Who’s afraid of the big black dog? Well, it seems quite a few people are, and any rehoming centre will probably confirm that black dogs are the last to be picked. In some instances, dogs appearing on adoption sites that are black don’t photograph very well, and their lighter, smaller buddies will get snapped up, while poor old ‘Blackie’ gets overlooked. Known as the BBD (Big Black Dog) Syndrome, it is a phenomenon in which black dogs are passed over in favour of lighter coloured dogs, as people associate the colour black with evil or misfortune.
There are deep and sinister unfounded beliefs that blight these poor creatures, and superstitions surround them in many countries. Seen as a nocturnal apparition, a shapeshifter, a fire-breathing monster – all of these descriptions seem to be deep-rooted fears people have of black dogs.
In Ireland, for example, if a black poodle visits the grave of a priest it means he had been untrue to his vows. Similarly, in Germany, it is said that a black poodle visiting the grave of a woman meant she had committed adultery.
In The Isle of Man, there is the myth of Moddey Dhoo that surrounds Peel Castle concerning a big black dog that apparently lurked in the corridors of the castle, and one soldier, who after a few drinks, foolishly dared the dog to follow him when his turn came to lock up.
He returned terrified, never spoke again and mysteriously died three days later. The dog was never seen again.
In English folklore, there is ‘Black Shuck’, ‘Old Shuck’ or simply ‘Shuck’, a name that is given to a ghostly black dog said to roam the countryside of East Anglia, with varying descriptions, but often ‘a black shaggy dog with fiery eyes and of immense size’ who visits churchyards after dark, and an appearance of this dog is an omen of death.
Then there is the Black Dog of Newgate Jail, which has been said to haunt Newgate Prison 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 Barguest of northern England is another myth, which was most commonly portrayed as a huge black dog with large eyes and feet which left no prints. The dog was said to be massive and ominous. Sightings had been reported in almost every county in England, and of course, legend says the dog was sent to Earth by the Devil himself, a true demon hound.
Even as far away as India, a black dog is regarded as a nocturnal apparition, associated with the devil, in some cases a shapeshifter, a hellhound, with its appearance being regarded as a portent to death.
China has Tiangou, a bad spirit, a black dog that was thought to eat the moon during an eclipse.
Well, let me tell you, dear reader, that my hubby and I have rescued three big black dogs in the past, and not one has breathed fire, had eyes that glowed red, bayed at the moon or lurked in churchyards after dark. But they do have the uncanny ability to trip you up in the dark, as the little devils will lay in doorways where you can’t see them!
If you are thinking of adopting a dog, be it a puppy or a ‘pre-loved’ dog from a Shelter, don’t just pass over a big black dog because of his or her colour. It is only an accident of birth that has made them black, and they are just as likely to make you a loyal and faithful friend as one of their lighter coloured buddies.