Museum Camp

A project of the
Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History

Its Beach: Are Dog Owners More Social Than Non-Dog Owners?

Team Members

David Shaw, Erin Marie McDonald, Suzanne Ewerlof

What was your hypothesis?

Having a dog increases social interaction with strangers.

What indicator did you measure?

Social bridging, interpersonal encounters and interactions

How did you measure it?

Person’s engagement in conversation with strangers (number of questions asked), length of conversation, number of interactions with strangers

What did you learn?

Our research showed that dog owners at Its Beach were more likely to interact with people that they don’t know. They were also more interested in learning about the other person and spent more time interacting. Its Beach seems to be a very social place where people appreciate spending quality time with their dog and others.

Our team took a two-pronged approach toward answering our research question. David and Erin Marie engaged in a participatory observation survey at Its Beach. The participant observation researchers approached individuals with dogs and without dogs, with and without an off-leash dog. Following a brief scripted interaction, the researchers coded the social interactions based on a predefined rubric that measured depth of social interaction. Following that Erin Marie and Suzanne returned to the beach and surveyed both dog owners and non-dog owners on their visit to the beach and general social interactions.

From our slightly unscientific, fast and dirty methods, we found that dog owners were likely to speak with people they don’t know at Its Beach. Based on our participant observation research, we noticed that dog owners were likely to score an average 6.45 engagement score compared to non-dog owners who scored a 4.65 engagement score.

According to our survey, dog owners and non-dog owners believed that Its Beach is a more social place due to the dogs. Dog owners self-reported a higher interaction with strangers than non-dog owners. We found that dog owners are 3.5x more likely to engage with strangers at Its Beach than non-dog owners. One non-dog owner noted, “People who visit Its Beach come with an open mind and are less stuffy.”

Any surprises?

Despite our best efforts and intentions, there were a number of variables that we did not account for in planning and implementing our research. We didn’t account for tourists, who may or may not be familiar with the location enough to answer our “Do you know a place where I can get a good bite to eat” question. But despite all unforeseen variables the data was really clear in showing that the dog-owners were substantially more social. We also may haven bitten off more than we can chew in the participant observation research. We studied whether having a dog might impact social interaction with Its Beach visitors who have dogs and those who don’t. We probably could have simplified the study and looked at whether having a dog increased or decreased social interaction with non-dog owners. A few dog owners were so interested in social interaction that they disturbed our research process. This being said it was interesting and uplifting to see the level of social engagement at this beach.