Are Black Dogs Less Lovable?

Psychology Today, October 21, 2011

People who are associated with the dog adoption world often worry about what they call the “Big Black Dog Syndrome”. It is based upon their observation that dogs that are large and black, especially Labrador retrievers, shepherd mixes, pit bulls, and Rottweilers are passed over time after time in favor of smaller, lighter colored dogs when it comes to adoptions.

There has been speculation that the reason black dogs have are being rejected is part of the fabric of our cultural heritage. In ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Norse mythologies, black dogs are often associated with death and the supernatural. They are emissaries of evil and in the folklore of Britain and Europe these demonic black hounds can be found hovering around the border spaces between this world and the next, such as graveyards and places where violence has occurred. {snip}

People who work with dog adoption groups argue that these negative ideas hovering in the back of our minds have become a stereotype which is supported by the idea of black dogs unleashing destruction as is often seen in movies, books and television shows. Thus potential pet owners mistakenly assume all black dogs are mean and aggressive, and having such an animal may lead people to believe that the owner has the same negative characteristics that are associated with big black dogs.

Although, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, this problem is not tracked nationally and local shelters keep only limited records on the size, breed, and color of the dogs that are adopted or put down, the problem has become apparent to shelter workers as they see what appears to be a reoccurring pattern where big black dogs do not get adopted.

{snip} Thus I thought that it might be worthwhile to check to see if people really do have a negative attitude toward black dogs.

The idea was to get people to express their feelings toward dogs which differ only in color. {snip} I tested a total of 60 individuals.

The target breed was Labrador Retrievers since they come in three colors, black, brown, and yellow. I used three photos of the dog’s heads (one in each color) against similar backgrounds and in similar poses, each with its mouth closed. There were also three standing photos, one of each breed. {snip}

The dog pictures were presented on a computer screen in mixed order. For each picture the observer was asked four questions, namely how much they liked the look of the dog, how friendly they thought it was, how good it would be as a family pet, and how likely it would be for the dog to be aggressive. Answers were on a scale from 1 to 7. {snip}

If these observations of shelter workers are correct, we would expect the attitudes toward black dogs to be more negative. This is exactly what was found. The observers seem to think that black dogs don’t look as good, are less friendly, and are less likely to make a good pet then either the brown or the yellow dogs. Even more importantly, perhaps, is the fact that the black dogs are seen as being possibly more aggressive than either the brown or yellow dogs. {snip}

The differences between brown and yellow dogs are not as large, but in all cases seems to favor the yellow dogs as being more desirable. All of these differences (except for “Good Pet”) are also statistically significant.

{snip}

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  • Anonymous

    We must purge ourselves of prejudice toward black pets. Don’t worry about gangs in the military, or not being qualified to pick an apple because you’re white, this must be a priority!

    Please, we need to keep informed of what we need to do with our nasty, bigoted, minds next. (yes, sarcasm! Do I need to say?)

  • nokangaroos

    Funny … the gypsies believe a WHITE dog will greet them in the beyond.

    (BTW, I adore black Labradors, but if you don´t live near water and in colder climes they are just a pestilential stink.)

  • Anonymous

    I grew up with a black/brown doberman pinscher. There is no other dog that i would want. I don’t understand why fur color that would deter anyone from adopting a dog. My black neighbor and I used to joke that my dog was black, but of course they are dogs with non-human traits. Dogs with black fur usually have ashen gray skin. I believe that those goofy Golden Retrievers are more trendy these days. Also, many seem to like those ghastly toy poodles and similar small dogs. I don’t think we should blame racism on dog adoption. Furthermore, whites are rushing to adopt black children these days. Some even go too far, breaking international law, if you recall the Hatian adoption fiasco.

  • Richard

    I don’t feel we can equate the colouring of various dog breeds to racial differences in humans based on skin colour. As a boy I had a black Labrador Retriever as a friend and pet. Our relationship was the typical boy/dog relationship. Whenever you saw me, you saw my dog. I named my black Lab, Satchmo. As this was Louis Armstrong’s nickname and my family were big Louis Armstrong fans. Encouraged by my mother, I wrote a fan letter to Louis Armstrong stating how much I loved his music and that I named my dog after him. Lo and behold I received a reply thanking me for my nice letter and entreating me to look after my dog, Satchmo. I wonder what black people would make of this story today?

