Dogs. The oldest of the domesticated animals and man's constant companion throughout history. Brave, loyal, and friend to all.
Except when they aren't.
Hellhounds have been appearing since Hesiod wrote his Theogony, making this one Older Than Feudalism. Standard hellhounds are black with glowing red or flaming eyes. They may have two or even three heads. Famous hellhounds are Cerberus and the Hound of the Baskervilles. Fenrir may also fit, and Garmr certainly does.
As their name implies, they are generally thought to originate in the underworld, but this has become a relaxed requirement for modern incarnations.
Although their origins are impossibly varied, they can generally be lumped into three categories:
Escaped or deliberately released from Hell, these hellhounds exist only to hunt and kill. These are usually "hellhound classic," appearing as black hounds with red eyes. The eponymous hound from The Hound Of The Baskervilles is probably the most famous example of this type, although it turned out to bea fake.
This version is usually just as dangerous as the Hunter, but it is tasked with guarding a location or person. If they're guarding a person, that person is usually associated with Hell. The most famous guardian hellhound is, of course, Cerberus, which guarded the gates of Tartarus in Classical Mythology. Garmr is the Norse equivalent, and guard dog to the original Hel.
The sight of one of these black dogs was a Portent Of Doom. They might be malevolent or outright dangerous. Myths are split between the sight of the Black Dog being the cause of the misfortune or merely a symptom. The Barghest of Yorkshire may be the best known example, although the Grim from Harry Potter may be replacing it due to Pop Cultural Osmosis.
Classical hellhounds are immune to Kick the Dog, and its obvious menace makes its counterattack less a case of The Dog Bites Back than a result of Bullying a Dragon. It's almost impossible to scare these dogs, so any character who can is one to be very cautious around. May occasionally overlap with Big Badass Wolf, but these are generally more supernatural/evil. May also overlap with Evil Versus Evil if they exist in a world where Cats Are Mean.
They may be part of The Wild Hunt or the Legions Of Hell. Compare to Hellish Horse. Contrast Heroic Dog and Big Friendly Dog.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
Berserk has an example of this trope in the form of the Beast of Darkness. It's a vicious, sadistic pointy-snouted wolf-like creature with lighting-bolt shaped eyes that seeks to corrupt Guts. The disturbing part is that the Beast existsentirely in Guts's head. The Beast is the embodiment of Guts' own rage and hatred at the Godhand, the Apostles and especially Griffith after the Eclipse. Among other things, it wants Guts to kill Casca so that he can get back to seeking revenge.
Hellsing has Alucard able to summon a hellhound, explicitly named as The Hound of the Baskervilles. He also takes on the form of one in the TV series.
In Black Butler, there is a hellhound named Pluto. He doesn't necessarily fit in any of the above categories, but it is stated that he is a demon hound, which is basically the same thing as a hellhound.
There's an Ultimate level Digimon known as Cerberumon. There's also a card-game-only character named Anubismon. However, he's an aversion of Everyone Hates Hades - the manual treats him as mythology treats death gods. Whether you're going to the Dark Area or eligible for reconfiguration is up to him.
AdmiralAkainu makes one of these via his Logia element to attack Whitebeard during the Battle of Maineford.
Asuna and crew in Mahou Sensei Negima! found themselves facing a Cerberus guarding the room Negi was held in during the Mahora Festival arc. It was the classic depiction of Cerberus too, complete with three heads and a mane of serpents.
In the first (in TV order) episode of Rental Magica the team had to deal with a rather impressive entity Nekoyashiki described to his chief as a "dog" because it's a "four-legged mammal with teeth that barks", despite glowing red eyes, ability to catch up with a truck on an empty road and so on.
One filler episode of Chrono Crusade featured a demonic canine that was slaughtering New York's organized crime families.
Garm the guardian of Hel in The Mighty Thor comics, as per her role in Norse Mythology. During an "encounter" with Hel-Wolf she conceived and later gave birth to a litter of seven hellpuppies. Loki (who brought the Hel-Wolf into Hel in the first place) was given the responsibility of finding homes for the pups or putting them down himself. He had no problems dealing with the first six puppies who all took after their mother Garm who, despite being a servant of Hel, is still inherently a dog. Loki adopted the last one, whom he named Thori, since he couldn't find anyone who would take him. The All-mother warned him to get rid of Thori, since Thori takes after his father Hel-Wolf and thus is a soulless little monster who craves murder and bloodshed. In Journey into Mystery #644the All-mother's warnings come true as Thori apparently betrays Loki to his father Hel-Wolf because Loki made him kneel. Just like his father, Thori hated Loki for giving him orders.
