Sophie Jackson is a dog lover and trainer living in the UK. She competes in agility and obedience with her four dogs.
Having your dog stolen is a pet lover's worst nightmare. Wondering what has happened to them and if you will ever see them again all adds to the heartache. Sadly, the legal penalties for dog theft are minor, which makes stealing pets a tempting option for those wanting to earn some easy money or for those who operate dog fights.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways we can keep our pets safe and make them difficult, if not impossible, to steal. Most theft is an act of opportunity, and thieves will look for easy targets. Making life as hard as possible for thieves to get to your dogs is the best way to keep them safe.
Is Dog Theft on the Rise?
Dog theft has always been a problem as long as there have been dogs as pets. Recent headlines in newspapers and on social media make it appear that it is on the rise. It has naturally led to people being very scared for the well being of their pets.
Dog theft, however, is a more complicated issue than simply thieves stealing any dog they happen to see. While statistics are not always easy to get hold of, those that are available reveal certain patterns in what thieves are looking for when going after dogs.
Dog theft in the UK actually decreased by 23% between 2018 and 2019, according to Direct Line insurance. However, this still means an average of six dogs are stolen every day. Thieves are picky about the breeds they steal, as they are usually looking for dogs they can sell on quickly.
The theft of crossbreeds dropped by 42% in 2019, but thefts of cocker spaniels increased by 93%. Thieves follow puppy buying trends and currently, cocker spaniels are seen as hugely popular and easy to sell on.
In contrast, thefts of French Bulldogs in 2019 decreased by 65% and thefts of Jack Russells decreased by 69%.
Sadly, only 22% of stolen dogs were returned to their owners.
Reliable statistics for dog theft in the US are harder to come by, but some sources, including the American Kennel Club, indicate that around 2 million domestic animals are stolen each year with a rise in dog theft of 31% since 2007. Only around 10% of stolen pets are ever recovered.
During the COVID-19 crisis in 2020, it has been suggested that dog thefts increased even further, due to higher prices being asked for puppies and a greater demand for dogs due to people being at home more.
Why Are Dogs Stolen?
Here are the most common reasons why dogs are stolen.
Dogs are generally stolen for profit. One way this is achieved is by dog thieves targeting specific breeds that are popular and stealing them to sell on. In the US, this is called 'dog flipping' where a dog is stolen to be then sold to an unsuspecting buyer.
Dogs may also be stolen to prompt a reward being offered for their return. The thieves then return the dog and earn the money.
Both male or female dogs may be stolen and sold to puppy farms (or kept by the thief for the same purpose). They are then used as breeding machines to produce further puppies that can be sold for profit. When these dogs become too old, they are dumped or killed.
Dog Fights and Illegal Sports
Dogs are sometimes stolen to be used for dogfighting. Depending on their breed and temperament, they may be used as 'bait' to train other dogs to fight, or might be encouraged to fight themselves.
Certain breeds may be targeted for use in other illegal sports, for instance, lurchers are taken to be used for hare or deer coursing, while Jack Russell terriers might be used in badger baiting.
Occasionally pets are stolen for other reasons, such as an estranged spouse or relative stealing a dog they believe is their own, or a neighbour stealing and dumping a dog that they consider a nuisance.
Which Breeds Are More Likely to Be Stolen?
While any dog might be stolen, and all dog owners should take precautions against this, the breed, age and condition of a dog is often a factor in the crime.
The breeds that are most commonly stolen change depending on what is currently popular among puppy buyers.
In the UK, the current top 10 breeds targeted by thieves are:
- Staffordshire Bull Terrier
- Designer crossbreeds (cockerpoos, etc)
- Cocker Spaniel
- Yorkshire Terrier
- French Bulldog
- Border Collie
- Jack Russell
In the US, the current top 10 breeds targeted by thieves are:
- Yorkshire Terrier
- Boston Terrier
- French Bulldog
- American Pitbull Terrier
- German Shepherd
- Labrador Retriever
Thieves looking for a quick resale are likely to target younger dogs, especially puppies. While dogs that are entire and can still reproduce are targeted by thieves for breeding purposes. Small breed dogs are very easy to steal and re-sell, they are often owned by older people who may be unable to protect their dog if approached by thieves.
