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Dog Theft: A Growing Concern in Urban Areas – 14 Statistics and Trends

Dog Data By Megan Marrs 21 min read July 12, 2023

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dog theft statistics

Please note that the statistics presented in this article are sourced from third-party sources and do not reflect the opinions or views of this website.

Dog theft is a devastating crime that can cause immense emotional and financial harm to any dog owner. Many pet owners report their beloved furry friends being snatched from their homes, gardens, or even while out on walks. 

The motivations behind dog theft vary, with some thieves stealing dogs for financial gain, while others may take them for breeding or as a result of misguided beliefs about certain breeds. 

It is essential for pet owners to take steps to protect their dogs from theft and for society to take action to address this issue.

The 10 Most Alarming Dog Theft Trends and Statistics

  1. Around 2 million dogs are stolen every year in the United States
  2. Only 10-30% of lost dogs are typically reclaimed by their owners from shelters
  3. In 2020, an estimated 265,578 dogs and cats were euthanized in shelters across the United States
  4. 70% of households in the US are at risk of pet theft
  5. Around 90.5 million households in the United States own at least one dog as a pet
  6. French Bulldogs, Yorkshire Terriers, and Chihuahuas are the top three most frequently stolen dog breeds in the United States
  7. Regional differences in dog theft rates in the US may be influenced by population density, socioeconomic factors, and local laws and law enforcement practices.
  8. Factors such as breed, size, location, laws, identification, and security measures can contribute to dog theft.
  9. Dog theft causes emotional distress, financial loss, and public safety concerns for victims and society. It also incurs substantial economic costs.
  10. As of 2023, there are 23 states in the US that have implemented specific criminal codes for dog theft

1. An estimated 2 million dogs are stolen in the US each year.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) has reported a startling increase in dog thefts. In fact, nearly 2 million dogs are stolen on a yearly basis in the US.1 

In the UK the reported dog thefts increased by 170% in 2020 compared to the previous year, according to DogLost.2 In 2020, there were 465 reported cases of stolen dogs in the UK, compared to just 172 dog thefts recorded in 2019.12

Some reports estimate that there was a 250% increase in pet thefts overall during the pandemic, driven in part by the increased value and demand for puppies.

There are several potential explanations for this increase:

  • It’s a Low Risk, High Reward Activity. The low risk of being caught and punished for dog theft may encourage criminals to pursue dog-napping as a revenue stream. Coupled with the fact that certain high-demand breeds like French bulldogs, Pomeranians, Yorkshire terriers, and goldendoodles can fetch a hefty price tag, it’s no surprise that some criminals see dog theft as easy money.
  • Social Media Makes Locating Targets Easy. Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, where owners often post pictures of their beloved pets, have made it easier for pet thieves to identify potential targets and locate valuable breeds in a particular area.
  • Emotional Attachment Makes It Easy to Charge a Ransom. Dogs have become more than just pets to many people; they are often considered family members. This emotional attachment may make dogs more attractive targets for thieves, who may be able to extort a handsome ransom for a dog’s safe return.

2. 93% of lost dogs in the US are recovered (but only 75% of cats).

The recovery rate of lost dogs in the US is high, with 93% of lost dogs being recovered in one study surveying over 1,000 pet-owning households.3

Meanwhile, cats had a 75% recovery rate, with 25% of lost cats never being recovered.

In comparison to other types of lost and found pets, dogs tend to have a higher recovery rate than cats. 

This may be because dogs are more likely to wear identification tags or be microchipped (in an ASPCA study, 15% of dogs were reunited with their family thanks to microchipping4).

However, the most common method of relocating a lost pet was by the owner searching for it, or the pet returning home on their own.

Among people who found a pet and attempted to find the owner by contacting an animal shelter or placing an advertisement in the local newspaper, only 38% of these finders were able to reunite pets with their owners.

The same study found that, in the US, 10-30% of lost dogs are reclaimed from shelters by their owners. According to the ASPCA that number is even smaller — in their study, only 6% of dog guardians found their lost dog at a shelter.4

While a “missing” dog is not the same as a “stolen” dog, it’s good to know that the majority of dogs that go missing have likely wandered off and are fairly likely to return home on their own unharmed.

3. 70% of US households are at risk for pet theft (with dog theft being the most common).

