November 27, 2012

"'Black dog' is a powerfully expressive metaphor" for depression "that appears to require no explanation."

"The combination of ‘blackness’ with the negative connotations of ‘dog’, noun and verb, seems an eminently apt description of depression: an ever-present companion, lurking in the shadows just out of sight, growling, vaguely menacing, always on the alert; sinister and unpredictable, capable of overwhelming you at any moment. Further, the ‘dark hound’ is an archetypal object of fear, with a long tradition in folklore and myth. Black dogs in dreams are interpreted negatively, often representing death; from all over the world come tales of nightmares caused by oppressive black dogs crushing the sleeper’s chest."

The first paragraph in the essay that won a competition — by the Black Dog Institute — on the theme of "the history of the term ‘black dog’ as a description for depression." Like many, I traced the metaphor to Winston Churchill, but he was a late entry in a long tradition.

The topic came up this morning at Meadhouse, which is brightened this morning — and many mornings — by the presence of Zeus, the neighbors' black Labrador Retriever. I've heard that there's prejudice against black dogs. They're least likely to be chosen from amongst the abandoned shelter dogs, most likely to get put down. Ah, yes: black dog syndrome. Some people jump to the conclusion that it's racist. But it seems more likely that people experience the black dog metaphorically. It's depression.

(Another really practical explanation is that black dogs don't photograph well, so it's harder for shelters to interest people in their black dogs. But since people love to photograph their dogs, maybe you should prefer a dog that photographs well.)

Untitled

61 comments:

jr565 said...

Hey hey mama say the way you move gonna make me sweat
gonna make me groove

Bob Ellison said...

My black dog is slowly turning white.

Todd Gross said...

Good example is the song Black Eyed Dog by Nick Drake, written and recorded shortly before his suicide in '74.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJSC25Ue8Gg

ricpic said...

Zeus looked like he was suffering the black dog himself while standing on that grating after his swim.

rhhardin said...

I use +0.7EV on all my Doberman shots (so you see both black and rust), and +1.7EV against a snow background.

edutcher said...

What you really mean is bete noir.

Mitchell the Bat said...

"Black dog" for depression is way off but an alcoholic calling booze "The Creature" is spot on.

Scott said...

"The combination of ‘blackness’ with the negative connotations of ‘dog’, noun and verb, seems an eminently apt description of depression: an ever-present companion, lurking in the shadows just out of sight, growling, vaguely menacing, always on the alert; sinister and unpredictable, capable of overwhelming you at any moment."

It's pretty prose, but to me, depression would be more interesting if it actually felt like that.

In my experience, depression is more of a toxic fog of boredom; an inability to take interest in anything; a lack of care for the things that require attention. When I'm depressed, I would rather go to an AA meeting and complain that the dishes haven't been done for three days, rather than do the dishes.

Aridog said...

Althouse said...

Some people jump to the conclusion that it's racist.

And in some cases it is ... witness the term "black dog" in spoken Korean as "geomdung-i" [in Hangul as 검둥이 ] which translates to "ni**er, coon, darky, dark-skinned person, darkey, black dog" even in Google.

I recall a slightly changed pronunciation of "geodung-ah" with emphasis on the last hyphenated syllable as being a more endearing term for black canines. That, or my mind is forgetting more than I knew. :-)

ricpic said...

My bete noir is garbage, or is it hatboy? or is it Montana Urban Schmendrik? or is it Alpha Liberal? or is it Cookie? or is it Roachy-Voltaire? Yes, it's Roachy-Voltaire, than which there is no worse.

traditionalguy said...

A black Lab or a brown Lab is harder for drivers to see at night. Their need to run around outside can lead to escapes at night that don't end well.

That bad news is a cause for depression among the healthy. The fragile can be depressed by any normal life event that activates their past anger re-directed back at themselves.

chickelit said...

Blue is the color of depression. Black is the color despair and nihilism.

Nonapod said...

In my experience paradoxically black labs are the most positive attitude dogs ever.

prairie wind said...

The first paragraph in the essay that won a competition — by the Black Dog Institute — on the theme of "the history of the term ‘black dog’ as a description for depression."

Such a narrow topic for an essay contest!

virgil xenophon said...

We owned an Okla-bred black AKC female Chow--being Orleanian ex=pats at the time living in Louisville, we named her Tchoupitoulas.
GREAT dog(s)! The Chinese bred them as household guard dogs and boy they are that! REALLY protective! She would check out every room before bedding down at night. And they are also very intelligent dogs. Our first indication was when she kept looking behind the tv to see where the body was attached to the talking-head newsie, lol! And she was a great companion to our then young son. RIP 'Chomp (which is what she would do to strangers on the property, lol--although once off the property was very friendly to strangers)

We also owned a black female Doberman named Gretchen who used to climb into our very young son's bed at night, stretch out beside him and cover him with a protective leg& paw. Another great black dog..

----Guess we were among the exceptions regarding love of black dogs..

Aridog said...

Damn ...that should have been "geomdung-ah". Sorry. In Korean every tone and inflection is significant. Like the rural hinterland word for puppy is "kay-sicci (dog baby) means "son of a bitch" when spoken with gusto ... such as "kay-sicci-Ya!!" In more sophisticated Korean that would be "gae agi" also literally dog baby...without the negative connotation.

ricpic said...

