Dog Theft - how can you reduce the risk?

Dog Theft - my heart is racing just typing about the possibility.

There seem to have so much of it in the last 18 months as everyone wanted a dog to entertain them during lockdown. The cost of puppies went through the roof, the rescues emptied and some evil people decided to cash in by stealing and selling on dogs.  

Or did they? Data published by ITV from Wiltshire Police, Devon and Cornwall, Bristol and Somerset Police(1) all indicate that there has been no rise in dog thefts, just a rise in the publicity around them both in newspapers and on social media. There has been little change in the number of dogs stolen between 2017 and 2021 and in each police area the number is less than 20. Translate that across the 40 or so police forces in the UK, that means around 800 dogs are reported stolen in the UK annually. Ok, that sounds like a horrendous number and for each family involved it is an awful thing to have to deal with.  And that is a crude way derive a number, but there are 12.5 million dogs in the UK and 800 is 0.0064% of that number ie a minute percentage of the total. So the chances of your dog being stolen are extremely low.

Another source of data is the Kennel Club who approached all UK police forces via a Freedom of Information request, with 36 of those forces responding. From this they deduced that an estimated 2355 dogs were stolen in 2020, a rise of 7% from 2019(2). But looking at data over such a short time frame cannot reflect any real trend. Data from Avon and Somerset police shows 2019 to be a ‘low year’ while 2017 has been the highest of the last four years(1) – nothing to do with the pandemic, then.

I would be devastated if my dog went missing and we never got him back. A neighbour lost their dog and is convinced she was stolen, but despite offering a significant reward, no one has come forward. They had not long moved to the area, she was off lead and there are a lot of deer round here. There is every likelihood that she ran after something, got herself lost and wasn’t able to find her way home. It wouldn’t take long for a dog to wander far from the likely search radius. Another friend’s highly trains Labrador was stolen from his truck many years ago and never found. But these are two incidents spread over 40 years and I know a lot of dog owners. We really do need to keep our fear of such an event in perspective – it is extremely rare.

Some years ago, I left my GSD in the car - without shade, I'm ashamed to admit - on a baking hot day, but I was just going to be two minutes, dropping something off. I left all the car windows open - a risk I thought was less than boiling him alive by leaving them closed - and no, I couldn't take him with me. But I thought, no one is going to go near an unknown GSD, so he'd be fine.

I returned to the car to find it empty. Panic does not begin to describe what I instantly felt – horror, guilt, shame. He was a super obedient dog so I thought there’s no way he’d have jumped out of the window and it would have been a tight squeeze anyway as even though they were fully open, he was a big dog. There was no sign of marks left in the mud on the side of the car as if he’d slid out of the window. This was in large car park in France. I called and whistled and asked anyone close by if they’d seen him. A security guard had and one other person pointed me to where they’d seen him……

He was between the outer and inner doors of the supermarket, a space that was air conditioned. To this day I have no idea if he got himself in there or some kind person had decided he needed to be somewhere cool and put him in there. But when I saw him, the relief was a physical wave.

So I was stupid, on several fronts – hot day, dog in car, and leaving him where he could have been taken. I have certainly learned my lesson and I won’t be doing either ever again. A dog can be taken in a couple of minutes.

What can you do to stop your dog being taken?

Although dog theft is extremely rare, it’s important to take actions to minimise you and your dog becoming one of the dog theft statistics.

  1. Never leave your dog in a public place unattended – no matter how briefly.
  2. Don’t let your dog our of your sight when in an unfamiliar area. If they are off lead, call them back frequently to ensure you can see them at all times.
  3. If you have any suspicions about people walking towards you, put yourself between them and your dog - this makes it harder for someone to snatch the lead from you. It’s a good idea to train your dog to walk to heal on either side to facilitate this.
  4. Don’t let your dog approach people you don’t know. This is good practice anyway as those people may be afraid of dogs.
  5. If you feel a situation is suspicious, eg a van or truck parked with an open door in a strange place, cross the road or change the direction you are walking in. Likewise, if you feel you are being tracked by a vehicle. I’ve done this in woodland near us – I was probably being paranoid, but better safe than sorry.
  6. Make sure your dog’s microchip data is up-to-date with the microchip company and that you know where that data is at home so you can contact them quickly.
  7. Have a good set of photos that clearly show your dog's distinguishing features - markings, size, anything that will aid in their identification.
  8. Don’t leave your dog unattended in your garden unless you have high fences and combination locks on your gates.

So the main message of this blog is don’t let fear of dog theft spoil your dog walks – it’s a very rare event in the UK. However, taking these basic precautions will reduce the risk of your dog being stolen from extremely unlikely to infinitesimally small.




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