Distressing for both parent and pet, dog theft, also known as dognapping, is on the rise in the US, UK and elsewhere. In fact, some estimates say that dog thefts have increased by 250% since the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 20201. If you’re staying home alone with your dog, it’s unlikely that you’ll face dog theft – but it can happen anywhere. From your backyard, to Beverly Hills, to a remote forest in Germany. Often times, dog thieves don’t have much to lose; with the penalties for stealing a dog minimal in many areas. You on the other hand, might have your whole world in those four paws and curious nose. So let’s talk about dog theft: recent dognapping incidences that made headlines, ways to protect against dognapping, and lastly, what to do if your dog has been stolen.

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What is dognapping?

Dognapping is the term used to describe the theft of a dog. It is also referred to by its synonyms, pet kidnapping or dog flipping. Dogs can be stolen from anywhere – your backyard, your home, your car, or anywhere you leave your dog unattended.

Sometimes, houses are broken into just to snatch a dog. Occasionally, armed robbers attack dog owners on the street and make off with the pooch. Dog thieves have even been known to develop elaborate scams to take your pup; like these two women who pretended to be an Animal Cruelty Task Force in Los Angeles. Perpetrators of dog theft may use violence, or tactics such as distraction or intimidation.

If the dog thief is successful, for the pet parent, more than just the value of the dog is lost: a piece of your heart and family is stolen.

How common is dognapping?

During the Coronavirus pandemic, thousands of people decided to get a dog as a furry companion while they were stuck at home. The huge demand for cute puppies soon exceeded supply, creating a wide-open market for stolen dogs. 

In the United Kingdom and United States, for example, reports of dognapping have surged. Some rural areas of the UK are the worst areas for dog theft. In these places, dognapping has doubled or tripled from pre-pandemic levels, according to police reports. 

Have you been seeing more dognapping stories in the news? Experts warn that the media attention given to dognapping may be fueling the rise in some places. High-profile cases, such as the 2021 theft of singer Lady Gaga’s French bulldogs by two gunmen in Los Angeles, could inspire future dognappers to try their hand at pet theft. (Thanks to the tremendous amount of publicity surrounding the case, Lady Gaga’s pups were found safe two days after the theft, although the dogs’ handler was seriously injured.)

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The problem of dognapping is more widespread than you might think. About two million dogs are victims of theft each year in the United States. Sadly, only about 10% of these stolen dogs are reunited with their families.

What types of dogs are stolen?

Any dog is at risk for dognapping, but pedigreed and purebred dogs top the list of dognapping targets. These popular and expensive breeds may sell for more than $2,000, meaning that dognappers can make a quick profit by stealing and selling these dogs. The exception on this list is the pit bull, which may be sold as an illegal fighting dog. Here is a list of the most commonly stolen dog breeds:

  1. Yorkshire Terrier
  2. Pomeranian
  3. Maltese
  4. Boston Terrier
  5. French Bulldog
  6. Chihuahua
  7. Labradoodle
  8. American Pit Bull Terrier
  9. Jack Russell Terrier
  10. Staffordshire Bull Terrier

Other pricey dog breeds, including Chow Chows, Rottweilers, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels may also be targeted for dognapping because they can be sold for high prices. 

Small dogs are obviously easier to steal than large dogs. They can be quickly snatched, hidden in a bag or box, and carried away. Large dogs may be tougher to capture because of their size and strength, but the potential profit to be made from selling these dogs makes it worth the risk for a dognapper. 

What do dognappers do with the dogs?

Dogs are not usually stolen because the thief wants the dog as a pet. Instead, dogs are often taken to be “flipped,” meaning that the dognapper sells the dog as soon as possible after stealing it. Dognapping can be lucrative for the thief: some dog breeds sell for thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, there seems to be a rise in occupationalist dog thieves – people who steal dogs for a living.

It’s not hard to sell a stolen dog. Just check the internet, and you’ll see dogs for sale everywhere. There’s no way to be certain that a dog being advertised for sale isn’t someone’s stolen pet. In fact, experts say that many online ads for dogs that need to be “re-homed” are scams by dognappers.

