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The ghostly black dog of British folklore.
A black dog is the name given to a being found primarily in the folklores of the British Isles. The black dog is essentially a nocturnal apparition, often said to be associated with the Devil, and its appearance was regarded as a portent of death. It is generally supposed to be larger than a normal dog, and often has large, glowing eyes.

It is often associated with electrical storms (such as Black Shuck's appearance at Bungay, Suffolkmarker), and also with crossroads, places of execution and ancient pathways.

The origins of the black dog are difficult to discern. It is impossible to ascertain whether the creature originated in the Celtic or Germanic elements in British culture. Throughout European mythology, dogs have been associated with death. Examples of this are the Cŵn Annwn, Garmr and Cerberus, all of whom were in some way guardians of the underworld. This association seems to be due to the scavenging habits of dogs. It is possible that the black dog is a survival of these beliefs.

Black dogs are almost universally regarded as malevolent, and a few (such as the Barghest) are said to be directly harmful. Some, however, like the Gurt Dog in Somersetmarker and the Black Dog of the Hanging Hills, are said to behave benevolently.

Black dogs by locale

Some of the better-known black dogs are the Barghest of Yorkshiremarker and Black Shuck of East Angliamarker.

Various other forms are recorded in folklore. Other names are Hairy Jack, Skriker, Padfoot, Churchyard Beast, Shug Monkey, Cu Sith, Galleytrot, Capelthwaite, Mauthe Doog, Hateful Thing, Swooning Shadow, Bogey Beast of Lancashire, Guytrash, Gurt Dog, Bargheust of Troller's Gill, and Catalan Dip.


Black Dogs have been reported from almost all the counties of England, the exceptions being Middlesexmarker and Rutlandmarker.

  • On Dartmoormarker, the notorious squire Cabell was said to have been a huntsman who sold his soul to the Devil. When he died in 1677, black hounds are said to have appeared around his burial chamber. The ghostly huntsman is said to ride with black dogs; this tale inspired Conan Doyle to write his well-known story The Hound of the Baskervilles.

  • In Lancashiremarker the black hound is called Barguist, Gytrash, Padfoot, Shag, Trash, Striker or Skriker.

  • In Tringmarker, Hertfordshiremarker, a fierce-looking black hound with red eyes is said to haunt the middle of the road in the area where the gibbet once stood. Locally it is known as Lean Dog, and is the spirit of a chimney sweep executed for murder. When approached, the lean dog sinks into the ground.

  • The Gurt Dog ("Great Dog") of Somersetmarker is an example of a benevolent dog. It was said that mothers would allow their children to play unsupervised on the Quantock Hillsmarker because they believed that the Gurt Dog would protect them. It would also accompany lone travellers in the area, acting as a protector and guide.

  • In Wakefieldmarker, the local version of the legend is known as "Padfoot".

  • A black dog has been said to haunt the Newgate Prisonmarker for over 400 years, appearing before executions. According to legend, in 1596, a scholar was sent to the prison for witchcraft, but was killed and eaten by starving prisoners before he was given a trial. The dog was said to appear soon after, and although the terrified men killed their guards and escaped, the beast is said to have haunted them wherever they fled.

  • Galley Hill in Lutonmarker, Bedfordshire, is said to have been haunted by a black dog ever since a storm set the gibbet alight sometime in the 18th century.

  • Betchworth Castlemarker in Surrey is said to be haunted by a black dog that prowls the ruins at night.

  • In Norfolk, Suffolk and the northern parts of Essex a black dog, known as Black Shuck or Shug is regarded to be relatively benign and said to accompany women on their way home in the role of protector rather than a portent of ill omen.

Devon's Yeth Hound

The yeth hound, also called the yell hound is a Black dog found in Devonmarker folklore. According to Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, the yeth hound is a headless dog, said to be the spirit of an unbaptised child, which rambles through the woods at night making wailing noises. The yeth hound is also mentioned in The Denham Tracts.

It is the inspiration for the ghost dog in the The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle. In this story it was described as "an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen" - with fire in his eyes and breath (Hausman 1997:47).

  • Brewer. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Brewer.
  • Hausmen, Gerald and Loretta. The Mythology of Dogs: Canine Legend. St. Martin's Press 1997 ISBN 0312181396, p. 47. [357683]

Channel Islands and Isle of Man

  • In the Isle of Manmarker it is styled Mauthe Dhoog, or Moddey Dhoo (black dog in Manx). It is said to haunt the environs of Peel Castlemarker. People believe that anyone who sees the dog will die soon after the encounter with the dog. It is mentioned by Sir Walter Scott in The Lay of the Last Minstrel--
"For he was speechless, ghastly, wan
Like him of whom the Story ran
Who spoke the spectre hound in Man."

  • In the Channel Island of Guernseymarker, there are two named dogs. One, Tchico (Tchi-coh two Norman words for dog, whence cur), is headless, and is supposed to be the phantom of a past Bailiff of Guernsey, Gaultier de la Salle, who was hanged for falsely accusing one of his vassals. The other dog is known as Bodu or tchen Bodu (tchen being dog in Dgèrnésiais). His appearance, usually in the Clos du Valle, foretells death of the viewer or someone close to him. There are also numerous other unnamed apparitions, usually associated with placenames derived from bête (beast).

  • In Jerseymarker folklore, the Black Dog of Death is also called the Tchico, but a related belief in the Tchian d'Bouôlé (Black Dog of Bouley) tells of a phantom dog whose appearance presages storms. The story is believed to have been encouraged by smugglers who wanted to discourage nocturnal movements by people who might witness the movement of contraband.

The monstrous black dog reputed to haunt Bouley Bay in Jersey is depicted on this pub sign

  • On mainland Normandy, the dog is referred to as the Rongeur d'Os (bone-gnawer).


