Gundog thefts.

The DogLost helpline, set up by volunteers in 2003 to reunite lost and stolen dogs with their owners, has reported a huge surge in the number of dogs stolen in the past year — overwhelmingly working gundogs, and cocker spaniels in particular are targeted.

This year, between 20 and 30 dogs have been reported lost per day, sometimes as many as 40.

Last year the figure was between 12 and 15 a day, and in 2009, the figure was as low as six to 10 dogs reported missing per day.

Jayne Hayes, the founder of DogLost, told Shooting Times that she puts the higher rate down to increased popularity of shooting sports and the demand for trained dogs.

“More people are getting involved in shooting, and a lot want a fully trained gundog. Naturally they buy a dog on performance, but they don’t necessarily look into its background,” she explained, adding: “Everyone wants a dog from good working lines, but of course papers can be forged and not every buyer knows what they should be looking for.”

“I would urge shooters, if they see someone with a new dog on a shoot, to ask where they got it. It’s essential that buyers should know the background of dogs they buy.”

Stolen dogs reunited with their owners have, according to Mrs Hayes, typically been found in suspicious circumstances.

“Let’s just say that a lot of money frequently changes hands,” she pointed out.

Geographically, most thefts occur in the south-east, with thefts in Surrey, Sussex and Essex on the rise, but thefts of working dogs, especially cockers, occur throughout the UK.

To contact DogLost, visit the website or tel 0844 800 3220.