As I started getting deeper into the rabbit-hole of cryptozoology, I became aware of a particular cryptid known as dogman. It was pretty interesting, something of a bigfoot variant with an animal head. A little bit like the sheepsquatch or the bear-headed depictions of the yeti. This was before I was acquainted with the evidence that forest giants really exist, so I had the perspective of a mere folklorist. It was interesting to hear about these stories, and to speculate on why the human mind seems to have a need for them, but I didn’t have high hopes that they would pan out in literal reality. It also didn’t hurt that I was into horror and fantasy, so learning about different kinds of monsters was right up my alley.
One thing that had me a little confused was when I heard that dogman essentially was sasquatch. It was implied that they were the same thing. That seemed more than a little strange to me, since canine features don’t typically appear on primates, and neither of these two entities would turn out to exist anyway. So, in my mind, dogman was like a canine variant of sasquatch, giving it some werewolf traits, making it a distinct yet related class of creature. Cool, right? Perfect thing to include in an urban fantasy setting, or maybe in a modern-day RPG.
A little bit later in my life, a couple years IIRC, I stumbled upon a presentation going over some evidence that bigfoot was a real-life organism. The speaker was a little out there, but he made some excellent points. One presentation gave way to another, and I found myself quite thoroughly convinced of the existence of wood apes. From that point on, I looked at cryptozoology differently. I had always had the sneaking suspicion that something fantastical would end up being real, and this was it. Whereas before I saw all these cryptids as mythical beasts and spooky stories, I now have a gold standard to compare them to. Whenever I hear about another cryptid, I’m always thinking about how scientifically implausible it is.
Don’t get me wrong. I still love the tales of the wondrous and bizarre. Finding out that bigfoot was a real, mundane animal took most of the fun out of it. I really enjoy mythical monsters and speculative species, but it all rings a little hollow when you realize that investigations into a real creature yet to be recognized by mainstream science are given the same credibility as a dahu hunt. I just wished that popular culture would recognize that not all legends have the same basis in reality, and stop forcing the worldview that it’s either all or nothing; like you’re either a skeptic in denial or a credulous believer. Now, where exactly does dogman fit into all this?
As you may already know if you’re into cryptozoology, dogman is starting to get alot more attention. Eyewitness reports and hearing strange calls are the most common, but there’s even some alleged footage now and then. It’s not as popular as sasquatch, but it’s slowly working its way up there. Dogman, and related werewolf-esque creatures, are now in vogue among the cryptozoological community. Why is that?
Now, I’m sure some of you think the answer is a little obvious. We either have more reports on this creature, or the culture has shifted so that witnesses feel more comfortable giving their stories. This is simply modern society starting to come to terms with this creature reported throughout a variety of world cultures, particularly European. Well, I’m not sure that’s it. While I can’t prove anything definitively, I estimate the likelihood of dogman being an extant creature to hover pretty close to zero. Anything’s possible, but I don’t think this creature is plausible.
Let’s start from a biological standpoint. Wildmen are pretty much what you’d expect from a hominid, just with a specific balance of features. Similar to humans and other great apes, there’s nothing we see in bigfoot that’s too surprising from an evolutionary standpoint. Maybe it’s more like an orangutan, with a powerful digestive tract to break down tough plant fibers, but I think it’s closer to humans, with a very porcine digestive tract, omnivorous and capable of digesting meat and some vegetation. (This partly has to do with the expensive tissue hypothesis; if bigfoot has a big brain, it likely doesn’t have a powerful digestive tract.) Like early humans, I think these creatures are some combination of carnivorous and fructivorous, likely bent much toward carnivory, especially in colder regions. Its limb proportions match that of H sapiens neanderthalensis quite closely, only with an overall size much larger.
Now, is dogman a primate that evolved a canine skull? Or is it a canine that evolved a simian gate? Neither is remotely plausible based on current research. Not strictly impossible, but it’s a huge leap to be sure. Or, if we’re willingly to ignore some eyewitness details (like the simian gate) to render a more scientifically plausible proposal, perhaps it’s a canid or ursid that somewhat resembles the human form? Maybe a new species or subspecies of bear, that’s muscled a little bit differently, and tends to walk upright a little more often? That’s better, but we have to ignore the most striking features of this alleged creature, and it’s still a fairly bold proposal. At that point, why not postulate that dogman is just a case of mistaken identity with a regular bear? It’d have the same explanatory power and scope, and much greater simplicity. We can also just attribute some of the reports of simian gates to actually be sasquatch sightings, and there’s no reason to postulate dogman at all.
Okay, but what about a paranormal explanation? Well, I think that for many people, the word supernatural is just a blank check for ad-hoc reasoning. At no point do they ever attempt to verify their suppositions, while also somehow being very sure of them. Like the bare assertion that the souls of deceased human beings affect electromagnetic phenomena. Ipse dixit much?
I do think there very likely are phenomena that aren’t entirely explainable via natural laws, (the human mind itself being a promising example) and that we should keep an open mind towards potential paranormal mechanisms, but that doesn’t mean we can just assume any phenomenon reported must be explainable by some yet unknown supernatural mechanism. For instance, while I do believe it’s weird that trails of sasquatch footprints sometimes mysteriously disappear, I think it’s jumping the gun to conclude that they must therefore be able to shift between dimensions. It’s assuming too much. I also think it’s going too far to postulate that there must be a humanoid-canine creature because some witnesses have reported it.
