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First of all, lets get something straight. A thief will normally try not steal when the owner is present simply because its easier to get away without being spotted. But thieves are sometimes braver, or stupider, with the result that the owner or someone else may well be around or even holding onto the dog when an attempted theft takes place.

You will see as we work though this page that there are many things that CAN be done to help recover a dog whether the thief is present or not; and probably more things than you would expect!

Clearly prevention is always better than a cure and the list of some good preventative measures are listed later.

A Scenario: Typical Theft from a Public Place

To help understand anti-theft tactics, first of all lets look at a scenario where the thief (or thieves) have just taken your dog, or are just about to take your dog from you.

As the owner, without any training or foresight, there isn’t much you can do if you aren’t prepared other than to manage your own feelings of shock and fear. Maybe you will be able to shout, struggle, maybe not. Maybe you will run in the opposite direction or freeze. Others might come to your aid if you are lucky. Someone might try and call the police or a friend.

But the thief will most likely get away without too much trouble and the dog will be gone. Even though it is probably chipped who knows how long it will take to be identified, if ever. The police aren’t going to get there quickly (ie within 1 minute; the call to the police itself will take much longer than 1 minute) , the dog warden might offer some advice, but it will take a long time before they will get there (expect at least 20 mins to get a reply. ) Your special friend that has become part of your family is gone, probably forever.

A Scenario: How it Could End Better

Now, let us look at a slightly different scenario, where people are more prepared.

The scenario is that your local area has decided to be proactive, more prepared for dog theft and some dog owners have learned some tips and tricks and got some basic gear together. So before thieves even approach the dog there is a ZONE of PROTECTION around the area.

A Scenario: Be A Visible Threat

The thieves spot items on the more prepared owner that make them wary, such as a lanyard they know carries a whistle, and identifies them as part of an anti dog-theft group. There possibly a DogHorn high viz jacket is visible in the area that signifies a person willing and ready to intervene in the event of a dog theft. There may be signs up advertising a dogwatch area.

Let’s stay with the second scenario. Now, undeterred, the thief gets closer to the dog, trying to be friendly. The owner now knows to be a little suspicious, she doesn’t know this person so she holds her whistle in a spare hand, if necessary in her mouth. The thief persists and maybe she spots someone else lingering around that is suspicious. The dog owner knows she has a very loud “rape” alarm to hand, a red dye canister (pepper spray equivalent) in her coat pocket or High Viz jacket. According to the training video she watched a while ago, she gets them ready.

With a rape alarm going off, a person screaming loudly, dogs barking, and criminal dye spray in hand a thief may well back away, especially if there are other members of the public around.

Summon Assistance with Sound

But let us suppose the owner doesn’t have anything to assist and can only shout for help. Another, prepared person (a dog responder as we call it) is within hearing distance or sight of what is going on, remembers some of the actions, then they can raise the attention of anyone else in the area, summing further help, identify thieves and possibly even result in thieves releasing the dog.

We have proven that under suitable conditions, through the speed of sound, if there are people within hearing distance then a large area can be alerted to a dog theft. If that sound has a code (such as the DogHorn code) then it can be transmitted on anything … whistles, airhorns, car horns etc. A radius of 1 to 3 sq km can be alerted within 30 seconds and it is most likely that a thief will still be in that zone and be able to be identified and possibly tracked.

In this scenario the chances of having a good outcome are significantly higher than in the first scenario, purely by being prepared as a dog owner and a dog responder. There will also be more data to hand over to the police when they turn up.

Focus Outward, Not Inwards

Now a little explanation about human behaviour during a crisis such as a dog theft. The typical reaction following a theft is that members of the public go towards the owner in distress in order to ask, assist, help, reassure etc. However we have proven through research that the owner in distress would much prefer a “good samaritan”, dog responder or helper, having identified a possible theft, to look outwards from the incident location and look for clues to identify thieves and their route of escape. Typically helpers waste precious minutes consoling a victim, ringing the police, talking to others when actually many different, productive, things can be done instead in the very first seconds and minutes of an incident.

So the key is to focus outwards from the theft area and turn attention to where thieves have gone.

