About twenty miles outside of Glasgow is the town of Dumbarton. It’s a pretty little town in a beautiful country. It’s now a bedroom community for Glasgow, but the town has quite a history. The area has been inhabited since the Iron age. There’s a castle there dating back to the 7th century CE that was burned by the Vikings. Dumbarton castle has the longest recorded history of any in Scotland, dating back to the Iron Age. Local residents of Dumbarton traded with the Romans. William Wallace was imprisoned at the castle. Overall, it’s a pretty remarkable place.
You’ve probably never heard of the town of Dumbarton, but you may have head about a small bridge outside of the town by reputation, if not name. Overtoun bridge has become infamous because over 50 dogs have jumped off the bridge to their deaths since 1960, leading many to call it the dog suicide bridge.
The Root of the Behavior
The Overtoun bridge was built in 1895 as part of the Overtoun estate. It was donated to the people of Dumbarton in 1938. Although the town of Dumbarton has a long, remarkable history, the estate does not. The land was purchased in the middle of the 19th century and a mansion was erected about the time of the American Civil War. As far as Scotland is concerned, the Overtoun estate, especially the bridge, was built last week.
The bridge is small, built to accommodate carriages. Today, it is a pedestrian bridge in a park. The bridge is about 50 feet high and has solid stone walls. What has made the bridge notable at all is the fact that dogs occasionally leap off the bridge for no apparent reason. The dogs only jump on sunny days, and it only happens to dogs with long noses.
Because the area near the bridge has a very long history, there are all kinds of supernatural theories around why the dogs jump. Some say that the area around the bridge is haunted, causing the dogs to jump. Apparently, ghosts prefer dogs with long noses. Some say that the dogs who jump are doing so out of depression. However, dogs are blessed with the lack of capacity to understand death and an irresistible survival instinct. Simply put, dogs don’t commit suicide.
There’s a lot of sensational stories about Overtoun bridge and its unfortunate history. But these stories rarely take into account a few specific things. One, a dog’s vision is much weaker than a human’s, meaning that dogs have difficulty judging depth and distance. Number two, dogs with long snouts tend to have a stronger sense of smell than other dogs. Number three, these incidents were unheard of until minks were imported to the area. Male minks have a very strong odor, which naturally carries farther and stronger on dry, sunny days. While we don’t know why the dogs have jumped, we do know that dogs don’t commit suicide and whatever afterlife might exist is already well-stocked with dogs to begin with. Although the idea of a canine suicide or a dog-killing ghost might sell newspapers, it’s much less likely than the fact that dogs are compelled to follow interesting scents and often can’t see dangers that are literally in front of their face.
Encouraging the Behavior
There are, of course, plenty of bridges in the world and there have been numerous incidents of dogs jumping from those bridges. Although the Overtoun bridge has been sensationalized for having had a lot of tragedies, these leaps can happen anytime, anywhere, no ghosts or depression needed. You see, dogs that jump off bridges, whether it’s one foot off the ground or 100 feet all have one thing in common: they are not leashed.
We train our dogs to heel in order to make walks more pleasant. We train our dogs to walk with a leash to make sure they don’t become lost, and to make sure they are kept safe. A dog doesn’t have to jump off a bridge to hurt or kill herself. She can run out in traffic, she can get into a fight with another dog, she could get lost or fall into a creek or eat something poisonous. It’s fun to let your dog run off leash, and you’re sure that she won’t go far and she will come back whenever you order her to. Still, remember that all the training and treats in the world can’t compare to the right temptation. It could be a strongly scented animal or a backfiring car or another dog, but there is a temptation to your dog that will overcome all training and good sense she has. If she encounters that temptation at the wrong time and in the wrong place, your recreation time might end in disaster.
Other Solutions and Considerations
If you are going to let your dog off the leash, it is extremely important that you do so in a safe and enclosed space. Take your dog to a dog park, a fenced back yard, or somewhere else where your dog can run around and get some exercise without encountering hazards. If you aren’t aware of any safe off-leash options near you, talk to your vet, local breed groups, and other dog owners for help. You can also search for play dates on websites such as MeetUp. You can also try a long leash with a body harness to allow your dog some space while making sure that she is safe.