The Most Common Places for Dogs to Be Stolen
Most dog thieves are opportunists who will take dogs when their owners are out of sight. It is unusual for a dog thief to approach a person and attempt to snatch a dog directly from them, though it has happened.
It is far easier for a thief to take an unattended dog than to confront an owner. Here are five of the commonest places dogs are taken from.
- Gardens: Dogs left out in gardens that can be easily accessed by intruders make prime targets for thieves. The Pet Census revealed that 52% of dogs that are stolen are taken from their own gardens. This is especially true if your dog is very people friendly and will wander off with anyone who approaches them.
- Outside shops or businesses: Dogs left tied up outside a property while the owner is inside are at great risk of being taken. They are also in danger of other harm befalling them, such as being attack by other dogs or being tormented by uncaring people.
- Cars: When left alone in a car, a dog is at risk not only of being stolen but of heatstroke in hot weather. Just as you would not leave your purse or laptop on view in a car, in case it was stolen, you should not leave your dog in the car.
- Parks: Thieves will take advantage of busy parks to lure your dog away, or to grab them when they are out of your sight.
- Kennels: Dogs that live in outside kennels are targeted by thieves because they can access them without alerting the owners and, if stolen at night, it can be many hours before the owner becomes aware the dogs are missing.
How to Keep Your Dog Safe
Because most thieves are opportunists, the main way to prevent them from stealing your dog is by making it too hard for them. There are lots of ways recommended by the police to achieve this and most are inexpensive.
- Supervise your dog outside: Never leave your dog in the garden alone, especially if it is a front garden, has a low fence or a gate with no lock. It is particularly important you don't leave your dog outside when you are not at home, as this gives a big window of opportunity for dog thieves to take your pet.
- Spay or neuter your pet: This is a controversial option, but many thieves are looking for dogs to use in puppy farms, so having your dog spayed or neutered makes them less attractive. You can list this on their ID tags to discourage casual thieves.
- Install CCTV: This is especially important if your dogs are kept in outside kennels. You can also install alarm systems or motion-sensitive lights around the kennels to scare off intruders. Put up signs stating you have CCTV installed to act as an extra deterrent.
- Remove 'beware of dog' signs: Signs on garden gates that advertise you have dogs in your home only make it easier for thieves to identify targets.
- Put up fences and gates - High fences make it harder for thieves to get into your garden, adding a secure lock to gates also makes it difficult for intruders and prevents a gate being left open by accident.
- Microchip them: It is a legal requirement for all dogs to be microchipped and the details need to be kept up-to-date. If a dog is microchipped it is easier for it to be traced back to its owner.
- Never leave dogs unattended in public: Dogs should not be left tied up outside shops or in cars. It only takes a moment for a thief to snatch them.
- Vary walking routes: Though it is uncommon, thieves looking for a specific breed may target a person and learn their walking routes. If you can vary your walking time and where you go, this makes it harder for thieves.
- Make sure your dog has a good recall: When off lead, a good recall means you can keep your dog in view while it enjoys itself.
- Train your dog to not go up to strangers: Dogs that won't approach strangers are harder for thieves to snatch.
- Be careful of social media: Avoid posting specific details about your pet and where you walk or live on social media. You can set up private groups and pages to share details about your pets to friends and family.
What to Do If Your Pet Is Stolen
If you believe your pet has been stolen the sooner you act, the better.
- Immediately report your pet is missing to the microchip databases Petlog, PETtrac and Identibase. They will notify you if your pet is found.
- Report the theft to the police at once.
- Put up posters with a photograph of your dog and your contact details in the local area.
- Submit your dog's details to a website such as DogLost, where they can be easily shared to the general public.
- Post on social media to raise awareness and also to make it harder for the thieves to sell on your dog.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.