  • Anonymous

    From what I’ve read and seen myself, I believe that the same applies to cats. It’s harder to adopt out black cats (that is, unless you’re lucky enough to find someone who prefers them). Myself, I fell in love with long-haired tortoiseshell cats a long time ago.

  • Sonya

    Among Dobermans black was always the most popular color with folks looking to adopt a rescued dog, and often in the show ring as well.

    One known problem when adopting out black dogs is that they are often harder to photograph well (if they are solid black). Many rescue groups depend heavily on the internet these days so that might be a factor.

  • Natassia

    I own an all black cat, but I also owned several other cats of lighter colors (cream tabbies, gray, tuxedo etc.)

    Over the past couple of years they have all disappeared (along with some other neighborhood cats) except for my black one.

    Some neighbors speculate the cats have been stolen. Police have no idea what has happened to them.

    Last Halloween my cat sat on my doorstep watching trick-or-treaters approach for candy. Most of the children asked to pet him. Interestingly enough, a black boy refused, at first, to come to my door because of the cat. He worried that the cat was bad luck and didn’t want to get near it.

    I said, “Oh, he’s good luck.” And the boy reached for the candy. Then I said with a big smile, “All of my other cats have disappeared except for him.” He looked at me really oddly and scampered away.

  • white is right, black is whack

    My god, how ridiculous is this going to get? Now we are ‘racist’ for preferring non-black dogs over black dogs? Is it a hate crime now if a mean, black doberman pinscher is charging after me or a little kid and I give it a swift kick to stop it?

  • Tom S.

    Two years ago my wife and I rescude a large black dog – a mutt – that was being SEVERLY abused and shes turned out to be one of the friendliest dogs we’ve ever had and she loves everybody. We got her after having to put our 17 year old Maltese ( a small White dog ) to sleep. Even though we gave the Maltese lots of love, he was one of the meanest, short tempered dogs we’ve ever had – even as a puppy. We always had to put him in another room when we had company because he would try to bite them.

    Bottom line – unlike people, the color of a dog doesn’t dictate the personality!

    P.S. – we spoil the hell out of our adopted black dog, shes earned it!

  • Anonymous

    Is this a joke?

  • TomSwift

    I’ve heard that black cats are rare in Europe because the Christians killed them all out of superstition in the middle ages.

    I dispute that people not choosing black dogs is a problem, and either way the underlying factor has nothing to do with humans.

  • S

    I love black dogs. I think they are so cute. Same goes for black horses. The Black Stallion was a great movie. I also have a black cat. I’m not one of those weird, depressed types either.

  • Anonymous

    I love black labs more than any other breed of dog, though I suppose that doesn’t reflect the population at large.

  • sbuffalonative

    “The observers seem to think that black dogs don’t look as good, are less friendly, and are less likely to make a good pet then either the brown or the yellow dogs. Even more importantly, perhaps, is the fact that the black dogs are seen as being possibly more aggressive than either the brown or yellow dogs.”

    I’ve never known anyone to express such opinions about black dogs. People talk about breed, size, and the “cute” factor but I’ve never heard anyone expressly tell me they dislike black dogs for any reason.

    I can understand that there are a few superstitious people who might associate black with black magic or bad fortune as with black cats.

    If they’re trying to imply an association between attitudes to black Americans transferred to black dogs, I believe this is a big stretch. I have never made such an association and I have never thought of a dog as being “black” in terms of African American.

    Of course, the true color black has a long association with night and darkness and what scary things lurk in the shadows.

    Since most American blacks are shades of brown, if there was a transfer of attitudes, it would be toward brown dogs.

    I can’t wait for blacks to pick up and run with this story as proof that white people are racists, even toward dogs (which isn’t what this study alleges).

  • Anonymous

    Black Labrador Retrievers make wonderful pets.

  • Sureesh

    Race is NOT skin color- Black labs are wonderful as yellow Labs. Dark skinned South Asians are just as intelligent and law abiding as whites.

    It’s the features. Dark skinned South Indians have the same facial features as whites just as yellow labs have the same skeletal structure as black labs. Africans have as different of facial features from us Caucasians/South Asians as chihuahuas have different skeletons from Great Danes.

  • Joe G

    Very sad that black dogs are discriminated against. It would be the same as discriminating against people with black hair.

