Can Dogs Commit Suicide

Can Dogs Commit Suicide

Why have more than 50 dogs leapt to their deaths from this bridge? Over the past 70 years, more than 600 dogs have leapt onto the rocks 58ft below, almost 10% of them have died. 

Overtoun Bridge where more that 600 dogs have jumped over 10% have died
Overtoun Bridge where more than 600 dogs have jumped to their death or serious injury

Could This be Supernatural?
I was asked to comment in my role as a dog behavioural expert for the Daily Mail, in relation to a story of strange occurrences at Overtoun Bridge near Dunbarton, Scotland.

Apparently, the bridge and the nearby Overtoun Manor have an almost supernatural and sometimes deadly effect on dogs.

Many people believe that these dogs have committed suicide. Could that be possible? Or are other forces at work here, causing these dogs to leap to their death?

Overtoun House and the bridge have had a somewhat chequered past, There is a spooky almost ethereal feel about the whole area, especially around the bridge and the manor house.

Apart from the tragedy of the dogs, in October 1994 a two-week-old baby called Eoghan Moy was thrown from this bridge to his death by his deranged father. The man believed that his child was possessed of the devil and that he was the Antichrist.

Overtoun House is thought to be haunted. Lady Overtoun apparently became unhinged, after her husband’s sudden death in 1908. She was often seen roaming grief-stricken in the grounds and surrounding area, at all hours of the day and night.

If you wanted to film a Hammer horror movie Overtoun House could be your ideal spot. Many locals have said that they have seen ghostly apparitions in and around the grounds and the bridge. Could the place be really haunted, or may it be the effects of a wee dram too much of the local amber nectar?

Overtoun House in Scotland
Overtoun House in Scotland

Personal Visit
I visited this area in 2006, after reading and hearing reports over the years about the hundreds of pets that had leapt off this bridge.

I thought it would be interesting to get a feel of the place and hopefully come to some conclusions about how and why so many dogs were behaving so strangely.

There are many that believe in the supernatural. That strange powers exist, including ghosts, hauntings and dogs with extra super-senses.

I am a sceptic by nature and do not take anything at face value until proven otherwise. Dogs senses are far superior to ours, but they still have only the same senses as humans, no more, no less, just heightened considerably.

My work with dogs could be likened to a forensic scientist. I cannot treat problems unless I understand the triggers and causes in each individual case. You can see my interview in the Mail. Click on the picture of Overtoun Bridge at the top of the page.

Do I believe that this bridge is the canine equivalent of Beachy Head, the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the doggy version of the Bridge of Sighs all rolled into one? The answer is a resounding NO.

Logical Explanation
There are some simple and logical explanations for these tragic events. For a start, the whole area is what I can only describe as scent heaven.

There are Pheasants, Mink, Rats, Rabbits, Weasels, Stoats and all manner of wildlife in and around the bridge and the small burn and waterfall below. Numerous animals nest in the ledges and crevices under the bridges spans.

The way the ground slopes on the side that the dogs always jump from is visually confusing. The bank appears almost level to the bridge as if you could just step off the parapet onto solid ground, That is very much an optical illusion, therefore dogs would be lulled into thinking there was no danger.

Hows dogs see the World flattening the image and decreasing depth of field
Hows dogs see the World flattening the image and decreasing depth of field

Dogs are colourblind, that does not mean they see in black and white

Humans can also be colourblind and that is because they do not have red and green receptors, meaning colours are seen as washed-out pastel shades.

The sight picture our pets see looks far flatter, with no real depth of field. Very different to humans normal three-dimensional deep coloured sight

That would have the effect of lulling them into thinking it was safe to jump over and investigate. See the picture. to give you an idea of what we see and what dogs see.

What is really telling, is the fact that almost every single dog that has jumped from this bridge, was either a hunting or herding breeds, Labradors, Golden Retriever, Cockers, Springers Terriers and Collies.

These types of dogs have amazing scent receptors coupled with a high prey drive. They are hard-wired to investigate any interesting scent markers.

There has been no Pugs, Bulldogs, Boxers or Pekingese making this fateful leap.  The answer to that lies in the simple fact that the dogs with truncated snouts cannot smell anywhere near as well as their long-nosed counterparts.

Watch a Pug or a Bulldog when it is sniffing something, it touches its nose to the object to gain the olfactory information. Whereas a Labrador or Spaniel can get scent messages from quite long distances. Read my article (1) The Amazing Scenting Ability of Dogs

Another salient fact is the dogs always jump from the same side of the bridge between the same two turrets. Exactly where the optical illusion of the ground sloping up to the parapet can be seen, It always happens on clear sunny days when scenting is far stronger, and they are always breeds that use their noses.

There are more animals including mink around than you can shake a stick at, there is a large breeding colony here. The scent of mink has an electrifying effect on some dogs. They just have to investigate this pungent and interesting odour.

Read the full article in the (2) Daily Mail and you will understand where I am coming from. For the record, I am going to categorically state that dogs do not and cannot ever commit suicide. Let’s leave that up to the only animal that does commit suicide “Humans”

So what are you going to believe? Paul Owens, a religion and philosophy teacher from Glasgow.  Who has written a book, Overtoun Bridge, claiming that it was the ghost of Lady Overtoun, not mink or canine depression, that was responsible for all the deaths? We already know he believes in magic and fairy stories.

Or will you believe someone who has looked at all the facts and came to what I personally believe is a logical scientific conclusion. The choice is yours, the comments section is open if you want to have your say.

My recommendation? When crossing any bridge with a steep drop, or near cliffs that descend steeply, put your dogs on a lead. Dogs get a very different sight and scent picture than their taller and more olfactory challenged owners. 

Stan Rawlinson
June 2015 Updated 2021

(1) The Amazing Scenting Ability of Dogs

(2) Daily Mail

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