Is the “Hercules the World’s Biggest Dog” photo fake, as everyone has assumed?

This photo of "Hercules, the World's Biggest Dog" is one of the best known "hoax" viral images on the Web. It started circulating in early 2007, initially on its own, but soon the Internet had supplied an explanatory caption:
Hercules: The World's Biggest Dog Ever According to Guinness World Records
Hercules was recently awarded the honorable distinction of Worlds Biggest Dog by Guinness World Records. Hercules is an English Mastiff and has a 38 inch neck and weighs 282 pounds.
With "paws the size of softballs" (reports the Boston Herald), the three-year-old monster is far larger and heavier than his breed's standard 200lb. limit. Hercules owner Mr. Flynn says that Hercules weight is natural and not induced by a bizarre diet: "I fed him normal food and he just grew".... and grew. and grew.

The information in this caption is correct, but not when applied to the dog shown above. The text is actually taken from a description of an English mastiff named Hercules that was owned by power lifter John Flynn (shown below). So wrong dog!

But what are we to make of the top photo, the one of the giant dog being walked by the man and woman alongside the white horse? We know he's not Hercules, but who or what is he? Is he really that big?

The top debunking sites feel that the dog can't really be that large. For instance, David Emery calls the photo "an obvious hoax." Hoax-Slayer says, "It seems clear that the image has been cleverly manipulated, perhaps by replacing a picture of the man's horse with a disproportionally sized picture of a dog." says, "the picture appears to be fabricated." Snopes alone is a little ambivalent. It says the photo appears to be "a digital manipulation," but it leaves open the possibility that the dog is a "freakishly large example of its breed."

The reason for the skepticism is that the dog appears to be a Neapolitan Mastiff (not an English Mastiff), and that breed is not known to get that big. Breeders say Neapolitan Mastiffs top out at 31 inches at the shoulder. But the dog in the photo seems to be around 36 inches at the shoulder, easily.

Also, just look at that beast. He's horse-sized! The photo has to be fake!

But it's worth noting here that the photo is actually one of a set of three photos of the dog, the couple, and the horse. Although the top photo is often detached from the set and circulates alone. Here are the other two photos:

The existence of three photos of the same dog gives me pause. Because it's easy to dismiss one image as a fake, but three photos is unusual, especially since the dog looks similarly massive in all three shots. Yes, all three photos could be fake. But then again, perhaps that dog really is freakishly big.

I'll say this: if the images are fakes, then they're good ones. Particularly the one of the couple sitting down with the dog. The shadows and the lighting look right. There are no obvious signs of manipulation — except for the bizarre size of the dog.

Often it's possible to debunk a fake image by finding the original, unaltered version of the photo. But other versions of these giant dog images have never surfaced. This suggests to me that if the images are fake, then the faker possesses the original copies of the images and has never made them public.

Nor have the man and women ever been identified, which is a shame because they could obviously shed light on what the deal is with the giant dog. Perhaps they have no desire to be Internet celebrities.

But wait! There could be a fourth image. While searching for pictures of Neapolitan Mastiffs, I came across this photo.

Perhaps I've been staring too long at my screen, but that looks to me like it could be the same dog and the same guy. Sure, the guy is a little older, wearing different clothes, has a goatee, and is squinting into the sun. But his features look the same. And the dog has a white patch on his chest like the dog in the "Hercules" photo, and he's wearing a studded collar (if you look closely you can see that the dog in the "Hercules" photo appears to be wearing a similar studded collar).

The dog in this fourth photo doesn't look quite as massive as the dog in the viral "World's Biggest Dog" photo. Nevertheless, it's a very big dog! Far bigger than most other Neapolitan Mastiffs.

Which suggests to me that there really is a giant Neapolitan Mastiff out there. Now perhaps his size was digitally exaggerated in the top photo that went viral. Or perhaps the angle of the shot exaggerated its size. Or perhaps the man and woman aren't that tall, which made the dog look larger than it really is relative to them.

I just don't know. But I don't think the "World's Biggest Dog" photo is the slam-dunk, has-to-be-photoshopped case that most other debunking sites have listed it as. I'd go with Snopes and leave open the possibility that the dog in the photo might actually be a "freakishly large example of its breed."

viral images Fake Photos of Very Large Animals

Posted on Tue Jan 21, 2014


actually the dog is a Neapolitan mastiff,
Posted by marsha boyer  on  Thu Jun 05, 2014  at  10:57 PM
Posted by JERIC PANGANIBAN  on  Sun Jul 27, 2014  at  02:21 AM
I know the man who took these photos. That is his daughter and son in law's dog in England.
Posted by Matt Durham  on  Thu Feb 26, 2015  at  04:11 PM
The first photo is an obvious fake. The shadows don't match at all. Very long shadows made by the humans and a very short shadow that is too small, made by the dog. That makes me tend to believe the first 3 are fake (same subjects). In the last photo, a simple camera trick is used . The dog is much closer to the camera than the human and at an angle which subtley hides that fact.
Posted by Bill Morris  on  Thu Apr 30, 2015  at  10:58 AM
Re Bill Morris comment, if you are referencing shadow size the Horse shadow is small also so that explanation is not evidence of photoshop. It seems most explanations of this image have been led by people's opinion that the image "can't be real" then they look for evidence to support their opinion rather than just looking for the truth. Bottom line who cares if the image is real, it's not impossible but so what! One way or another we'll never know unless the people in the image come forward with the dog and they obviously aren't interested in doing that. Good for them!
Posted by Paula Mc Bride  on  Fri May 15, 2015  at  01:45 PM
Incredible how possible can that be a dog like monster?
Posted by wester suah  on  Tue Jul 07, 2015  at  02:08 AM
what can I give my dog to be like this one
Posted by mila Sibabalwe  on  Wed Sep 02, 2015  at  05:12 AM
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