Hey, hey mama, it ain’t easy being a black dog


Black Dog Syndrome may sound like the clinical term for a Led Zeppelin earworm but, as any animal shelter worker will tell you, it actually describes the challenge black dogs face in getting adopted. This phenomenon is in the spotlight today because Oct. 1 is National Black Dog Day!

This is Rocky, the adorable dog of SAS Voices editor, Alison Bolen. How could you not adopt that??
This is Rocky, the adorable dog of SAS Voices editor, Alison Bolen. How could you not adopt that??

Black Dog Syndrome was explored by 10 year-old Carah Gilmore, who used data visualization software to analyze and present data that would help a charity dear to her heart: a local pet adoption agency. Carah uncovered factors that determine how fast a dog gets adopted. Her analysis verified Black Dog Syndrome, the idea that black dogs spend more time waiting for a new home than lighter-colored dogs.

Carah and two other budding data scientists used analytics in their fifth grade science projects to learn more about their passions. Ryan Chase analyzed World Cup data. Jane Phillips created her own “Big Data” experiment. This caught the eye of people at analytics software provider SAS, who invited the kids and their parents to the company’s world headquarters for a special day.

Jane Phillips designed an experiment to engage visitors to help her build out a data set. She set up a mini basketball court and challenged visitors to sink two baskets from a distance of about 8 feet. She recorded the number of attempts each visitor needed to complete the task, and recorded the results visually. Over two days, results from over 100 visitors were recorded. She said, “By the end, I could pretty much predict in my head how many shots it would take someone based on what I had already seen. Pretty cool.”

Ryan Chase combined two of his favorite things – soccer and data. Ryan analyzed World Cup attendance, as well as data on players’ home countries, including countries with the most high-scorers and countries with the most goals scored.

These kids show that analytics is not just the domain of PhD statisticians. It can be cool and relatable to anyone. Experience with data analysis can put kids on a path to rewarding careers in analytics or other STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) disciplines. These three kids represent the next generation of data scientists and will help fill a persistent analytics skills gap that is forecast to grow.

The kids presented their research to a sports analytics expert and a person who analyzes data on service dogs to breed out undesirable traits. The day was capped off with a presentation from the co-founders of WildTrack. WildTrack converts photographs of animal footprints to data, then analyzes that data to track individual endangered species. They met with SAS CEO Jim Goodnight, received a coding tutorial, and heard about opportunities and organizations that help kids learn to code.

If you think your kids are ready to embark on a path in data science, you should check out the educational resources at Code.org, MIT’s Scratch project and Khan Academy’s computer programming courses. Google for Education and ITunes U both offer computer science resources. SAS offers a high school programming course, as well. Older kids, college students and adult learners can jump start analytics careers with free software and online programming and statistics tutorials.

What is your child passionate about? What kind of data would help them explore their passions?

Lastly, if you’re looking to add a furry family member, please adopt and don’t forget, black dogs need love, too! Follow the conversation on Twitter at #blackdogday.


About Author

Trent Smith

Trent handles government and education communications for SAS. Opinions shared are his own...or someone else's...he's not much for original thought. But they definitely don't represent SAS.


  1. What a great story. I'm so impressed with the talent of these kids! I love both dogs and cats but as the owner of two black cats, I would be interested in seeing the data on the adoption of black cats. I know that they suffer from similar challenges in getting adopted. National Black Cat Appreciation Day is August 17th in case there is ever any interest in running the analysis on black cat adoption. Thanks for a very good story.

    • Trent Smith

      Thank you for the kind words, Becky. I've had cats most of my life, several of which were black. I have no data to back this up, but I bet it's an even worse situation for black cats as the superstitious stigma is stronger with them.

    • I have a black cat that I adopted in 2012 from the Wake County SPCA. He is the sweetest thing. He was not my first choice because I wanted a tabby but he was the sweetest so he won the contest. I wish I could adopt all the homeless black kitties. They are so cool.

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