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Dog theft in the UK: Why it's rising and how to prevent it

Lost dog poster on a lampost

Dog theft is rising in the UK: Here's how to protect your pup

© Daisy Daisy - Shutterstock

As dog thefts in the UK continue to rise, we've put together this essential guide to keep your dog safe and help you prevent your pup from being pinched.

By Zoë Monk

Published on the 09/05/2021, 17:00

You can't scroll through social media without coming across an adorable picture of someone's new dog. Lockdown has seen a surge in demand for doggy adoptions as people want a companion while stuck indoors. But among these posts, there are often panicked messages from owners whose dogs have been lost or stolen.

Dog theft is heartbreaking for owners. But there are some simple but essential things you can do to help prevent your dog from being stolen.

How much of a problem is dog theft in the UK?

Dog theft is sadly a growing problem across the UK. According to the Blue Cross, seven dogs a day were stolen in England and Wales in 2020. That's a 170% increase on the year before. While the number of pet thefts increases, so does the brazen way the callous criminals steal people's pups. They will shamelessly steal dogs from cars, gardens and homes. While many dog thieves are opportunists, some plan their dog thefts. Criminals may case potential targets weeks before and sometimes leave marks outside houses to indicate that a valuable dog lives there.

Is dog theft a crime UK?

Yes, pet theft is a crime under UK law. Dog thieves can face a possible sentence of up to seven years in prison under the Theft Act 1968.  

Why do people steal dogs?

Dogs are very valuable to thieves. People steal dogs to either sell them on the black market or to some unsuspecting buyer. In some cases, they may demand a ransom for returning the animal. After all, dog thieves know that most owners will do anything for their beloved pets. For instance, former Liverpool footballer Daniel Sturridge offered £30,000 for the safe return of his stolen Pomeranian dog.

Our love of designer dogs and puppies could also have contributed to this recent crime spree. Social media and celebrity culture have increased the demand for exotic and pedigree dogs. For criminals, this means a potentially lucrative market.

Check out these 10 designer dog breeds you have never heard of.

Which dogs are stolen the most?

No dog is safe from dog thieves. Even your old, non-descript mixed breed mutt could be dog-napped if criminals think they could make money from them. However, some breeds are more likely to catch a dog thief's eye than others. The most common breed of dogs stolen include:

Even celebrities aren't safe from dognappers. Singer Lady Gaga offered a staggering $50,000 reward for the safe return of her two beloved French Bulldogs after they were stolen by thieves in LA. The criminals even shot her dog walker four times so they could get their hands on the pups.

How do you protect your dog from theft?

The number one way that owners can keep their dogs safe is by always being extra vigilant. Whether your dog is at home, playing in the garden or with you on a walk, you need to be on guard. Always keep an eye out for anything suspicious, such as someone taking a keen interest in your home or garden, which is relatively easy to access. Be cautious if anyone starts asking you questions about your pet or starts to talk to you enthusiastically while out and your dog is off the lead. They could be trying to distract you. Never leave your dog alone in a car or tied up anywhere, even if you plan to be just a couple of minutes.

Other things you can do to protect your pet include:

  • Get your dog microchipped and make sure the details on it are up-to-date
  • Put your contact number on an ID tag on your dog's collar 
  • Regularly check that your garden is secure
  • Mix up your routine by varying where and when you go on dog walks

What should I do if someone steals my dog?

If you think someone has stolen your dog, you must act quickly and do the following:

  • Report it to the police as soon as possible and get a crime reference number
  • Search all the places where dog walkers usually go, such as public places and parks and talk to dog owners and ask them to keep an eye open for your dog
  • Let your vet know about the theft as they can put up a notice and alert you if anyone brings the dog in for treatment
  • Contact your local rescue centre and give then a detailed description of your dog and the details of their microchip
  • Spread the word! Put up posters in your area that include a clear photo of your pup and details of the theft, including your crime reference number. You also should spread the word on social media and ask people to share your posts
  • Contact your local council as they may have dog warden services that come across stray dogs
  • Get in touch with the microchipping database holding your dog's details and tell them about the theft. They can then inform you if anyone tries to re-register the chip number
  • Tell your pet insurance company about the theft as they may cover the cost of local advertising and, in some cases, even put up a reward for your dog's safe return
  • Get in touch with your local newspaper to publicise the theft and to warn other dog owners to be extra vigilant 

How to prevent your dog from being stolen

You can never be too careful when it comes to preventing your precious pup from being pinched. Don't take anything for granted. An opportunist thief will think nothing of stealing your dog out of your car or from your garden. Remember, if you leave your dog tied up outside a shop, even if you don't plan to leave them for very long. Anyone could walk by and take your pup. You can also help to prevent dog thefts by:

  • Installing CCTV outside of your home and garden to deter thieves
  • Thoroughly vet any dog walker, boarding kennels or house-sitting services you use
  • Try not to put too much information about your dog on social media, including where you live
  • When you visit a new place, don't tag locations until you are home
  • If you want to post pictures of your dog, be sure to blur out their identification tag
  • If you breed puppies to sell, take extra care when allowing people into your home to view them
  • Consider neutering your pup as many thieves steal dogs hoping to breed from them and sell on the puppies

It's devastating to have your dog stolen. But if you follow our tips, you can protect your dog and help to prevent them from being pinched.

Frequently asked questions

What can I do if my pet goes missing?

What are the benefits of microchipping my pet?

How can I train my dog to come to me?