It is commonly believed that many of the working dogs that are stolen in Britain are used for breeding. When my own intact male cocker spaniel was pinched from a locked car back in 2009, it was thought he would be used for stud work, especially as he was a proven sire with a mostly red pedigree.

So if you are looking to buy a puppy or a part/fully trained adult dog, how do you ensure you don?t unwittingly buy someone?s long-lost stolen companion or the progeny from a heartbreaking tale?

Ask the right questions

According to the DogLost website?s south-east area co-ordinator Dee Ford, there are plenty of telltale signs to look out for when purchasing a new dog. ?It can be tricky to tell if a seller is genuine or not, but follow your gut instinct ? if alarms are going off in your head, don?t ignore them,? she advised. ?The first thing that would cause me to pull back would be if the dog had an extremely low price tag. Why is the seller in such a hurry to move it? Why is it not priced in line with other dogs of its age? Prepare yourself with a mental checklist of questions to ask yourself and the seller. Try not to become overwhelmed by the situation and how cute the puppies look ? maintain a level head. For your first visit, leave any children at home.?

Both buyers and sellers of dogs should expect to be grilled by either side. ?It is a two-way process,? said Dee. ?The seller should question you thoroughly about your lifestyle, work, and how you intend to use the dog. If they don?t want to know anything about you, why not?

?Likewise, don?t be afraid to quiz them on the dog?s credentials. If you?re buying a puppy, you should ask to see the mother, and be shown a short demonstration of the bitch?s ability. Is she really capable of what the owner is telling you? Is she demonstrating the characteristics of a true Field Trial Champion, or is she looking a bit clueless when asked to retrieve a tennis ball in the garden? It is your right as a buyer to understand everything you can about your dog?s heritage and you should not feel intimidated about asking probing questions. In my opinion, there is a culture of ignorance surrounding the purchasing of dogs. Dog theft is still on the up, so educating those wishing to buy a dog is another way we can help stamp it out. If you suspect a dog is stolen, call us and the police immediately.?

According to DogLost, another reason to be suspicious is if the seller refuses to let you visit the dog at their home. ?It is vital that you see a puppy?s mother in its home environment,? said Dee. ?Firstly, you need to be absolutely clear that you are not unwittingly buying from a puppy farm and secondly, you need to be positive that the owner is kosher. Meeting them at their home is an ideal way for you to make a quick assessment. Never go alone to meet the seller, but always take a family member or friend with you.?

Dee pointed out that the seller should also be happy for you to visit a puppy as many times as you like before it is ready to leave at eight weeks. ?If they are prepared to let your puppy go before this time it should definitely raise eyebrows. If the puppies have been bred from a stolen bitch then they?ll want to convert them into cash as soon as possible. Make sure your puppy comes with all the necessary paperwork. Has it been legally docked by a vet? Has it been micro-chipped? If it is Kennel Club registered, do all the certificates match up? Spend time on the Internet researching the kennel names. All this might seem onerous, but as a community, we have a responsibility to one another. If we are ever going to reduce dog theft in this country we have to attack it from more than one angle.?

West Sussex-based Marc Catchpole recently bought a working cocker puppy he?d seen advertised online. However, he made sure that he did plenty of background checks prior to seeing the dog: ?We originally found our new puppy on a website. Before we even contacted the breeder, we googled her name to see what popped up. As she was fairly local to us, we then asked a couple of gamekeepers whether they?d come across her. So far so good, but we still went with our eyes open for our first visit. We soon had a good understanding of what sort of person the breeder was, and felt comfortable that we were buying a puppy from someone that clearly adores her dogs and looks after them well. The fact that we were able to see both the mother and father was a real bonus too. Buying from an online advertisement is no different from responding to something pinned up on the noticeboard at the vet?s or elsewhere. As long as you apply common sense, you should not get stung.?

One online site, Preloved, features around 10,000 dogs and puppies for sale each month. A spokesman said they publish educational material, designed to help to ensure that puppies are not stolen. ?We also do a number of checks behind the scenes looking at the behaviour of our sellers, looking at people attempting to open multiple accounts and looking at people selling an unusually high number of animals. We also ask for evidence of a breeding licence where sellers advertise more than four litters in one year.?

The free classifieds website Gumtree also features thousands of dogs for sale. Gumtree?s Jamie Tomlin said, ?We work with animal charities to update our systems continually. We are notified about new trends and emerging terms tohelp stay ahead of the curve so that we know what ads are illegal.?

Yet sadly, the number of dogs being stolen in Britain is still on the up. DogLost received more than 3,500 reports of missing and stolen dogs in 2012 ? an increase of around 17 per cent on the previous 12 months. By ensuring that we all pull together and apply common sense, I am hopeful that future articles on dog theft will be able to report a significant drop in the statistics.