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6 Folktales About Black Dogs

Mike is a freelance writer and blogger interested in all things spooky.

This article discusses 6 intriguing stories about mysterious black dogs in the British Isles and elsewhere. Read on to find your favorite canine folktale.

This article discusses 6 intriguing stories about mysterious black dogs in the British Isles and elsewhere. Read on to find your favorite canine folktale.

Black Dog Folktales

Most commonly found within the British Isles, tales regarding black dogs are numerous and varied. Each county seemingly has its own spin on the legend. In some stories, the black dog is a demon, in others a ghost (sometimes of a human, sometimes another dog), an omen or even the devil himself.

They can be large and ferocious, small and friendly or even two-headed. They are often associated with crossroads, old pathways, churchyards and places of death or execution. Listed here are six such tales regarding these mysterious creatures.

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6 Black Dogs of Legend

The following are the six black dogs of legend that we will discuss in this article.

  1. Black Shuck
  2. Moddey Dhoo
  3. Barghest
  4. Church Grim
  5. Gytrash
  6. The Black Dog of the Hanging Hills
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1. Black Shuck

Origin: East Anglia

Perhaps the most famous black dog, and certainly one of the most varied in descriptions, is the 'Black Shuck,' who is also sometimes known as 'Old Shuck' or 'Old Shock'. While he is occasionally companionable, his presence is often regarded as a terrible omen.

Some say that if you should hear the awful howl of this dog, you should keep your eyes closed so as not to be marked for death. As if that wasn't bad enough, Black Shuck is also a huge, ferocious, and occasionally one-eyed beast

Snowy roads on the Isle of Man, the British Isle where the infamous Moddey Dhoo tale arose.

Snowy roads on the Isle of Man, the British Isle where the infamous Moddey Dhoo tale arose.

2. Moddey Dhoo

Origin: Isle of Man

Described as bearing the shape of a large black spaniel with curly and shaggy hair, Moddey Dhoo, or Mauthe Doog, was an apparition that many believe once haunted Peel Castle. Thankfully for the guards there, he seemed relatively placid, and they grew rather used to his presence. However, none dared to be alone with the dog, especially within the castle passageway from which Moddey Dhoo always seemed to emerge.

As a result, the guards always locked the castle gates in pairs. That is until a drunken guard defied this rule and entered the haunted passageway alone. After some loud noises were heard, the guard emerged from the passage so terrified by what he had seen that he was unable to talk and died three days later. The passageway was sealed up soon after, and no one has seen Moddey Dhoo since.

The Barghest is a bad omen that only comes out at night – one look might mean your impending death. It may also be a shapeshifter.

The Barghest is a bad omen that only comes out at night – one look might mean your impending death. It may also be a shapeshifter.

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3. Barghest

Origin: North England

Also known by the name Barguest, this black dog is said to only come out at night and is often described as monstrous and goblin-like. Much like the Black Shuck, to see Barghest is said to be a bad omen. Just a glimpse of this hound will ensure any observer will be dead in months, and to truly look upon it will mean death by the time morning arrives.

As if this dog wasn't trouble enough, some stories suggest the Barghest can shapeshift into a headless man, woman, or even another animal. If you're unlucky enough to bump into such a creature, pray there's a river nearby since the Barghest shares a similar ailment to vampires in that it cannot cross rivers.

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4. Church Grim

Origin: Across the UK and Scandinavia


Not all mythological black dogs are evil. The Church Grim, for instance, is just the best of boys, even if their name suggests trouble. Though legends vary, a church grim is often regarded as a guardian spirit who protects a church from any acts of sacrilege. Thieves, witches, the devil, those troublesome teenagers, you name it, a Church Grim will be on their case.

Jane Eyre, in the novel of the same name, mistook Mr. Rochester's Newfoundland dog and horse Mesrour for a Gytrash.

Jane Eyre, in the novel of the same name, mistook Mr. Rochester's Newfoundland dog and horse Mesrour for a Gytrash.

5. Gytrash

Origin: North England


Depending on who you believe, or perhaps just the state of your luck, the Gytrash may prove to be either your best friend or worst enemy. Known also as Shagfoal, this black dog roams lonely roads awaiting lost travellers to pass by. From there, it may either help them find their way or lead them to become even further lost.

Perhaps it all depends on whether you brought some treats? However, a black dog is just one of many appearances the Gytrash may take, as it can also appear as a horse, mule, or even a crane.

6. Black Dog of the Hanging Hills

Origin: Southcentral Connecticut


As mentioned, most tales of black dogs exist within the British Isles. There are legends found elsewhere, however, such as this tale from the United States. Known only as the Black Dog of the Hanging Hills, this hound has been haunting local residents since the 19th century.

The dog is believed only to be small, so you don't have to worry about being mauled by this one, and to see it once is meant to be good luck. A second sighting is a warning, though. You would probably want to avoid the area altogether after that because a third sighting means certain death.

Further Reading

As mentioned, there are many legends of black dogs, and we've only just scratched the surface here. If you want to know more about tales of Black dogs, then there's plenty of written word on the subject. Shock! The Black Dog of Bungay by David Waldron is a fascinating and well-researched look into one such legend in Norfolk. Meanwhile, Black Dog Folklore by Mark Norman is an excellent primer on the subject.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Mike Grindle

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