According to various sources, including the American Pet Products Association (APPA), a majority of pet owners in the United States are at risk of pet theft, with 70% of all households being affected by this threat.5 

In 2022, there were approximately 90.5 million homes in the United States with dogs as pets. Dogs are the most commonly stolen pets, accounting for 7 out of 10 stolen pets.

Compared to other types of household safety concerns, pet theft may not be as prevalent, but it is still a cause for concern. Other safety issues, such as fire safety and unintentional injuries, are much more common. 

What’s different from other pet dangers is the emotional impact of pet theft, which can be significant. This is why it’s important for pet owners to take preventative measures to protect their pets.

It’s important to note that pet theft is not just a safety concern but can also be a criminal offense. Unfortunately, pet theft is often difficult to prosecute, and the punishment is usually not severe enough to deter criminals. 

4. Pets are commonly stolen from backyards, or even cars.

Many dogs are stolen from their backyards or even from the inside of their own homes. In some cases, thieves steal cars with dogs, sometimes “only” the dogs from the vehicles.

There are even cases when dogs are stolen from public places or dog parks.

5. French Bulldogs, Yorkshire Terriers, and Chihuahuas are the most commonly stolen dog breed in the US.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) has identified French Bulldogs, Yorkshire Terriers, and Chihuahuas as the most frequently stolen dog breeds in the US1.

However, these breeds are not among the most popular in the country. 

According to the AVMA Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook, the most popular dog breeds in the United States are Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Bulldogs, and Beagles6.

It’s worth noting that the popularity of a breed does not necessarily correlate with its likelihood of being stolen. For example, Labrador Retrievers are one of the most popular breeds in the country but are not among the most commonly stolen.

Similarly, French Bulldogs, which are one of the most commonly stolen breeds, are not among the most popular in the country.

The most common stolen dog breeds are often targeted due to their:

  • Small size (they’re easier to steal)
  • High cost (French Bulldogs can regularly cost well over $1k)
  • Limited Availability (French Bulldogs must be born via c-section and often have small litters, limiting their availability)

6. A stolen dog can be re-sold for as much as $15k.

Purebred dogs, particularly toy breeds, puppies, and designer breeds like Labradoodles, are the most common targets of pet theft due to their high resale value.

These dogs can fetch thousands of dollars for little effort and expense on the part of the thief.

According to the Los Angeles Police Department15, stolen dogs that fetch the highest prices include:

  • French bulldogs ($7,000-$12,000)
  • Goldendoodles (resale value $800-$3,000)
  • Pomeranians (resale value starts at $3,000, but unusual or rare coat colors can net up to $15,000).

7. French Bulldog thefts have increased 60%-70% between 2020 – 2021.

One private investigator who specializes in dog theft notes that calls to her agency requesting help to locate missing French Bulldogs has increased 60% to 70% over an 18-month period between 2020 and 2021, averaging at about three to five requests a week.8

8. Many owners offer a reward to have their stolen dog returned.

It’s not uncommon for owners to offer ransom rewards to have their pets returned to them. For many, it feels like the only options to have their beloved companion returned safely.

While ransom offers can vary, the necessary price can be well outside the average owner’s finances.

Private investigator Karin TarQwyn notes that the minimum reward she suggests her clients offer for a missing French Bulldog is $3,500.8

The high-profile case of Lady Gaga’s dognapping illustrates the severity of the issue, with her French Bulldog stolen in broad daylight from the hired dog walker (who was actually attacked and shot during the theft).

After offering a $500,000 reward for the safe return of her pets, the dognappers were caught attempting to cash in on the reward money8. Unfortunately, most owners don’t have that kind of cash to dish out for their missing pets.

9. Purebred dogs are the most common targets of pet theft.

As per sources, purebred dogs are frequently targeted in pet theft.

This is because the dogs’ pedigree can fetch a high price with little effort or expense from the thief.

Stolen purebred dogs and designer breeds lare sold for half the original price. But, when you’re talking about a puppy that costs $1k – $3k, half that price is still good money.

10. The first case of dog theft was documented in the 1800s.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, a famous romantic poet from the mid-1800s, is known for her deep love for both her husband, poet Robert Browning, as well as her beloved companion Flush — a golden-colored spaniel.15

As a frail woman, Elizabeth relied on Flush for companionship and emotional support. Elizabeth even wrote poems about her four-legged friend, so deep was her devotion to Flush.