But lets try a systematically identify some of the tactics and strategies that can be used to improve the overall chances. These are just some of the tactics that can be used to prevent a theft, stall thieves and possibly recover a dog.

(It is worth staying here that if an attempt fails, they are still dog thieves and immediate follow up action could be appropriate to prevent other dogs being stolen. Thieves tend to cruise around an area looking for targets and failing with one will not stop them trying 100 yards down the road on someone else. )

10 Things You Can Do To Prepare For The Worst

1. Know what to do and encourage others to know what to do by reading this article (there is more above this section). The more wise people there are around , the more that they can respond effectively to prevent or deter a dog theft (or a personal attack). It also helps to think how your dog would respond to an attempted theft or attack; would they biddable, aggressive or would they run off?

2. Walk in pairs or groups. The “other” person with you can be your best aide if they are also prepared. Talk to others dog owners too and be ready to help them in an emergency. They might be the ones to assist YOU in YOUR emergency.

3. Do not think that your dog won’t be a target for thieves. Almost all breeds and categories are.

4. Be wary of unusual people, unusual vehicles, unusual sounds. Be especially wary if you are on your own or at night. Dog thieves don’t normally look or act like dog owners; they are typically hooded, unwanting to be identified, male (but not always), without a dog, walk differently and lurk (dog walkers are typically in a world of their own, ambling along, looking at their feet or their dog, chatting, throwing things, shouting a dogs name, carrying poo bags or a lead, taking pictures, talking to or looking at a mobile etc…. you know the score!)

5. If possible, keep your dog on a lead or close by in lonely, dark or wooded areas. Recall it if you are unhappy for any reason.

6. Be visibly seen as an attack-prepared person by wearing things like the DogHorn High Viz Clothing or High Viz Lanyard. Being seen from a distance as a someone prepared will help deter thieves long before they decide to attack.

7. If possible have anti-theft deterrents to hand such as a rape/personal attack siren, a mobile phone, a torch, self defence deterrent spray, loud whistle, bodycam, etc. To make it easy for you we have made some of this available in the DogHorn STORE

8. Have your deterrents immediately to hand in an OUTSIDE pocket, by your right hand (left if your left-handed) . The bottom of a handbag or bumbag is useless as it takes two hands and valuable seconds to get to.

9. Know, and PRACTICE, how to RAPIDLY get to 999 on your mobile. (It’s harder than you think!)

10. Encourage others to form part of a WhatsApp dog support group that can help in a dog emergency.

Remember, a dog thief wants to get your dog as easily as possible, not you. It is up to you how much of a struggle you want to put up and how much your survival instincts kick in. Depending on how you feel at the time it would be just as right to hand your dog over to the thief without a fuss as it would be to fight the thief with whatever you have to hand.

NOTE: If a suspect person is approaching you, you may wonder if an attempted dog theft is about to happen, or a personal attack is about to happen. The answer is to treat both the same, but bear in mind that a woman with a dog is much less likely to be attacked personally (or for a phone/ bag etc) than a woman on her own; if an attack happens it is much more likely to be an attack for the dog.

What You Should Do During An Attack

You will already know your dogs’ response to strangers. Some are biddable and friendly (a “Hello Doggie!”) whilst others are barkers and will keep their distance and are pretty much uncatchable; a “You Wont Catch Me!” dog.

1. If your dog is a “You won’t catch me!” and on a lead, then let it off and let it go. It will most likely dance around, bark its head off and be uncatchable. Sure you might have a job catching it again, but it will still be there for you tomorrow, still barking its head off.

2. If your dog is a friendly “Hello Doggie!” That likes to speak to everyone then try and get it on a lead. Thieves will do their best to befriend a loose dog with niceness and treats before grabbing it. They might engage you in conversation asking about the dog. Make getting it onto a lead your priority, unless it likely to run away (which could be a good thing in this case). Keep the lead tight and out of the reach of thieves.

3. Keep any suspects in view and watch out for others that might be assistants. If you are with a friend and your dog is the subject of attention, then try and position yourself behind your friend.

