Why Neighbourhoods with More Dogs Might be Friendlier Places to Live

When you’re walking your dog, small gestures such as a smile, wave, head nod or chats with fellow dog owners contribute to community cohesion.

Illustration by Tyler Lemermeyer

Dogs need to be taken on walks, which means that dog owners are, by nature, inclined to be out and about in their neighbourhoods on a regular basis. During these outings, small gestures such as a smile, wave, head nod, “hello,” or a quick five-minute chat with a fellow dog owner all contribute to community cohesion.

According to Ann Madeline Toohey, an adjunct assistant professor in the University of Calgary’s Department of Community Health Sciences, dogs are “catalysts of conversation,” because they serve as a point of interest that doesn’t require drawing on personal matters when speaking to an unfamiliar individual.

And these informal exchanges can snowball into real friendships. A 2015 study by researchers at the University of Western Australia studied the indirect role dogs play in fostering friendships, socialization and support within communities throughout the cities of Perth, as well as in the U.S. cities of San Diego and Nashville. It found that “around 40 per cent of pet owners reported receiving one or more types of social support (i.e., emotional, informational, appraisal, instrumental) via people they met through their pet.”

The value of the social acknowledgment neighbours provide each other while out walking dogs goes a long way toward creating a friendly neighbourhood vibe. “It does a lot for people to feel good about their neighbourhoods, and to feel secure, and safe,” Toohey says.

So, the next time you’re out for a walk with your dog, remember that those small waves, smiles or brief conversations — with those walking their own dogs, but also with people walking without dogs — can create a ripple effect, ultimately fostering a stronger sense of community and turning your neighbourhood into an overall friendlier place to live.

This article appears in the July 2024 issue of Avenue Calgary.

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