The fragile can be depressed by any normal life event that activates their past anger re-directed back at themselves.

That's me! To hell with leaving the house anymore, too risky.

edutcher said...

traditionalguy said...

A black Lab or a brown Lab is harder for drivers to see at night.

One reason Sherlock, black with copper head and legs. doesn't go out after dark.

AF said...

I also thought of Black Eyed Dog by Nick Drake. Haunting and scary.

Meade said...

@tradguy - spot on.

William said...

Size matters. Black Pomeranians do not have a brooding presence. The spirit of a wolf trapped inside the body of a plush, fluffy toy. I don't know whether their size mocks their aggression or vice versa, but it's very hard not to smile in their presence.

garage mahal said...

Black is the most desirable labrador color for showing purposes. I want to get more dogs but just do not have the room.

I'm thinking of building a cordwood house and going off the grid and getting a pack of like 8 dogs.

Henry said...

Lincoln called it "The Hypo".

Henry said...

chickelit wrote: Blue is the color of depression. Black is the color despair and nihilism.

Black is the color of my true love's hair.

Meade said...

On that, you and I are sympatico, garage. I don't want to breed them though. I want to take lab puppies with show dog bloodlines, rejected for disqualifying "imperfections", train them to hunt or serve special needs, and then move them on to appropriate homes. I'm currently researching how to get there.

firstHat said...

Black cats have an even tougher time finding homes. Unless, of course, it is near Halloween. Then we shelter folk have to be very careful they are not adopted for fake (or real) rituals where they are often terribly abused.

EDH said...

The Black Dog is a pub on Martha's Vineyard, and is a trendy brand name you'll see on t-shirts.

It became popular during various Clinton vacations there in the 1990s, especially when it was found among the swag that Clinton gave to Monica.

The Black Dog is a restaurant and tavern in Vineyard Haven on the island of Martha's Vineyard. The restaurant was founded in 1971, and became well known for its souvenir T-shirts, featuring its logo of the eponymous black dog. They subsequently expanded to sell other products with the same logo.

The Black Dog T-shirts became well known during the 1990s as photographs of celebrities wearing the shirts began appearing in national publications. For example, a photograph of then-President Bill Clinton jogging while wearing one was distributed by national wire services. Black Dog merchandise became part of the Lewinsky scandal, as items from the store were purchased by Bill Clinton and given to Monica Lewinsky.

Meade said...

In a soldier’s stance, I aimed my hand
At the mongrel dogs who teach
Fearing not that I’d become my enemy
In the instant that I preach
My pathway led by confusion boats
Mutiny from stern to bow
Ah, but I was so much whiter then
I’m blacker than that now

EDH said...

America's first Black Dog President?

LarryK said...

Just over three weeks ago in Madison, Bob Dylan sang that he was going to walk to the depths of the deepest black forest...where black is the color and none is the number...

Does this mean "a hard rain" fell on Zeus at the Black Dog cafe? Or did he decide to stand on the "ocean" until he started sinking?

I b

garage mahal said...

@meade
Noble idea.

Megaera said...

Meade: Talk to some local breeders about their "pet quality" pups -- my wedding present to my husband was a pet quality golden out of a field-trialing litter ... Toby was a wonderful dog and I miss him still. They will, however, still cost a fair amount as they won't be giveaways. The breeders themselves may have a line on local organizations that do service-dog training. It's a specialized line and requires that trainer and dog pass state certification tests in most jurisdictions, so you should check this out. Local vets may also have a line on service-dog organizations that can help you with training.

I'm currently on my 6th or so BBD (shelter-speak Big Black Dog) -- went to adopting them when I heard they were hard to place. I've loved them all over the years, and it's hard thinking about a time when I might have to be without one.

Nichevo said...

Meade said... 11/27/12 10:22 AM

OMG Meade call me when you are doing this. Will you ship to NY or do I have to come get? Maybe when madame comes to Brooklyn...


Black dog prejudice is more risible than everything all the lefties here have laughed/sneered at put together. Go ahead puppy, eat my face, good boy.

Roachy-Voltaire is paradoxically kind. I repeat I don't know why he's honoring a concentration camp guard. But speaking of Voltaire,

"To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize."

elcrain said...

Black is the color of my true love's heart.

garage mahal said...

A pup from this black lab.

This is what I want.

deborah said...

Me, too, gm.

Too cool, Meade.

And now for something completely different; I read a few years ago that a woman had her face torn off by a black lab, which surprised me. She got a face transplant, but wasn't following transplant protocol, as she was smoking cigarettes. Don't know how it all turned out.

deborah said...

Just kidding gm, I think of going off grid, but would only have a couple three dogs.

I heart r/v.

Megaera, yes, I love big, black dogs. I had to put mine put sleep a couple years ago.

Lydia said...

I'd rather be in a brown study than hounded by a black dog.

Nichevo said...

