Having a dog has been linked to many benefits. Dog owners tend to be fitter, happier, and more trustworthy. But according to a new study, there may be even more benefits than we knew about. Specifically, neighborhoods with a lot of dogs.
Having a dog is a big responsibility. You have to care for them, buy food, do the occasional vet visit, and of course, walk the dog — every single day. For many people in our modern society, taking a walk a couple of times a day is an opportunity to be less sedentary and walk around a green area (which has also been shown to improve physical and mental health).
But people who walk their dogs are doing something else, even though they may not realize it: they’re patrolling the neighborhood.
Of course, no one is really out looking for crime when walking their dog. But from a would-be perpetrator’s perspective, a lot of people walking around with dogs can be a deterrent, says Nicolo Pinchak, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in sociology at The Ohio State University. Essentially, if many people walk their dogs in a neighborhood, this puts “eyes on the street” that discourage crime.
“People walking their dogs are essentially patrolling their neighborhoods,” Pinchak said. “They see when things are not right, and when there are suspect outsiders in the area. It can be a crime deterrent.”
It really is the dog walking
This isn’t a new idea, and there’s been speculation about it for some time. Researchers have shown, for instance, that trust among neighbors can be an important deterrent to crime and that collective efficacy reduces violence. But having the means to demonstrate that dog ownership can reduce crime has proven to be quite difficult.
The study led by Pinchak also found that neighborhoods with high levels of trust had lower levels of homicide, robbery, and aggravated assaults when compared to neighborhoods with low levels of trust. But there was an extra drop in neighborhoods that also had higher rates of dog ownership.
The study was conducted in Columbus, Ohio, with researchers analyzing crime data from 2014 to 2016 for almost 600 neighborhoods. They also used data from a survey where residents were quizzed about how much “people on the streets can be trusted” in their neighborhoods. Finally, the researchers overlaid these results with a 2013 census from a marketing company that asked residents about their dog ownership.
The results showed that in neighborhoods with high trust, neighborhoods with high dog concentration had about 33% lower robbery rates and 50% lower homicide rates than in the low dog concentration neighborhoods.
“Trust doesn’t help neighborhoods as much if you don’t have people out there on the streets noticing what is going on. That’s what dog walking does,” Pinchak said. And that’s why dogs have a crime-fighting advantage over cats and other pets that don’t need walking.
“When people are out walking their dogs, they have conversations, they pet each other’s dogs. Sometimes they know the dog’s name and not even the owners. They learn what’s going on and can spot potential problems.”
The link held true even in low-trust neighborhoods. Even when researchers corrected for a wide range of factors related to crime, the link still held true — indicating that it really is the dog walking and not some other connection (like for instance, neighborhoods where people are more likely to get a dog being less likely to have crime in the first place).
Overall, the results suggest that it’s beneficial to trust your neighbors — but it’s maybe even better to get a dog.
“There has already been a lot of research that shows dogs are good for the health and well-being of their human companions,” Pinchak said. “Our study adds another reason why dogs are good for us.”
The findings still have to be replicated in other areas and in other types of cities, but for now, it seems that dogs help us even more than we realize.
The study has been published in the journal Social Forces.