  • Anonymous

    My daughter works as a vet tech and she has told me that black cats often have trouble finding homes. She herself has two black cats. My black pug is the sweetest dog in the world.

    Apparently black dogs with white paws are considered unlucky in Taiwan. I know someone in Canada who adopted a black dog from a rescue organization in Taiwan. Muslims think all dogs are unclean, but they especially dislike black dogs with brown spots above their eyes.

    I don’t think dog colour is linked to personality any more than hair colour is linked to personality among Caucasians.

  • Sylvie

    Sheesh! I thought just about everyone loved ‘black labs’ and I see heaps of people with tough looking rotties and dobermans.

    Anyway, I love black cats, I had nothing but black cats for years until we adopted a fluffy angora girl-cat with a big furry tail.

  • Tricia in Ohio

    I don’t think adoption of dogs has too much to do with color, and a lot more to do with size. It is much easier to re-home a 17 pound dog because most apartments say “only dogs under 20 pounds”. It is much much much more difficult to rehome a dog who weighs 100 pounds, because “giant” dogs scare people.

    My own Big Black Dog is 60 pounds, and a german shepherd/border collie/whippet mix.

  • Anonymous

    I grew up with a mostly-black aredale/collie mix. I had friends with black Labs–they were great companions.

    I have a black cat right now. At Halloween, she sits among a display of pumpkins and gourds my wife put together. Trick or treaters do a double take when the cat moves or meows…one finally asked, “Is that a real kitty?”

  • Periapsis

    It’s true black cats have the hardest time finding homes, but personally coat color is unimportant to me. One of my cats is jet black, and he was one of several black cats I’ve had over the years. Inded black cats tend to be presecuted and killed more than others because many people do not like black cats.

  • Anonymous

    I have owned cats for 30+ years. Many different sorts & colors. All toms.

    I loved them all, of course, but my last cat of 15 years was especially wonderful. Loving, but self-reliant & smart. He was the first black tom I’d owned.

    He had to be put down last year, due to a sarcoma…probably exacerbated by overzealous vaccinating on my part, I’m afraid. I replaced him last spring…with another black tom. This time I rescued a 1yo from a local shelter instead of starting with a kitten, as I’d always done before. I had heard that IDIOTS & RETARDS somehow believe that black cats are “bad luck” and refuse to adopt them. Bollocks!

    My new black cat is a joy, also. However, just because black cats make good pets, I’m not ready to surmise that black people make anything else but trouble.

  • Tired Old Cop

    I know a couple of people who breed all-black German Shepherds, who can’t keep up with the demand for them. And this is at $1500 per puppy, and up.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, please! Enough with this race card crap. It’s really gone too far. I love black dogs as well as any dog. I like chocolate cake over vanilla cake. People might not like black dogs because they aren’t photogenic, but who cares about that? We get dogs because we like that breed or whatever. This is another way for liberals and race professionals to guilt trip whites into giving up more money and power. Nothing more, nothing less.

  • Sardonicus

    The Prophet Muhammad in the Hadith is particularly scathing of black dogs, and recommends their extermination. Generally, the Prophet disliked dogs and felt they were utilitarian animals good only for herding and as watch dogs. The American and Western European concept of dogs as beloved family members seems unnatural and perverse to many Muslims. Unless reversed, Europe and formerly Great Britain will be seeing many cultural changes as Muslims inch toward the majority.

  • Anonymous

    This has to be the dumbest topic I have ever heard. I know hundreds of people with black labs or other black dogs. There is really no more room for anymore idiot liberal journalists in America. The constant pandering and excuse making is out of control. I beleive when the poop finally hits the fan here, they will be the first ones slauthered for giving blacks the idea they need special help. They are tools and they don’t even know they are being used….yet. But the backlash is coming and it will not be pretty.

  • Jean C

    I live in a small town on the Oregon Coast…a town where most of the people are White….and Black labs are EXTREMELY popular here. I see them everywhere. In fact, I have one myself. He’s only part lab…the rest I think is Rottweiler.