During Victorian England, dognapping rings targeted middle and upper-class families, holding their pets for ransom.

Flush was kidnapped three times, with each ransom increasing in value.

Unable to afford the third ransom, Elizabeth took matters into her own hands, heading to the dangerous Shoreditch neighborhood to negotiate with the gang leader, Taylor. While waiting in a cab, Elizabeth was surrounded by a group of sympathetic men and boys who had followed her from a pub.

Eventually, Taylor’s wife appeared, and Elizabeth negotiated a more affordable “reward” for Flush’s return. Flush was ultimately returned, and the ransom was paid at the negotiated price, demonstrating Elizabeth’s determination and love for her canine companion.

11. While “dog flipping” is the most common reason for dog theft, dogs can be stolen for dogfighting or breeding purposes too.

While many stolen dogs are resold for profit, they can also be stolen for illegal activities such as dogfighting and breeding.

Stolen dogs can be trained and used for dogfighting because they are often untraceable and can be acquired for free. Shelters, on the other hand, will often track which dogs are adopted out to which individuals, and will ban those who they believe are adopting dogs for fighting.

Some dog thieves steal a dog with the intent to breed it as a business. Stolen dogs may be used to breed and sell puppies on the black market, without proper health checks, vaccinations, or documentation.

These puppies are often sold to unsuspecting buyers who may not be aware that they are purchasing from a pet thief.

12. There is a severe lack of regulation and punishment for the crime of dog theft in the US.

Unfortunately, dog theft is not always taken seriously by law enforcement or the legal system.

This is partly due to the fact that, in many places, dog theft is considered a misdemeanor or a minor offense. This means that the penalties for those caught stealing dogs may not be severe enough to act as a deterrent.

Additionally, many law enforcement branches may not have the resources or training to deal with dog theft cases effectively, resulting in only half-hearted investigations.

This can be frustrating for owners, some of who even have resorted to hiring private pet detectives to find their missing pets.

13. Dog theft has a devastating emotional toll and triggers PTSD in many owners.

Dog theft can have a significant impact on both the victims, with a tremendous emotional burden. Many owners describe their pets as members of their family.

Losing a pet to theft can result in feelings of grief, anxiety, and depression, which can have long-lasting effects on the individual’s mental health.

Many victims report feeling violated, angry, and helpless, with some experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the event.

14. Only 23 US States have implemented laws against dog theft.

As of 2023, there are 23 states in the US that have implemented specific criminal codes for dog theft.

These states include California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and West Virginia.

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Despite these efforts, the legal penalties for dog theft vary significantly by state. In most states, pet theft is considered a misdemeanor, resulting in relatively small fines and little to no jail time. 

Louisiana has taken a stricter approach and imposed charges and penalties specifically related to dog-napping. The theft of dogs is considered a criminal offense, and a person who is found guilty of this crime may be required to pay a fine ranging from $100 – $500, or they can be sentenced to imprisonment for a period of 3-6 months.10 

Of course, a $100 fine is a paltry sum compared to the $5k-$10k a dog-napper might earn from stealing and re-selling a French Bulldog puppy.

In California, stealing a pet worth more than $950 is considered grand theft and is a more severe offense than a misdemeanor.11 Additionally, stealing a pet with the intention of selling it for commercial use or through fraudulent means can result in imprisonment in a county jail for up to one year or in a state prison. 

It’s frustrating that the severity of the legal consequences for dog theft depends on the financial worth of the stolen pet (considering the strong emotional bonds owners form to their pets, the financial value of the animal feels completely irrelevant).

Still, implementing specific criminal codes for dog theft is a step in the right direction.

But, comprehensive legislation is still necessary to deter potential dognappers. We’d like to see consistent legislation across all states to better protect pet owners and their dogs!

Who Are Stolen Dogs Sold To? Who Buys Stolen Dogs?

Rare breeds and valuable puppies may be sold to unscrupulous dealers, medical testing center, or unsuspecting buyers (which is another reason why it’s essential to ensure you’re only buying a dog from a reputable breeder or adoption agency).

Unfortunately, many puppy buyers may be willing to purchase dogs without proper documentation or from questionable sources.

This is making it easier for thieves to sell stolen dogs without raising suspicion.

Another factor is that some people may be specifically seeking out a particular breed, and may not want to wait for a breeder to have available puppies.

