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The Presence of Pet Dogs Makes an Entire Neighborhood Safer

Neighborhoods with higher rates of dog ownership experience less violent crime.

Key points

  • The probability of a robbery or other form of violent crime in cities is much greater when people are out of their home and in public spaces.
  • Neighborhoods with a higher concentration of pet dog ownership have greatly reduced rates of robbery, homicide or aggravated assault.
  • Pet owners who walk their dogs daily effectively form a sort of informal neighborhood watch which tends to deter crime.
Susanne Nilsson/Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
Source: Susanne Nilsson/Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Crime remains among the top worries of people who live in cities. The possibility of being robbed, assaulted, or even killed while outside, doing normal activities in their neighborhood is an ongoing stress or for many urban dwellers. According to a new study from Ohio State University, one way to be safer from criminal activity is to live in a neighborhood where many people own pet dogs.

Crime in the Cities

It has long been known that the presence of a dog in your house offers protection from unwanted intruders. Numerous studies have shown that homes with dogs experience less theft and vandalism than those without dogs. Burglars tend to avoid homes that have dogs: One study even found that the presence of a "Beware of Dog" sign effectively reduces the likelihood of criminal break-ins. However, this new study suggests that having many dog owners in a neighborhood also leads to a reduction in the rates of street crimes. This is important since aggravated assault, robbery, and homicide are much more common in "public" locations—which would include the street or sidewalk or non-residential settings such as gas stations, stores, or schools. In fact, robberies are nearly 12 times more common in public locations and homicides are nearly 7 times more common in places outside of the home. In a press release the lead author, Nicolo Pinchak, a member of Ohio State's Institute for Population Research, suggested that people walking their dogs puts more "eyes on the street" which can ultimately discourage crime.

Crime in Neighborhoods

In this study, the researchers looked at crime statistics in various neighborhoods in Columbus, Ohio, where the university is located. The sample consisted of 595 Census-block groups (the equivalent of neighborhoods) in the city. To determine dog ownership in each of these neighborhoods they looked at data from a marketing survey which determined whether people had a dog in their household. Finally, they gathered data on the level of trust felt by residents, using the ongoing Adolescent Health and Development in Context Study. This measured feelings of whether "people on the streets can be trusted" in each area. Research has shown that trust among neighbors is an important part of deterring crime, because individuals who trust each other will also help each other when facing a threat and together they have a sense that they can have a positive impact on the safety of their own part of the city.

The Matter of Trust

This study showed that the neighborhoods with higher concentrations of pet dogs also had higher levels of trust among residents compared to neighborhoods that had fewer dogs. This trust comes about because people with dogs walk them. While they are out walking their dogs they have conversations with neighbors, learn something about them, pet each other's dogs, and develop positive feelings for each other.

This study shows how that trust pays off, because, as expected, neighborhoods with higher levels of trust have lower levels of homicide, robbery, and assaults. However, regardless of the levels of trust in the neighborhood, those areas with larger dog populations had an added reduction in the rates of homicide, robbery, and aggravated assault.

How Do Pet Dogs Help Reduce Crime?

What is going on here? Certainly, one can imagine that a person out walking their 120-pound Rottweiler is not going to be assaulted on the street—and the presence of that person and that imposing dog might also prevent a potential assailant from attacking someone nearby. However, if the dog being walked is a tiny Pomeranian or a small Jack Russell Terrier, it is harder to imagine a direct protective effect for other individuals nearby who might be potential criminal targets. Pinchak explains the situation this way: "Trust doesn't help neighborhoods as much if you don't have people out there on the streets noticing what's going on. That's what dog walking does."

In other words, when people are out walking their dogs, they learn what's going on in their neighborhoods, and can spot potential problems. It is the combination of dog walking and trust that seems to reduce street crimes such as homicides and robberies which tend to occur in public locations.

In effect, people walking their dogs on a daily basis become something like a "neighborhood watch," observing, and reporting, things that might be of concern. The problem with more formal neighborhood-watch groups is that they are organized with much enthusiasm, but then the motivation to maintain the daily routine of patrolling the area diminishes as weather becomes inclement or household responsibilities and personal concerns intervene. These factors ultimately cause the efficiency of a neighborhood watch to fade away.

Regular dog walking, however, is a different matter. When you've got a dog you might be taking walks around the neighborhood once or twice a day for 10 years or more with that pet. You can't be deterred by a sprinkle of rain, a cold or a heat spell, or simple laziness—after all, the dog needs to be walked. That means the dog owner will be out on the street, moving their dog through the neighborhood, and casually observing what is going on on a daily basis. In effect, the dog owner has been drafted into service as a member of an informal neighborhood watch. This is why dogs have a crime-fighting advantage over cats and other pets that don't need walking.

A Major Crime-Stopping Effect

The effect of dog ownership on crime rates, according to this recent study, is quite large: Among the higher-trust neighborhoods, those with larger concentrations of dog ownership had an approximately one-third reduction in robbery rates compared to those low in dog ownership, and they had only half the number of homicides. That is a remarkable reduction in the likelihood that people will become victims of criminal activity in a neighborhood, especially given the fact that this is not the result of any formal, organized activity but simply due to the daily interactions of people with their pet dogs.

So, according to this research, if you are looking for a safe, lower crime rate place to live, one of the things to take into consideration may be finding a neighborhood where lots of people are out walking their dogs.

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Nicolo P Pinchak, Christopher R Browning, Bethany Boettner, Catherine A Calder, Jake Tarrence, (2022). Paws on the Street: Neighborhood-Level Concentration of Households with Dogs and Urban Crime. Social Forces, soac059,