Direct Line magazine

Dog theft - how to prevent your dog being stolen

Updated on: 10 November 2021

A dog is tied up to a post.

According to analysis by Direct Line, dog thefts across the UK increased by 20% in 2020 – that’s an estimated 412 more dogs stolen than in 2019.

Dog ownership has soared since lockdown began in March 2020, and this is likely to have been a catalyst for the alarming increase, which also marks a 31% rise overall since Direct Line began analysing dog theft in 2016.

  • In 2020, the number of Springer Spaniels and Labradors stolen increased dramatically, by 433% and 189% respectively, placing them in the ten most taken breeds.
  • The number of Chihuahuas stolen fell by 76%, with French Bulldog thefts down by 33%.
  • In 2020, 22% of stolen dogs were returned to their owners.
  • Steps are now being taken to strengthen legal measures against dog theft and raise awareness of how to avoid it happening in the first place.

Why are dogs being stolen?

There are a number of reasons why dog theft is increasing in the UK. Aside from an increase in demand since lockdown, the main issues are the high values attached to so-called ‘designer dogs’, a lack of awareness of the dangers, and lenient prison sentences for those convicted of the crime. Until new legislation comes in, the maximum sentence for someone caught stealing a dog is seven years, but fines and community service are more commonplace - less than 2% of cases lead to a conviction.

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

  • Resale. Some buyers don’t check the history of their future pets, making it easier for stolen dogs to be sold for a profit.
  • Breeding. More prestige dogs will be at risk of this. Puppy Mills (or farms) are currently being clamped down on by the government. These see animals kept in poor and overcrowded conditions, which often lead to health issues further down the line.

Most commonly stolen dog breeds

Certain breeds are seen as money makers, which has directly led to the rising number of pets being taken. In some instances, thieves will be able to make thousands of pounds selling a stolen dog.

The most-stolen dog breeds in 2019 and 2020:

Rank Breed 2019 reported thefts 2020 reported thefts % change
1 Staffordshire
Bull Terrier
89 97 +9%
2 Crossbreed 75 52 -31%
3 Cocker Spaniel
27 34 +26%
4 Bulldog
22 27 +23%
5 Labrador 9 26 +189%
6 Jack Russell 12 23 +92%
7 Border Collie
13 20 +54%
8 Springer Spaniel 3 16 +433%
9 Chihuahua 50 12 -76%
10 French Bulldog 18 12 -33%

All breeds 2,026 2,438 +20%

A dog on this list isn’t automatically at risk, but it’s wise to take precautions to help protect your pet.

How are dogs being stolen

There are a number of tactics dog thieves use, so knowing how they work will help keep your pets safe.

  • 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, even for a few minutes - the Pet Census revealed that up to 52% of dogs are taken from gardens.
  • 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.
  • Dogs left tied in front of businesses and shops. Leaving an animal alone in a public place will increase the chance of it being taken. Without protection, dogs are sitting targets, and if approached with kindness are likely to go along with the stranger because of their friendly nature.
  • In the park when they're out of sight. In a busy park 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. Keep an eye on your dog at all times.

Preventing your dog from being stolen

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 have to be microchipped. Although this won’t prevent your dog from being stolen, it will help identify your dog if it's found.
  • Get social media savvy. From your dog’s name and breed to details of preferred parks, think before you share. You may also wish to check your privacy settings, as many platforms allow you to control who can see your posts.

Anti-theft technology

New technology is being created every year in the fight against dog thieves. From cameras to location trackers, there’s a range of equipment which could help protect your dog.

  • GPS pet trackers. These have the advantage of letting an owner know where their pet is in real time. A tracker can be expensive, but could provide vital location information of your dog. The downside is that these wearable devices can be easily removed by the thief. Don’t get a GPS tracker confused with the pet identification microchip, which doesn’t offer any form of location tracking.
  • HD outdoor cameras. Small but powerful, HD cameras are handy to use in your garden if you’re worried about threats. They can provide a constant video stream to your house, letting you know what’s going on at all times.
  • Home security system. A home security system can be used to keep you, your family and your dog safe. Opt for a security system which is pet-friendly, meaning it won’t be set off by your dog. These systems are generally only suitable for small dogs. If you have a big dog, you may need to seek help from a professional home security installer.

What to do if your dog is stolen or lost

If your dog is stolen, there are things you can do to find them. PawSquad, who offer 24/7 online access to a qualified vet, suggest the following top steps:

  • 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, making your dog ‘too hot to handle’ for potential criminals.
  • 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 having dog insurance can help you

While having dog insurance can’t make up for the mental anguish you’ll be feeling, it will provide you with financial help you need during this difficult time.

At Direct Line, if your policy includes our 5 in 1 care package (optional extra when you take out a new policy or at renewal) we’ll pay you up to £1,000 towards local advertising costs to help you get your pet back if it’s stolen or is lost while insured. This includes the cost of getting your pet back to your home address. This benefit cannot be added to your policy if your pet has already gone missing.


Is there a national database to which I can report a lost dog?

You have a few options, including the National Pet Register and Animal Search UK. These websites allow you to enter details about your missing dog.

What should I do if I find a stray dog?

The National Pet Register and Animal Search UK are equally useful for reporting a dog you’ve found which isn’t yours. In fact, when it comes to reporting someone’s lost pet, following the same steps as when your dog is missing is wise.

Put up flyers, post on social media, use specialist websites and inform the police. Gaining strong word of mouth is an important step for reuniting an owner with their pet.

Does getting a microchip hurt a dog?

While the procedure may not be comfortable, there’s no real pain for a dog. An anaesthetic is not even required as part of the procedure.

Find out about the options offered by Direct Line dog insurance.

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