Watch: UK dog thefts rise by 250% since the pandemic
Scooch over pregnancy announcements, Instagram feeds are currently awash with images of people introducing their fluffy new fur babies.
But, sadly, in amongst the joyful social media updates, there are also a lot of panicked posts from those who have had their dogs stolen.
During lockdown, demand for pet dogs increased hugely, with figures from the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA) revealing around 3.2 million UK households have bought an animal companion since the pandemic began.
As a result, the value of some breeds tripled in the past year and, as pets became hot property, there has also been a massive spike dog thefts.
There was a 250% increase in dog nappings from March 2020 to March 2021, according to the charity DogLost.
And since the beginning of 2021, traffic to the ‘Dog Theft’ page on the Dogs Trust’s website has increased by 780% compared to the same period in 2020.
“We understand that dog owners are increasingly concerned about dog theft," says Dogs Trust’s chief executive Owen Sharp.
“Given the high demand for dogs in recent months and the increase in prices, it is no wonder criminals are taking advantage of the situation.
“Our dogs play such a huge and important part in our lives but sadly thousands are stolen each year, which is absolutely heartbreaking."
The government is so concerned about the recent uptick in dog thefts that Boris Johnson has recently thrown his weight behind a task force specifically aimed at tackling pet theft to ensure that those who are caught stealing a dog face criminal conviction.
“One crime type that has risen in prominence during the pandemic is, oddly, pet theft – mainly the stealing of dogs," Johnson wrote in The Mail On Sunday.
"At present, this crime is far too often dismissed as relatively trivial – on a par, say, with shoplifting.
“I don’t agree. That is why the Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland has set up the Pet Theft Task Force, to make sure that the criminal justice system is dealing properly with anyone who is so malicious as to steal a dog.”
The PM went on to detail the number of dogs recovered and arrests made since the start of the year: 27 dogs and three arrests in Hertfordshire, 26 dogs and three arrests in Surrey, 83 dogs and six arrests in Suffolk and 80 dogs and two arrests in Carmarthenshire.
While the task force will no doubt go some way to reassuring nervous owners, the RSPCA says there are some steps people can take to help protect their furry friends from being snatched.
“Pet theft is a heartbreaking and extremely distressing situation for both pets and their owners," explains RSPCA dog welfare expert Dr Samantha Gaines.
"We would encourage all dog owners to take extra precautions to protect their pooches from thieves by neutering their pets, ensuring they are microchipped with up-to-date contact details registered, ensuring they wear a collar with contact details embroidered or an engraved ID tag.
"We’d also advise that owners never leave their pets tied up outside shops or alone in cars, ensure their gardens are secure with gates locked, and ensure their pet has a good recall and doesn’t stray too far when off-lead on walks.
“Anyone who suspects their dog may have been stolen should immediately alert police, contact their microchip company to register their pet as stolen and inform local rescue groups, vets, dog walkers and neighbours.”
Watch: Nottinghamshire Police appoint officer to investigate amide rising dog thefts.
How to protect your dog from theft
Sean McCormack, head vet at Tails.com, has some further tips on how to keep your dog safe and what you should do if your dog is stolen.
Training is key. If you haven’t got your dog’s recall down to perfection, now’s the time to really get that training under your belt, but it’s never too late to start.
Sometimes it’s good to go back to basics. If you have some smelly (tasty!) treats on hand to reward your dog when they get it right, that’s even better. If your dog isn’t motivated by food, you can use a clicker.
Collar and ID tag
Your dog should wear this at all times. It should have your surname, mobile number and address details on – and this is required by law when you’re out in public.
Remember: leave your dog’s name off the ID tag so potential thieves can’t trick them by calling their name.
It’s the law for all dogs over eight weeks, so make sure yours is always up to date. There’s more information on where to go and who to use on the government webpage.
Photos, photos and more photos
Having lots of photos of your dog not only gives you content for your social media feeds, it can also help you prove ownership if you do lose your dog.
In the garden
It might be toilet time but can you see them? Is your garden easily accessible? Could you do with an alarm on your gate? If you’re worried about your dog, keep them in your eye-line at all times.
Know what’s going on in your area
The Nextdoor app is a great way to keep an eye on what’s going on in your local area. A lot of your neighbours will share things they’ve spotted, near-misses, and anything suspicious.
Out and about
On a walk or in the park, make sure you know where your dog is and you’ve got your recall to hand to call them back to you when you need. If you feel unsure – don’t let them off lead.
Be wary of strangers asking you questions, asking for photos, or asking to hold your dog. Some thieves act in pairs or small groups to use distraction techniques – one person distracts you from your dog while the other one snatches them.
Posting on social media
If you’re on a walk and your dog is doing something you want to share with the world, leave the location tags off. Thieves can locate you from your post, or get to know where you walk with your precious pup.
At the shops
It might only be for a minute, but leaving your dog tied up outside a shop makes them an easy target. The same goes for leaving your dog in the car whilst you run an errand.
If your dog is stolen
Act fast. It’s going to feel awful, but the quicker you react the better chance you have of finding your dog.
Report your dog to the police as stolen (not lost) and get a crime number.
Report it to the local dog warden.
Report it to the microchip database.
Let your local vets know.
Local animal shelters often keep a lost and found database, check with the PDSA, RSPCA, Dog’s Trust and Blue Cross.
Go home and get printing – make a poster with a clear picture of your dog, details of what happened and a contact number.
Get outside and ask for help – go to your local parks, put up posters in your local area (not just where you walk) and talk to fellow dog walkers – take your dog's favourite squeaky toy too just in case.
Go online – post about it – find local community forums on Facebook, search for missing animals groups and connect with friends in your network, asking them to share.