Dog thieves use several other tactics besides outright theft to obtain a dog. They may respond to a “found pet” notice placed by a concerned animal-lover who finds a dog roaming their neighborhood. The dognapper poses as the pet’s owner and picks up the dog from the helpful neighbor, only to turn around and sell the dog. Sometimes, dognappers adopt a pet from a shelter – not with the intention of providing a loving home, but with plans to sell the pup for a profit. 

Petnappers know that dogs are viewed as beloved family members by most pet owners, so they prey upon that vulnerability. These thieves know that owners may be desperate to get their dog back and may offer a large reward. Some thieves may steal a dog and later return the same pup to the owner and claim the reward. 

dog thief holding golden retriever dog

Is dognapping a federal crime?

Although kidnapping a person is a criminal offense, that’s not true for stealing a pet. Most states in the US do not have specific laws penalizing pet theft. Instead, pets are treated as personal property in these states. The law treats your stolen pet the same way it regards a stolen television or jewelry. 

A few US states have laws that address dog theft in their criminal codes. But the penalties usually fall in the misdemeanor category and carry only small fines or very little jail time. 

According to a review by the Michigan State University College of Law, the states of Virginia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New York, and Mississippi have the strongest dog theft laws. 

In the UK, lawmakers in 2021 acknowledged the rise in dognapping and the importance of animal welfare with new laws criminalizing pet abduction. The changes were recommended in a report by the Pet Theft Taskforce. The report identifies the importance of pets such as dogs and the severe emotional distress experienced by the pets’ owners when their beloved furry family member is stolen.

How to keep your dog safe from dognappers

You can take simple steps to protect your dog from possible theft. It’s better to invest some time preparing for this possibility than to experience the heartbreak of losing your cherished pet to dognapping.

Get your dog microchipped

Experts agree that having your dog microchipped is the best way to ensure that you are reunited with your dog if they are found after being lost or stolen. Your veterinarian, local animal shelter, or animal adoption agency can microchip your dog by placing a tiny implant, about the size of a grain of rice, under your dog’s skin. Any of these organizations can read the registration information that is stored on the microchip using a handheld scanner. 

Warning: a microchip is not the same as a GPS tracker and won’t allow you to follow your dog’s location in real time.

In the event your dog is resold after being stolen, the unsuspecting new owner may take their newly-acquired pup in for a veterinary check. Using the scanner, the vet could potentially locate the microchip in your pup and tie its registration back to you.

Therefore, it’s essential to have your information up to date in the microchip registry. If you move or change your phone number, be sure to update your contact information in the registry so you and your pooch can be reunited immediately.

Proof of ownership

Do you have documents that prove you own your dog? Make sure you can easily locate adoption papers, proof of purchase from a breeder, and receipts from buying pet food and supplies. Be sure to have recent photos of your dog handy to help spread the word about your missing pet.

Keep ID tags up to date

If you have recently moved or changed your phone number, be sure to update your dog’s ID tags with the new information right away. If a private citizen is the first person to find your dog, these tags are going to be a major clue that reunites you with your dog.

Use a GPS tracker on your dog’s collar at all times.

With a Tractive GPS Dog Tracker, you can monitor your dog’s location at all times and easily find your dog if they should escape your yard or dash off while on a walk. As long as the GPS tracker remains attached to the dog’s collar, you can pull up a map on your phone showing the exact location of your pup and even track them in real time. The peace of mind provided by a GPS tracker is invaluable for any pet parent. Here’s a story showing how one lucky Beagle was saved from dognappers with the help of Tractive GPS:

Kathy the Beagle: kidnapped and saved thanks to her Tractive GPS

In Germany, Kathy (aka Käthe) the Beagle was minding her business one day when something remarkable happened. She was off-leash; ready to pass a test in her hunting dog training. The track had already been laid in the forest. As Kathy set off on the trail, her human followed her movements in real time using a Tractive GPS tracker.

Suddenly, Kathy started traveling at high speeds, and way off course. From the dog tracking app, it was clear to Kathy’s dad: Kathy had been stolen, and the dognappers were driving off with her in their car! Her father followed his instinct and his dog’s live location in the app. He called the police, and after a dramatic, two-hour car chase, was finally reunited with his beloved Beagle.

Safe to say, it was a miracle that Kathy was wearing her Tractive GPS DOG Tracker that day.

