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How to guard against dog theft

Time to read: 7 mins

Dog theft is an ever present danger for owners, and unfortunately it’s a crime that seems to be on the rise. Between 2014 and 2018 the amount of dogs stolen increased by 27%. – a trend which continued in 2019 and has been exacerbated by Covid-19.  Dog theft is driven by many factors from the desirability of designer dogs, to the increasing price of puppies and increasing demand for dogs during the coronavirus lockdown.

What’s more the law seems to be inadequate and the conviction rate for theft of puppies is low, making it a risk worth taking for criminals.

Let’s explore why theft of dogs is on the rise, what breeds it affects most, the coronavirus effect, how to protect your dog against theft and how dog insurance can help in the event the worst happens.

Why are dogs stolen

The two most common reasons for stealing a dog are to sell it and for breeding.

  1. Resale. Some less scrupulous buyers don’t check the history of their future pets, making it easier for stolen dogs to be sold for a profit. The introduction of Lucy’s Law is making this more difficult, but there are still unscrupulous sellers and less thorough buys which make this a lucrative option.
  2. Breeding. More prestige dogs will be at risk of this. Puppy farms (or mills) are being clamped down on by the government. These see animals kept in poor and overcrowded conditions, which are not only cruel, but often lead to health issues further down the line. The animals are abandoned when the breeder has had enough of them usually in a poor condition and on a road.

2019 most stolen dogs

The most-stolen dog breeds in 2019 were:

BreedNumber of Thefts 2019Average Cost
Staffordshire Bull Terrier89£1,300
Crossbreed75£1,100 (based on a Cockapoo)
Chihuahua50£1,500
Cocker Spaniel27£2,000
Bulldog22£3,000
Yorkshire Terrier21£1,000
French Bulldog18£2,500
Lurcher14£750
Border Collie13£1,300
Jack Russell12£1,250

*According to Direct Line

Whilst the table shows the most common breeds experiencing thefts it’s important that all pet owners should take precautions not just owners for these dog breeds.

Within the crossbreed category, fashionable breeds such as Cockapoos (Cocker Spaniel and Poodle crossbreeds) and Puggles (Pug and Beagle crossbreeds), which are popular with celebrities and on social media thanks to their combination of cute characteristics. While Labradors, Jack Russells and Chihuahuas are typically particularly popular targets for the dog thieves.

The increase in demand for dogs generally has sent prices skyrocketing, especially for certain popular breeds.

How coronavirus lockdown has affected dog theft and dog ownership

Abandoment

During the UK lockdown the adoption rates of dogs increased greatly, but as the nation starts to get back to some form of normality we’ve already got some indication of an increase in dog abandonment. Battersea they are predicting that financial pressures, unprepared owners and separation anxiety may well lead to the increase in abandoned pets.

Since March 23rd when the lockdown began the RSPCA have dealt with 42,685 cases of animal cruelty, neglect and suffering, with its cruelty hotline has received 2,443 reports of abandonment – an average of 39 incidents a day.

Theft

The charity DogLost says pet burglaries on kennels and therefore dog thefts increased by 65% (48 incidents) between 23 March, when lockdown was announced, and 1 June, compared with the same time last year (29 incidents).

The surge in dog theft is being driven by the increased demand for the company of a 4-legged friend.  Organised criminal gangs are targeting mostly pedigree and working dogs, some changing hands for thousands of pounds – typically way over the typical prices they’d cost.

Adoption

Dogs Trust along with other UK charities has stated that they’ve been inundated with adoption requests since March and estimate to be rehoming 25% more dogs that the same 2 month period compared to 2019.

Trends for puppy adoption, dog adoption, specific breeds during coronavirus

Following the announcement of the countrywide lockdown, Google searches for puppy and dog related searches saw huge increases:

  • ‘adopt a puppy’ rose 133%
  • ‘buy a puppy’ increased by 120%
  • ‘dog for sale’ rose 90%
  • ‘adopt a dog’ increased 90%
  • ‘dog adoption’ increased 90%

This popularity is good news for thieves as they can look to fill the increased demand.

How to protect your dogs from being stolen and what technology can help

In addition to knowing how thieves operate, there are things you can do to make it harder for them to target your dog.

  • Be wary of strangers that ask too many questions. It’s nice to receive compliments about your dog from strangers, however, if they start asking for personal information be cautious.
  • Vary your walking patterns. Walking your dog in the same place at the same time every day creates a pattern for thieves to track and plan around. Variety is the key here.
  • Microchip your dog. Laws introduced in April of 2016 state that all dogs over the age of 8 weeks must be microchipped. Although this won’t prevent your dog from being stolen, it will help identify your dog if it is found.
  • Beware of marks around the perimeter of your house and garden, some thieves mark out a house to show there is a dog waiting to be stolen. In some cases this has been chalk marks outside your home.
  • Use an extendable lead when walking with your dog
  • If you are worried then take a friend with you
  • Look at improving your home security (a crime prevention officer will advise you)
  • Consider a GPS tracker collar
  • Ensure your dog’s tag contains the owner’s name, postcode, and at least one contact number
  • If your dog is having a litter of puppies, be extra vigilant as the young pups won’t have an identity yet, making them much easier for thieves to steal
  • Ensure your dog is micro-chipped
  • Never leave your dog tied up outside a shop
  • Don’t leave your dog alone in the car

How technology could help

  • GPS Pet Trackers.

