Farmers have been told to remain vigilant for thieves after figures show a worrying increase in valuable working dog thefts in rural areas.
Dog thefts in 2020 have seen increases of nearly 100% or more in the police constabularies of Devon and Cornwall, Northumbria, Leicestershire, Suffolk and Humberside.
The figures come following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request undertaken by the BBC.
A growing demand for puppies as a result of the lockdown period has seen prices rise, which is thought to have caught the attention of criminal gangs.
The FOI is backed up with data from Dog Lost which has seen an overall increase of 70% in reported thefts this year.
Working gundog breeds such as spring spaniels and cocker spaniels are high up the list of most frequently targeted.
It comes as Gundog Theft Awareness Week (31 October - 6 November) gets underway, which aims to inform the public about the increased risk to working dogs.
The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) has urged farmers and landowners to be vigilant and implement additional safety measures.
Toni Paull, BASC’s gundog officer, said: “We know that gundogs make up for a significant portion of dog theft, their high value makes them a prize target.
“It is one of those instances that you don’t think it will ever happen to you until it does. Having spoken to numerous victims the trauma and pain of losing your dog to criminals is horrific.
"The risk of being targeted remains low but is at a concerning level."
Mr Paull said farmers who bought dogs should also undertake due diligence to reduce the possibility of buying one that had been stolen.
For example, checking paperwork relating to the dog, meeting at the sellers’ home and cross-referencing microchip details are ways to lessen this risk, he said.