Human preferences of canine coat colour and length

McDowell, Kalita Erin (2017) Human preferences of canine coat colour and length. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

[img] [English] PDF - Accepted Version
Available under License - The author retains copyright ownership and moral rights in this thesis. Neither the thesis nor substantial extracts from it may be printed or otherwise reproduced without the author's permission.

Download (1MB)


The “Big Black Dog Syndrome (BBDS)” is a phenomenon often reported by animal shelter workers to describe the belief that dogs with light coloured coats are consistently preferred over dark and/or black coloured dogs (Leonard, 2011). Research based on shelter adoption records is equivocal, however, with some studies finding support for BBDS and others not. In the current study, neither the small pilot study in which participants rated dogs photographs on a set of six semantic differential adjectives (Chapter 2), nor the much larger main study, in which two groups of participants (online vs. on-campus) were forced to choose their “preferred” dog from sets of two photos presented to them simultaneously (i.e., photos of the same breed in a dark vs. light coat colour; Chapter 3) provided any support for a bias against dark-coloured dogs. Rather, the main study revealed that online participants, in particular, showed a dark coat preference for six of the eight “breed groups” created (Scenthound, Sighthound, Sporting, Terrier, Toy, and Working groups). Participants showed an overall preference for light coats in only one breed group (Primitive/Spitz) and no coat colour preference in the remaining group (Herding). Furthermore, there were not necessarily similar coat preferences shown for the individual breeds that comprised a breed group. These findings suggest that people’s preference for canine coat colour is complex and may involve breedspecific attributes; this is clearly incompatible with the existence of BBDS as a general phenomenon. Coat colour preference was influenced by participant location. For example, preferences of participants from Newfoundland and Labrador (NL), a province with two official provincial dogs that occur with black coats (the Labrador Retriever and Newfoundland dog) were compared to the rest of Canadian participants’ preferences. Dark coat preferences emerged for the Newfoundland dog, in that NL participants selected a greater proportion of black Newfoundland dogs than participants from other regions of Canada when forced to choose between the black coat and the other two coat colour variations (black and white vs. brown). In contrast, Canadians from other provinces showed a clear preference for the Landseer (black and white coat) over the other two coat colours. Findings of these studies suggest that the concept and definition of BBDS requires reconsideration, as its very existence as a general phenomenon relating to people’s preferences for dog coat colour and type is in question. The strength of preferences, as measured by proportion of participants’ choices for photographs of dogs in dark or light coats, is not extreme, again suggesting that there is no strong bias against dark-coated dogs. Though the study did reveal that participants made a significantly greater proportion of light-coat selections for one breed group (Primitive/Spitz), the majority do not show this preference. Biases may become more apparent at breed level, as preferences within breed groups varied considerably, suggesting that specific breeds are not subject to the same prejudices as other breeds. It is important to note that only photographs of identifiable purebred dogs were used in the study, and many of which were captured in professional manner, i.e. at dog shows. It is possible that colour preferences differ or are influenced differently for purebred and mixed-breed dogs. Future research should examine the issue more closely.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Item ID: 12837
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 151-157).
Keywords: dog, canine, big black dog, preferences, coat colour, coat length
Department(s): Science, Faculty of > Cognitive and Behavioural Ecology
Date: June 2017
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Dogs--Color; Dogs--Variation; Consumers' preferences

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over the past year

View more statistics