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Many dog owners live in apartments, condos, or other buildings in which they might not have regular access to a yard. These homes may have only a balcony on which our favorite four-legged friends can access some fresh air and sunshine.
Some dog owners may assume that their pups will stay put due to a dog’s understanding of heights, but is that actually true? Or will the dogs jump off the balcony?
While individual dogs may be more or less likely to jump off a balcony, in general dogs do not have a good understanding of heights. Even the most well-trained dog may jump off a balcony if something catches their eye or if their flight instinct is triggered, and accidents can still happen.
In the article below we’ll discuss how a dog’s genetics can impact their understanding of heights, and why it’s best not to assume that our pups will automatically understand not to jump off a balcony. We’ll also discuss some situations that may trigger a dog to jump off a balcony and some tips on how you can ensure that your dog is safe while out on the balcony.
Do Dogs Know Not To Jump Off A Balcony?
While it may be common sense for a lot of people not to jump off a balcony, the same cannot be said for many dogs. A balcony is not something that a dog encounters naturally, so they must learn with lots of safe guidance from their owners that they must stay on the balcony.
Dogs may have better night vision than humans, but in general, their vision is not as good as ours and this includes their depth perception. A dog’s eyes are placed wider than a human’s eyes, which means they have a wider field of vision peripherally, but at the cost of their depth perception which is much lower than a human’s.
This means that they are less likely to truly understand the height difference when looking between two areas or objects, such as a balcony and the ground beneath it. Some individual dogs and certain breeds have better depth perception than average, and some dogs are also inherently more cautious if they cannot be certain about the distance between objects.
But for most dogs, they will not understand that the balcony is a certain distance above the ground and may jump off unless they are taught not to, or if they are confined to the balcony in some way.
Dogs also learn primarily through association which is how they can figure out if they are going to the vet, and this can be both a good and a bad thing.
If your dog is sitting on the balcony and they see a cat or another animal repeatedly jump off the balcony safely, then they may attempt to try it as well. If they succeed, then it’s more likely they’ll continue to practice this behavior until they get hurt (or worse).
5 Situations In Which A Dog Might Jump Off A Balcony
Even the most well-trained dog may jump from a balcony, which is why it’s incredibly important not to leave your pup unsupervised. There are several common situations that might trigger a dog to jump from their balcony, including but not limited to:
1. They Get Too Excited
Even if your pup has never jumped off the balcony before, there could be a time when they see something (or someone) that excites them, and they decide to jump to try and get to whatever caused the increased excitement.
This could be an owner returning home from a lengthy vacation, seeing another dog running across the street, or smelling something particularly delicious.
They might not even need to see the thing that is exciting and only need to smell it to make the decision to investigate further. When a dog’s adrenaline is pumping and they are over their tolerance threshold for excitement, their field of vision narrows even further, and it is more difficult for them to make good decisions and engage in appropriate behaviors.
2. Their Predatory Response Is Triggered
Dogs are predators. Even the smallest of Chihuahuas is still a predator at heart, and there may be moments when that predatory instinct is triggered at an inappropriate time such as when they are lounging on the balcony unsupervised.
While some breeds are more prone to predatory behaviors than others, any dog has the capacity to suddenly have that instinct triggered and they will usually respond by chasing after the thing that initiated it.
If your pup is hanging out on the balcony and they suddenly see a couple of cats race by, or if a lizard, squirrel, or bird pops up on their balcony, then they may feel inclined to engage in their more primal behaviors.
Similar to being too excited, this genetic urge to chase a prey animal may shroud their normal thinking and decision-making processes which can result in a leap off the balcony to try and get to their “prey”.
3. Something Scares Them
In some instances, your dog may jump off the balcony because something around them has scared them so much that they feel the only option is to jump off the balcony. This is especially likely if your dog is normally fearful or anxious, or if you’ve recently moved from a quiet, low-key rural location to a loud, bustling city environment.
If your pup hears something like the sounds of nearby construction or sees something like a large balloon that they are not used to, this could trigger their flight response and cause them to jump off the balcony.
In a high state of fear or anxiety, dogs do not make the best decisions and their field of vision can narrow which can further decrease their understanding of the height differences between the balcony and the ground. In their quest to escape from whatever it was that scared them, they may think that the ground is much closer than it actually is.
4. They Aren’t Paying Attention
Sometimes your dog may jump (or rather fall) off your balcony simply because he isn’t paying attention. Perhaps a butterfly has caught his eye and he is following it without realizing how close he is to the edge of the balcony.