4. If a suspect approaches, step backwards slowly if possible. This buys you time. You will automatically at this stage be working out whether to Stay, Fight, Run (fight or flight), Freeze, Plead or Curl up into a ball, depending on what happens next.

5. If you can’t run then move slowly away from hard or dangerous surfaces, but avoid tripping and still keep facing the suspect. You do not want to be taken by surprise.

6. If your dog is on its lead and is a dog that will attempt to protect you by barking its head off AND be uncatchable by thieves, it is an option to unleash it and let it bark away. (But note that the law states you aren’t allowed to use an aggressive dog as a weapon.). You will know your dog’s behaviour so if its tends to be a dog that runs away or runs to a distance, then letting it OFF its lead might be the thing that saves it. A thief ideally wants a grown dog ON a lead as it’s much easier to catch and to handle (pups are of course an exception).

7. If you do need to hold onto your dog ( maybe it’s a “Hello Doggie” dog) then hold the lead in your non-dominant hand, leaving your dominant hand (normally right hand) free for defence/protection.

8. Use only what physical means you can to hold onto the dog without getting injured yourself. Having got this far a thief’s adrenaline level will be as high as yours, so its not possible to predict what will happen. Some people manage to fight an attempted theft off and sustain injury in the process, but keep their dog. Others just have to let the dog go to prevent nasty injuries.

9. If your dog is taken, shout and raise the alarm as soon as the thief is out of range of hurting you (probably just a few metres away and walking away from you). Shout, whistle, call 999, and get help any way you can.

How You Can Defend Better If You Are Prepared

In this section of the article, we are assuming that you have made the decision to be more prepared for an attempted dog theft and you have bought some anti-deterrent equipment and have it to hand. You also know how and when to use it. So, as well as doing all the things we have recommended above, here are some extra tips and advice for the more prepared.

1. If someone suspicious approaches, turn towards them. Stand tall and be quietly assertive. You might need to be loud soon. Note everything you can about the person. Face, hair, voice, stature, clothing, gait etc. Anything unusual. These are your few seconds to assess whether a person is friendly or a threat, and to remember them if they are. Most likely they will be a friendly stranger, but insticts will soon tell you if they are something worse. Remember that dog thieves don’t normally look like dog owners; they are typically hooded, male (but not always), without a dog, walk differently and purposefully and lurk (dog walkers are typically in a world of their own, ambling along, looking at their feet or their dog, chatting, throwing things, shouting a dogs name, carrying poo bags or a lead, taking pictures, talking to or looking at a mobile etc.)

2. As danger approaches, put your dog’s lead in your left (or non-dominant) hand and feel for the the anti-attack self defence gear, be ready. So that should be in an unzipped pocket by your dominant hand (normally right hand). If you have a Spray, put it in your left (or non dominant) hand. This still leaves you dominant hand for other uses including protection/self defence/other anti attack products.

3. Shout “STOP” loudly and clearly and hold you hand out in front of you, like a policeman. This will send a clear signal to a thief that you mean business. They might be taken a bit by surprise and back off. They might not. But its worth a try. Know that your adrenaline level will be very high now, that your heart will be beating loudly and you will be breathing hard.

4. If you have a loud whistle on a lanyard, such as the DogHorn Whistle or any other, raise it to your mouth. Blow it if you think necessary ( as if you were calling your dog back; demonstrate to the suspects that you are prepared and can make a lot of noise). Using a whistle and shouting are a combined sound that is good for summoning assistance AND making thieves think twice. (Note that a dog whistle is useless as an anti deterrent as it is far too highly pitched).

5. Hopefully you will have another sound device in your pocket, but an automatic one such as the DogHorn Rape / Personal Alarm Sounder. Start feeling for it, without taking your attention from the attacker. Get ready to pull it and activate it and if possible point it towards the attacker. (Sounders are medium/high pitched and therefore directional; pointing towards an attacker will make it much louder and therefore more distracting to them.) Our sounder is chunky with square corners and is also a good self defence weapon for hitting someone with if the opportunity arises. ( Note that some people will make a fuss about using anything that can be construed as a weapon, so if you are of this brigade then you will need to hand your dog over unless you can talk a thief out of it.)