    Anyone who thinks that Black Labs aren’t photogenic should take a look at a Guide Dogs for the Blind brochure sometime. Beautiful, beautiful dogs. My very own well loved dog isn’t very photogenic himself (and neither am I) but he doesn’t mind and neither do I….LOL. AND I certainly don’t have a dog FRIEND just so I can take photographs of him. That would be the last thing on my mind. I have a dog FRIEND and COMPANION because, to me, dogs have every quality that most people lack…such as honesty, loyalty,true friendship. Dogs also most definitely have a SOUL.

  • Alexandra

    I’ve had black Dobermans, a black Great Dane, a black-and-white Boston terrier…I have nothing against dogs with black fur.

  • The Bobster

    I used to have a black dog. He was never move lovable than when he was growling at a Bantu. He picked that up all on his own.

  • Snowhitey

    No, it’s the black “dawgs” that are less loveable. Well, psychology is a pseudo-science.

  • Shawn (the female)

    How ridiculously pathetic. I must preface my comment by the fact that if it barks, I love it, except perhaps Chows and Pit Bulls. Just not my favorites. As one poster mentioned, I’ve never heard such a claim about black dogs. Aside from the often mentioned black labs which are incredible pets, solid black Shih Tzus are gorgeous furballs and solid black-faced Boxers, as mine is, are (in my opinion) the handsomest of the breed. Do you love only half a Dalmation? We owned Black Angus cattle, which are considered by most the best beef (aside from the fact they’re beautiful cows.) We owned goats, many of the best looking were solid black. I’m not a cat fan, but black cats are very striking.

    This has gone beyond absurd.

  • La Refugee

    I walk my dogs alot in the hills behind my house. They are both Pomeranians. Large for the breed, but still Poms. One is sable and blond, and the other is black. People are always commenting on the sable one, and totally ignoring the black one.

    Other than their color, they both have good dispositions and are very friendly. No matter, people just don’t like black dogs as much. Beats me.

  • Martel

    Muhammad disliked dogs and had dogs killed because the “angel Gabriel” didn’t enter houses with dogs and/or pictures. (Bukhari 4:448).

    Quran Surah 7:176 compares unbelievers (that’s you non-Muslim) to “panting dogs” with regard to their idiocy and worthlessness.

    “Ibn Mughaffal reported: The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) ordered killing of the dogs, and then said: What about them, i. e. about other dogs? and then granted concession (to keep) the dog for hunting and the dog for (the security) of the herd, and said: When the dog licks the utensil, wash it seven times, and rub it with earth the eighth time.” — Sahih Muslim 551

    Muslims can have dogs only as work dogs, not pets to love – one of the many vile things about this most intolerant & absurd “religion”.

  • Anonymous

    Jean C wrote: Anyone who thinks that Black Labs aren’t photogenic should take a look at a Guide Dogs for the Blind brochure sometime. AND I certainly don’t have a dog FRIEND just so I can take photographs of him.

    I never said they were not photogenic, I said it is HARDER to get good photos of solid black dogs/animals (and most rescue groups are not great photographers to begin with). I myself have 2.5 black dogs (the .5 is a tri-color aussie), all rescues, so no….I was not implying dogs are not companions or they don’t have souls.

  • Rara Avis

    black boy refused, at first, to come to my door because of the [black] cat. He worried that the cat was bad luck and didn’t want to get near it.

    Why would you ever say that? I would have told that black kid that yes, black cats ARE bad luck and to tell everyone he knew that my house and entire block were cursed.

    Do you want him to come back and “visit” your house when he’s a teen? Or would you rather have him and his buddies avoid your entire street like the plague due to its “bad luck”?

    As for black dogs – they are often hard to see. I constantly step on my beautiful black lab mix when he lays around on the carpet, I’ve heard the same thing said about shelters — people don’t see black dogs as easily.

  • Anonymous

    A study was done some years back about dogs and their “owners”. It was noted that dogs owned by blacks were more “hostile” to whites and vice-versa. It appears that dogs are just as “racist” (actually racial preference) as their “owners”.

  • Anonymous

    I owned an almost all-black German shepherd/rottweiler mix. His name was Smokey. What a great watchdog and friend! I have also owned not one but two black cats – a male and female. They were both lovable. Years ago a neighbor of mine owned an all-black German shepherd. What a beautiful, noble animal!

    I’m assuming that by posting this AmRen is trying to show some kind of correlation between black dogs and black humans, but I can’t see it. Dogs, whatever their color, are man’s best friend. Blacks are his worst nightmare.