Black Dog Syndrome

Hunter, adopted at 10-1/2 months old weighing 112 pounds. Turned in two times before we finally adopted him. He was loyal, gentle and very loving.

The idea of Black Dog Syndrome or Big Black Dog has been gaining media attention since the mid-2000’s. Many people perceive black as being aggressive, evil, or bringing misfortune due to folklore or their culture. Thus, people tend to overlook them and choose a lighter colored dog, whether it is a puppy or adult, which appears friendlier.

Though some believe that Black Dog Syndrome is a myth, others have seen firsthand how long black dogs remain in shelters compared to the lighter colored dogs and honestly believe that this syndrome is real.

I wanted to bring this topic up so my readers can decide for themselves. First and foremost, Black Dog Syndrome is not associated with just color but also size, breed, and health.

Shelters and rescues do not do a black dogs justice. The pictures they post on their sites do not always capture the beauty, soulfulness of their eyes or their personality. Photographing a black dog requires skill with managing the lighting so that the dog’s features pop and are not blurred. If the pictures do not present well, potential adopters will not be drawn to see them in person.

As much as a large dog attract people’s attention, the large size also scares some away. This may be due to a past unpleasant experience or more likely, inexperience with dogs in general. Now present one of those people with a large black dog that has dark eyes, and they will overlook it, in fact, they will walk past it, unless you are me or my husband who find large black dogs stunning.

The media has always targeted certain breeds as dangerous:  Doberman pinchers, rottweilers, German shepherds and pit bulls to name a few. Sadly, when a breed makes this list, the stigma lasts for years to come. Municipalities have made it even harder by drafting specific breed legislation banning homeowners from possessing these breeds. It is discriminatory to say the least. Each of these breeds, if trained correctly are wonderful family members and many in this group have gone on to do amazing things throughout history. I admit, my parents always believed Dobermans, German shepherds and rottweilers were aggressive and whenever I saw one, I was trained to cross the street and not make eye contact. As I matured, I learned firsthand that these fears could be overcome but I had also learned how and when to approach them.

Max: Adopted from an abusive home

The media’s perception of black dogs in the news and movies is a major contributing factor to the problem of black dogs. Why? Black dogs are often portrayed by the media as aggressive, and it only takes one misconception being conveyed over and repeatedly until people “assume” that all black dogs or large breeds are inherently bad. Sadly, people would rather believe fully in what the media tells them than doing their own research and talking to others who have adopted black dogs.

Many children’s stories, television shows and movies have used black dogs to convey a negative theme since the color black in many cultures and folklore represents bad luck and sometimes death. Consider this:  the most popular color at funerals is black because its represents sadness, depression, and finality. When a black dog appears in a show, it often represents a bad omen. The blackness of a dog brings about both a conscious and unconscious fear in people resulting in black dogs not being afforded the opportunity of a forever home. Lighter colors often appear happier, friendlier, and less aggressive.

When it comes to the health of a black dog, they are susceptible to the same illnesses and diseases as light-colored dogs; however, precaution must be taken during outside activities since black dogs can overheat much faster. Knowing how to read a dog’s body language is imperative but can save a black dog from prematurely overheating.

Looking at shelter websites, it seems as if the phenomenon is subsiding. Though black dogs still spend more time in a shelter, they do appear to be adopted at a much better rate today than 20 years ago. With every shelter, there is always work to do.

My husband and I have adopted many black dogs over the years, especially when Black Dog Syndrome and the list of dangerous dogs was hitting the news often. We never found black dogs evil or aggressive nor did they bring more misfortune. Our black dogs have been extremely loveable and loyal. In fact, of the eight dogs we have had five since we were married, and I had another two as a child. Only one of these was “presumed” to be aggressive but, Thor was true to his breed. He is a German Shepard, completely locked into the family and extremely loveable with us. His presumed aggression was more our lack of understanding the breed; therefore, not socializing him as we should have.

Today, Thor is 10-1/2 years old, and finally with my husband’s retirement and my working from home since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, he spends every minute with us. He has warmed up to people when out on walks and allows us to have company without trying to “protect us” every second of a friend’s visit. I must admit, staying home with Thor is so much more rewarding than going out these days. We realized that having experience with a certain breed helps, but so does spending endless amounts of time with them so that a mutual bond of trust is formed. We are attuned to our dog’s reactions and feelings. We have NEVER had a bad dog.

Thor, adopted as a puppy from a friend and has known nothing but love

When it comes to adopting a dog, be wary of myths.

  • Just because a dog is in a shelter, does not mean it is a bad dog. They just caught a bad break in life and need a second chance. Believe me, they know when they are given that chance. They will become such a huge part of your family.
  • Do your research and whatever you do, do not discount a dog just because of their color.
  • Choose the right breed for your family. If your active; adopt an active dog. If you are a lazy person, adopt a laid-back dog.
  • If you have small children, think twice about adopting a large breed dog as children may rough house and inadvertently get nipped or knocked down during play. It is particularly important to educate children what is acceptable behavior when around the dog.
  • No matter what you decide to adopt, be prepared for a lifetime commitment. If you cannot afford the time and finances to care for a dog, think twice about adopting.

%d bloggers like this: