One of the side-effects of the Coronavirus pandemic, with us spending extra time at home, has been that more families are welcoming a pet into their home. In response, the animal industry has boomed and puppy prices are soaring. Devastatingly, thefts of both puppies and adult dogs have risen in line with this, with criminals snatching our dogs and selling or breeding them for a quick profit.
Naturally, many dog owners have become increasingly anxious about how to keep their dogs safe. If you are feeling worried, Kit, Head Dog Trainer at Kit’s Canine Academy in Weston-Super-Mare, has some advice about simple things you can do to protect your four-legged friend both at home and on walks.
Four things you should do:
There are some easy things you can do to help make your pet safer in the next ten minutes.
1. Check your collar and tags.
The most simple safety step is to ensure your dog has a well-fitting collar with a tag on it. Make sure the tag has your telephone number and address, but avoid putting their name on it – it’s much easier for a thief to claim ownership of your dog if they know their name.
2. Update your microchip.
Take a couple of minutes to check that your pup is microchipped and the details are up to date, and that you know where to find them. That way if you get separated from your pet, they can easily be returned to you.
3. Take lots of pet pictures.
Check your phone for recent, clear pictures of your canine companion (preferably from a variety of angles) and get some pictures of you with your dog. These would help you prove ownership of your dog should you ever need to.
4. Order and install some CCTV.
With home technology becoming much more affordable and accessible, it is easier than ever to be able to keep an eye on your pet and home when you are out. I advise my clients have a couple of cameras set up which link to their mobile phone, so they can watch their dogs live if they need to pop out. Fair warning: you might end up watching your pet stretched out on the sofa saying ‘oh look, now he’s got his head on the cushion’ more than you’d like to admit. Pro tip: have a camera which covers the front door – it’s safer and you’ll get to see their tail wagging as you arrive home.
For extra security, add padlocks, outdoor cameras, and motion sensor lights.
Four things you shouldn’t do:
Dog thieves pursue their victims in a number of ways, so you should take some time to think about ways you can prevent yourself from being targeted.
1. Don’t leave your dog outside of the shop.
Never tie your dog up outside of a shop. It couldn’t be easier for someone to pinch your dog if they are tied up and easily accessible. You can even go one step further and be neighbourly by waiting with any dogs who you do see outside of shops until their owner returns.
2. Don’t leave your dog in your car.
Whenever you can, leave your dog at home. If you cannot avoid leaving your dog in your car for short periods of time, consider tinting the windows and keeping your pup inside a crate with a padlock on, so they are much less visible and accessible. Some dogs are currently being sold for £3000 or more. You wouldn’t leave a brand new computer in your car in plain sight, so why do it with your dog?
3. Check whether you are advertising your dog at home.
Consider how obvious you make it to passers-by that you own a dog. Do you have one of those ‘beware of the French bulldog’ signs on your gate? Are the dog leads easily visible hanging in your porch? Is your car filled with poo bags and ball flingers? If a stranger walking past could easily identify you as a dog owner, they can also make you an easy mark.
4. Check whether you are advertising your dog online.
We all love seeing pictures of your pets on social media – but sadly, so do the thieves. If you are regularly posting pictures online, you may inadvertently be giving away details of your walk location, times, and habits alongside pictures of your dog. Check your privacy settings and think twice before posting anything in public groups.
Four ways to keep your walk safe:
There are some key ways you can make your dog walks safer and protect against dog theft.
1. Vary where and when you walk.
Many dog thieves like to plan and have certain people in their sights. You can make it much harder for them to identify you and your dog as potential prey by making your walks less predictable; avoid doing the same route at the same time of day.
2. Stay home after dark or walk in populated areas.
Most of us dog walkers find the winter months a pain – it can be hard to get out for your walks before dark and trudging along in the cold and wet is hardly ideal. Unfortunately, dark evenings are also a dog thief’s dream. Avoid going out for walks with your pup after dark, especially on your own. If you must head out once the sun has set, take a member of your household along or have a socially distanced walk with a friend.
If you can only get out after dark, go to a well-lit, well-populated neighbourhood and keep your dog on lead. Invest in a sturdy, well-fitting harness and a strong lead so that your dog has less chance of slipping away from you. For extra safety, add a small light to your dog’s collar to make them easily visible.
3. Add some items to your coat.
You know that trusty dog walking coat? Now might be a good time for a few additions. Alongside your dog treats and poo bags, carry a torch, whistle, and your smartphone. If the worst were to happen, you’d be able to: raise the alarm quickly, report to the police promptly, and record any incidents to help identify the thief. If you do feel that someone is behaving suspiciously, walk quickly to a more populated area and get your phone and whistle ready.
4. Avoid conversations about your dog.
Many of us owners love nothing more than chatting about our dogs, but you should never give out details such as their name, age or breed. If your pup isn’t neutered, always keep this information to yourself. And if somebody seems overly interested in your dog, make a note of their features and their vehicle and report it to the police as soon as possible to help keep others safe.
Four things to train your dog:
As a dog trainer, there are a few nifty things I teach my clients and their dogs to help keep them safe on walks. Investing some time into training these few cues could make a real difference.
If you are going to let your dog off-lead, they need to have a reliable recall. Be honest with yourself, does your dog come back every time you call, no matter what? Would they still come back if a friendly stranger had a tasty treat or a toy? If the answer is no, keep your dog on lead at all times. You can get long leads so that your dog still has the freedom to explore whilst staying safe whilst you train your recall.
I speak to all of my clients about having a reliable check-in. This is where your dog automatically looks at you roughly every thirty seconds. This helps your dog to stay a bit closer; it’s also easier to give them cues if you need to. To begin training this, take your dog’s favourite treat out on walks with you and reward them with a small bite every time they look at you. If you do this regularly, you’ll notice that your pup will start looking at you more often.
With clients who are concerned about safety, I teach dogs a ‘middle’ cue. This is where your dog comes and stands between your legs. I love this cue, because it’s a great way to tuck your dog safely and neatly away. When someone you’re wary of is near your dog, this cue would make it much harder for anyone to get to them. Start teaching your dog a ‘middle’ by simply using a high value food reward (such as chopped up cocktail sausages) to lure them behind you and through your legs, then feed them several treats for staying there.
Finally, I’ve been talking to more of my clients about getting their dogs to bark on cue. A stranger is much less likely to want to approach you and your dog if they are in the ‘middle’ position barking at the top of their lungs. You’d paint quite an intimidating picture! Even if your dog is the most friendly and placid of pups, teaching them to bark on cue can be an excellent way to hide that fact from a dog-napper. Start to teach your dog to bark on cue by teasing them slightly with their favourite toy, holding it out of reach and wiggling it about a bit, so that they bark in frustration. Once they bark, say ‘yes’ and throw the toy for them to play with. Repeat this until your dog reliably barks when you hold their favourite toy at shoulder height and then begin adding the cue ‘speak’.
It's important to say, I am not encouraging you to teach your dog to bark at people or to behave in a way which would put others at harm. As far as your dog knows, this is just a fun game you play; a ‘speak’ is simply a trick just like ‘lay down’ or ‘beg’. But think about it, would you approach a dog who was barking? Probably not. And there’s no harm in using that to your advantage if you needed to.
If you spend some time focusing on your training now, then you’ll have a dog who stays near, comes back when called, and, if you were feeling worried, could come and stand with you and bark loudly.
Now is a good time to be honest with yourself about your dog’s training. If you need help with your recall, check-in, middle, or barking on cue, it’s a good time to work with a professional dog trainer who can show you fun, effective ways to train your dog these basics. Here at Kit’s Canine Academy, we offer one-to-one training and group classes where you can learn all of the above cues and more.
Whilst this is a worrying time for dog parents, the best thing you can do is be proactive and have a plan in place. If we all spend some time training our dogs, take sensible precautions, and report anything suspicious, we can keep our community and our dogs safe.
An excerpt of this article appeared in Somerset Live.