Systems like Tractive offer GPS trackers for both dogs and cats which offer real time tracking and activity monitoring across the world. You can also share this location data with friends and family. In the event that your dog is lost or stolen you can use this to identify where your dog is or where it has been. These trackers can be expensive and require a monthly ongoing fee, but should you have a desirable dog breed the investment could be worthwhile. Clearly the drawbacks of these is that they can be easily removed by the thief, however because they can be used to provide information on where the dog has been it can still provide vital information. It’s easy to confuse a GPS tracker with microchips, while both important, microchips will not offer location tracking.

  • HD outdoor cameras.

These are useful for home security more generally rather than specific for pets, but they perform both roles well. They’re small and discrete but their quality HD cameras are easily installed and provide a constant stream of your house which you can access through your mobile phone at any time.

  • Home security system.

Home security systems like Nest and Hive offer smart home devices that aim to keep you, your family and your dog safe. You can find pet friendly security systems which recognise your pet meaning you won’t get woken up in the middle of the night by your dog walking around the house.

How pets are stolen

There are several tactics dog thieves use, so be “Dog Theft” aware

  1. From a back garden. If you have a low fence near a road and leave your dog unattended, there’s a chance they might become a victim. Don’t assume your garden is safe, up to 52% of dogs are taken from gardens.
  2. From a car. A dog left in a car is not only at risk of being stolen but may also suffer heatstroke and possibly death. We recommend you never leave an animal unattended in a car.
  3. Dogs left tied in front of businesses and shops and public places will increase the chance of it being taken. Dogs are sitting just waiting to be taken, and if approached with kindness are likely to go along with the stranger because of their friendly nature.
  4. In the park when they’re out of sight. it’s easy to lose sight of your dog, even if only for a moment. This makes parks prime spots for thieves looking to take advantage of the confusion. Always keep an eye on your dog.

How many stolen dogs get found and returned to their owner

Tragically, only around a fifth of stolen dogs were returned to their owners – and with puppies selling for double the usual rate online at the moment, it’s become a profitable industry for crooks looking to make fast money. Now that it is illegal for any dog under the age of 8 weeks not to be microchipped it becomes easier to track down the correct owner of a dog, sadly it doesn’t make it easier tracking down the dog in the first place.

How many prosecutions were made in 2019

There are several reasons why dog theft is increasing in the UK. The main issues are the high values attached to ‘designer dogs’, pet owners lack of awareness of the dangers, and the low detection rates attributed to dog theft.
Under the Theft Act 1968, animals are legally regarded inanimate objects once stolen, which seems wholly inadequate. In the more recent Animal Welfare Act 2006 pet theft isn’t mentioned. The sentence if passed down when detected is only seven years, but fines and community service are more commonplace. In 2018, whilst there were 1,849 cases of dog theft, a mere 20 charges related to the crime.
Dog theft is seen as low risk with high rewards. Punishment, if the thieves are caught would be a minimum fine £250 + court costs.
There has been a recent petition online singed by over 100,000 people to revisit the law on animal theft.

For each dog that is stolen, sadly there’s only a 17% chance of having them returned.

How to buy dogs legitimately

Lucy’s Law came into effect from the 6th April 2020 and aims to tackle the low-welfare standards from puppy farms by banning their commercial sale.

Now, anyone wanting to get a new puppy or kitten in England must buy directly from a breeder, or adopt a pet from a rehoming centre.

Check our advice on how to avoid commercial pet breeders.

What to do if your dog is stolen?

Immediately report a missing dog to the microchip databases Petlog, PETtrac and Identibase. They’ll be able to notify you when your pet is found.

If you believe your dog has been stolen, report the crime to the police and ask for a crime reference number. This will make it easier to find out about the precise nature of their investigation.

  • Put up posters in the local area. Familiarising the neighbourhood with your dog will make it more likely to be found by a stranger.
  • Register your missing pet on a dedicated website, such as Animal Search UK. Again, this will make it easier for members of the public to find and help return your dog.
  • Post on social media to raise awareness, especially any local community groups that can share your post and help spread the news.
  • Retrace your steps if your dog went missing during a walk. You may stumble across clues as to where they might have headed.
  • Be sure to search common hiding places, surrounding gardens and the local neighbourhood. Ask anyone you see about your dog.
  • Check with the council. The government has a handy feature which allows you to search for missing dogs.

How can dog insurance help

Most pet insurance providers will have a section of their policy that can help to cover costs arising from pet theft. In our dog insurance policies we call it Loss & Recovery. Under this section of the plan it can pay out up to £1,500 (on lifetime cover) to help you to cover costs such as local advertising costs and any reward which you have to pay which helps to find and recover your lost pet.

Like all pet insurance plans there are certain conditions and exclusions to be aware of so it’s worth checking the policy wording on each plan so you’re familiar with what you are covered for and what you’re not.

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