COLUMBUS, Ohio — It turns out man’s best friend is taking a real bite out of crime! Researchers from The Ohio State University have found that neighborhoods which are home to more dogs also experience less crime — including murder and assault.
A lot of this has to do with trust. Study authors found that, overall, communities are safer when people have more trust in their neighbors. However, crime dropped even further in neighborhoods with high levels of trust and more dogs.
Researchers say you don’t have to have an actual “watchdog” to keep your streets safe. Their results suggest that more people walking their dogs puts more “eyes on the street,” which discourages criminals from committing both violent and non-violent crimes.
“People walking their dogs are essentially patrolling their neighborhoods,” explains lead author Nicolo Pinchak in a university release. “They see when things are not right, and when there are suspect outsiders in the area. It can be a crime deterrent.”
Trusting neighbors watch out for each other
The Ohio State team says there has been a long connection between mutual trust and local surveillance among neighbors. However, there has never been a good way to measure how residents watch out for one another in trusting communities.
“We thought that dog walking probably captures that pretty well, which is one reason why we decided to do this study,” says study co-author and professor of sociology Christopher Browning.
Researchers examined crime statistics from 2014 to 2016 for 595 census block groups (neighborhoods) in the Columbus, Ohio area. They also used survey data from a marketing firm which found out how many residents had a dog in their home as of 2013.
Lastly, they analyzed data from Prof. Browning’s Adolescent Health and Development in Context study, which measures trust in individual neighborhoods. Participants in that study rated how much they agree that “people on the streets can be trusted” in their respective communities.
Results show that neighborhoods with higher levels of trust do indeed have lower levels of homicide, robbery, and aggravated assaults. This matches up with previous studies which found that neighbors who trust each other come together when facing a threat.
However, this study found one additional deterrent — dogs. Neighborhoods with more dogs saw their crime rate drop even lower than high-trust areas with fewer dogs. Overall, trusting neighborhoods with more dogs cut their robbery rate by a third and cut their homicide rate in half.
Walking the dog helps prevent crime in neighborhoods
While plenty of dog owners are content to let their dogs just roam in the backyard, researchers found dog walking is a key part of neighborhood safety. “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 says. “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.”
Study authors add that crimes such as murder and robbery tend to occur in public places, including a neighborhood street or sidewalk. However, the combination of dog walking and resident trust keeps these crimes from taking place.
The team also found that property crimes and burglaries also drop off in neighborhoods with more dogs — regardless of how much neighbors trust each other. Much of this has to do with dogs barking and presenting a visible threat to would-be burglars.
“There has already been a lot of research that shows dogs are good for the health and well-being of their human companions,” Pinchak concludes. “Our study adds another reason why dogs are good for us.”
The study is published in the journal Social Forces.