Hellboy has Sammael, a tentacled, insectoid devil dog. It's also the "Hound of Resurrection": it can immediately recover from any non-fatal injury, and every time it is killed, two more of it are born to take its place.
The Lost Boys calls a vampire's canine daylight guardians the "Hounds of Hell".
Gmork in the film version of The Neverending Story fits the hunter form of this trope well, as the agent of the Nothing sent to kill Atreyu.
One of several manifestations of "The Bell Witch" in An American Haunting is a demonic looking wolf. This mostly fits the Hunter type, as it stalks members of the Bell family and attacks those that try to leave their property.
In Predators the early stages of hunting the human group is done with alien creatures that resemble huge hellhounds, (huge as in waist high or taller, and very thick) with tusks. Lots and lots of tusks.
Various types of Hellhounds serve as recurring enemies in the Lone Wolf books. In earlier adventures, Lone Wolf has to face the Doomwolves, the (barely) tamed pets/mounts of the goblin-like Giaks. Then he has to face the Akataz, the warhounds of the Drakkarim. Book 18 has as one enemy encounter the Hounds of Vikkak, described as "hellish beasts born of dark sorcery". Finally, Book 19 introduces a mecha version of one, aptly named Mech-Wulf.
And let's not forget about Demon Lord Tagazin, a recurring villain with the appearance of a sabertoothed jackal.
Lalla Squeglia's The House on the Moor includes the Hunter type.
In Harry Potter, Fluffy is a three-headed hellhound. It guards something and, like Cerberus, can be put to sleep with music.
The Grim could also be considered a hellhound. However, it's uncertain if the Grim exists as an actual creature rather than just an omen.
The two dogs in R.L. Stine's "The Barking Ghost". The title is somewhat misleading as the dogs are not ghosts; they're really two people whose souls had been traded into the bodies of dogs by a magical cabin in the woods.
The Wheel of Time has darkhounds, corrupted wolves which are associated with The Wild Hunt. Of the hunter variety, they can track their prey across any terrain, though they can be impeded by running water. Their blood and saliva is poisonous, and they leave pawprints on stone, but not earth. There are also two classes; greater darkhounds can recover very quickly from any injury, and can only be permanently killed by magic.
Pratchett and Gaiman's novel Good Omens has a hellhound named, of all things, Dog.
Dog's existence is shaped by Adam's desires. Originally more like what you would expect from a hellhound, he is transformed into a flopeared, terrier-style mutt, due to Adam's expectations of what his ideal dog would be like. He quickly adjusts, due in no small part to the fact that female dogs don't exist in Hell if you catch my drift.
Grimhounds appear as straight-up villains in The Wee Free Men. Notably they have orange eyebrows, after several non sequitur references in earlier books about "never trust a dog with orange eyebrows".
Amusingly, up until that point, Pratchett always insisted he was talking about Rottweilers.
Referenced in the webcomic True Magic, in which the Light Bringer's first commandment is, "Trust not any dog which hath orange eyebrowes."
The Sword of Truth series has Heart Hounds, which are tan, but otherwise fit the trope to a T.
Sorrow and Rage, as well as the rest of the black hounds that accompany Alain in Kate Elliot's Crown of Stars series, are hellhounds of the Guardian type. Interestingly, Alain is implied to be a saint or messiah rather than from hell.
Christopher Moore's novel A Dirty Job has two hellhounds tasked with guarding a little girl because she is Death. Their names: Mohammad and Alvin. They're basically normal dogs, except for being huge, fiercely loyal, and apparently unkillable. And they burp flames when fed with propane tanks!
In Steven Erikson's Malazan Book Of The Fallen, the Hounds of Shadow are powerful and terrifying supernatural beasts that do the bidding of Shadowthrone, and the Hounds of Darkness are even more powerful and terrifying, but they do no-one's bidding... And there are the T'lan Ay, the primitive undead semi-domesticated dogs of the T'lan Imass.
All werewolves can probably count as this, as they were basically spirits on the same level as Balrogs only in wolf-form. Carcharoth was the greatest of these, and he only became more hellish after ingesting one of the Silmarills, which started burning him from the inside, driving him mad.
