Dog theft increases by 20 per cent during lockdown

  • An estimated 2,438 dogs were reported as stolen to police forces across the UK in 2020, the equivalent of seven dogs stolen every day
  • 2020 saw a rise in Labradors, Cocker Spaniels and Springer Spaniels being stolen but a fall in French Bulldogs and Chihuahuas being targeted
  • Only just over a fifth (22 per cent) of stolen dogs were reunited with their owners
  • The Metropolitan Police received the greatest number of reports of all forces in 2020, but the North West is now the regional dog theft hotspot
  • In the five years Direct Line has been analysing dog theft it has risen by 31 per cent


New research1 from Direct Line Pet Insurance reveals that reports of dog theft increased by a fifth in 2020. Last year, an estimated 2,438 dogs were reported as stolen to police forces in the UK, a 20 per cent rise on 2019 numbers (2,026)2. This is the equivalent of seven dogs being reported stolen every day. Dog theft incidents have risen by 31 per cent in five years, from 1,774 in 2016.

Staffordshire Bull Terriers continue to be the most popular breed of dog targeted by thieves3, with 97 dogs stolen in 2020. This breed accounted for 21 per cent of all named stolen dogs in 2020 and the number stolen increased by nine per cent on 2019. Crossbreeds remain the second most targeted, with 52 dogs stolen last year, although this was a fall of nearly a third (31 per cent) compared to 2019.

Labradors did not make it into the top 10 in 2019 but were fifth in 2020, which may be partly due to their popularity among celebrities like Reese Witherspoon, Camilla Cabello and Ant McPartlin sharing images on social media. Cocker Spaniels became the third most commonly stolen in 2020 with 34 dogs and moving up from fourth place in 2019.The same trend is true for Springer Spaniels, which were outside of the top 10 in 2019 but are now among the most popular targets for thieves.

Table one: Top 10 most commonly stolen dog breeds in 2020





Percentage change

Position change

Proportion of all named stolen breeds in 2020


Staffordshire Bull Terrier



+9 per cent

No change

21 per cent





-31 per cent

No change

11 per cent


Cocker Spaniel



+26 per cent

+ 1

7 per cent





+23 per cent


6 per cent





+189 per cent


6 per cent


Jack Russell



+92 per cent


5 per cent


Border Collie



+54 per cent


4 per cent


Springer Spaniel



+433 per cent


4 per cent





-76 per cent


3 per cent


French Bulldog



-33 per cent


3 per cent


All breeds



+20 per cent



Source: Direct Line Pet Insurance, 2021

Breeds that have fallen in popularity for thieves include Chihuahuas, which saw a 76 per cent reduction in the number stolen in 2020 and moved from third place in 2019 to 9th place, and French Bulldogs, which moved from 7th to 10th. French Bulldogs peaked at 3rd place in 2018 and have been falling in popularity as a target since then, perhaps indicating that owners have become extra vigilant. The recent high-profile case of Lady Gaga’s stolen French Bulldogs is a stark reminder how valuable and easily identifiable these dogs are.

The pandemic is likely to have had an impact on cases of dog theft, as ownership has soared since lockdown began in March 2020. Additional research4 found 2.2 million people took ownership of a dog in the first six months of the coronavirus pandemic. The average amount spent on a dog was just over £800, although one in nine (11 per cent) people spent over £1,500. As lockdown restrictions ease and people return to offices, Direct Line is urging owners, especially those who haven’t had to leave their dogs before, to be extra vigilant.

Madeline Pike, Veterinary Nurse for Direct Line Pet Insurance, said: “It’s incredibly sad to see the number of dog thefts rising by such a large proportion in 2020. Unfortunately, it seems the increase in dog ownership over lockdowns has also translated to a rise in dog thefts, as thieves know how valuable some of these breeds can be and see them as a commodity rather than a beloved member of the family.

“The worry is these numbers will increase even further this year once dogs are left alone more as restrictions ease and we return to a new ‘normal’. Taking simple precautions like not leaving your dog tied up outside a shop or keeping it on the lead when in busy areas, will help reduce the likelihood of being targeted, while making sure microchipping contact details are up to date can help identify a dog if it is stolen and handed in.”

