Neighbourhoods with more dogs had lower rates of homicide and robbery compared to those with fewer dogs, at least when residents had high levels of trust in each other, according to a new study conducted in Columbus, Ohio.
The research, published last month in the journal Social Forces, suggests that people walking their dogs puts more “eyes on the street”, which can discourage crime.
“People walking their dogs are essentially patrolling their neighbourhoods. They see when things are not right, and when there are suspect outsiders in the area. It can be a crime deterrent,” study lead author Nicolo Pinchak from Ohio State University, said.
Sociologists have theorised that mutual trust and local surveillance among residents of a neighbourhood can together deter criminals.
“We thought that dog-walking probably captures that pretty well, which is one reason why we decided to do this study,” study co-author Christopher Browning, a professor of sociology at Ohio State, said.
Researchers assessed crime statistics in the Columbus area from 2014 to 2016 for 595 census block groups (the equivalent of neighbourhoods).
They also looked at survey data from a marketing firm that asked Columbus residents in 2013 if they had a dog in their household.
Researchers also used data from the Adolescent Health and Development in Context study, which asked residents to rate how much they agreed that “people on the streets can be trusted” in their neighbourhoods.
This helped develop a measure of trust in individual neighbourhoods.
Previous studies have shown that trust among neighbours is an important part of deterring crime, because it suggests residents will help each other when facing a threat and have a sense of “collective efficacy” that they can have a positive impact on their area.
The study showed that neighbourhoods with high levels of trust had lower levels of homicide, robbery and aggravated assaults when compared to neighbourhoods with low levels of trust.
But among high-trust neighbourhoods, researchers say, those with high concentrations of dogs demonstrated an additional drop in crime compared to those with lower numbers of dogs.
They say among such high-trust neighbourhoods, those high in dog concentration had about two-thirds of the robbery rates of those low in dog concentration, and about half the homicide rates.
Dr Pinchak believes it is connected to the dog-walking: “Trust doesn’t help neighbourhoods as much if you don’t have people out there on the streets noticing what is going on. That’s what dog-walking does.”
Researchers speculate that due to these factors, dogs may have a crime-fighting advantage over cats and other pets which 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 owner’s. They learn what’s going on and can spot potential problems,” Dr Pinchak said.
The presence of more dogs in a neighbourhood is also related to fewer property crimes, like burglaries, irrespective of how much residents trust each other, according to the study.
Researchers say the protective effect of the combined forces of dogs and trust was found even after a range of other factors related to crime were taken into account, such as the proportion of young males in the neighbourhood, residential instability, and socioeconomic status.
“There has already been a lot of research that shows dogs are good for the health and wellbeing of their human companions. Our study adds another reason why dogs are good for us,” Dr Pinchak said.
“This study offers suggestive evidence of crime deterrent benefits of local street monitoring and dog presence and calls attention to the contribution of pets to other facets of neighbourhood social organisation,” the researchers wrote.