Dog theft is at an all-time high, given the demand for certain breeds and for dogs as a whole during the coronavirus lockdown. In fact, 2,000 dogs were stolen in 2020. This was an increase of 250%.
Stolen dogs are commonly either sold on or used for breeding or fighting. Some thieves will instead ask for a reward to be given, knowing many owners will pay anything to get their pooch back.
In 2021, teams were spotted pretending to be from the RSPCA and asking people to hand their dogs over as they matched the description of one which had been stolen and they needed to take it to be checked. Some thieves have simply grabbed dogs on walks and threatened the owners if they try to get them back.
Dogs can also be stolen from back gardens, from cars or when left unattended outside shops. Thieves are also known to have broken into homes just to take a dog.
During the lockdown, having your dog stolen was seen as the same as having your phone stolen, under the law. But in response, pet abduction was made a new criminal offence in England. Owners still have to be aware of how best to keep their pets safe, though.
So, what can be done to try and keep you and your dog safe?
When at home
Thieves are breaking into homes, not for the telly or car keys, but for dogs. The Pet Census revealed that up to 52% of dogs are taken from gardens.
This is especially prevalent if they are puppies or are a sought-after breed. Staffordshire Bull Terriers are the most targetted breed, with so-called ‘designer’ breeds not far behind.
Think of protecting your home as you would normally against break-ins and burglaries. Always lock your door when you’re in and get very secure locks everywhere, too. Pet and security cameras both inside and outside the home are also a great idea.
Gardens are the most popular theft hotspots, but homes can also be easy targets
Gardens are a prime hotspot for pet thefts. This way, thieves don’t even need to gain entry to your home. Unfortunately, many owners let their dogs out into the garden to go to the toilet and don’t keep an eye on them in order to give them some privacy.
So, always keep an eye on your pet when they’re outside. Let them out at the back of the house as opposed to the front if possible, and ensure you have high fences which are hard for humans to climb. Attach a loud bell to any gates so you can hear if it is opened.
You may also want to restrict your dog to just one small area of the garden, such as nearest the house, so it is easier to watch them from your window if there are poor weather conditions.
Don’t advertise that you have a dog, either. You may find that sign on your gate saying “Beware of the Chihuahua” hilarious, but thieves will too. Even if you think your dog wouldn’t take too well to an intruder, this could be an appealing behaviour trait to someone who wants a dog to train for fighting.
If your dog is left alone during the day, ensure they don’t bark and make themselves known. Also, secure the house by locking doors and windows, and again the cameras will come in handy.
When on a walk
You may think your dog is safe if kept on a lead, but police have reported that several people have been threatened to hand their dog over.
If they are off-lead, the risks are higher. Not only is the dog having the time of their life but there are more opportunities for dognapping too. Somebody simply using a dog whistle or calling your dog over could easily steal them.
More of us are exploring, too. Dogs that have been stolen can travel miles in a short space of time with the right amount of preparation, so being out in the countryside is perfect for going undetected. There will also likely be fewer people around to help, and possibly a poor phone signal.
Keep your dog close and be aware of strangers
If you have your dog off the lead and it ventures far, this is also something to keep an eye on. Anybody could grab it, even if you think they are only saying hello, so ensure they don’t go far and approach people. Also, make sure they’re great at recall.
Be wary of anyone asking questions about your dog, too. Age, breed, name and whether they’re neutered are suspicious questions. If you feel uncomfortable not talking, don’t give honest answers and keep your dog close.
Tips for protecting your dog on a walk also include:
- Always going at different times
- Changing up your route and being more unpredictable
- Going in rainy weather, when you’re least expected to be out
- Use a dog GPS tracker. It would hopefully take thieves a while to spot it is on their collar
At other times
- NEVER leave your dog tied up outside a shop. There was once a time when it was the norm, but all it takes is a few minutes to get a lead untied. This can be anywhere, from a village shop to a busy supermarket
- Don’t leave them in a car unattended either. A smashed window and quick grab are all it will take
- If you’re choosing a doggy daycare or someone to look after them when you go away, always pick a reputable company with high security and great reviews, or someone you trust
- If you breed puppies, be careful when showing people or advertising online. Have someone else present, lock external doors so nobody can get in or out easily and show puppies in one secure area. Also, limit the number of people who come in at any one time
How to ensure you’re reunited with a stolen dog
Unfortunately, there is no guarantee you will be reunited. But if your dog is stolen, you need to act fast to get them back. Inform the police, insist it is down as a theft and not a loss, and report to your microchip database company.
Also, inform local vets, lost pets sites, social media groups and talk to other dog owners in the area in case your dog is offered for sale.
Always ensure they’re microchipped. It is the law anyway, but you need to keep it up to date and check everything is correct. A collar with an ID tag is also essential if they’re on a walk, and adding a contact number is a good idea (you should avoid using their name).
Take plenty of photos of your dog, with some with you in to prove ownership quickly and easily.