Personal Safety Advice for Dog Walkers
Dog thefts are on the rise. There has been a reported increase of 250% since the beginning of lockdown. With less than 1% of cases being prosecuted you have an extremely low chance of your dog being returned once it has been stolen. The demand for puppies has seen prices triple for some breeds which has mean criminals are becoming more determined and violent in the commission of these crimes.
My name is Paul Hewitt, I'm a Security Consultant, former Police Officer, and now trainee Dog Behaviourist, I have been asked several times what advice I would give to people to stop them becoming a victim of this horrendous crime. The below advice will not put an end to all dog thefts, but some guidance to make yourself less likely to be a victim.
Situational awareness – Be aware of your environment
The best tool you have, for protecting yourself and your dog, is just to pay attention to your surroundings. Being alert does not mean being scared, anxious or nervous. It means not being distracted and being present in the moment. You should be relaxed and once you have practiced a few times this will become second nature. Not only is this the best way to improve your personal security, but you and your dog will enjoy the walk a lot more. Staying alert means:
- no air buds or headphones (They shut off a key sense and are a distraction)
- Keep your phone in your pocket (It is a major distraction and highlights that you are not paying attention)
- Don’t wear hoodies or hooded jackets (They shut off your peripheral vision and reduce your ability to hear people approaching)
- Know where your dog is (Keep them in sight at all times on the walk and within a reasonable distance)
- Know where you are and how the fastest routes back to your car or a public place.
- Trust your instincts. If something does not feel right remove yourself and your dog from the situation. You can always take another route or carry on when you are more comfortable.
Things to look out for
- Have you seen the same car or van in more than one location? Does it seem to be following you?
- The people stood at the car park entrance focussed on dogs, but having little conversation and a serious demeanour?
- Is there a group that obviously know each other, trying to make it look like they are not together?
- Is that person in a remote dog walking area, but does not have a lead or any sign of a dog with them?
- Is that person looking backwards and forward between their phone and you/your dog? (Not just a casual glance, but obvious and numerous looks)
What can you do?
There are a few things you can do before you head out on your walk that will make you a more difficult target for dog thieves.
- Vary your walking routine. Change the times (even if its only 10 minutes either side of your regular schedule), Change the location, change the direction of your walk (Go clockwise instead of counter-clockwise), Run a short portion then walk, turn around every 200 metres and walk back the way you came, etc. Any combination of these will not only make you less predictable and harder to target, but your dog will enjoy the variety and challenge. This coupled with your increased situational awareness should make Dog thieves easier to spot.
- Walk with other people. The old saying safety in numbers holds true in this situation. Not only are you a more difficult target, but you also have the benefit of the extra pair of eyes.
- Do your research. Check local Facebook community pages, Google searches or forums for Dog and Puppy thefts in your area. This information is available for free and can help you avoid specific areas and be on the lookout for any cars or people that have been identified. Also once you are in your walking area keep a look out for missing posters or warnings as these could be an indicator of Dog thefts in the area.
- Train your dog. Teaching your dog to not run up to everyone they meet and to have good recall can be a huge advantage in this Situation. Being able to call your dog back when you sense something is wrong can give you the time and head start you need to get away from that location. This is a useful everyday skill that all dogs should have. If you don’t know how to teach this recall, please contact a professional dog behaviourist for advice.
What if it happens to me? Should I fight back or handover the dog?
It would be impossible and negligent to give a one size fits all answer to this question. So much depends on the “Impact factors” of the situation like the number of people involved, do they have any weapons, your physical ability, the chance of getting help from bystanders, etc. This is a decision that you have to make for yourself based on the reality of your circumstances. Below are the answers to some common questions I hear that hopefully help you to make that decision.
- Can I use force to protect myself or my dog? Yes. There are several laws in England and Wales that allow you to use force to protect yourself, your property, or another person. The amount of force you can use must be “Reasonable” and this is decided in every case. It is impossible to give a definitive list of what you can and can’t do however if someone tried to steal my dog, I would feel entirely justified punching and kicking them until they left my dog alone (This is my personal opinion based on decades of experience. Please do not take it as legal advice)
- Can I carry a weapon for self-defence? No. It is illegal to carry a weapon for self-defence in England and Wales. It is an extremely complicated piece of legislation and too detailed to cover here. You can however carry a ID marking spray. It looks like can of pepper spray but is completely nontoxic and not classified as a weapon. Its only use would be to mark or “dye” the attacker so that they can be identified later by Police. They are available for sale on Amazon. Try searching “Sabre S-DID-22J-AMZ-UK Runner Defence Spray, 19ml” for more information
What can I do to stop these horrendous crimes?
The best way to make meaningful change and provide a long-term solution is to make the crime unprofitable or too high risk. Never buy a dog from someone when you haven’t seen the home environment and don’t pay cash. Buy from reputable breeders or better still adopt from a rescue shelter Removing the demand is the best way to reduce the crime.
Secondly add your signature to the below petition to make pet theft a specific crime with increased penalties. Presently the law treats the theft of a pet like the theft of a mobile phone. Adding your signature to this petition and contacting your local MP can help to change this.
If you have found this guidance helpful, please forward this on to any dog owners you know. If it helps to stop one dog theft then it would have been worth the time. If there is enough interest I will type up another guide to help prevent dog thefts from home.