‘Paws on the street’: Dog-owning neighborhoods may be safer

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LAKEWOOD RANCH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 18: General view of the dog of Robby Shelton walking on the 2nd hole during the second round of the LECOM Suncoast Classic at Lakewood National Golf Club Commander on February 18, 2022 in Lakewood Ranch, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

(NewsNation) — New research suggests that dog ownership can lead to decreased rates of violent crime, not only based on the perceived security provided by owning a dog, but also an improved sense of community trust in neighborhoods that have more dog owners.

That’s one of the takeaways in a new study that aimed to measure how neighbors monitoring their streets can impact crime. One way to gauge it was based on dog ownership, since many owners walk their dogs every day.

The team looked at the number of homes with dogs in Columbus, Ohio and also referenced a survey that was used to find out how much the neighbors trusted one another.

What they found is that neighborhoods with high levels of trust and more dog owners tend to have less violent crime. They also found that dog ownership is associated with fewer property crimes, regardless of level of trust.

NewsNation interviewed one of the lead researchers, Ohio State University sociologist Nicolo Pinchak, over email.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

NewsNation: What inspired you to study this topic?

Pinchak: … Studies find that people with dogs know more of their neighbors, have more frequent social interactions with neighbors, and get more physical exercise than those who do not, and these benefits appear to be exclusive to dogs (i.e., not apparent for people with only other kinds of animals). These benefits all align with (Jane) Jacobs’  (a seminal urban theorist, journalist, and activist) account of the benefits of street monitoring among residents, so we got the data together and tested the theory. 

NewsNation: What are your main findings?

Pinchak: Our main finding is that, among neighborhoods where residents report higher levels of trust in one another, neighborhoods where residents tend to also have more dogs experience lower violent crime rates, such as lower robbery rates. Because robbery is a crime that tends to happen out on the street, this is exactly what Jacobs lead us to expect. We also found that in neighborhoods where residents tend to have dogs, there tends to be less property crime irrespective of how much residents trust each other.  

NewsNation: Why might higher dog ownership be associated with lower crime? Are there some types of crime it’s not associated with?

Pinchak: Jacobs’ theory is about how local trust and street monitoring work together to prevent street crimes. Many studies have found that higher levels of trust in a neighborhood—where residents have each other’s back—is associated with reduced crime. But Jacobs’ theory adds that people have to actually be present to implement the benefits of trust.

Dogs necessitate routine walks in your neighborhood, which can equip you with a sense of familiarity and the ability to tell when something is suspect or warrants intervening. In other words, it’s not necessarily about your dog—it’s about you! For property crime—for which we found benefits of dogs irrespective of trust—it may actually be about your dog, though. Studies have found that even “Beware of Dog” signs can deter motivated offenders, who tend to be looking for the easiest target possible.

NewsNation: Do these results generalize outside of Columbus?

Pinchak: We’d like to think so, but can’t say without replicating the study in other cities.

NewsNation: Are there are any major limitations we should be aware of?

Pinchak: Yes, there are limitations. Our study looked at how neighborhood rates of households with dogs and trust are associated with changes in crimes over time, and statistically adjusted for inequalities in neighborhood demographic factors such as poverty rates, racial composition, and population density. Still, our study is correlational, rather than experimental in nature. Without experimental evidence, we caution against saying people should just go out and get dogs to stop crime. 

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