How to prevent dog theft

  • 10 Jul, 2021
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How to prevent dog theft - what every dog owner needs to know

Your four-legged pal slips out of view for a moment but doesn’t return when you call. Or you get back from work expecting the usual enthusiastic greeting at the door and are met with…nothing. Sadly, since the start of the COVID 19 pandemic, this has become a reality for many dog owners.

How common is dog stealing?

This crime is on the rise. In the UK alone, it has increased by a staggering 250% over the last year. Lost pet statistics in the US are equally as worrying with an estimated 10 million dogs and cats lost or stolen each year. Fewer than a third are ever reunited with their owners.

So, why is this happening and what can you do to protect your precious friend?

Why are so many dogs being stolen?

The rise is being driven by the extraordinarily high demand for pups and the exorbitant prices that would-be dog owners will pay as people hunt for a companion animal during lockdown.

Just look at pet sale websites or local animal ads to see why this is an attractive area for dishonest people. The most in-demand breeds, such as French Bull Dogs, can reach upwards of £7,000 in certain parts of the country. A dog with highly desirable traits such as a fluffy’ gene in the French Bulldog can cost over £12,000.

What kind of dogs get stolen?

The most stolen dog breeds UK statistics reveal a worrying trend directly linked to the pandemic. Traditionally, Staffies, Pitbulls and Pitbull crosses were the breed variety most likely to be stolen, probably to exploit them in dog fighting rings.

Pet thefts are changing. The most commonly stolen dog breeds are the ones that are attractive as family pets. This means that the modern cross breeds (Cockapoo, Labradoodle), Labradors and Yorkshire Terriers are attractive targets for pet thieves.

What happens to stolen dogs

The outcome for stolen dogs is unpleasant and this is what causes such distress amongst owners. The reasons that they are stolen are:

1. For sale. Some are sold immediately, a practice sometimes called dog flipping. This may be to unscrupulous people who aware of how they have been obtained. Others are sold to unsuspecting families who do not check out the seller's credentials.

2. For ransom. Some dogs are held for ransom by the thief. Your details will be available to the thieves, often on a disc on the dog’s collar. You will receive a phone call demanding money. There are instances where this phone call is made by a child!

3. For breeding. Female dogs are in high demand. One female dog may be worth £1,000 but over the space of a year, she can generate much more by producing puppies. Some dogs are kept in appalling conditions in so-called puppy farms. Your female dog is of no value to puppy mills if she has been neutered.

What is the most commonly stolen dog?
Sadly, any dog can get stolen but the type of breed that is stolen will depend on the type of dog thief they are taken by. Colin Butcher, an experienced ex-police officer and owner of a leading pet detective agency, categorises thieves into the following four groups:

Opportunist dog thieves
Thieves who are willing to steal all types of home possessions or anything left in a car. It could be bikes, laptops and sadly animals. They see an opportunity, e.g. an unattended dog in a park, and they take it. These thieves view dogs as one of the latest products that will get them a high rate of return.

Specialist dog thieves
For these thieves, stealing a dog is quite easy, the financial rewards are high and the likelihood of getting caught is low. They often work in pairs, have the skills and experience to source suitable dogs and break into premises, the vehicles to carry them away and a network within which to sell them. They may pose as buyers to check out breeders and may even use a bitch on heat to attract male dogs. 

Occupational dog thieves
This is the category that is perhaps most worrying because they masquerade as legitimate businesses that offer to walk your dog, operate an animal shelter or even breed their own dogs. These dog breeders will sell you a pup, only to steal it back at a later date!

How to keep your dog safe
Thankfully, there are ways that cut down the risk of thefts and prevent your pooch becoming a victim.

Be aware of dog theft signs
This could be someone asking questions about your dog, following you on walks or a suspicious ad on social media. Increasingly, there are dog theft markings in UK communities where a home with a desirable dog is marked with chalk. If you notice this, you must pass on this information to the police.

Choose your exercise location carefully
Your dog is more at risk when they are out of sight. Always keep them in sight when they are off the lead. Train them to walk to heel. Make sure you don't always use the same location and make don't reveal it on social media.


Collars and ID tags
Your contact details should be clear on the ID tag (second name and number) so that anyone finding your dog can contact you. This is useful for lost animals not so useful for pet theft as it will be removed.

Ensure your pet is microchipped
If your dog is microchipped, someone who finds them can take them to a vet or anyone else that has a scanner. Your contact details can then be traced via the microchip company. It is vitally important that your contact information (especially your number) is kept up to date on the microchip company website.

Dog GPS trackers
A dog GPS tracker is a device to keep your dog safe. It fits onto their collar and sends a signal to your phone so you know where they are. It has limited use as a dog theft prevention device because it will be taken off. GPS implants are not available right now as they are too large and require charging.

Tips for when you leave your dog

Don’t leave your dog alone in an insecure area
Never leave your dog tied up outside a store, in a car or in a garden whilst you run errands outside the house. Thieves can easily break into a garden, car or even your home and dogs tied up outside in a public area are just sitting targets.

Secure your garden and home

Make sure that you secure your garden and outbuildings to prevent your dog getting out and thieves getting in. Invest in a sturdy fence and check for gaps and loose panels. Double up on gate locks and consider increasing the height of walls and fences. Bells and gate alarms are useful features as are driveway alarms and CCTV systems.

Carry out checks on dog walkers
Make sure that you check out all of their references and go with the personal
recommendations of pet owners you trust. The top tip is to walk away if you have any concerns.

Take care choosing a boarding kennel
Always ask to see their insurance and local authority license details and get a personal recommendation where possible. Ask about their security procedures. They should be very aware of the issue and how to keep your dog safe whilst they are in their care. Reputable operators will be content to answer questions.

If your dog is stolen
The stolen dog UK advice and stolen dog USA advice is very similar. Have your dog's identity and insurance documents where you can quickly access them at all times. Report a missing animal on 101 and to your local authority dog warden. Notify your microchip database provider and lost dog social media groups/website to enlist help.

Dog theft UK petition
The parliament website currently has a petition calling on the Government to create a specific crime for dog theft, with 8 years minimum sentencing and a fine of at least £5,000. 

Dog theft is not currently a specific offence, it would be classed as a 'theft'; under the Theft Act 1968, which is not enough to deter thieves and does not reflect the emotional trauma inflicted by this crime.



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