This demand can lead them to seek out alternative, less ethical ways of acquiring the breed they want, including purchasing from unscrupulous breeders or even turning to theft.

Population Density, Socioeconomic Factors, and Local Laws in Relation to Dog Theft

There is currently no comprehensive national database on dog theft in the United States, which makes it difficult to provide accurate regional and national statistics on dog theft.

However, some organizations have gathered data on reported cases of dog theft in certain regions.

For example, dog theft reports are on the rise in Phoenix, Arizona, with 137 pets reported stolen in 2019 and 155 in 2020.9

The reasons for regional differences in dog theft rates are not entirely clear, but some possible explanations include differences in population density, socioeconomic factors, and local laws and law enforcement practices. 

Although there is insufficient data on where dog theft cases are most prevalent in the United States, it is evident that the issue is increasing and becoming a more significant cause for concern.

One UK study focused on dog theft statistics in England and Wales, using data collected from Freedom of Information requests to police forces in the regions.7 

Geographic Information System (GIS) analyses were used to research the data, which revealed that the number of dog theft crimes varied spatially per police force. 

The study calculated the annual number of dog theft crimes per force by dividing them by the estimated population and multiplying by 100,000. The results showed an increase in dog theft crimes from 1,559 in 2015 to 1,842 in 2017, indicating a rise of 11.43%.13

How to Find a Stolen Dog: What to Do If Your Dog is Stolen

If your dog is stolen, there are a number of steps you can take to increase your chances of finding them:

  • Report the theft to the police as soon as possible. Provide them with as much information as you can, such as a description of your dog, where it was stolen from, and any identifying marks or tags.
  • Check security cameras. If you have a Ring doorbell or other type of security camera, check recordings to see if you can catch the pet-napper on camera. Make sure to ask neighbors to check their footage as well. Many dog thieves will case a home before a theft, checking for cameras or trying to assess when your dog may be outside alone, so you’ll want to look as weeks of past footage as well.
  • Reach out to local animal shelters and rescue organizations to let them know your dog is missing. Provide them with a recent photo of your dog and your contact information.
  • Notify local veterinarian clinics. It can be helpful to alert veterinarian clinics when your pet has been stolen, as vet staff can be encouraged to take careful notice of any new dog that comes into their clinic matching the stolen dog’s description. Even if the dog thief doesn’t take the stolen dog to the vet, the new owner likely will visit a vet’s office to get a check-up and initial exam.
  • Create flyers with a clear photo of your dog and your contact information. Post them around your neighborhood and in local pet stores, vet clinics, and other places that dog lovers may frequent. 
  • Share information about your missing dog on social media platforms. Posting news of your missing pet to local groups on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram (and encouraging others to share the post) can put your community on the look-out for your dog.
  • Look around your neighborhood and nearby parks where you believe your dog may have been taken. Ask neighbors if they’ve seen anything suspicious or if they have any information that could help you find your dog.
  • Keep tabs on Craigslist and other for-sale sites. Dog-nappers may be eager to off-load your dog as soon as possible, and many take to Craigslist to sell animals illegally. If you find your dog, arrange a meeting as a fake sales inquiry, and have the police accompany you at the meeting point.
  • Consider hiring a pet detective. Pet detectives are professional investigators who specialize in finding missing pets. They can use a variety of methods to track down your stolen dog, such as surveillance, scent tracking, and social media analysis.

How Can You Protect Your Pet From Dog Theft?

There are a few different steps you can take to protect your dog from dog theft via preventive measures.

  • Secure fences. Installing high, secure, dog-proof fencing can reduce your risk of a dog-napping taking place in your own backyard, and keeps your dog safely contained too!
  • Spay and neuter. Pet owners who spay/neuter their pets and keep them indoors have a lower risk of theft. This is because some pet thieves seek out to steal intact dogs for breeding purposes.
  • Security cameras. Consider investing in security cameras if your dog spend a lot of time outside unattended. Ring doorbells are another tool which may capture identifying information of a dog napper if they enter the premises.
  • Keep On Leash. Always keep your dog close to you and on a leash when out in public.
  • ID Tags. A sturdy ID tag is the easiest and most common way to identify a dog. A dog napper might dispose of your pet’s ID tag right away — but, if they don’t, it’ll be an easy way for others to recognize or identify your dog.
  • Tattoos. Some owners may opt to get a small tattoo somewhere on their dog’s underbelly to better identify them. This can serve as a more visually-noticeable alternative to a microchip.
  • GPS Tracking. While many owners don’t keep GPS tracking collars on their dogs at all times, it may be a worthwhile consideration for when your dog is in the yard outside or at a crowded dog park where it’s easy to lose sight of them.
  • Microchipping. Microchipping involves inserting a small electronic chip under the dog’s skin, which contains the owner’s contact information. If the dog is lost or stolen and is found by a shelter or veterinarian, they can scan the chip and contact the owner. 

