Police are urging dog owners to take reasonable security measures to keep their pets safe.
Officers are warning that criminals are exploiting the huge increase in prices and demand for puppies over the Coronavirus restrictions.
The charity DogLost has seen reports of thefts rise by 170% in the last year, from 172 dogs in 2019 to 465 in 2020.
“Dog theft can be a devastating crime for families and causes considerable distress to owners,” said National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for acquisitive crime Deputy Chief Constable Amanda Blakeman. “While it is still a very rare crime, it’s sadly something we have seen increasing recently.
“During the coronavirus pandemic criminals have adjusted their activities and are taking advantage of the big demand for pets over the lockdown period. The cost of a puppy has considerably increased over the past year, making this a lucrative market for organised criminals to exploit.”
Police across the country are taking robust action to target those responsible for dog theft.
Deputy Chief Constable Amanda Blakeman added: “We rely on the public providing us with information and would urge anyone who sees anything suspicious to report it to their local officers. While these offences can be very difficult to investigate police understand how upsetting they are and will robustly follow any lines of inquiry.
“Dog owners can take reasonable security measures to prevent thefts like checking privacy settings on social media before sharing pictures of your pet online, as this can attract the attention of some criminals. The Blue Cross website has a wide range of advice on how to prevent theft of dogs and steps to take if this happens.
“I also want to encourage those who are buying dogs to really consider where the pet has come from and ensure that it is being purchased legally. Advice can be found online on the checks you should make before purchasing a new dog or puppy.”
Policing Minister Kit Malthouse said: “Losing a much-loved family pet can cause great distress and it’s a sad fact that criminals will seek to profit by this vile crime.
“We are taking action to cut crime by bolstering the police with 20,000 extra officers and our £20m Safer Streets Fund will provide Police and Crime Commissioners with additional cash to spend on crimes such as theft.
“Let me be clear – pet theft is a criminal offence with a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment and it must be confronted wherever it occurs.”