  • In Walesmarker its counterpart was the gwyllgi, the "Dog of Darkness", a frightful apparition of a mastiff with baleful breath and blazing red eyes. Also related are the spectral Cŵn Annwn, connected with the otherworld realm of Annwn referred to in the Four Branches of the Mabinogi and elsewhere; however they are described as being dazzling white rather than black in the medieval text.


  • A black dog is said to have appeared to wrestlers at Whiteborough, a tumulus near Launcestonmarker.

  • A black dog was once said to haunt the main road between Bodminmarker and Launceston near Linkinhornemarker.

Latin America

  • Black dogs with fiery eyes are reported throughout Latin America from Mexicomarker to Argentinamarker under a variety of names including the Perro Negro (Spanish for Black Dog), Nahual (Mexico), Huay Chivo and Huay Pek (Mexico) - alternatively spelled Uay/Way/Waay Chivo/Pek, Cadejo (Central America), Familiar (Argentina) and Lobizón (Argentina). They are usually said to be either incarnations of the Devil or a shape-changing sorcerer.


  1. Simpson & Roud 2000, 2003, p.25.
  2. Westwood & Simpson 2005, pp.687-688.
  3. Stone, Alby Infernal Watchdogs, Soul Hunters and Corpse Eaters in Trubshaw 2005, pp.36-37.
  4. McEwan 1986, p.147.
  5. Stone, Alby Infernal Watchdogs, Soul Hunters and Corpse Eaters in Trubshaw 2005, p.53.
  6. Stone, Alby Infernal Watchdogs, Soul Hunters and Corpse Eaters in Trubshaw 2005, pp.44-45.
  7. Stone, Alby Infernal Watchdogs, Soul Hunters and Corpse Eaters in Trubshaw 2005, p.38.
  8. Stone, Alby Infernal Watchdogs, Soul Hunters and Corpse Eaters in Trubshaw 2005, pp.54-55.
  9. Trubshaw 2005, p.2.
  10. Barber & Barber 1988, 1990, p.3.
  11. Fields 1998, p.37.
  12. Simpson & Roud 2000, 2003, p.366.
  13. Crosby 2000, pp.14, 19, 26, 165.
  14. Feldwick 2006, 2007, pp89-90
  15. Clark 2007, pp.86-87.
  16. Matthews 2004, p.35-36.
  17. Janaway 2005, p.10.
  18. Stewart 1990, pp49-50.
  19. The Tollesbury Midwife
  20. Evans-Wentz 1966, 1990, p.129.
  21. Gantz 1976, pp.46-47.
  22. Pugh 1990, pp.19, 67
  23. Deane & Shaw 2003, p.82.
  24. Deane & Shaw 2003, p.44.
  25. Burchell 2007, pp.1, 24.


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  • Bord, Colin and Bord, Janet (1980) Alien Animals
  • Burchell, Simon (2007) Phantom Black Dogs in Latin America, Heart of Albion Press, ISBN 978-1-905646-01-2
  • Clark, James (2007) Haunted London, Tempus Publishing, ISBN 978-0-7524-4459-8
  • Crosby, Alan (2000) The Lancashire Dictionary of Dialect, Tradition and Folklore, Smith Settle, ISBN 1-85825-122-2
  • Crossley-Holland, Kevin (1980) The Norse Myths, Andre Deutsch, ISBN 0-233-97271-4
  • de Garis, Marie (1986) Folklore of Guernsey , The Guernsey Press, ASIN B0000EE6P8
  • Deane, Tony and Shaw, Tony (2003) Folklore of Cornwall, Tempus Publishing, ISBN 0-7524-2929-9,
  • Evans-Wentz (1966, 1990) The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries, Citadel Press, ISBN 0-8065-1160-5
  • Feldwick, Matthew (2006, 2007) Haunted Winchester, Tempus Publishing, ISBN 978-0-7524-3846-7
  • Fields, Kenneth (1998) Lancashire Magic & Mystery, Sigma Leisure, ISBN 1-85058-606-3
  • Gantz, Jeffrey (trans) (1976) The Mabinogion, Penguin Classics, ISBN 0-14-044322-3
  • Janaway, John (2005) Haunted Places of Surrey, Countryside Books, ISBN 1-85306-932-9
  • Matthews, Rupert (2004) Haunted Places of Bedfordshire & Buckinghamshire, Countryside Books, ISBN 1-85306-886-1.
  • McEwan, Graham J. (1986) Mystery Animals of Britain and Ireland, Robert Hale Ltd.
  • Michell, John F. and Rickard, Robert J.M. (1977) Phenomena: a book of wonders, Thames Hudson Ltd, ISBN 0-500-01182-6 (hardback), ISBN 0-500-27094-5 (paperback)
  • Pugh, Jane (1990) Welsh Ghostly Encounters, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, ISBN 0-86381-152-3
  • Readers Digest (1977) Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain, Readers Digest Association, p.45
  • Simpson, Jacqueline and Roud, Steve (2000, 2003) Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-860766-0
  • Stewart, Frances D. (1990) Surrey Ghosts Old and New, AMCD, ISBN 0-9515066-8-4.
  • Trubshaw, Robert Nigel (ed) (2005) Explore Phantom Black Dogs, Heart of Albion Press, ISBN 1-872883-78-8
  • Westwood, Jennifer and Simpson, Jacqueline (2005) The Lore of the Land: A Guide to England's Legends, from Spring-heeled Jack to the Witches of Warboys, Penguin, ISBN 0-14-100711-7

See also

External links

Barguest (Yorkshiremarker) •Black Shuck (East Angliamarker)  •Church Grim (Englandmarker) •Dip (Cataloniamarker) •Gytrash (Northern England) •Gwyllgi (Walesmarker

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