In The Dresden Files novel Grave Peril, Harry and Michael spend a little too long in the Nevernever and end up drawing the attention of the Leanansidhe, Harry's fairy godmother (and no, not the good fairy godmother), and her pack of hellhounds.
"Holy shit," I breathed. "Hellhounds."
"Harry," Michael said sternly, "you know I hate it when you swear."
"You're right, sorry. Holy shit," I breathed, "heckhounds."
Also, the mercenary Kincaid's nickname is "the Hound of Hell" or just "the Hellhound," and he's not entirely human. He displays senses much sharper than any human, including being able to identify a specific type of antipersonnel mine because "the Brits use a different chemical primer."
The unnamed dog pack in Riddley Walker, although not actually supernatural, do represent the wholly supernatural dogs Folleree and Folleroo from their equivalent of Punch and Judy shows.
Mrs. O'Leary in the Percy Jackson series is definitely a Hell Hound, but she doesn't really fitt the archetypes. The closest fit would be guardian.
In The Gnome's Engine, a troll makes several references to the troll king's "hounds". When a half-fairy guest of the trolls notices some extremely large, fearsome dogs in the courtyard, she's informed that they're merely the king's dogs: if she met his hounds, she'd know the difference. An aversion? We'll never know...
Snarleyyow, from "Snarleyyow" by Captain Frederick Marryat is a dog believed by the ship's crew to be straight out of hell. With good reason... Doesn't quite fit the three standard models given at the top of the page though, Snarleyyow is a miserable thing that backs down when faced with any real resistance, only reason it hasn't gone overboard is that it belongs to the captain.
The Hounds of Tindalos created by Frank Belknap Long for the Cthulhu Mythos are Hellhounds mixed with Eldritch Abomination. Their existence predates multicellular life on Earth, they are immortal, and they can travel freely through time and space. Since they can exist in the "angles" of time (everything else lives in the "curves"), they can manifest through any corner (120 degrees or less) anywhere. The Hounds aren't named as such for their appearance (the original story implies a more bat-like appearance but later illustrations depict them as canines) but for their relentlessness. The Hounds hunger for something other living creatures possess that they lack; once they become aware of something or someone they will never stop hunting them. An easy way to gain their attention is to travel through time.
In "Magic Mourns", Cerberus is sent from Hades to retrieve the stolen corpse of a Greek pagan priest. He's described as a three-headed dog the size of a two-story house with a barbed tail. Thanatos mentions offhandedly that he owns several of Cerberus' puppies.
In Magic Bleeds, Grendel turns out to be a Black Dog, which appears to be a regular dog until danger threatens. Then it transforms into its true shape of a giant black dog with burning blue eyes and huge fangs.
In The Guardians, Hellhounds were bred by Lucifer by crossing dogs with wyrms, and are used by him to keep his subjects in line. They are giant, demonic, three-headed dogs completely loyal to their chosen masters and their venom can paralyze and kill demons. Sir Pup is a "bad" hellhound more mischievous than evil, and he prefers the form of a three-headed Labradour.
In Roger Zelazny's This Immortal, the narrator refers to his mutant dog Bortan as a hellhound:
The Kouretes screamed, for his eyes are glowing coals and his teeth are buzzsaws. His head is as high above the ground as a tall man's. Although they seized their blades and struck at him, his sides are as the sides of an armadillo. A quarter ton of dog, my Bortan ... he is not exactly the kind Albert Payson Terhune wrote about. He worked for the better part of a minute, and when he was finished they were all in pieces and none of them alive.
Live Action TV
In the series Reaper, there is a small dog from Hell named Spike, who can transform into a big, nasty hellhound.
Supernatural has invisible hell hounds that work for demons. They can only be seen by the people they've come to kill.
And those wearing glasses that have been scorched with holy fire.
A "webisode" of Rescue Me features the firemen hunting a mysterious, possibly dangerous animal (one of them thinks it's a chupacabra) that has gotten into their station it turns out to be an Irish Wolfhound. In their defense, they're pretty friggin' huge dogs
Cerberus was the guardian of Hades in Greek myth. His younger brother Orthrus, servant of Geryon, is one too.
The British Isles have many legends of ghostly hounds, referred to as black dogs. Most of them are portentous, some were actively malevolent and a few are actually benevolent.