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Neuter your dog

Another way to keep your dog safe from dog theft is through neutering. Not only will neutering your dog make them less likely to run away, but it will also make them less of a target for dog thieves, since they can no longer be bred after neutering.

Don’t leave your dog alone in a car or at a storefront

The hazard of a dog overheating in a hot car is not the only reason you shouldn’t leave your dog alone in your vehicle while you are running errands. It only takes a few seconds for a thief to smash a car window and grab your dog.

In some parts of the US and the UK, it’s common for dog owners to tie up their dog at a storefront while they shop inside. This clearly makes your dog a very easy target for dognappers, especially if they are a friendly pooch. If you can’t bring your dog into the store, leave them safely at home.

Don’t leave your dog unattended in the backyard

If it’s possible for strangers to see into your backyard, don’t leave your dog in the yard alone. Make certain that the gates in your fence are locked to prevent unwanted entry into your yard. 

Always try to be outdoors with your canine companion, or at the very least, check on them often. Actively play with your pooch, or allow them to follow you around the yard as you tend your gardens. Definitely do not leave your dog in the yard alone while you are away from home. If left alone for long periods, your dog could become bored and get into trouble (by digging or escaping), or worse, be nabbed by a dognapper.

Choose dog-walkers or dog-sitters carefully

If you rely on someone to walk your dog or provide care while you’re away, always check references and use a reputable dog-walking service or boarding kennel. Ask your friends and neighbors for suggestions to find trustworthy services.

Keep your dog on a leash when out walking

Even though it’s a great way to exercise your dog, allowing your furry friend to run off-leash in public areas can be hazardous – for your dog, for other pets in the area, or for other people. Keep your dog on a leash when you are walking them to avoid having your dog run off and into the arms of a not-well-meaning dognapper. A fenced dog park or your backyard (with your supervision) is the only place you should allow your dog off-leash.

Install a doggie camera

With security cameras in your home, you can view a live-stream and monitor your pet’s activity all day long. You’ll always know what your furry friend is up to while you’re away from home. 

Think twice before posting photos of your dog on social media

Posting images of your dog combined with information that shows where your spend time could make you a potential target for dog thieves. For this reason, police have warned against tagging your location in your social media posts.

Ensure proper training

With the right training, your dog can be taught to stay by your side and obey your cues. If you haven’t already leash trained your dog, learn the basics of leash training here. Training is important for every dog, as it will help you to keep them safe despite their otherwise strong doggy urges, like the prey drive or dog in heat behavior. Here are 5 simple commands you can teach your dog.

Stay informed

Stay up to date on news and events related to dognapping in your area. Be on alert in areas where dognapping cases have occured – and know where your dog is at all times.

person putting a golden retriever dog into the back of their car

What to do if your pet goes missing

If your dog goes missing, and you suspect they have been stolen, follow the steps below.

Check your home and neighborhood thoroughly

Fortunately, most missing dogs are not stolen; they are likely to have run off or escaped the backyard. Do a thorough check of your home and nearby areas. If your dog is trained to come when called, now is the time to reap the benefits of that training. 

Signs that your dog may have been stolen

Has your house or vehicle been broken into? Is the gate in your backyard hanging open? Is your dog’s collar lying on the front sidewalk? These may be signs that your dog has been forcibly taken from your property.  

Immediately report a dognapping to the police

If you believe that your dog has been stolen, contact your local law enforcement to report the crime. Give as many details as possible. Provide a photo and any markings that will help to identify your dog.

Call the microchip database

Let the microchip registry know that you believe your dog has been stolen. Be certain that your contact information is up to date in the microchip company’s registry. If your dog is found, you want to ensure that you can be reached immediately.

Contact local shelters and lost-dog or stolen-dog sites

Reach out to local animal shelters to report your missing dog. If you are comfortable sharing your information, post updates on websites or social media sites that feature lost or stolen animals to spread awareness about your dog’s plight. 

Distribute flyers

Post flyers with a recent photo of your dog, if your neighborhood allows. Include the date that your dog went missing. Download our lost dog poster below for free:

Discover more tips: how to find a lost dog

Plan ahead and keep your pet safe

No one wants to experience the heartbreak of losing a cherished pet to dognapping. Taking these simple steps will help to keep your dog safe and part of your family for years to come.

To learn more about dognapping and how to keep your dog safe, checkout the video below.

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