So, to sum it all up, I think that dogman sightings are likely due to mistaken identity with bears or forest giants. Bears already look fairly humanoid, so one standing on all fours could look a bit like a werewolf. If you saw bigfoot from an odd angle, and heard it make a particularly fearsome roar or growl, that could easily give the impression that it had a canine head. This is in addition to the sightings without an apparent physical cause, of course. Some are going to be the result of hallucinations, supernatural visions, or overactive imaginations. I don’t know how many, but some. Plenty more are also meant in jest, as hoaxes or practical jokes. The rest of them, bears and bigfoot.
Okay, so I’ve told you why I don’t think dogman is a real creature, but I haven’t answered the original question. Why is it so popular? Well, I think it has to do with sociology and psychology. You see, most people belong to one of two groups when it comes to the existence of things beyond our conventional understanding. There are those who are intensely skeptical, even to the point of outright dismissing anyone who proposes something contrary to the consensus view, calling them nutters and loons. Then there are those who eschew evidence almost entirely, believing whatever claims they fancy without critical discernment.
I’m of course being reductionistic here. People can be more or less extreme on this front, but I’ve found nuance to be profoundly lacking. And that’s not to say a person will either be a skeptic or a believer across all issues. Someone may be a skeptic about cryptozoology, but a believer in ghosts. Someone else may hold rigidly to scientific consensus in nutrition, but be willing to entertain fringe theories of history. People are certainly unique and multifaceted in their own rights. They do, however, typically default to one side or the other on a particular topic. Not everyone, but the majority of people for sure.
I don’t want to engage in bulverisms, but I would like to postulate psychological motivations behind this phenomenon, listing out some possible reasons why these two groups behave the way they do. Note that this doesn’t mean either one is necessarily right or wrong; I’m just trying to establish why the two sides seem to talk past each other.
I think for skeptics, it might be a question of an existential threat. If scientists could all be wrong, what would that mean? Their entire worldview may collapse. I know the realization that bigfoot exists was pretty shocking to me; I barely slept for like a week. But in the majority of academic circles, to admit that something against the consensus is even plausible is something akin to heresy. It would rock the boat, and everyone would have to start questioning what else they could be wrong about. That’s not a comfortable feeling. Scientists originally viewed reports of great apes and giant pandas as preposterous, and all but laughed them off. Then, when these creatures were proven extant, did mainstream science change its tune? Did everyone stop and take a closer look at what else might exist in the world? Not really. They mostly just swept the whole affair under the rug. No one talks about just how many cryptids, initially ridiculed, are now universally accepted.
What about believers? Well, I think, for some people, the world needs to carry a sense of mystery and intrigue. It’s not about finding the truth; it’s about being fascinated. Engaging in this sort of wonder and speculation is great, but it shouldn’t be confused with reality. Fiction is an amazing outlet for creativity, and it can be very entertaining. Now, the truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, but it’s also usually much more boring. Look at true crime. Occasionally, you get a story that it seems no writer could have dreamed up. Most of the time, though, it’s the most obvious suspect, who just happened to leave DNA evidence or fingerprints on something. When tabloids or commenters inject sensational conjecture into a story, they can seriously damage the truth. Sometimes innocent people’s lives are ruined. In the context of cryptozoology, it means that plausible specimens go unnoticed by science, while the outlandish ones seem very real to enthusiasts.
So, the next time you’re about to dismiss something as absurd, or whenever you feel like you know something is true deep in your heart, stop and ask yourself, “Am I making this determination based on the best evidence available, or am I engaging in wishful thinking? Did I just assume I knew the answer before looking at the evidence?” I think if everyone did that more often, this world would be a much nicer place.
Okay, now I’m going to tie this in with dogman. I think dogman is a perfect example of the drive towards the fantastic. As sasquatch becomes more and more accepted, it also seems less and less magical. When the day comes that it’s proven extant, it’ll be just like any other creature on the books. No one goes on expeditions to try and prove the existence of chimpanzees and giant pandas anymore. We already know about them. They lost their mystery. For some people, there really has to be something fantastic in the world, even if they can’t prove it. Just as the skeptic feels a religious need for orthodoxy, the believer feels a need for mysticism. There has to be something more.
But what about when there’s nothing left? What about when we finally have discovered everything? We’re not there yet, of course, but we are going to run out of new species eventually. They don’t evolve faster than we discover them. I think bigfoot may be one of the last big surprises from cryptozoology, and it’s already starting to feel less mythological with every passing decade. That’s where dogman comes in.
Dogman is a step more fantastic than sasquatch. It too draws from folklore, drawing from a rich history of werewolves. I think dogman has become as popular as it has not because it’s somehow plausible, but because it just barely isn’t. It’s slightly too fantastic to be real, and I think that’s the point. Not consciously, of course; I think most people really believe what they say. But witnesses can see all sorts of crazy things. I think that speaks more to the faults of human perception than it does the existence of cryptids.
I think dogman is getting popular because it’s the most plausible among the implausible. It’s about the closest you can get to a realistic creature while being scientifically incredible. Now, I’m not saying that it doesn’t exist for sure. Maybe it does, but I doubt it. I think it’s an expression of our need for something more than the mundane. I think that’s why it started replacing bigfoot, and why mothman doesn’t fill that same role. And that, to the best of my knowledge, is why cryptozoologists are capitalizing on dogman.