It’s important to note that microchips are NOT pet trackers — your pet cannot be located via microchip. Someone must scan the microchip to access the data, and contact the owner with the data obtained from the microchip.

In the case of veterinarian’s office, a vet must scan the microchip, compare the information on the microchip against the information from the current owner, and recognize the discrepancy.

This is why it’s always smart to contact local veterinarian offices if you believe your dog has been stolen — if they’re on the lookout, they may be more likely to double check microchip data of all new pets entering their system.

FAQ about Dog Theft

How many dogs are stolen in the US each year?

There is no official database that tracks the number of dogs stolen each year. According to the AKC, approximately two million dogs are stolen annually in the United States, with criminals often motivated by a desire for financial gain.

What is the most commonly stolen dog?

The top spot on the list is held by the French Bulldog, with the remaining nine spots being filled by the Yorkshire Terrier, Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd, Siberian Husky, Shih Tzu, Bulldog, Golden Retriever, Pit Bull, and Chihuahua.

What are the main reasons behind dog theft?

Pets can be sold and transported to puppy mills for breeding purposes by dog flippers, which is why it’s crucial to spay or neuter your pet. Additionally, thieves may steal animals and hold them for ransom, waiting for a substantial reward to be offered by the unsuspecting owners.

How likely is it that a stolen dog will be found?

Typically, between 10-30% of dogs that are lost in the US are reclaimed by their owners from animal shelters. 

What are the legal consequences for stealing a dog?

Pet theft is typically considered a misdemeanor in most states, with penalties including minor fines and little to no jail time. There are 23 states, like California and Louisiana, that have implemented different charges and penalties based on the monetary value of the stolen animal.

How can pet owners prevent their dogs from being stolen?

Pet owners can prevent dog theft by keeping an eye on their dogs, securing their outdoor space, not leaving dogs unattended in public areas, microchipping and using GPS trackers, being cautious on social media, and taking immediate action if their dog is stolen.


Dog theft is an issue that has been increasing in recent years, with a significant rise in reported cases during the COVID-19 pandemic. This crime can cause immense emotional distress to both the dog and the owner, as well as having serious financial implications.

It is essential to address dog theft as a serious issue, and there is a need for increased awareness and education about preventative measures.

Individuals and society as a whole have a responsibility to take steps toward preventing and addressing dog theft. Suggestions for preventing dog theft include being vigilant when out walking your dog, avoiding leaving your dog unattended, and ensuring your dog is well-trained and obedient.

In the case of dog theft, individuals can take action by reporting the crime to the police, contacting local animal shelters, and sharing information about the missing dog on social media.

Sources:

  1. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/dog-theft/
  2. https://www.bbc.com/news/av/uk-england-oxfordshire-56284304
  3. https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/2/2/301
  4. https://www.aspca.org/about-us/press-releases/how-many-pets-are-lost-how-many-find-their-way-home-aspca-survey-has-answers
  5. https://americanpetproducts.org/
  6. https://www.avma.org/news/pet-ownership-rate-stabilizes-spending-increases
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9237517/
  8. https://time.com/5945294/dog-theft-covid-19-pandemic/
  9. https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona/2021/04/09/dog-flipping-canine-theft-rise-amid-pandemic/7161443002/
  10. https://library.municode.com/la/baton_rouge,_east_baton_rouge_parish/codes/code_of_ordinances
  11. https://www.animallaw.info/statute/ca-theft-%C2%A7-487e-grand-theft-dog-exceeding-value-950
  12. https://davies-group.com/knowledge/a-hike-in-pet-thefts-seen-as-puppy-demand-spikes-during-lockdown/
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6563129/
  14. https://www.paws.org/resources/pet-theft/
  15. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/canine-corner/202201/is-dognapping-the-newest-wave-criminal-behavior
  16. https://urinyc.org/palsreport/
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