Dogs are beyond awesome. These wonderful animals are so intelligent and so connected with us. For those lucky enough to own dogs, they truly are our best friends.
Now researchers have discovered another reason to love dogs, and it’s not so obvious. According to new research, a higher concentration of dog owners in a neighborhood is linked to lower levels of crime. In their own way, dogs help us fight crime. Seriously.
Not that dogs can take all the credit, mind you. Researchers at Ohio State University believe the reason this connection exists is because owning a dog means you have to walk it, and dog walking involves getting out and about in your community.
This increased level of civilian activity on the streets – and the resulting additional interactions with your neighbors – provide an increased level of surveillance over the local neighborhood, which in turn helps make things safer, according to the reflection.
“People who walk their dogs are basically patrolling their neighborhoods,” said sociologist Nicolo Pinchak, lead author of the new study.
“They see when things are going wrong and when there are suspicious strangers in the area. It can be a deterrent to crime.”
The researchers’ hypothesis – inspired by the work of the urban planning theorist Jane Jacobs – is inspired by Jacobs’ “eyes in the street” concept: the idea that people in public places contribute to the maintenance of order and security by their mere presence, because it gives them the opportunity to monitor their surroundings.
A continuous flow of “eyes on the street” and community interactions by people in public places helps create a web of public respect and trust within a neighborhood, which together can help deter crimes to happen, Jacobs supported.
Although the idea has been influential in sociology, urban planning and academic circles, Pinchak and his team say there have been few attempts to quantify whether the hypothesis works demonstrably to reduce death rates. crime at the neighborhood level.
To test this, the researchers focused on dog ownership, finding that the daily routines of dog walkers fit Jacobs’ (and others’) theories that it’s an activity. which could contribute to neighborhood surveillance and security while building trust within a community by facilitating interactions between strangers.
The researchers used data from several sources, including crime statistics for neighborhoods in Columbus, Ohio; a marketing survey showing the concentration of neighborhoods with dogs in the city; and the data of a separate sociological project led by study co-author Christopher Browningmeasuring the trust levels and social climates of neighborhoods in the area.
Although the results offered no evidence of any causal effect, the researchers found an association between the presence of dogs and reduced crime rates.
“Consistent with the Jacobs crime control model, we found that the concentration of dogs in the neighborhood is inversely associated with rates of theft, homicide, and, to a less consistent degree, with rates of aggravated assault in neighborhoods with the highest local trust,” said the the team writes in their articlenoting that property crimes also showed an inverse association with dog concentration, independent of neighborhood trust levels.
So far, results have only been seen in one city. Additionally, the researchers acknowledge that they cannot rule out the influence of various biases in the data, so future studies are needed to explore the issue in more detail.
Nonetheless, the study offers new data to support the idea that owning and walking dogs helps reduce crime in the community, perhaps by equipping residents with increased familiarity to identify suspicious strangers, or repelling potential offenders, since dog-walkers may seem more likely to intervene in the event of a crime.
More research is needed to unpack this further, the researchers say, but for now it certainly seems like dogs could have a beneficial effect on these neighborhoods – simply by bringing people together, and perhaps the other effects will ensue.
“Trust doesn’t help neighborhoods as much if there aren’t people on the street noticing what’s going on. That’s what dog walking does,” pinchak says.
“When people walk 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 findings are reported in Social forces.