Laura Whitcombe

How to keep your dog safe from thieves

How to keep your dog safe from thieves
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Five dogs are stolen every day in the UK and only one gets reunited with its owner, according to police data analysed by insurer Direct Line.

In 2016, there were 1,774 reported dog thefts, with just 21 per cent recovered. The number of thefts was up 19 per cent compared to 1,491 just two years earlier. However, these figures are likely just the tip of the iceberg – further research conducted by Direct Line found that 1.5 million people have had a dog stolen from them within the past five years.

Of those bereft owners, nearly a quarter (23 per cent) said their pet was stolen from their garden, 11 per cent from their home and another 11 per cent while out on a walk.

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier was the most stolen breed last year, according to police records. They accounted for 42 per cent of all stolen dogs between 2014 and 16, with the next two most stolen breeds the Chihuahua (9 per cent) and Jack Russell (7 per cent) respectively. However, there’s been a three-fold increase in the number of thefts of French Bulldogs over the same period, which has coincided with the breed becoming the UK’s dog of choice. Earlier this year, the popular pooches – as owned by the likes of David Beckham, Lady Gaga and Holly Willoughby and which now sell from £1,500 per puppy – knocked the humble Labrador Retriever off its top spot as Britain’s most bought breed, a title it had held for the previous 27 years.

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The UK capital is also the dog-nap capital, with the Metropolitan Police recording the highest number of dog thefts last year (231). West Yorkshire Police (208) and Greater Manchester Police (168) made up the rest of the top three theft locations. The regions with the fewest number of stolen dogs were North Wales (0), Northamptonshire (9) and Surrey (11). And the police forces most successful in reuniting stolen dogs to their rightful owners in 2016 were Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire Police, which both returned 37 dogs to their homes.

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Despite the rising incidence of dog theft, two fifths of dog owners don’t bother to take any measures to protect their pet from theft, according to Direct Line. However, there are lots of simple things you can do to keep your dog safe from thieves.

  • Think twice before leaving your dog tied up outside a shop
  • Don’t leave your dog alone in the car, even for a few minutes
  • Make sure your dog is microchipped and that you keep your contact details up-to-date, especially if you move house or change your telephone number. Dogs and puppies in the UK must be microchipped by eight weeks old, by law
  • Your dog should always wear a collar and ID tag with your name and address on it. This is a legal requirement when your dog is in a public place. A mobile number is also a good idea, but avoid putting your dog’s name on the disc
  • Take clear photographs of your dog from various angles, and update them regularly. Make a note of any distinguishing features. And have lots of photographs of yourself with your dog to help you to prove ownership if needed
  • Train your dog to come back when called, and never let them off the lead if you are not sure they will come back to you. If in doubt, use an extending lead, especially if you are in an unfamiliar area where your dog may get lost more easily
  • Take care when choosing someone to care for your dog if you are going away from home or need a dog walker whilst you go to work. Use a reputable company or boarding kennels and check references for people who provide dog or house-sitting services
  • At home, make sure your garden is secure and fit a bell to the gate so you hear if anyone opens it and keep your dog in view in the garden
  • If you breed puppies for sale, take great care when inviting people in to view; ideally have someone else present and limit the numbers of people you allow in at a time. Show the puppies in one secure area
  • Decide who owns the dog in your household. Discuss who would own the dog in the event of bereavement or break up and draw up documentation to this effect. This may seem unnecessary, but pets can become the centre of ownership disputes in these circumstances
  • To prevent your dog being stolen while out walking, beware of strangers asking you questions about your dog and vary your times of walks and routes; some dogs are actually targeted and snatched during walks.
  • Did you know?

    1. Despite the police compiling data on dog theft and the emotional distress caused by such an event, the theft of a pet is not an offence in its own right. But anyone convicted of theft can face a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.
      1. It’s a legal requirement for a dog to wear a collar on walks. Sarah Garner, a solicitor from DAS Law, explains: ‘The Control of Dogs Order 1992 states that any dog in a public place must wear a collar with a tag with the name and address of the owner engraved or written on it. Under the Road Traffic Act 1988 it is considered a criminal offence for a dog to be on a public road without being on a lead. You can be fined £200 for such an offence.
      2. Laura Whitcombe is knowledge and product editor at