Canine Leaps of Faith

Assumptions and Impulse Control

This weekend proved peculiar when one of my training friends decided to hike off leash with her super herding dog.  This time around the adventure resulted in a big scare after they decided to take a detour walking over a smaller overpass on a new route home in an unfamiliar area.

In doing so, her dog decided to jump over and off the overpass wall landing 12 feet below and dashing into the bridge tunnel entrance in fright. It happened so fast and in a panic my friend jumped over part of the steep embankment in an effort to rescue her canine partner. Fortunately, her canine was not hurt since he landed on the spongy turf below. However my friend now has a sprained ankle. In retrospect,  I guess you could say this is a light sentence.


Mulling things over, it important to realize that any breed of dog can make impulsive choices. Once in mid air, in this case, the dog could not change the actions it had committed to.

The wall of the bridge, although only waist high, visually blocked the dog’s ability to properly evaluate it surroundings and the wind may have blocked his hearing too.

All of this also suggests that just like people, dogs visually perceive elements in their environment differently and depth perspective may be individual to a breed or animal itself.

In further musings and discussions about casual strolls around bridges and abutments, certain landscape contexts appear to preclude a dog’s ability to make wise choices even for the veteran dog or well trained. Even for herding dogs guiding sheep who are hefted there is potential for failure in unfamiliar spaces.  Most likely this is because often a dog will make the assumption there will always be a short jump to the ground when landing on the opposing side of an obstacle/wall.  In the case of the exuberant dog who dashes first and asks questions later, it is a recipe for disaster.

According to Pets Doc Vet clinic “Dogs use other cues (such as smell, texture, brightness, and position) rather than relying solely on color.”, or even proximal space.  What this boils down to, dogs can be unaware of the spacial “other” particularly if visually there isn’t something to reference within their plain of vision, or assist with depth perception. It simply may be a particular dog can not cognitively make the connection of space as it pertains to “Esherisque” elements of vision. If the animal is positioned blindly, or has little experience with space awareness, a blind fall can take them by surprise.

I found several examples reported in Scotland regarding the walls of Overtoun Bridge, and also another case of a Shiba in NY state that had fallen off a cliff in the Fall of 2012, and yet another becoming wedged in a crevasse while diving after squirrels.

Although reported cases appear to be few and far between, it certainly deflates the myth that all dogs have space relation understanding and or can navigate all terrain elements without guidance from their owner.

What can owners can do to avoid such calamities?

– Obeying leash laws and keeping dogs on leash and  or in a safety harness in areas that are potentially problematic on hikes (i.e. mostly use a leash to prevent your dog making unwanted impulsive decisions on unknown architecture)
– Providing continued refreshers for verbal cues and proof impulse control, i.e. seek training so recalls remain sharp.
– Keeping dogs away from precipices and ridges if the terrain in unfamiliar.  Shibas in particular can quickly get themselves into a pickle when on the hunt, off leash or just zooming about playing king of the hill.
– Scanning the environment to take a dogs eye view, this is so important not only in the every day but for performance events as well. -Scheduling regular veterinary eye checks to allow dogs to keep up to snuff on adventuring.


Benjamin, I.  (October 2012) Puppys saved after falling off cliff in Thacher Park.  Retrieved from ;  The Record, Troy NY.

Greico, S. (Feb 2012) Dog freed after being trapped between boulders. Retrieved from

Why have so many dogs leap to their deaths from overtone bridge?  (October 2006)

Watkins, M. (no date). Through the eyes of your dog. retrieved from The Pets Doc Veterinary Clinic.

Watkins, R. (2001). Hefted sheep. retrieved from