Probably the best known malevolent example is Black Shuck, which according to folklore burst into a church in Blythburgh on 4 August 1577, killing a man and boy and causing the church tower to collapse through the roof. As the dog left, he left scorch marks on the north door which can be seen at the church to this day.
On the benevolent end of the scale are the Gurt Dog of Somerset, which was said to protect children and lone travellers, and the Friend of the Moore, a rather obscure example from the north-east of England which also aided travellers.
Garmr from Norse Mythology is a dog who guards the gates of Niflheim, the realm of death. At Ragnarok he will kill Tyr.
The Grimhound (portrayed, typically, as a black dog with fiery eyes, the same as half a dozen other examples of this trope) are both guardian and portent. They're the protectors of the dead...but if you can see one of them, it's because you'll soon be one of those it's guarding.
The Egyptian jackal god of the dead Anubis can be interpreted this way. On top of that, there's also his white wolf cousin Wepwawet (a war god associated with Anubis and the dead, making him a Hunter to Anubis' Guardian), Duamutef, a jackal god assigned to protect the stomach and intestines of the mummified, though his history made him more of a Hunter than a Guardian, Sed, a minor jackal god associated with Wepwawet with a festival named after him celebrating the anniversary (and imminent demise) of a Pharaoh's reign, and Khenti-Amentiu, a jackal god of the dead much older than Anubis that is likely his direct predecessor.
Islam favors cats over dogs, yet both are regarded as living beings worthy of human compassion. However, there is a specific caution about dogs: black dogs are said to be a kind of demon. Considering that stories about malicious, supernatural black dogs are prevalent even in modern times, it's probably not a baseless caution.
Robert Johnson sings about the third type in Hellhound On My Trail.
Black Shuck by The Darkness descibes a hellhound, the Black Shuck of the title, which has the distiction of being one of the best known of the British Black Dogs/Hellhounds.
The Metallica song "All Nightmare Long" was written about the Hounds of Tindalos, though most only remember the zombies from the video.
Early Dungeons & Dragons had several types of hellhounds, including one that could breathe out fire and one as part of The Wild Hunt. By 2nd Edition and onwards, actual hellhounds were established as huge, fire-breathing dogs literally from Hell that are used by devils to hunt mortals or summoned by evil spellcasters. Other similar monsters include the shadow mastiff and the yeth hound. Their Good Counterpart is the blink dog.
There's also Twin-Headed Wolf, based on Cerberus (or, more correctly, Orthrus, Cerberus' two-headed brother), and, of course, several cards based on the mother of all hellhounds, Anubis.
There also are a couple associated with fire: There's the original Flam Cerberus, as well as Flamvell Firedog, which appears to be made out of lava and has two protrusions coming out of it's shoulders, which vaguely makes it look like it has 3 heads.
Munchkin Bites has a monster called the Heck Hound.
Shadowrun had several Awakened (magical) canine monsters.
The Barghest had a protruding spine on its back, glowing red eyes and glowing teeth. It could cause fear and had a paralyzing howl.
The Hellhound could breathe out fire and was immune to fire.
The Gabriel Hound could freeze you in place and was a terror in combat.
In Vampire The Masquerade a human can become absolute thrall (called a "Ghoul") to a vampire by tasting its blood. The same practice can be applied to animals and a ghouled dog is known as a hellhound.
World Of Warcraft has several supernatural canine types, many of which can be tamed by the hunter class:
The Duskhound is an agile, bony and furless creature found in the Forsaken starting areas and also trained as pet by the Vrykul.
The Core Hound is a massive, slobbering, two headed beast which breathes fire and smolders.
The Felhound is a dog in name only, being a quadruped minor demon with Combat Tentacles, red scaly skin and an appetite for mana (However, it has explicitly doggy behavior. It's often referred to as a Felpuppy). It is one of the demon types that can be summoned by a Warlock.
Ghost Wolves are animated animal spirits, often capable of talking.
Omen is an unique two-headed silver wolf which awakens during the seasonal event of Lunar Festival.
In the CataclysmExpansion Pack, the Molten Front and Firelands have hounds that appear to be flaming dog skeletons, about twice the size of the characters.
Harry Potter also had the Gytrash, a giant ghostly dog, which appeared in some of the games.
It's based on a Lincolnshire myth, although the original gytrash was sometimes a horse or a crane as well.
