Press Release

Dogs in gardens at risk from ‘dognappers’

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23rd March 2021

Dogs in gardens at risk from ‘dognappers’ warns NFU Mutual

  • Dog theft increasing as demand for lockdown pets soars
  • Research from NFU Mutual reveals 15% of dog owners leave their pets unsupervised for long periods in gardens, including when they are out
  • Family pets and working dogs are targeted as prices soar and demand outstrips supply 

Dogs left unsupervised in gardens could be at risk from ‘dognappers’ who are taking advantage of soaring prices for lockdown pets, warns leading rural insurer NFU Mutual.

Research commissioned by the insurer with over 1,200 UK dog owners reveals that 15% leave their pets unsupervised in the garden for long periods, including while they are out. This is despite a surge in thefts and huge demand for pets during the COVID-19 pandemic.

NFU Mutual has seen a rise in the cost of theft of both pet and working dogs over the past year, with some farms losing several sheepdogs at a time.  

While reports of the threat of ‘dognapping’ has led to worried owners changing their routes and times to exercise their pets, the insurer is concerned that some owners do not realise that leaving their dogs unattended in gardens could put them at risk of being stolen by thieves.

Rebecca Davidson, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual said: “We’re hearing that some owners are no longer walking pets in remote locations, and others are changing their routines to protect their pets – but the threat to pets left unsupervised in gardens may not be appreciated by some.

“Although dog owners are on increasingly high alert for dog thieves when they are out, there’s a false sense of security when they’re at home. Fifteen percent say they leave their pet unattended in the garden for long periods of time, including when they are out at work. With one in six owners admitting their dog has escaped from home, it’s never been more important to keep your outdoor space secure and your dog in sight.

“Thefts are taking place all over the country and NFU Mutual is also dealing with reports of stolen working dogs. We have seen a number of cases where multiple sheepdogs have been taken from farms at a single time, which is an extremely worrying trend and hitting farmers hard.”

Farming couple Esther and Jimmy Pritt from Leicestershire still haven’t given up the search for their brindle collie cross called Rabbit, who was worth over £4,000 and was snatched from their dairy farm over two years ago.

Esther said: “Her financial value is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what her loss has cost us. We were simply devastated to lose her.  She was a huge part of our family and our farm business. Not only was her work rate worth about three people, but she was my husband’s best friend.

“Isolation is a huge problem for farmers, who have to work alone for a large part of every day.  Rabbit and Jimmy meant the world to each other and had built a strong bond over seven years. For Jimmy to lose his main company during the work day has been a real challenge.”  

To protect pets from dognappers, NFU Mutual is issuing the following advice:

  • Make sure your dog is microchipped and you keep the details up to date
  • Avoid leaving the dog outside unattended and out of sight, or in a vehicle on their own when thieves might take the opportunity to strike
  • Be careful what you share on social media, particularly about puppies and your location
  • If you are buying a dog, do not inadvertently fuel the rise in thefts; ensure that you thoroughly check the background and if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is
  • Be vigilant, record suspicious vehicle details and report any sightings to police and share with any local neighbourhood/rural watch/farm watch groups – thieves will take advantage of the isolated nature of the countryside and will often scope out rural properties in advance
  • Criminals may also try and build a picture of your daily routine so vary that if possible
  • Ensure you have clear photos and note down any identifiable features of your animal as, if you are unfortunate enough to have your dog stolen, these will be vital in tracking the dog down and proving your ownership


Notes to editor:
Spokespeople are available for interview. 
* Petbuzz Market Research surveyed 1,237 dog owners on behalf of NFU Mutual from 23 December 2020 and 12 January 2021.

Q: Is your dog allowed to spend time outside in your garden (within confines of your outdoor property boundary) unsupervised for extended periods of time (for example, when you are at work)?

A: Yes 15.00% No 85.00%

Q: Has your dog ever escaped from home (including the garden)?

A: Yes 16.16% No 83.84%

For further information please contact:
Rebecca Davidson, Rural Affairs Specialist
Mobile: 07583 009448

Kay Henderson, Press Officer
Mobile: 07980 793354

About NFU Mutual:

NFU Mutual offers a wide range of products, including general insurance, life, pensions, and investments. These products and services are delivered through our network of NFU Mutual Agent offices, as well as through our direct sales and service centres. With over 300 local businesses located in rural towns and villages throughout the UK, NFU Mutual has become part of the fabric of rural life and remains committed to serving the needs of our members nationwide.

NFU Mutual is proud to deliver more than simply insurance. Making farming safer, supporting rural initiatives across the UK and helping to look after the environment are just some of the ways we do that. To find out more about everything we do to support our communities, visit