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Your Options If A Thief Continues With An Attack / Theft

1. If the thief/attacker continues, then you know this situation is for real. You now have a choice depending on the size and aggressiveness of the thief, and whether he has assistants, to continue defending or to submit and hand the dog over.

2. If you choose to continue defending, then, still facing the thief/attacker, if time allows, drop the Rape Alarm to the ground and switch to holding the Self Defence Spray Dye in your dominant hand at arms length, pointing towards the attacker’s face. ( you dominant hand will give a much more accurate jet than your opposite hand and you will only have ONE shot before the attacker turns away). Again shout “Stop Or I Will Spray You”. If you are going to spray then unlock the cap, take good aim and depress and hold the button for a second. (If you have a small dog then lift your dog and hold it close; this way the attacker’s face will be focussed on the dog, making it easier for you to hit the thief with the spray.) The spray will last for five seconds so it will give you more chances as aimed bursts, rather than one long spray.
(Note once again we have to point out that the law states you can’t carry an object that has it’s sole purpose as a weapon. As we discuss below, a better tactic can be to spray the dog, making it untouchable and unsellable. This in no way can be misconstrued as having a weapon. )

3. Note that the Rape Alarm we recommend is also a hard, palm sized object with hard corners that can be used as an effective weapon if necessary. Whilst we would recommend NOT to cause an aggressor any pain, this is an option should you choose to use it. A chunky torch can also be used. A walking stick.

4. If you have a red dye deterrent spray, it is also possible to spray your dog. The spray we use is UK Legal and non toxic so this action is safe for your dog. Whilst it sounds a bit bonkers spraying your dog with red dye, a dog that has been sprayed is a very high risk for a thief, not only because it can be easily identified and be completely unsellable, but the thieves and handlers will also become contaminated and the dye will remain for active for some time. (Sorry; you will have a mess to clear up and a very red dog, but you will still have your dog, and it will be safe from a horrible future).

5. The use of Anti Deterrents help you to buy time and reduce the thieves appetite for being caught, allowing you to get away. If things continue into punches, unless you are a black belt, ninja warrior or self defence expert, then curl up into a ball and hold on tight to the dog, by the collar and around its body if possible. Rely on your Sounder/Siren and dog walker buddy to bring any assistance that could help make the thieves back off, and if they don’t you will HAVE TO LET GO of the dog.

Actions Just After an Attack

1. After thieves have left, you will need to make a rational assessment. Will they come back if they didn’t get the dog? In this case you need to get as far away as possible, towards safety and towards assistance. Ring 999 and ask for the police (they will also summons an ambulance if necessary).

2. If they did get your dog and you are relatively unhurt then you will probably quickly go into panic/disbelief/shock/anger/chase mode. You will only be able to do simple things, but you will be able to do them fairly well, so shouting, blowing a whistle and chasing the thieves at a distance are easy. Make as much sound as possible to get assistance. Learn about getting assistance with the The DogHorn Code

3. Also get attention by waving your arms. Compound signals (sound and agitated movement) signify distress. Point to where the thief has gone. This will help inform others on what is going on and what to do. Getting others involved is crucial in identifying and stopping/arresting thieves and stopping them from going on straight away to target other dogs in the area.

4. It may be possible to Image/video the area (possibly even the thieves and their vehicle) using a mobile phone. Video the whole area / car parks etc as unexpected clues come up later. Getting this kind of data can help so much after a theft for so many reasons. ( eg Recall, public awareness, timings, witnesses etc).

5. You might consider following the thieves (at a safe distance) on foot or in a car and call the police if possible.

7. It could be worth messaging a prearranged Whatsapp or text group to gather further assistance.

8. After the event you will be consumed by a host of overwhelming emotions and a desire to search relentlessly for your dog above all else. This is as normal as it is horrible. But as soon as possible after the event, using whatever pictures or videos you have, write your memory of it down, or get a friend to. The detail will help others to be of assistance and will help police and the public at large in a search, especially on social media.

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As a Witness What Can You Do?

