Believe it or not, just like people, dogs can have phobias — fear of heights being one of them.
In fact, I have personal experience with this.
Are dogs afraid of heights? Some dogs are afraid of heights but not all of them. However, most dogs know that they should avoid getting too close to steep edges.
I found out that our dog Cindy was afraid of heights when my family and I moved into a new house about two years ago. Our old house was a ranch-style home that did not have an upstairs. We had a basement, but Cindy never went down there. Because of this, she really never encountered stairs. We didn’t take her anywhere with stairs, and we didn’t even have stairs leading up to the front of our house. Instead, it was a ramp because one of the former owners was in a wheelchair.
When we moved into our new house, which did have an upstairs, we quickly became aware that Cindy was afraid of heights. She got up the stairs okay, but when came to coming down, she would simply stand at the stop top the flight, look down, and whimper.
The first time this happened, we just kind of chuckled, and my husband picked her up and carried her downstairs. She’s a small breed, so it was easy to do. We figured that she’d never seen or used stairs before so she was simply getting used to them.
But after a few more routines like this, we got concerned. Why wouldn’t Cindy walk down the stairs? Was something wrong with her legs? Obviously not, because she was able to walk up them, right?
You may be asking why we even needed Cindy to go up and down the stairs in the first place. Well, first of all, she usually likes to be around us no matter where we are in the house on any given day. Second, she likes to sleep in my kids’ beds at night, and my kids love it too, so we want her to be able to be upstairs in the bedrooms whenever she wants to be.
In the end, you’ll be happy to know that we did get Cindy’s fear of heights figured out, and she can now go up and down the stairs with ease. But I wanted to write this article because I’ve known a lot of other dog owners who have had a similar problem, and as a veterinarian, I wanted to share my insights when it comes to dogs and acrophobia.
Are dogs afraid of heights?
Not necessarily. Generally speaking, dogs who tend to be anxious about other things will also be anxious about heights. For example, if they don’t tend to like humans and being around other people, they may be afraid of other things like big dogs, other animals, heights, driving in cars, new experiences etc.
Most dogs, on the other hand, are quite personable and don’t have anxiety problems, especially if it’s in their breed to be this way. These dogs tend to do fairly well around heights. When it comes to jumping off a low retaining wall or walking up a flight of stairs, most dogs do very well — even the first time around. You’ll see puppies, for example, scramble to get up stairs (and tumble down them sometimes) without it phasing them much.
Do dogs know enough to stay away from dangerous heights?
As a natural innate behavior, most dogs will likely back away when they encounter an extreme height. They understand that they shouldn’t be running along the very edge of a cliff, for example. They may peer over, and you should watch them closely in such situations. But dogs are smart. Most will move cautiously if they are near a precarious ledge.
Are dogs known to jump from heights?
Not really. Most dogs understand that they should stay away from high locations that could mean an injury if they were to fall over. But keep in mind that this lesson isn’t usually learned until a dog reaches adulthood. Of course, dogs reach adulthood faster than humans do, but while they are puppies, you still need to watch them more closely.
As stated above, puppies tend to be up for anything. They’re adventurous (a little too adventurous actually). They’ll try to run up or down a flight of stairs, jump off the counter or table top, or leap off of a bed far before they are able to do so safely.
Keeping your dog safe from heights
When it comes to older dogs, however, do you keep an eye on them. If you’re going to be walking along cliffs at a beach, for example, keep them on a leash. Sometimes, they can’t see what’s ahead of them, and this will help keep them away from dangerous stops.
Of course, you shouldn’t be as worried about them jumping over the ledge intentionally as you should be about them accidentally stumbling and falling over.
Will dogs jump off balconies?
You should definitely watch your dog when it comes to high balconies.
Of course, this is usually only a big concern when the space between your balcony railings is large enough for a dog to get through. If you have a big burly dog and skinny railing spaces of three or four inches, for instance, you probably don’t have to worry much about your dog leaping over the ledge.
It’s definitely worthwhile to keep an eye on them if they are going to spend a lot of time on a balcony (and you should never leave them out there for the whole day), but most of your worry should only arise if you have a small dog who could squeeze through the railing openings. Cats should also be closely monitored.
Can dogs survive higher falls than humans?
No. This is probably something you’ve heard of in relation to cats. Cats have an uncanny ability to land on their feet even when they fall from extremely high locations. For example, there are videos of cats falling (or jumping) out of windows that are several stories high, and they are often basically okay when they land.
Dogs are not like this. Like humans, dogs will probably end up hurting themselves severely if they fall from any significant height. They may suffer broken bones or strains, injuries to their abdomen or chest, or trauma to their heads.
How high is too high for a dog?
Again, this is sort of a difficult question because most adult dogs already know to be wary of dangerous ledges, balconies, and other high heights. Like humans, they can usually gauge for themselves.
If they are on a retaining wall that’s about 5 feet high, for example, then yes, they may try to jump down. Is this a good idea? It’s hard to say. For humans, jumping down from 5 feet is probably okay if you’re 16, in good shape, and can adequately prepare for the jump. If you are 80 years old, on the other hand, this is a terrible idea — even if you can prepare for the jump.
Dogs are similar. If your dog is elderly, has an injury, or has been known to leap off high locations with bad consequences, by all means, keep them away from ledges higher than two or three feet. If you are fairly confident in their abilities, on the other hand, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about your dog and heights.