Dorset Police has issued advice to pet owners amid a "shocking" rise in dog theft across the UK.

The thought of having a beloved animal taken from you and sold is absolutely heartbreaking.

An increased demand for lockdown companions saw 465 dogs stolen in 2020 according to the charity DogLost.

The charity has seen reports of thefts rise by 170 per-cent in the past year from 172 dogs in 2019 to 465 in 2020.

The increase is thought to be linked to the rise in the cost of puppies as people look for companionship during lockdown.

Pets4Homes says the average price being asked for a puppy from March to September 2020 was £1,883, compared to £888 during the same period in 2019.

A spokesperson for Dorset Police said: "Reported theft of dogs has increased nationally and is a very impactive crime, which can often leave victims very distressed and upset.

"It is important to recognise that reported offences in Dorset decreased last year and thankfully the number of offences reported to us remains relatively low.

"Dorset Police will always investigate any legitimate lines of enquiry in a bid to help owners to be reunited with their pet."

In an interview released last week the Home Secretary Priti Patel pledged to tackle "absolutely shocking" pet thefts and "go after" the thieves profiting from the crime. 

Speaking on LBC Radio, Priti Patel stopped short of committing to tougher new laws but said she was “looking into what kind of measures can be put in place in terms of the criminality”.

Dorset Echo:

Home Secretary Priti Patel spoke on LBC Radio on Friday (Charlotte Graham/Daily Telegraph/PA)

It comes after former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith called for tougher sentences for pet thieves amid reports of a spike in the crime.

The pet charity Blue Cross states that 38% of animals reported lost have been stolen, and more than half of them are never found.

 Becky Thwaites, head of public affairs at Blue Cross said:

"Overwhelming demand has turned dogs and puppies into commodities with people prepared to pay serious money for them.

 “Criminals have been cashing in any way they can on this surge in prospective owners looking for new pets, and individuals or organised groups could potentially steal any dog, no matter how old, if they think they could make some profit from it.

“We can’t stress enough how owners need to keep a close eye on their dog when they’re out and about.”

Here are Dorset Police's tips for keeping your dog safe: 

•             Do not leave your dog unattended if at all possible. Dogs can be easily stolen from back gardens or vehicles or from outside premises or fields while owners are working.

•             Assess your home and garden boundaries – how easy is it to walk in or climb over your fence? Apart from the obvious fencing, where possible put up trellis on top or against wooden fencing, to make it harder to climb over. Plant thick thorny high shrubs.

•             Gates and entrances need to be locked and ideally any kennels or pens not visible from the street.

•             In England, it’s a legal requirement for all dogs to be microchipped before eight weeks old. Failure to do so could resort in a fine of up to £500.

Dorset Echo:

The best ways to keep your pooch safe - image stock. 

•             All dogs should wear a collar with identification when in public. Don’t put your dog’s name on the tag, just a surname and contact number.

•             If your dog is neutered, it will reduce the chances of the dog being stolen for breeding.

•             Consider having your dog tattooed in its ear with an identification number this will provide a visual deterrent as well as a permanent mark.

•             Change the location of where you walk and the times, and try to make sure that your dog is not out of sight during the walk.

•             Make any kennels or outhouses that dogs are kept in are as secure as possible by fitting a good quality padlock with security lighting, alarms and CCTV.

•             Consider having CCTV and alarms linked to your phone to see what’s going on when you’re not at home.

•             Make sure your dog’s microchip is registered and your details are up-to-date on the government website. 

If your dog is lost or stolen report it to the local council’s dog warden and those in neighbouring local authorities, plus the police.

If you know it’s been stolen, make sure the police record it as a theft and not a lost animal - be sure to ask for a crime reference number.

Ask other dog walkers to keep an eye out for your dog and report the theft to the microchip database so if anyone tries to re-register the chip number you’ll be told.

Also make sure local vets know your dog has been stolen in case someone takes it in for treatment, and tell local animal shelters and rescue charities.