Puppy on the grass

Is dog theft on the rise in the UK? What you need to know as a dog owner

Humans and dogs have lived side-by-side for thousands of years, and today a huge number of households in the UK count a canine companion as one of their family members.

While the demand for puppies and dogs is always high, the COVID-19 situation caused of a massive spike in pet ownership of all sorts. The BBC has reported that 3.2 million households have bought pets since the first lockdown in March 2020.

Pet popularity is no surprise and the benefits, both physical and mental, for pet owners are obvious to all. But there is a downside to humankind’s best friend being so sought after.

Supply and demand dictates that as more people want more dogs the price rises. Today, the average price of a puppy has rocketed into the mid 4-figures. When you’re talking that amount of cash for a pooch—even a dog that’s over 2 years old—criminals are bound to get involved. With a dog worth as much or more than many high end items like giant TVs, antiques and jewelry, the threat from criminals is a real one, and the menace is growing.

Dog Thefts in the UK are Growing

Among other outlets, the Sun, the Daily Mail and the BBC have all run reports recently showing that dog owners are seriously worried by the possibility of dognapping. They are right to be worried. Dog thefts have risen by an estimated 250% since the pandemic hit. And make no mistake, with stakes this high, criminals are organised and ruthless. They target dogs in homes, in cars and even from people innocently taking them for a walk.

So what can you, as a responsible and caring dog owner, do to minimise the danger to you and your faithful friend? Here are some tips to help you avoid losing your beloved pet, whether it is a pedigree pup or a Heinz variety mutt.

How To Protect Your Dog from Theft

1. Don’t always walk the same route

It’s not nice to think about, but dognappers will often keep a prospective ‘mark’ under observation for a period before making an attempt at theft. If your chosen walking spot is well populated by other dog walkers you may be safe, but if no one is around, you could be vulnerable to attack. If you like being on your own with just your dog for company, then vary where you walk every day. Don’t be predictable and you will reduce the chance of being robbed by an organised gang.

2. Fit your dog’s collar with a tracker

If your dog is a bit of a wanderer it is likely that you already use a tracker for your own peace of mind and the safety of your canine. While a tracker might not deter a criminal, it does allow the pet owner to know exactly where their furry friend is 100% of the time. Then, if you lose visual contact with Spot, Fido or Bracken, you will know which direction to move in order to re-establish connection quickly. This reduces the window of opportunity for a miscreant to the bare minimum.

3. Don’t talk to strangers

It is better to keep moving than engage others in conversation, especially if they don’t have a dog with them. Without being paranoid, if you don’t know someone, you can’t be certain of their motivation. A brief ‘hi’ or ‘good morning’ is enough to be polite. You should be especially wary if the person isn’t obviously a walker, headed to the local store, or dog owner.

4. Secure your garden

We all check our garden’s perimeter when we get a new dog or puppy, but you may want to think about making it secure against entry by human beings. Strong, high fences make trespass difficult and keep your dog from prying eyes. We’re not suggesting razor wire and machine gun towers, just don’t make it easy for anyone who wants to deprive you of a loved companion to make a quick grab.

5. Don’t leave your dog alone and visible

If your dog is friendly, don’t leave them in the car while you pop into a shop, especially if it’s in a low traffic area, as we often do to park them in the shade. For a determined dognapper, a car’s security system is no barrier, so leave them at home if you can’t ensure their safety. Even more so, don’t leave your dog tied up outside a shop while you ‘nip in’ for a paper or coffee. Theft takes seconds, and if your dog is friendly enough to leave outside, they’re an easy mark.

Similarly, when you leave a dog alone in your home you may want to make certain that it can’t be seen easily from the street. Sheer curtains will shield them from nosy eyes and close curtains if you might be out late. An alternative is to restrict the dog’s access to the front of your home while you are absent.

6. Make sure your dog is close when you take them for a walk

Lots of dogs like to run free, but make this the exception, not the rule. Only allow them to leave your side when the area is safe and secure, like in one of the specialised dog walking facilities that are becoming popular around the country.

If your dog is well-trained and remains with you, then by all means, do away with a lead on a dog walk. If that is not 100% true, don’t chance it. Better to keep a lead attached so you know your pooch is guaranteed to remain close by.

7. Allow your dog to be a little suspicious of people they don’t know

You don’t want to encourage a dog to be aggressive, but if they’re a little suspicious of strange people or strange situations, don’t deter that behaviour. For example, if they bark when a person comes up next to the car, let them bark. If they shy away from strangers, let it go. If they bark when someone is visible from their garden, try to let it go – while having to introduce new people can be a pain, it’s better than them being happy to greet anyone on two feet or with a treat.

8. Ensure your dog is properly microchipped and ID’d

If you do nothing else to make dog theft difficult, make certain your pet is properly microchipped and registered by your vet. A microchip is the one thing that, should the worst happen, may reunite you with your fur-covered companion. If your puppy isn’t microchipped when you pick him or her up, and it certainly should be, make it your number one priority.

Apart from its benefits to you, microchipping is a legal requirement for all dogs over eight weeks old in England and Wales. The process is quick, painless and relatively inexpensive. It is the responsibility of all dog breeders to ensure every puppy they sell has received its microchip. If your breeder hasn’t done so you should perhaps go elsewhere as they are not a reliable source for a pet.

Similarly, it is also legally imperative that your dog wears a collar carrying an up to date ID tag carrying your name and address. You should also include your mobile number so that you can be contacted easily.

The breeds stolen most often are Staffordshire Bull Terriers, followed by Spaniels, Labradors and crossbreeds, but every dog is a potential target for theft. Dog thieves can be audacious but the above pointers should help a careful owner avoid the unthinkable. We invest a lot of love in our pets and would hate to have them taken away by criminals.

You don’t have to walk your dog fearful of everyone you meet, just be conscious of the possibility of dog theft, and do your best to guard against it.


James is a social media manager, dog owner and enthusiast.

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