Shaggy dog story

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Urban legends

A shaggy dog story is a joke, anecdote, or account, which has a great build up, but leads to an unsatisfactory conclusion or anticlimax. In real life, of course, many things are never properly wrapped up or proven, but the purpose of a shaggy dog story is to keep you engrossed. It is more about the journey than the destination. In this article, we are more interested in shaggy dog stories which purport to be factual, rather than jokes etc.

The shaggy dog story is a traditional mainstay of your neighbourhood pub bore, or that relative whom your parents rarely speak about. Shaggy dog stories are also beloved of conspiracy theorists, since any concrete proof moves their ideas into a different realm and ruins their fun.


While shaggy dog stories tend to be shunned in Hollywood (cinema), you can find them all over certain TV channels, and in certain "non-fiction" sections of bookshops. There are websites full of them, although Google search, in its self-appointed function as internet gatekeeper, shows far fewer of them in search results than it used to. Examples of shaggy dog stories (and shaggy dog merchants) include:

  • Finding Bigfoot, because despite the title, they never find anything groundbreaking in any episodes. Arguably this is more of a "shaggy apeman story".
  • Almost anything to do with the Oak Island money pit. Oak Island is the original "money pit" and numerous books, series, etc have been devoted to it.
  • Most UFO documentaries. These can be spiced up by various witness testimonies, but in very few cases do they produce anything outside that.
  • Nearly everything on Art Bell's radio show. Since it was a phone-in, people could say what they wanted without proving who they were, or what they were claiming. Anyone could ring up claiming they had worked at the Pentagon, NASA, in a DUMB (Deep Underground Military Base), or on Mars.
  • Most ghost stories tend to exist in shaggy dog territory. Britain's Most HauntedWikipedia documentary series, featuring Derek Acorah, is a good pop culture example — these would start out with great promise and Derek "channeling" a supposed entity, but after half an hour with night vision lenses, the main highlight would be someone saying they thought something touched them or they felt cold.
  • Much of Graham Hancock's work, because it keeps suggesting incredible ideas without backing them up.


"Real life" shaggy dog stories often rely on the house of cards technique, but not everyone who uses that qualifies. Erich von Daniken's work arguably does not qualify as such, for example, since despite the dubeity of many of his claims, he does at least show pictures of historical artefacts and supposed sites.

Another non-example would be the notorious The Mystery of Al Capone's VaultsWikipedia documentary. Although this did feature a huge build up, it was conceivable that something interesting could have been found in there. Likewise, when a robot drilled through part of the Great Pyramid, there was always a possibility of some archaeological discovery. Both of these were live television events, and not edited later, which maybe precludes them from being shaggy dog stories.

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