It might also be that your pup is getting older and can’t quite see the balcony edge as easily, or you have a young puppy who has not yet learned what the barriers mean, and they simply roll through it while engaged in a wrestling match with their sibling.
These accidental falls can happen at any time even if your pup is well trained and used to the balcony, which is why supervision is a must.
5. They Have A History Of Roaming
Dogs who have previously been allowed to roam freely may be more inclined to jump off the balcony if they become bored or if something catches their interest. This is also true if you had a dog who previously lived in a home with a large yard to explore and who has now been moved to an apartment building.
The change in environment can be tough, and if the dog is used to exploring as they see fit they might decide the same applies to the balcony and they will continue to try and roam.
How Do I Stop My Dog From Jumping Off The Balcony?
The best thing to do to keep your dog from jumping off the balcony is to ensure the balcony is safe and secure, and that your pup is never left on the balcony unsupervised. Even the most well-trained dog might jump off the balcony, so it’s wise to never leave them on their own.
Ensuring that you have a barrier up that is high enough to prevent your dog from jumping over can help. Solid barriers (such as a solid wall or a fence that has a privacy screen attached to it) are better as they not only prevent a smaller dog from squeezing through the railings, but also act as a visual deterrent and potentially prevent the dog from seeing any triggers that may cause them to jump off.
Here’s a great video that shows you how to puppy-proof your balcony!
Electronic fences are not suggested, as they could cause additional behavioral issues and in a high state of arousal, many dogs can “tune out” the shock and proceed in leaving the balcony.
In this same vein, shock collars or other eCollars are also not suggested as there is a risk the dog associates the shock with something else in the environment, leading to them not wanting to go out onto the balcony or even outside at all. Or, the sudden shock could scare the dog so much that they jump straight off the balcony edge.
Tethering or chaining your dog prevent them from leaving the balcony is also not suggested as there is a possibility the dog could still go over the balcony edge and then hang themselves on the tether or chain, not to mention chaining and tethering are illegal in many places.
The exception to this is if you have your pup on a very short tether such as a traffic lead or a leash no more than 4ft long and which does not allow the dog to get anywhere near the edge of the balcony AND you are still able to keep an eye on them while they are tethered.
This option is useful if you are having guests over and are out enjoying the balcony, but you want to ensure that your pup does not accidentally get loose during the excitement.
It’s also a good idea to remove any furniture near the edges of the balcony that could be utilized by a particularly athletic dog to get over the balcony top. Even if you’re balcony isn’t that high up and it’s likely your dog would be OK if they happened to jump off, jumping from extreme heights or even just from the bed to the floor is also likely to cause joint and muscle injuries, especially in growing puppies or senior dogs.
While you are supervising your dog out on the balcony, you can also work to discourage them from exploring the edges of the balcony by giving them a “Leave It” cue or a no reward marker such as “No” or “Ah ah”. Just make sure you reward them heavily once they leave that edge alone!
Do Dogs Understand Heights?
Most dogs do not inherently understand heights just like how they don’t inherently understand travel. This is due to the placement of their eyes and their perception of objects in general. It is much more difficult for a dog to determine the distance between two objects than it is for a person.
There are also individual differences as some dog breeds have a harder time with depth perception than others, and even a dog’s individual personality can play a role in their understanding of heights.
For example, a dog who is generally more cautious is likely to pause when encountering a sudden change in distance between two objects and will then make the choice on whether to proceed based on their personal calculations and confidence.
Dogs who are usually exuberant and confident at all times may not even pause at all if approaching a change in height, and they risk jumping off without even comprehending that there is a change.
I witnessed this firsthand while at the lake one summer. A family had brought their young Labrador Retriever with them, and this was the dog’s first time around a large body of water. The teenagers began jumping off the cliff face into the lake below, and the dog followed them without a second thought, plunging into the water below.
The teenagers were able to rescue the dog immediately and get him safely back to shore, and when I asked the owners about it later, they stated that they had no idea the dog would just follow the kids off the cliff they weren’t even sure if this dog knew how to swim yet!
Thankfully this situation ended without incident, but it is a good reminder to always be cognizant of a dog’s ability, or rather inability to judge heights and the risks associated with them.
While each individual dog may be better (or worse!) at understanding heights, it’s best not to assume that your pup will understand the height difference of a balcony and the ground beneath it.
Even if your dog has never attempted to jump off your balcony does not mean that it can’t happen. Dogs rely heavily on their instincts which can override any training they’ve received previously, and accidents can still happen.
Supervising your dog while they are on the balcony and making sure that you’ve secured your balcony as well as you can are both good ways to prevent your four-legged friend from jumping off it.