Theft of dogs has significantly increased during lockdown.

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.

Research with more than 1,200 UK dog owners reveals that 15 per cent 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.

Rebecca Davidson, rural affairs specialist at the insurer 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.”

To protect pets from dognappers, she advises that owners:

• 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