THE ancient burgh has had its ups and downs. Being turned into a corner of Glasgow by the makers of River City may have been the last straw.

But can it have affected Dumbarton so badly that even the dogs have lost the will to live?

Animal experts admitted yesterday they had no explanation for a spate of what appear to be canine suicides - all from the same spot.

At least five dogs have jumped to their deaths from a bridge over a burn at Overtoun House in the past six months.

In the most recent case, a woman walking her dog watched in disbelief as her pet suddenly vaulted over the parapet and plunged 40ft to its death.

The bridge attracts visitors and dog-walkers, but it already has an eerie past. It was the home of Lord Overtoun, owner of a huge chemical works and pillar of the Free Church, and was the location for a BBC TV series Tales from the Madhouse.

But neither the dogs' shocked owners nor animal behavioural experts have been able to explain why the pets have turned the beauty spot into Rover's Leap.

Joyce Stewart, a leading animal behaviourist who regularly works with the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA), said the pattern of deaths at the bridge was abnormal.

She said: "Dogs are very able to gauge the heights and depths they can safely jump. Some people will say this is very spooky and would look for another reason.

"I have never heard of a dog committing suicide. Often if they know they are going to die, they might go into hiding, but I have never heard of them actually taking their own lives.

"This is very weird. For five dogs to have done the same thing at the same spot is very mysterious. But there must be some rational explanation for it that has just not emerged.

"The bridge and what has happened there need to be urgently investigated."

Overtoun House was built in 1863 by James White, the father of Lord Overtoun. It was built as an ornate religious symbol and has the words "Fear God and keep His commandments" carved into its walls.

Local historians describe it as a place where angels and gargoyles are said to keep company.

It is now being renovated as a Christian Centre for Hope & Healing - part of a pounds-2.5m project by Pastor Bob Hill.

But the outbreak of lemming-like behaviour has sent shudders down the spines of animal welfare inspectors, local residents and dog owners.

A spokeswoman for the SSPCA warned dog owners to get their pets on leads around the bridge.

She added: "It does seem rather strange that so many dogs are doing this at this same spot and it must have been heartbreaking for the owners."

One owner, who lost her cocker spaniel when it recently leapt off the bridge, said: "I know that a number of other dogs have died after jumping from that spot . . . I read somewhere that Dumbarton is one of the most depressing places to live in Britain, but I thought that meant for humans, not dogs."