In the MMORPG Runescape, hellhounds are a fairly strong standard monster that look like giant red dogs. There's also a quest boss called a skeletal hellhound, which is both Exactly What It Says on the Tin and, strangely, weaker then a normal hellhound.
Without muscles and skin, you'd be weaker too!
The second Kingdom Hearts game features adorable Heartless versions of hellhounds inhabiting the underworld, in addition to the aforementioned boss monster, Cerberus.
The first boss in Devil May Cry 3 is Cerberus, here portrayed as being frozen in ice and chained in front of the door to Temen-Ni-Gru. You have to shoot the ice off before you can effectively hurt him, and he can refreeze himself at will. As he loses health, two of his heads get blown off, and halfway down his health bar he Turns Red and snaps some of his chains.
A number of these appear in Shadow Hearts; perhaps the most notable are the Mailmen, demons that appear as hounds with human arms jutting from their mouths. In the first game, when backed into a corner, the mayor of Bistriz turns himself into a hideous, giant dog made of flayed flesh, named Tindalos.
Cerberus is very popular. In the first Parasite Eve, a police dog transforms into a giant three-headed monster.
Call of Duty World at War has literally named Hell Hounds in the later Nazi Zombies maps, which charge at the player on fire and sometimes explode. All prefaced with a creepy voice saying 'Fetch me their souls!' and the map getting foggy.
In Dungeon Keeper, you could get the Hellhound minion, a two-headed firebreathing monstrosity, that would... water the corpses of you enemies, or just the floors for lack of corpses. Poor pup kept running off and getting killed though.
The barghests in The Witcher certainly qualify, ghostly, monstrous dogs brought about (like many monsters in the setting) by the evils of the village they haunt.
Cerberus appears as a demon or persona (depending on the series) in almost all the games in the Shin Megami Tensei family. Interestingly, he frequently appears as a white lion with a snake-like tail. It's only in Persona 3 and Digital Devil Saga that he is a three-headed dog.
Kid Icarus has Twinbellows. Like his name implies, he has two heads.
Jack Noir probably counts as a malevolent version after Bec is prototyped.
Subverted by one of the species of sentient canines in Wurr: While they're called "hellhounds" by one of the other species, they're really just big, freakishly mutated dogs with no particular great inclination towards evil (although they've certainly got their share of jerkasses and wackos). "Hellhound" is actually considered something of a racial slur.
In Sinfest, Cerberus is the Devil's pet, and spends his time menacing the cast (especially Slick) and eating mailmen.
Off-White: The formHati takes on in the realm he takes Iki to evokes this. His more normal looking form might fit as well.
Hover Head has a flaming dalmatian named Damnation.
AH Dot Com The Series has Sudanases Hunting Dogs (based on a forum running joke) which shoot clouds of bees from their mouth when they bark. As a Shout Out to Discworld's Grimhounds, they have orange eyebrows.
Not only are there hellhounds in the Whateley Universe, but in the novel "There's an Angel in Father John's Basement", the techno-mage Korrupt has figured out how to summon a really nasty mecha variant of his own devise.
Crunch the Rockdog from the original My Little Pony series. Guardian type, created to protect the Heartstone of a living mountain and armed with a jewel that could petrify enemies. Unfortunately, said mountain had forgotten the need for Crunch to have a heart and as a result Crunch eventually ran wild, turning everything he could reach to stone. The Little Ponies were able to subdue Crunch long enough for him to be endowed with a sliver of the Heartstone, making him both kinder and loyal enough to do his job right.
The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "It's About Time" has Cerberus making an appearance in Ponyville, complete with references about how he's supposed to be guarding the gates of Tartarus to make sure that the evil creatures imprisoned there doesn't escape. Fluttershy pacifies him by giving him a belly rub.
This could be related to the reluctance for adopting large black dogs, dubbed Black Dog Syndrome.
A common nickname for US Marines? Devil Dog. Owing to an anecdote about the German soldiers' reaction to seeing Marines in gas masks frothing at the mouths as they clawed their way up a hill to get at the German defenders during the Battle of Belleau Wood.
The Israeli anti-terrorist dog that bit off a terrorist's arm. Even the IDF's drug-sniffing dogs are really freaking scary, and this holds true for most military dogs around the world.
Winston Churchill used to refer to his chronic depression as "the black dog on my shoulder," in reference to the portent variety of this trope.