1. Chips away
One of the best ways to keep your dog safe is to get him microchipped. This will become a legal requirement in England and Wales in spring 2016, and once your dog is microchipped you will have a much better chance of getting him returned because a vet will be able to quickly scan him and match your details to his. However - and this is definitely ‘However' with a capital H - you must keep your contact details up to date with the microchip company. Many dogs are found and scanned but the details that show up are out of date and therefore the owner cannot be traced
2. Protecting pedigrees
Pedigree dogs are the most at risk of being stolen because they are worth more money and, unfortunately, as they often look very similar to other dogs of the same breed, it can be very difficult for people to identify them.
A pedigree dog who has been spayed or neutered will be of far less interest to thieves who may be looking for breeding bitches or stud dogs. Your dog will also be far less likely to stray to try to find a mate if he's been neutered. Many opportunistic thieves find dogs who are roaming the streets, although these dogs may be mysteriously returned to their owners if a large reward is offered.
3. Picture that!
If the worst happens and your dog gets stolen or lost, you will need to move fast and put up posters, and send information and pictures to a national database such as Dog Lost (www.doglost.co.uk). Prepare yourself by taking a series of photographs of your dog showing him from different angles and with close-ups of any distinctive markings. Remember that dogs can change considerably as they grow older so keep taking new photographs to ensure you have something that accurately depicts your pet at every stage of his life.
In addition, ask someone to take photographs of you with your dog in your home, garden, and out and about in your local area. Should there be an ownership dispute in the future this will help you to prove that you are the rightful owner.
Keep your photographs in an easily accessible fi le on your computer, or if you have prints, keep them in a folder, together with other details you may need, such as the telephone numbers of the microchip database, your local dog warden, and your vet.
4. Hot under the collar
It is a legal requirement under the Control of Dogs Order 1992 that all dogs, when out on a public highway or out and about in a public area, wear a collar with the name and address of their owner inscribed on it or with the details on a secure tag. It is not a legal requirement to include your telephone number, but this is highly recommended by the Kennel Club and if your dog is found it will mean that he can be returned to you much more quickly.
It is not recommended that you put the dog's name on a tag, because this will make it easier for thieves to present themselves as legitimate owners to anyone they may try to sell the dog on to.
When looking for a tag, buy a good quality one that won't break or fall off easily and check that your dog's collar fits well and isn't fraying or likely to slip over his head if he gets lost.
5. Safe and sound
Dogs are extremely vulnerable if they are left tied up and unattended outside a shop. It only takes seconds for someone to walk past and take your dog, so it is not worth leaving them alone even for a few moments. After all, you wouldn't dream of leaving a small child standing alone outside a shop, so treat your dog as if he is a member of the family and keep him with you at all times. It is far better to be slightly inconvenienced and have to return to the shop later, or even do without something completely, rather than take the risk of your dog being stolen. If the situation is urgent and you are absolutely desperate ask a uniformed security guard from the shop if they are willing to hold your dog for a minute while you run inside.
6. Come back
If your dog doesn't have a reliable recall take time to work on this before you allow him off lead. If he is likely to run off it is better to keep him on a lead or long line, particularly when you are in unfamiliar areas. Always carry a treat bag with you and a favourite toy, and practise recalls when he is on a long line until you are convinced that he will come back to you when called. Never get cross with your dog when he eventually returns to you, as it will simply make him hesitant to come back to you in the future. Make the biggest fuss of him when he returns and play a fun game such as tuggy or chasing a ball, or if he's food motivated give lots of treats and verbal praise. A reliable recall will really help to keep your dog safe.
7. Secure your garden
Make sure that your garden is secure. Don't just assume that it is - take time to closely inspect any fencing and hedgerows to ensure there are no gaps or holes that your dog could escape through. Keep gates locked when your dog is in the garden and ensure that fences are high enough to prevent a passing thief from leaning over to steal your dog. If the fencing is low and you don't believe your garden is totally secure it is safer to only allow him outside when he is supervised.
Should you hear your dog barking at something when you are indoors make sure you check out what it is as he may be alerting you to stranger danger in the area. If you are at all worried, don't hesitate to report to the police that there is someone suspicious hanging around your house and garden.
8. In a flap
If you have a dog flap in your kitchen door make sure that you lock it when your dog is left alone in the house. Equally, if you have a cat flap, make sure that this is locked too, or that it is set in such a way that your cat is able to enter the house but once indoors will not be able to get out again. If you don't do this you could find that your dog is tempted to follow the cat out into the garden, and even large dogs have been known to squeeze through quite small cat flaps if they are feeling very determined and adventurous!
Don't forget to secure your house at night by locking dog and cat flaps, as thieves have been known to enter houses by clambering through, particularly if they have observed that you and the dog are out of the house.
9. Keep your mouth shut
We all love to talk about our dogs and tell the world how wonderful they are, but try not to brag about your pet too much, particularly to people you don't really know. If you meet someone who shows an overenthusiastic interest in your dog, it may be better to keep quiet about the fact that he has a fantastic pedigree, or he's very well trained and comes from a long line of agility champions. Unfortunately the person you are talking to could be someone who decides to target your dog at a later date and the more information they have, such as your dog's name, and the fact that his favourite treats are sausages, the easier it will be for them to gain the dog's trust and lure him away.
10. Be vigilant
Try and vary your routine by changing the times of your walks and the routes that you take. Your dog will enjoy the variety too! If a thief notices that you are always in a certain spot at a certain time, they may try to get there at the same time and steal your dog while your attention is elsewhere. For this reason, always remain vigilant and keep your dog in your sights. If you meet a friend and get chatting, look at your dog as he plays rather than directing all your attention on to your friend. It only takes a minute for a thief to pick up a dog and bundle him into a car, so keep your wits about you and stay safe.