Face torn off? Musta used teeth. Maxx just tries to *lick* my face off. He plays bite, but only plays. I could smush him like jelly and he wouldn't bite me. He would just make some noises, unless I bribed him with snack. The only problem is I will outlive him, presumably.

deborah said...

Wait. Maybe it wasn't her whole face, but her lower face? Definitely her mouth area.

Yeah, I'm 54, so I won't ever get a puppy; too much of a chance it'll out-live me.

Andrew Koenig said...

IIRC, you have a Nikon D300. If so, I suggest you try photographing the dog in raw mode and then lighten the shadows in Lightroom or other photo-editing software of your choice. It's remarkable how much detail a good DSLR can pull out of the shadows.

garage mahal said...

@deborah
I wonder if that black lab that bit the woman in the face was really a black lab. I remember when I was around 5 yrs old I went to visit a litter of puppies, and the momma bit me square in the ass and went running home bawling. Looked sorta like a black lab but really it was some sort of mix. Never forget that day as long as I live. Hurt like mofo!

Lydia said...

It was a French woman who had her nose, mouth, and lower jaw chewed by a dog, which apparently really was a lab.

The BBC did a documentary on the transplant surgery several years ago. Pretty gruesome.

Aridog said...

Meade at 10:200 AM...

Interesting idea. A needed effort on behalf of a breed that is still essentially a working dog at heart. My second favorite after GSD's.

You inadvertently touch on why I have nearly no use for the "show dog fancy" who change their "standards" periodically on stylistic whim. Then they grade their own dogs as "pet quality" or worse when that fad isn't met.

garage mahal said...

@Lydia
Not to quibble, but your Wiki link says the dog was a "black Labrador cross".

Aridog said...

Garage ...

I wonder if that black lab that bit the woman in the face was really a black lab.

The first dog that ever bit me was a black Labrador...about age 10 IIRC. However, the dog was right and we kids were "wrong"...e.g., we were stealing rides on a farmer's plow horses in pasture. We used to figure we could make the fence before the dog did. One day...whoops, right in the ass.

I've had several other bites when working with training dogs in protection phase of trials work. Usually it is my own fault due to error, silly or not.

Depending on the dog and temperament (different even within breeds), a dog will bite anything that appears threatening to them...whether you intended it that way or not. Take no dog for granted, respect works far better, both ways.

chickelit said...

Didn't Zeus take the form of a white swan and not a black dog in mythology and literature?

garage mahal said...

@Aridog
It's my opinion that bites from mixed breeds are falsely attributed to black labs. Ex: you rarely ever hear someone getting bitten by a chocolate lab, or yellow lab.

chuckR said...

No black dogs of the literal variety, but two black cats. The big one is a construction jobsite rescue who remains so grateful to his guy that he acts pretty dog-like - waiting at the door when he comes home, always underfoot, etc.
My son had bad allergic reactions when younger and animal dander was an issue. Today, I wouldn't mind a black dog, but make him a big standard poodle without the stupid haircut. Why humiliate the animal like that?

virgil xenophon said...

Black cats? My very first pet was a black male we named Sylvester because his markings were exactly like those of his cartoon name-sake. (He specialized in pouncing on my Father from behind off the kitchen counter-top while Dad was reading the newspaper at the breakfast table.)

Ann Althouse said...

"Today, I wouldn't mind a black dog, but make him a big standard poodle without the stupid haircut. Why humiliate the animal like that?"

That's always been my choice: a black standard poodle.

I think the cut was originally for practical purposes.

Meade said...

"Didn't Zeus take the form of a white swan and not a black dog in mythology and literature?"

I think that's right. He also took the form of a bull and had sex with Europa against Europa's will. I mean, Europa may have had a rape fantasy and all but still - bad Zeus!

Aridog said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aridog said...

Garage ...you may be quite right. However, I caution anyone not to take any dog for granted, however wonderfully bred. It takes a bit of time, which I am sure you've already invested in your dog, to learn various dog body language and other signs of how he/she feels at a given moment. My theory is to treat all dogs more or less the same way, with respect and paying attention to their signals.

chickelit said...

I think that's right. He also took the form of a bull and had sex with Europa against Europa's will. I mean, Europa may have had a rape fantasy and all but still - bad Zeus!

Thunderbolts and lightening, very very frightening...Galileo!

Meade said...

"Eppur si muove"

chickelit said...

Meade said...
"Eppur si muove"

Quantum Of Solstice

High Five, Meade!

Meade said...

Well played, Pollo!

Goju said...

Before getting any dog, please carefully consider its breeding. Show dogs, trial dogs, hunting dogs and pet dogs may be all the same breed - but can act like they aren't even the same species as each other. Field trial dogs are bred to have a very high drive and usually require very high amounts of exercise. They can be hard headed and difficult to train. And they have a tendency to dominance aggression. Pet and a lot of the hunting bloodlines are not bred to any standard and have higher rates of genetic problems. Hip dsyplasia for instance.

Best advice is to know the breeder and see both parents. Do the homework. No matter how great the dog may be, if it is placed wrong neither the dog nor the owner will be happy.

Palladian said...

I prefer my dogs black and white.

Erika said...

Ian McEwan wrote an exquisite
novel
on this precise theme titled, straightforwardly, Black Dogs.