Regional police force data

Last year saw a sharp rise in dog thefts in the North West, a 68 per cent increase, and North East (54 per cent). The North West is now the dog theft hotspot, accounting for 15 per cent of all reported thefts in 2020. London was second, accounting for 13 per cent of all thefts, followed by the South East (12 per cent) and Yorkshire (11 per cent). These four regions combined accounted for over half (52 per cent) of all reported thefts in 2020.

The Metropolitan Police Service retains its place as the force with the single greatest number of reported dog thefts, having received 318 reports last year. West Yorkshire Police came in second, with 125 reports, and Kent Police (118) came in third. All three of these forces, however, saw a reduction in the number of dogs reported stolen in 2020 compared to 2019.

Lancashire Constabulary came in fourth with 111 dogs reported stolen, a 25 per cent increase on the number reported in 2019 (89). Northumbria Police completes the top five (92) and also saw a significant uplift in dogs stolen compared to 2019 (up 88 per cent). The top five forces alone account for almost a third (32 per cent) of all dogs reported stolen in 2020.

Table two: Top 10 police forces by number of dogs stolen in 2020


Police Force

Reports of stolen dogs in 2019

Reports of stolen dogs in 2020

Percentage change


Metropolitan Police Service



-3 per cent


West Yorkshire Police



-25 per cent


Kent Police



-15 per cent


Lancashire Constabulary



+25 per cent


Northumbria Police



+88 per cent


Devon and Cornwall Police



+15 per cent


Humberside Constabulary



+123 per cent


South Yorkshire Police



+29 per cent


Durham Constabulary



+4 per cent


Essex Police



-4 per cent

Source: Direct Line Pet Insurance, 2021

At the other end of the scale, South Wales Police received just six reports of stolen dogs in 2020, a 57 per cent fall compared to 2019. Surrey Police received 12 reports in 2020, while both Avon and Somerset Constabulary and Lincolnshire Police just 13 each.

The proportion of dogs returned to their owners remained the same overall in 2020 compared to 2019, with only just over a fifth (22 per cent) of dogs reunited with their owners. The force which saw the greatest success for returning stolen dogs to their owners in 2020 was Warwickshire, reuniting 17 out of 23 stolen dogs (87 per cent) with their families. Completing the top three forces for reuniting dogs with owners are Leicestershire Constabulary, which reunited 15 out of 23 (58 per cent) and North Yorkshire Police, which reunited 14 of 24 stolen dogs (55 per cent).

Steps to follow if your dog has been stolen:

  • Firstly, check the local area and your dog’s favourite spots in case the dog has wandered off  
  • Engage the local community and make your dog ‘too hot to handle’ by sharing with local groups, putting up posters, informing local media and using social media – include pictures and any distinctive marks
  • There are some specific sites set up to help find lost and stolen dogs, like
  • Report your dog as stolen to the police and provide them with as much detail as possible
  • Report your dog as stolen to local pet related services like vets, animal shelters, pet shops, dog wardens and the council. Provide photos, a physical description and the dogs microchip number
  • Report your dog to the microchip database and make sure your contact details are up to date



Notes to Editors

1            Freedom of Information Act request made to all 45 Police Forces across the UK in January 2021, of which 37 (82%) responded with usable data. To estimate the total number of stolen dogs across the UK a calculation based on the national average number of dogs stolen and returned per 10,000 dogs (2.74 and 0.58 respectively) was applied to the number of dogs in the force areas that were unable to provide data.

2            2019 study took place in February 2020, when 35 or 45 (78%) of police forces responded to a FOIA request.

3            The 2016 study covered the preceding three years, so data was collected for the most-stolen breeds for 2014, 2015 and 2016.

4            Research conducted by Opinium among a nationally representative sample of 2,001 adults between 4th – 7th September 2020

For further information please contact:

Chelsey Wheeler
PR manager – Direct Line  

Tel: 01651 832 095

Email: [email protected]  

Direct Line

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