-fect.

Get in touch with HuffPost's animal welfare editor at

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