If you think about it, YOU are more likely to be a WITNESS to a dog theft (or the period just after a dog theft), than to experience one yourself. You can therefore be ready to help others, in the hope that they would help you too.

A Responder / Witness has exactly the same tactical options as the Victim has, in that the training, the equipment and the clothing are all the same, but there area few differences;

  1. The responder / witness might be in a place that is closer to the thief, or even ahead of the thief’s escape.
  2. The Responder / Witness might be stronger / faster / more physically able to assist.
  3. The Responder / Witness might not be suffering from shock or incapacitation in the same way that a victim might. The Responder / Witness might be more clear thinking.
  4. The Responder / Witness might have the right anti-theft equipment to hand, including a mobile phone, siren/sounder, whistle etc.
  5. The Responder / Witness might also be close to their car and able to engage some mobile tactics.

As a result a Responder / Witness can

  1. Raise the sound alarm (eg The DogHorn Code) on anything possible (Whistle, shouting, car horn, Rape Alarm)
  2. Video a thief or their vehicle. GET A VEHICLE DESCRIPTION AND NUMBER
  3. Slow down a thief with questions like “Is that your dog?, What is its name etc”
  4. Conduct any of the tactics below called “Being More Prepared as a Witness”

How Can You Be More Prepared as a Witness?

If you are properly prepared for a dog theft, you will also be well prepared to help out as a Responder / Witness and possibly have the right anti-theft equipment to hand.

  1. Identify the right person / thief. Make sure you aren’t about to accost some innocent member of the public.
  2. If you have identified a thief with a dog then
  3. Challenge the thief from a safe distance. Shout “LET THE DOG GO! ITS NOT YOURS”. This will raise the awareness of others
  4. If the thieves have left you might think to ask someone with a car to follow them and get their registration.
  5. Get in a car and follow the thieves yourself, if possible with someone else who can video / make a call to the police. (see “Covert” and “Active” following below)

Following a vehicle

COVERT MODE. In this mode you will get be following from a discreet distance (50m or more) possibly with another car between you and the vehicle. Your intention is to observe, gather evidence and get assistance WITHOUT interacting with the thieves in any way.

ACTIVE MODE. In this mode you are aiming to let the thieves know that they have been identified and to rapidly raise local awareness and assistance. THIS MODE IS RISKIER AND NOT ENDORSED BY THE POLICE but it is also a mode that many people would choose, hence we are providing restricted advice rather than endorsing all-out conforontation.

Follow more closely but without harassing or “tail gating”. Use lights and horns to indicate that that the thief and vehicle have been identified, but only for a while ( a minute). Don’t aggravate, do give the thieves time to assess the situation themselves. If they stop, you aim to stop at a safe distance in FRONT of them, so you have a good escape route. Do NOT get out of your car. Keep your windows closed, engine running. Observe. Be ready to move off immediately. Do not get enticed onto small or dead end roads. Keep the police informed and follow their instructions.

Intercepting a Vehicle

Remember that a thief may be out for the day (or night) looking for dogs. A good intervention could stop other dogs being stolen or recover dogs already stolen that day.

With an effective WhatsApp or Text group, responders can throw down a wide network of surveillance and get AHEAD of the thieves if they know what to look for.

Following many discussion with dog owners their opinions are generally very strong about wanting to follow and intervene to recover their own stolen dog or someone else stolen dog. We have often heard the term “I would go Liam Neeson to get my dog back” meaning they would attempt to stop, barricade, block or get into a physical altercation with thieves. We CANNOT condone this level of action as it carries a high risk of harm. Thieves can be violent, carry weapons or have violent dogs themselves. The highest level of action we can condone is the use of spray and to follow a vehicle at a safe distance, in the hope that the thieves come to understand that “The Game Is Up” and release a dog.


  • don’t leave your dog unattended in a car
  • don’t leave your dog unattended in a garden
  • don’t leave your dog tied up outside a shop
  • do vary your walking times and locations to avoid a routine
  • don’t constantly post pictures online with your dog in identifiable locations
  • Avoid walking in remote areas by yourself
  • Show you are VISIBLY prepared; WEAR THE DOGHORN LANYARD
  • Learn the What3Words location system

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