The Black Dog is a creature in British folklore. They are described as being the size of a calf, moving in silence except for the clicking of their claws.
The term Black Dog is used to refer to apparitions of creatures which resemble black dogs though it is also often used as a generic term for canine apparitions of other colours and types (Brown, 1978; Miller, 1984). The green Cu Sìth of Scotland is a notable example of this.
The author Theo Brown defines three types of black dogs, but she also states that: Obviously these three divisions exist for our convenience merely; there are many overlaps.
- 1. Generally known as the Barghest, Black Shuck, Black Shag, Gytrash, Kludde, Shriker, Padfoot, Hooter, and other names. These are not individual names but are attributed to a creature living in certain areas. This type, more commonly known as the Barguest type, changes its shape, something a true black dog is not capable of doing;
- 2. The one more often related to as the Black Dog, which is always black, and always appears as a dog and doesn’t have the shapeshifters' capability. This one too is linked with a specific place or part of a road, though it might also be associated with a person, a family or with a witch, possibly as a familiar;
- 3. The last variety is uncommon and is about dogs appearing in a specific place according to a calendar cicle.
Most black dogs either vanish or fade from sight. Descriptions differ from each other: the black dog appear to either being swallowed into earth or disappearing with a flash or blast.
Some sightings report the apparations of black dogs walking on their hind legs.
There are also descriptions of dogs which increase or decrease in size or height as well as some of them may be seen shapeshifting into another form, human or animal. Black Dogs have often been reported as walking through solid objects.
The Black Dogs may be associated with a particular place, often where violent crimes happened. As they are likely to appear next to water and Great Britain, being the place where they are mostly reported, presents few areas far from water. Sometimes the creatures are malicious, outright attacking people or acting as omens of death, but they can also guide or protect lost travellers and children. Sometimes a Black Dog acts as a family's spirit guardian, warning of danger and protecting members of the family from harm. They are usually reported at night, though there are exceptions to this statement as a few sightings have happened in daylight. Black Dogs are usually sighted outdoors, mostly in rural settings, though encounters inside dwellings have been reported as well. They seem to be attracted to churches.
Sometimes Black Dogs appear silently, and at other times the sound of their claws clicking will be heard. Very few times they have been reported barking, moaning, whining or growling, such as the Shriker; still less the Black Dogs that laugh or speak or those whose appearance is linked to the sound of chains, such as Kludde and the Padfoot.
Black Dogs have been greatly reported in Great Britain, especially in England, and are mainly considered a British phenomenon..
On the other hand, they have also been reported in various forms in Ireland, Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Scandinavian countries, the United States of America and Cananada
In a church in Surrey a Black Dog appeared and terrorised the villagers, then it disappeared and reappeared in St. Mary's church in Boswell. If you go to that church today you can still see claw marks on the east door.
Conan Doyle's inspiration for his The Hound of the Baskervilles was the folk tale of a phantom black dog on Dartmoor. Such beasts are reported throughout Britain, A typical reference appears in the Rev Worthington-Smith's book on the folklore of Dunstable, published in 1910, stating Another belief is that there are ghostly black dogs, the size of large retrievers, about the fields at night, that these dogs are generally near gates and stiles, and are of such a forbidding aspect that no one dare venture to pass them, and that it means death to shout at them. In some places the spectral dog is named "Shuck" and is said to be headless. Indeed, usually in Dunstable the black dog was referred to as Old Shuck, while the term Shuck is typical to Norfolk. Shuck probably takes its origin from the Old English word scucca, meaning Demon).
Black Dogs and the folklore surrounding them is full of tales and stories, but mythology offers a different perspective to them viewing dogs not only as men’s companions but also providing guardianship.
The notion of dogs as spiritual guardians fits the separate folklore of Church Grims, as Sabine Baring-Gould used to believe it was a tradition to sacrifice a dog and bury it in the foundations of a church in order to guard inhumed souls.
Such packs of spectral hounds have been seen all over Europe, with or without hunters, and are generally known as the Gabriel Hounds or Gabble Retchets in Britain, and as the Wild Hunt in Germany and Woden's Hunt in Scandinavia. The wild hunts also remind of Cwm Annwn, the spectral hunt, and with the Wandering Jew folklore which is known throughout Europe.
Guardian hounds are widely known in Shamanic Otherworldly lore as well.
- Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles;
- Brown, Theo The black dog, Folklore, 1958;
- Michell, John and Rickard, Bob, Phenomena: a book of wonders, Thames and Hudson 1977.
- Michell, John, Earthspirit, Thames and Hudson, 1975
- Worthington-Smith, Dunstable and its surrounds, 1910.
- Janet and Colin Bord's Alien Animals
- Jerome Clark's Unexplained!
- Robert Trubshaw's Explore Phantom Black Dogs
- Rosemary Guiley's The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits (Third Edition).