There is no doubt that the main motivation behind the theft of gundogs is purely financial. There are many theories as to what happens with the dogs once they are stolen, but the one fact that stands out is that it causes the owners a significant amount of upset and heartache.

As a group, gundog owners are quite vulnerable — many of our dogs are kept in outside kennels and we tend to travel many miles with our dogs in the back of vehicles. However, our main failing is that we tend to become complacent and have an “it won’t happen to me” attitude. The simple truth is that it is happening and gundogs are being stolen every day from kennels and from vehicles during shoot days. Recently, I heard that a litter of cocker spaniel puppies had been stolen from a conservatory — the thieves smashed a window and took seven puppies that had all been sold and were ready to go to their new homes.

Making it difficult

It is often said that if thieves want your possessions then there is little you can do to stop them, but you can certainly make it more difficult and, in some cases, increase the possibility of getting your dogs back.

Since the introduction of the 2006 Animal Welfare Act, all working dogs that have their tails docked must have a signed certificate from a vet and be microchipped, and that certificate has to stay with the puppy if it is sold on. But it is unlikely that any of us will have a microchip scanner to check the authenticity of a litter of puppies, or even an adult dog, and though there is no doubt that there are plenty of benefits of chipping dogs it certainly doesn’t work as a deterrent to thieves.

An additional method of identification — and a better deterrent — is to have the dog’s ear tattooed by the National Dog Tattoo Register

(www.dog-register.co.uk). Ear tattooing has been the standard method of identification in the greyhound world for many years. It is a permanent and visible mark which is more difficult to interfere with. Adult dogs and puppies aged six weeks and older can be tattooed. The dogs are registered with both the new owner and the breeder to ensure two points of contact.

Locks and alarms

Most gundog thefts are from outside kennels, where our dogs are most vulnerable. A good-quality padlock is a must. Do not be lulled in to a false sense of security by “tempered steel” or “hardened” locks because these can be cut with bolt croppers, especially if they have a “U”-shaped shackle. The square-shaped padlocks designed for shipping containers are a better alternative. These have a straight shackle which makes it difficult to cut or smash the lock. Couple this with a box section over the hasp and you will have the start of a sound security system.

Some of the most innovative padlocks are made by Kabrus (www.kabrus.co.uk). The firm’s high-security alarmed padlock has a 110db siren built in which is set off if the lock is tampered with (you can use the lock without the alarm being set if you wish). The locks are designed to ensure minimum exposure to the hardened shackle. But note, you may have to consider where you use this kind of padlock because the pitch of the alarm is high and will certainly upset the dogs, but that may, of course, be better than having them stolen.

Consideration should also be given to the design of your kennels, especially the runs. The most common type of kennel run is the galvanised mesh panel type. Though cost-effective, they do not offer the same level of security as the slightly more expensive 5mm or 8mm solid bar units. A good roof over the runs will stop anyone climbing over the top. Also consider putting an alarm box in a visible position as a deterrent.

Use of a guard dog

I know a few kennels that employ the use of a guard dog, but if you do go down that route you must be aware that the 1975 Guard Dog Act states that you must have a warning sign to the effect that a guard dog is being used on the premises. If the dog is loose, a handler must be present and in control of the dog, and if a handler isn’t present, the dog must be secured and not allowed to go freely about the premises.

I travel quite extensively with my dogs and I always take a few basic precautions when parking up at service stations or at a shoot. If I need a quick break, I try to find a parking space nearest the main entrance of the service station and I always lock the dogs in the dog box. I always travel with my dogs in a well-built box, not only for their safety but also for security. Personally, I prefer a black or dark colour because it makes it harder to see the dogs, especially when they are at the back of the box. I have also had the rear windows of my vehicle tinted so, unless you go up close and peer in, it is very hard even to see the box let alone the dogs.

I try to avoid leaving a dog in the car during a shoot day, but if I have to, I always back the car hard up against a building and again I make sure I lock the doors and set the vehicle alarm. All this may seem a bit like overkill but aside from the financial value of the dogs I have spent a considerable amount of time and effort in training them and they are an important part of my life and deserve to be kept safe and secure.

An early warning system

The biggest disadvantage to the gundog owner is that quite often the dogs are left in kennels or vehicles while the owners are not around and this potentially gives the thief time to remove the dogs. A new system on the market may just swing the advantage back in the owners’ favour.

The Wiz Guard Monitoring System (patent pending) was originally designed and developed by Mike Douglas to fit built-in dog cages that are popular with agility dog owners but it can be modified to fit any swing open door found in a kennel, travelling box, stable, or vehicle. When the system is live and someone gains unauthorised entry to a door, a text message is immediately sent to the owner’s phone (and up to three alternative mobile numbers). This is then followed up with a phone call via a GSM unit. The text message is normally received within six to eight seconds but this depends on the strength of the mobile phone network. The unit can have a number of sensors fitted and can be programmed so the owner is informed of which individual door has been opened.

Though this unit is not strictly a deterrent system, it certainly works as an early warning system and could enable the owner to get back to the kennel or car in time to stop the theft — or at least contact someone to check out the situation.

The problem of selling or breeding from stolen gundogs exists because there is a ready market for the purchase of such animals. There have been thousands of words written on what to look out for when buying a new gundog, but be vigilant and make proper inquiries. If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is.