Dognapping: How to Protect Your Dog and Get Him Back If He’s Stolen

A scared, sad dog behind a fence or in a cage.
Being left alone too soon creates separation anxiety for a puppy. Photography ©gaikphotos | Thinkstock.

As a dog parent, one of my worst nightmares is dognapping. As a result, I’m pretty obsessive about the safety of my own dogs, and I always worry about dog theft when I see dogs tied to bike racks and lampposts outside of coffee shops, grocery stores and other spots around New York City.

So, what is dognapping? Why does it happen and are certain breeds or types of dogs targeted? How do you prevent it in the first place? What do you do if it happens to you?

Dognapping — the stats

An abandoned dog.
Dognappings have increased 31% in recent years. Photography by Pedro Vidal / Shutterstock.

An estimated two million pets are stolen every year in the United States. The American Kennel Club, which tracks instances of dog theft from their National Pet Theft Database, found a 31% increase in dognappings in recent years, with newly stolen dogs reported daily from communities across the country.

Why do dognappings happen?

Dognappings happen for many reasons and dogs may change hands multiple times after being stolen, which makes them even harder to locate. Thieves often steal dogs hoping to make money off of them. This might be someone looking to collect a reward, or something even more sinister.

Intact dogs (canines that aren’t spayed or neutered) may be sold to puppy mills or backyard breeders, small dogs or dogs of popular, expensive breeds might be taken and resold, or dogs may be sold to dog fighting rings either as fighters or bait dogs.

According to Pet FBI, some of the top small dogs targeted for cash include purebred Yorkshire Terriers, Pomeranians, Maltese and Chihuahuas, while Pit Bulls, Boston Terriers, German Shepherd Dogs and Boxers fall victim to theft for dogfighting rings. In NYC, there has been a rise of dognappings of small dogs in return for cash.

How do you keep your dog safe from dognappers?

1. Never leave your dog unattended in public places or in your yard

Unattended dogs are easy targets for dognappers. If you are running errands that aren’t dog friendly, leave your dog at home.

2. Be proactive about dognapping

Hopefully your dog never goes missing, but you’ll need to prove he belongs to you if he does. Microchip your dog, and ensure that your contact information is up to date with your microchip company. Thieves could remove a collar and tags, but microchips are permanent forms of identification for your dog. Some dog guardians even use the advanced technology of Dog DNA tests to prove the identity of their dogs.

3. Hire professionals when it comes to pet-care providers 

In recent years, there have been several high-profile cases of dogs going missing while in the care of dog sitters — and never being seen again. Only hire responsible, insured and trusted pet-care providers and always check references before hiring a walker, daycare or sitter.

4. Use caution with overly curious strangers   

Be very guarded with your dog’s information. Sometimes, dognappers will try to determine how much a dog is worth, and if they’re spayed or neutered before taking them. Deflect detailed questions from strangers — particularly about how much your dog cost.

What to do if someone steals your dog:

1. Get help

Immediately call the police and your local animal control department. File a police report.

2. Talk to everyone

Try to find any witnesses who might have seen the dognapping occur. This will help you and the police get information about who has or had your dog. Distribute current, clear photos of your dog right away.

3. Research and use every available resource

Search out local lost and found groups online and on Facebook.

Other helpful sites include:

4. Contact the media

Social media sites like Facebook are instrumental in spreading the word about lost or stolen dogs. Don’t forget to contact your local media — newspapers, TV and radio — to try to increase coverage of your dog’s disappearance.

5. Protect yourself, too

People whose dogs are missing are vulnerable to being taken advantage of even further. I can’t even imagine how desperate I would be if something happened to one of my dogs — I would want to do everything and anything in my power to get them back.

The Better Business Bureau warns pet owners to watch out for scam artists who demand reward money before they return the missing dog.

For example, someone calling to say they are a long-haul truck driver who found your dog out of state and requesting money to get your dog back to your state, or someone saying they need money for airline tickets and a crate to ship your lost dog back.

Thumbnail: Photography ©gaikphotos | Thinkstock.

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Sassafras Lowrey is an award-winning author. Her novels have been honored by organizations ranging from the Lambda Literary Foundation to the American Library Association. Sassafras is a Certified Trick Dog Trainer, and assists with dog agility classes. Sassafras lives and writes in Brooklyn with her partner, a senior Chihuahua mix, a rescued Shepherd mix and a Newfoundland puppy, along with two bossy cats and a semi-feral kitten. Learn more at

20 thoughts on “Dognapping: How to Protect Your Dog and Get Him Back If He’s Stolen”

  1. I don’t care what you think if l had a hunting knife on me I would have slash his wrist pretty good or stab him. Some areas where I walk I would carry a hunting knife to keep the riff raff away from me.

  2. We have small Yorkie and our neighbor did it on spite and then knowingly her family member told us she took our Baylee she ripped his collar off left it at back door and made it look like he got out they did the friendly neighbor thing and made him like her after they moved she came around and took him he is a brother to our previous yorkie once again they poisoned him finding out later by the woman who took Baylee she is sick in her 30s African American she is dick mentally with schizophrenia and bipolar and she could harm our baylee killing his brother I feel it will happen again or already have we have filed police report and waiting still this woman is capable of harming him like the other and knowingly knowing her son got into her drugs and kids were taken and mother raising them and letting her see the kids unreal this day the woman drives by we are nowhere near there home area and we were told if we did anything meaning she the napper will start more crap as our neighbor she has put our family through alot they arent right they were kicked out finally but then her sick game was to take our yorkie he is the last breed from there line and knowing he was our service dog my husband served 18 years in army and he isnt doing to good without him more depressed he has PTSD he is in the tempe area around baseline and Hardy we want him back and her locked up she is crazy needs help medically she isnt safe around anyone . She did it to just do it with evil knowing they were kicked out for doing drugs and shooting another neighbor so take it out on a veteran service dog she knew it’s something we live and take it from us please keep an out there are now 3 African American adults in an apartment around there who are all involved please keep your pet safe they are nappers

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  6. I have a 3 yr old red Heeler male his name is Harley and this dog is my life. On may 20 2019 . I was driving to motel in Fresno with my dog. We were on freeway and blew a tire. I pulled off and called a friend to bring a jack. Highway patrol pulled up and I had a warrant and had to be taken in. I had my dog since my friend was coming anyway I had officers call my friend to make sure he was coming to pick up dog. They waited for him . My friend came picked up Harley I had to do 35 days in jail . My friend knows Harley is my life and he new to bring the dog to my family’s home . I learned only 5 days into doing my time that he went and tied Harley to a tree and left. My friend also knew I was coming into a good AMT of money. When I got out I went to shelters put posters up posted on line . With a 100 reward. No one seen my dog . The only call on my dog my friend received he said someone called about your dog three days later he gave me the number . I called and number was no good. It’s been about two months ago still. And he has not been found . It is the most worst pain in the whole world . I believe my so called friend knows ild pay anything to get him back. I tried to keep my cool act like I don’t know but has more days past I couldn’t keep it no more and I let my friend know what I believe. That didn’t do any good so I’m just playing along at the same time racking my brain as to how to get my dog back without paying him a dime. And I believe that’s what went down. I feel he’s alive and not lost and I don’t believe he just tied him to a tree and let him go. Any one have suggestions on what to do about this. I don’t even want to go on any more without my dog . I’m so depressed, worried about my baby.

    1. Hi there,
      We are so sorry to hear that this happened. Please follow the advice here and be sure to contact the local authorities.

    1. Hi there,
      We are so sorry to hear this! Please contact the local authorities. We hope your dog is found safe and sound.

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  8. Australian Terrier

    Years ago, my mom and I had a purebred Australian terrier dog that a man tried to steal out of Mom’s car. We were taking my brother back to his apartment and had our dog with us. Brother and I waited in the car while my mom went into a store and a man in a dark coat walked over, reached in, grabbed my dog, and started to pull her out through the window. I held onto her back end, grabbed my mom’s gun, and pointed it right in the guy’s face. He dropped my dog, I pushed her down to my feet, told the guy leave without my dog or I’d shoot, he went to try again, saw my finger on the trigger and the gun pointed at his face, peed his pants, and ran away. The dog was unharmed, just fortunate I was there and was able to quickly access a weapon!

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