Yes, dogs fall off cliffs and these accidents aren't even uncommon. Sure, the outstanding views from the top of a cliff are the perfect recipe for a wonderful walk in company of Fido, but if we aren't attentive, this leisurely walk may turn into a recipe for disaster.
It is therefore important recognizing how dogs perceive cliffs and what steps you can take to protect yourself and your canine companion.
Do Dogs Perceive Cliffs as Dangerous?
Yes, dogs should be naturally inclined to avoid cliffs. This is not something they are taught to fear, but rather it's a natural avoidance behavior.
This natural life lesson takes place at an early age and it's called the "visual cliff reflex." The visual cliff reflex was first studied by psychologists Eleanor J. Gibson and Richard D. Walk at Cornell University.
The researchers created a special visual cliff apparatus which allowed them to study how humans and animals react to a simulated cliff so to investigate their depth perception.
Visual cliff-avoidance reactions were seen in young puppies after 4 weeks, that is, 28 days of age. This reflex is seen prior to the puppies experiencing any actual falls, explains Steven Lindsay in Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training.
Now you know why many puppies and dogs are super hesitant about walking up and down stairs for the first time. This is because puppies perceive a ramp of stairs as a dangerous cliff, rather than several ledges leading through the abyss.
When Things Go Wrong
While dogs should have a natural instinct that prevents them from falling off a cliff, dogs may sometimes engage in behaviors that puts them at high risk.
All it takes is for a dog to whizz off in play or chase a rabbit and sooner than you know it, he gets way too close to the edge of the cliff. Dogs may sometimes fail to realize that beyond what's visible there is a steep drop ahead.
Perhaps they may expect just a little gap in the level or terrain from previous experiences running through areas with slopes. Sometimes cliffs edges have loose terrain or are hidden by vegetation and not readily visible.
In other cases, dogs may have vision problems that impacts their depth perception or they may be overly excited or agitated that they may fail to notice the presence of a cliff.
While dogs should be naturally inclined to avoid cliffs as part of their evolution, accidents can therefore still happen.
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Can Dogs Survive Falling Off a Cliff?
Sadly, if the cliff is followed by a steep drop, the chances for survival are low. Chances are higher though if there are ledges.
What to Do if a Dog Falls Off a Cliff?
Getting close to the cliff's edge to look for your dog can be dangerous. The terrain may be loose and you risk falling off too.
As tempting as it would be to lower yourself down the ledge, consider the dangers of doing so. If something goes wrong, both you and your dog will be in a difficult situation, making rescue much more difficult.
The best approach would be to stay where you are safely away from the cliff and call emergency services or the local coastguard. If you need to leave the area, mark the area or take a picture of it.
First Aid Care
If the area is totally safe to reach (like a known path brings to it), it's important to know what to do in order to prevent a situation from getting worse.
If your dog is injured, consider that moving him can make his injuries worse. Covering him with a blanket to keep him warm can help.
Even if your dog looks OK, it would be best to have him see a vet to ensure there are no internal injuries or other problems such as fractures. Dogs with internal injuries accompanied by shock may fail to produce obvious signs of trouble.
Enrolling in a first aid course is helpful for all dog owners so to know what to do when every second counts. A first aid course can help you identify the signs of shock and when to administer first aid.
Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
As seen, cliffs are a dangerous affair and you want to play it safe. Even experienced climbers face challenges around cliffs despite their ropes and climbing gear and need to be rescued.
To prevent accidents, keep your dog on leash and walk at a distance from cliffs. Dogs are instinctive animals, and even the best trained dogs can be unpredictable. Anything can happen.
Too many dog owners after accidents make claims such as: "My dog never ran away from me" or "My dog always avoided dangers."
To play it safe and remind yourself of dangers, try to picture cliffs as a main road full of traffic. You would never want your dog darting in that direction.