Thursday, November 12, 2009


This post is related to the story I posted on Halloween about the Headless Dog of Tug Fork, which is a legend in the county where I live. I found many similar stories in many parts of the US but Great Britain seems to be the real source for these tales.

he was there last night
black on black
against the darkling woods
his silver eyes shining
catching my gaze

in recognition and surprise
my mirror reflected nothing
but shadowed woods
along the gravel road
standing sentinel

doubt crowded my mind
it was late, after all
tired eyes see
what wakened
eyes do not perceive

straining to glimpse
in the side mirror
the massive head,
starblazed chest
silver gleaming eyes

I saw only darkness,
a frightened rabbit
quickly out of sight
no black dog at all—

About Black Dogs

In folklore, seeing a black dog is not a good omen. Often such a sighting portended death, as in this story from American folklore. In the Appalachian mountains, the traditional beliefs about black dogs were carried over by the early settlers and even today you will find people who still believe that black dogs are omens.

Black dogs were also thought to be connected to the devil or other forces of evil, and to bring bad luck. This last has resulted in something known as "Black Dog Syndrome" at animal shelters: "Black dog syndrome is used by people who work or volunteer in animal shelters. For some reason, all black dogs, even purebred black Labrador Retrievers are almost always passed over in favor of other colored dogs."

Here are a few more black dog stories:

The Black Dog of Bouley Bay

Black dogs in Mesoamerica

The Black Dog of West Peak

Many snippets of stories from the Mysterious Britain site

The Black Shuck Dog : did it inspire Sir Arthur Conan Doyle when he wrote Hounds of the Baskervilles?

Another Black Shuck legend, this one about the Hell Hound of Norfolk.

There are many other superstitions and legends about black dogs. As the owner of two black dogs, I'm not too worried to the superstitions surrounding them. My black labs are friendly, goofy and playful. They are anything but evil! (Having said that, I will not forget the one my father said he saw about two weeks before his death--there was no dog at his house, and he knew nothing about the folklore surrounding black dogs. I did not tell him, and I did not mention it to my siblings, although I cried all the way home from that trip. It was the last time I saw him.)

Then there is the night I saw the dog in the poem above. I came home with an oddly unsettled feeling that I still remember, almost five years later. A bit creepy, that.


Cathy said...

I can't remember hearing this before. I have two black/brindle dogs right now and they are more stupid than frightening.

Joycee said...

I had never read this bit of folklore and I can tell you, growing up in the Ozarks my grandparents peppered our lives with lots of stories. The picture raises my hackles! Great poem...

Granny Sue said...

Mine are like your,s cathy, playful and silly and loving to be fed! Nothing supernatural about them. But I have heard this superstition here in West Virginia from several people.

Granny Sue said...

I wonder if the folklore stopped here in the Appalachians, Joycee and just didn't make it that far west?

Matthew Burns said...

Now that you point it out, all of the "ghost dog" stories that I know involve a black dog. Interesting!

The ghost dog in Burns holler is a black dog. It follows you up the holler road and will brush against your leg and try to trip you by getting under your feet. It always starts following you at the old stone cow barn and stop at the apple tree near the top of the hill. It is more a nuisance than anything evil, though.

Granny Sue said...

Some of the stories I've found are similar to what you say, Matthew. Others ghost dogs seem more ominous and even threatening. There is a lot of lore surrounding ghost dogs in Scottish folklore. The book Superstitions of Highlands of Scotland (I think I've got the title right)is a great place for such information.

Markin said...

Ah, yes. Black dogs. Barghests. The Dip (Catalan myth -- evil, black, hairy, emissary of the Devil, sucks people's blood, lame in one leg). But your graphic rather puzzled me for a bit -- it's like one of those pictures where it's simultaneously an old hag with a head shawl and a lovely young woman with a plumed hat and her head turned slightly away from you. What I was seeing was a cat (the pointy ears) wearing a beaded collar (the dog's snarly mouth) ... ;)

Susan at Stony River said...

Yikes. Creepy but wonderful story!
I never heard of Black Dog syndrome, but when the time comes for us to get another dog, I'm picking a black one now.

We live on the Leitrim border, which has two gravestones (I believe the only markers in all Ireland) with the Dobharchu carved on them, as the cause of death. That's a sort of large and extremely hostile mer-dog that lives in the lakes of western Ireland; some stories call it black, others say differently. there's more about it at mythical creatures guide.

Granny Sue said...

ooooh, interesting, Susan! Now I have to read about mer-dogs.

The graphic was from wipedia commons (I should have noted that) for thier listing on black dogs. It wasn't my favorite, Markin, but it was late and I was tired so....

Markin said...

Oh, please, no no no, Granny Sue, I wasn't criticizing the choice of graphic, it's a good one -- I just thought my mistake might amuse you. Whole article about black dogs, and me sitting there thinking I'm looking at a picture of a black cat (which is the more usual symbol of Things Gone Wrong) ...

And thank you, Susan, for the reference to the dobhar-chu, that's one I hadn't encountered yet, myself. Yet another avenue of research, what fun!

Granny Sue said...

Too funny! I've done things like that Markin, and wonder what's wrong with this picture?!

Sometime soon I need to do a post on the waterhorse. Now that is an interesting creature!

Jason said...

GSue - in my researching WV ghost stories, I came across an interesting practice by our ancestors. Apparently there was a belief that the first person buried in a cemetery was doomed to haunt it for eternity, so in old days the people would kill a black dog and bury it in a new cemetery so that its spirit would roam instead of the deceased's.

Of course there are also stories about the devil and witches taking the form of a black dog and menacing people, too. Throughout folklore anything black - dogs, cats, people - has been relegated to the evil side of things.

Granny Sue said...

Now that is an eerie story, Jason. And odd enough to be true. People not so many years ago were far more superstitious than we are today. Or maybe we just hide it better?

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