Dog theft is on the rise and working gundogs are as at risk as any pet. David Tomlinson looks at how we can minimise the dangers.

Dog theft, especially of working gundogs, is a puzzling crime. Every year hundreds of gundogs are stolen 
but no one seems to have much idea 
what happens to them. In a lifetime 
of shooting, I’ve never heard rumours of suspicious people offering trained gundogs at a bargain price. So if the people who steal them don’t sell them, what do they do with them?

Few convictions for dog theft

Many dogs are stolen, few are ever recovered and there are equally few convictions made for dog theft. Frustratingly, it isn’t a crime that either the police or the courts take seriously, which goes some way to explaining the low conviction rate. Statistics I have seen show that in a typical year, just five per cent of reported dog thefts lead to prosecutions, of which a mere 1.5 per cent end in a conviction. Even then the thief is far more likely to end up with a caution than a prison sentence.

Part of the problem is with the law. Under the Theft Act 1968, a bicycle and car (vehicle) are separately classified but a dog is lumped in with personal property. No consideration is given to the fact that, for most of us, our dog is a much-valued member of our family. The 
loss of a dog under any circumstances is extremely upsetting, while there can be few things worse than having one’s companion stolen and not know what has happened to it.

old yellow Labrador

Always be aware of the risk of dog theft

The value of a dog

Most of us buy puppies for anything from £400 to perhaps £1,200 and spend many hours training them. If the training was costed in at a modest £10 an hour, then there would be few working gundogs worth less than £3,000. However, this is a theoretical value and not one a thief can expect to make by selling on a stolen dog. It is probably unwise to talk of how valuable a gundog is, as this might well make a dog more attractive to thieves.

I’ve been prompted to write about dog theft following an email from reader and gundog enthusiast Arnot Wilson who is founder of Pet Theft Awareness and a member of the Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance.

Earlier this year the Alliance launched an e-petition seeking to reclassify pet theft as a crime in its own right. At the time of writing the petition has more than 82,500 signatures, but it needs to hit 100,000 before 8 August 2018 in order to be considered for a debate in Parliament. In view of the number of dog owners in the UK, achieving this shouldn’t be a problem, but it does need everyone’s support. You can sign it here. 

field spaniels on slip leads

Putting a value on a trained gundog is difficult

Dog theft is on the rise

In 2013, 1,491 dogs were reported stolen, 1,599 in 2014, 1,776 in 2015 and 1,774 in 2016. Figures for 2017 were unavailable.

According to the Pet Theft Census, 52 per cent of dogs are stolen from gardens, 19 per cent as a result of burglary, 16 per cent while out on 
a walk, seven per cent while tied up outside shops and five per cent when left unattended in vehicles.

I doubt if many readers of this column tie their dogs up outside shops but I’m sure most of us do, on occasion, leave our dog or dogs unattended in a vehicle.

Minimising the risks

  • If your dogs live in an outside kennel, don’t just fit locks but also consider the added security of close-circuit television.
  • Don’t leave a dog loose in a garden
  • When leaving a dog in a car, park where 
you can keep an eye on it or reverse 
up against a wall or fence so access 
to the tailgate is impossible.
  • In theory, compulsory microchipping should have made dog theft more difficult as individual dogs can be recognised, but a chip doesn’t prove ownership. Scanners are also cheap to buy, so there is nothing to stop an unscrupulous thief scanning a microchipped dog, locating and removing the chip and replacing it with one of their own.