Dog theft campaigners have gathered 1,000 supporters a month following a lockdown spike in pet-related crime, with animal owners deterring thieves by patrolling walking hotspots.

Lockdown in the UK sparked a greater desire for pets and the increased demand drove prices up to an average of around £800 an animal, with breeds like Golden Retrievers rising in value almost 500% to £2,500 per puppy. 

Criminals exploiting the price rise led to 2020 being the “worst ever” year for dog thefts, with charity DogLost recording a 170% increase in the crime, with 465 dogs reported stolen last year compared to 172 in 2019.

DogHorn, a group founded by a former RAF pilot in November to fight back against the crime, has now attracted 10,000 supporters who deter thefts with patrols and group dog walks in high visibility vests and lanyards.

Supporters of the group are also taught to sound SOS signals if attacked by would-be thieves so fellow DogHorn walkers can come to their aid, and to compose descriptions of criminals and memorise number plates.

One supporter, canine behaviour specialist Ange Rowland, said: “The prospect of having a dog stolen is certainly heartbreaking and very frightening.  I have known people too frightened to walk their dog. 

DogHorn was founded in November to protect pets from theft 

“You still hear people say it won’t happen to me but it can happen to anyone. It is so important to make people aware that it can happen to anyone, and DogHorn is a great way of doing that.  

“Walking in groups makes people less vulnerable and helps them feel confident. Having a distress signal or some sort of alarm is a reassurance for people as they know that it will draw attention to getting help.”

The dog walkers’ distress signal promoted by DogHorn was developed by the group’s founder and former RAF pilot Nigel  King.

He explained to You magazine: “It’s no good picking up the phone – by the time someone’s come to help, the thief’s a long way away.

“I realised the quickest way to gain assistance is through the use of sound. We came up with a loud whistle, normally used by football referees.”

Supporters of DogHorn have anecdotally reported a sharp decrease in dog thefts, and believe the readiness of pet owners to respond to attempted thefts deters attempts to snatch animals.

It is hoped DogHorn’s efforts will help protect the vast number of pets acquired in the UK during lockdown, as Google searches for "buy a puppy" went up by 166%  and an estimated 2.2 million people bought animals.

In response to the rise in dog-related crimes the Government announced a Pet Theft Taskforce to tackle the issue.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said following the launch that: “Having callous thieves steal a much-loved pet is heart-breaking for families.”

The Taksforce will: “Gather evidence to understand the factors that may be contributing to any perceived rise in thefts and to recommend any necessary measures to tackle the problem.”

Stealing a pet is a criminal offence under the Theft Act 1968, and carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.  Causing suffering to an animal during a theft also makes any thief liable under the Animal Welfare Act.