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  • Writer's pictureLiz Blackman, Founder of Help4Pets, Inc.

What’s Wrong with Black Dogs?

Updated: Jun 17, 2021

Would it surprise you to know that black dogs have a harder time getting adopted than dogs of any other color? The news shocked me. Since childhood, my life has been spent in the company of one black dog after another, sometimes more than one at a time. All adopted. Some big, some small. Some smart, some not. But all of them great dogs. It wasn’t intentional. The ones who came our way just happened to all be black. They were lovely, loving, lovable dogs, every one of them in their own way.

So when I heard that black dogs have a tough time getting adopted, often lingering in shelters long after other dogs go off to a new home, sometimes never to be adopted, I couldn’t believe it. Why? I knew that shelters were overcrowded with dogs who need a good home. I knew that the problem worsened in a bad economy. But I didn’t know that black dogs in particular have it tougher than the rest and that the bigger or older the black dog, the slimmer are his chances of being adopted.

A few theories behind Black Dog Syndrome

The problem is so big and so real that shelter workers have a name for it: Black Dog Syndrome. Some think the problem is that black dogs are hard to photograph and don’t show well on online adoption sites like and

A photo of a black dog taken with a cell photo vs. a professionally lit photo.
A professional photographer was really able to bring out Willhe's beauty!

Well, I can attest to that. I have hundreds of horrible photos of all the black dogs in my life. Big black blobs in the middle of the photos with a hint of some white teeth and the certainty that there must be eyes in there somewhere. They are hard to photograph. Without the proper lighting and good equipment, it’s almost impossible to capture their soulful brown eyes, their smile or their expressive brows. I finally gave up and took our dog, Willhe, to a professional photographer recently in hopes of capturing even a little of his winsome, wonderful ways. Furtographs Pet Portraiture did an amazing job.

Another thought is that the problem lies in the dimly lit shelters. How is a little black dog, even a big black dog, supposed to make a good impression and catch the attention of someone shopping the rows of countless cages at a shelter when you can’t even see them because the lighting is so poor?

A third possible explanation is the most difficult to explain. Some people mistakenly think that black dogs just aren’t friendly. Ask anyone who has ever loved a black dog and they’ll surely tell you otherwise.

Black dog named Connie enjoying a dip in the pool
Connie enjoying a dip in the pool on a warm day.

What can you do?

Well, this is what we did. My husband and I went online and looked for the oldest, biggest, blackest dog we could find. What we found was an 84-pound, 9-year old, purebred English Labrador retriever who had been at our local shelter for nearly a month and whose time was running out. The only thing she had to her name was her name, Connie.

Day after day, week after week, Connie was passed up. The shelter staff described her as a love of a dog who played well with others and loved to fetch. Why was she there? Her family was moving and couldn’t take her with them. What was wrong with her? Nothing. At least nothing that a good, new home couldn’t fix.

She would have been a perfect choice for an active family with kids. She's patient and she loves them. She would have been a great match for someone older or disabled. She’s happy to sit quietly at your feet. She knows how to sit and to shake and to use the bathroom outside. And she’s got plenty of good years left in her. She wound up with us. But she could just as easily have wound up being put to sleep because not enough people choose to adopt. And of the ones who do, not enough choose a black dog.

So, give a black dog a chance.

Behind those awful photos, the poor lighting and the misconceptions may be the dog of your dreams, waiting for the chance they deserve to be someone’s companion, confidant and kindred spirit. Maybe yours.

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