Myths & Legends

The Black Dogs of Great Britain

Among the rich lore of Great Britain there lies a collection of tales concerning unearthly dogs that are said to inhabit frightful locations such as cemeteries and places where gallows once stood.

Sightings of the dogs have occurred for centuries and have many characteristics in common. In general, the dogs are described as much larger than any known breed, are black in color, and have abnormally large eyes. According to some stories, these eyes glow unnaturally.
black dogs of great britainEvery culture has some stories of otherworldly creatures. Many can be seen as purely folklore, while others are not so easily explained.

Tales of the dogs almost always end in tragedy. One notable story occurred in 1577 in a small village church in England. On a very stormy day the congregation was in the middle of their services when an enormous black dog appeared from nowhere and dashed recklessly among the parishioners. People tried to flee but the dog seemingly appeared everywhere at once. People who made actual physical contact with the dog died or were severely burned. The church door still bears the scorch marks from the alleged attack.

The purpose of the dogs is cryptic. Some legends state that the dogs appear before a noteworthy death, while others are said to be the spirits of people who died unjustly–such as executions of innocent persons. Some versions say the dog’s appearance happens right before a violent storm.

Alternately, there are a few tales of these dogs acting benevolently. For example, the “Gurt Dog of Somerset” reportedly acts as a protector of small children in the area.

The sheer number of stories about these dogs indicate that there may be some grain of truth in the legends. There may be some creature(s) out there that have been mistaken for large dogs in the dark or in the fog. The absence of any discovered skeletal remains of large canine creatures seems to argue against the dogs’ existence.

Although primarily a British phenomenon, legends of black dogs also occur in the folklore of Germany and Belgium–and even South America–although it is not clear if there is any connection between these tales and those of Great Britain.

Phantom Black Dogs” Mysterious Britain & Ireland website, pulled 12/27/11
Black dog (ghost)” Wikipedia, pulled 12/27/11

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Doug MacGowan

Doug MacGowan lives on the San Francisco peninsula with his wife, a dog, and far too many cats. He has published five books on the topic of historic true crime. In his free time he enjoys reading.

Historic Mysteries