GUNDOG owners are being put on red alert after news that more and more of the pets are being stolen every year for breeding or for sale on the black market.
Since 2013 more than 5,000 dogs have gone missing or been stolen right across the country and that is a 23% rise in just two years.
The Pet Theft Awareness team said the breeds most commonly stolen are Labradors, Springer Spaniels and Cocker Spaniels and statistics from the DogLost group reveal that in 2015, 356 Labradors, 276 Cocker Spaniels and 168 Springer Spaniels went missing – mainly stolen
Pet Theft Awareness wants to raise the issue so that dog owners can be morea lert to potential thefts,how to keep dogs safe, what to do if they become a victim and buying and selling gundog puppies.
An awareness campaign was run through social media and DogLost and its partners in the Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance who supported the initiative.
Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show a 22.3% rise in reports in two years and Gareth Johnson, Conservative MP for Kent, has called for a specific crime of pet theft to be introduced.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said courts were told to account for emotional distress.
The Freedom of Information request showed at least 5,288 dogs reported stolen since 2013.
Broken down,the figures indicate that 1,490 were taken in 2013, 1,599 in 2014 and 1,776 in 2015. In the first four months of this year, there were a reported 423 thefts.
Some forces reported the theft of several dogs at the same time as a single offence.
Thieves target Staffordshire bull terriers and tiny toy-designer breeds, like miniature French bulldogs, and pugs, popular with celebrities, because of their high resale value.
Nik Oakley, from Dog Lost - which works nationwide to reunite lost and stolen dogs with their owners - said gun dogs such as Labradors, cocker spaniels, and springer spaniels were being taken for working purposes and illicit breeding.
Anna Rigano, from Forest Row, East Sussex, had her Jack Russell, Buster, stolen in March. "I went to the field with some friends... I let him loose because I felt confident and he knew the area, and he never really goes away from me for very long,” she said.
"I started calling him and he didn't come to me.I think he was picked up because he was such a friendly dog and I've never found a body.”
Vet Louise Marsh, from Woking,Surrey, was reunited with her pet dog Toby after he was stolen from her street in 2014, and later dumped in a field in Kent.
The Border Terrier was discovered following a high profile social media appeal supported by the tennis player, Andy Murray, and the band, One Direction.
Ms Marsh said some were stolen because they were worth a lot of money for breeding. "A British bulldog, for example, can cost £1,800 for a puppy.
"So if you can get hold of a British bulldog bitch, and get her pregnant, you're looking at thousands of pounds worth of puppies," she said.
It is a legal requirement for all dogs to be micro-chipped but vets do not have to routinely scan new dogs brought into their surgeries.
"Many dogs may stay lost or stolen until they actually get scanned by somebody," said Ms Oakley. We want it to be compulsory to all vets, local authorities, rescuers, to scan every dog that goes past them.”
Dartford MP Gareth Johnson wants the government to recognise the growing problem of dog thefts and the effect they can have on owners.
Mr Johnson said stealing a dog was currently deemed no more serious than stealing other possessions.
"It would be good to have a specific offence of the theft of a pet. Too often, the theft of a dog is treated in the same way as the theft of a laptop or a mobile phone," he said.
The Ministry of Justice said: "We are aware of the distress the disappearance of a pet can cause, especially if there are suspicions it has been stolen.
"The maximum penalty for theft is seven years imprisonment and there are no plans to change this.
"The independent Sentencing Council recently issued revised guidelines for dealing with theft which make clear courts should take into account the emotional distress."
How the theft figures are broken down
North Yorkshire Police provided a figure of 61 crimes over the whole period but did not break it down further.
Nottinghamshire Police recorded the highest rate of dog thefts between 2013 and 2016. There were some two dogs stolen per 10,000 people served by the force. They were closely followed by Kent while Sussex had the fifth worst record.
However, Nottinghamshire is one of 10 forces where the number of reported canine thefts has dropped. In 2013, there were 92 reports of dogs stolen, rising to 94 in 2014. The following year it was 59.
The other forces who recorded a fall compared with their 2013 figures were West Midlands, Durham, Warwickshire, Bedfordshire, Surrey, Cheshire, North Wales and Gwent.
Two other forces, Kent and Devon and Cornwall, had the same number of reports of thefts in 2015 as they did two years previously. A breakdown was not available for North Yorkshire.
Of the 37 forces that responded to the request , 24 reported more thefts in 2015 than two years earlier. Ten saw a rise in both 2014 and 2015.
Norfolk, Dyfed-Powys, Northamptonshire, Gloucestershire, Hertfordshire, Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Lincolnshire, the Metropolitan Police and West Mercia all saw rises in both years.
Of those, Norfolk and Dyfed-Powys saw the biggest percentage rise, with more than two and a half times the number of reported dog thefts in 2015 compared with 2013.
The number of reported dog thefts has almost doubled in Northamptonshire, up from 14 in 2013 to 27 in 2015.
The Country Land and Business Association's Eastern Region figures for 2013 were:- Hertfordshire – 48; Essex – 38; Norfolk – 32; Cambridgeshire – 27; Lincolnshire – 24; Bedfordshire – 19; Northamptonshire – 15; Suffolk – 12; Nottinghamshire – 2. The London Metropolitan area saw the greatest number of stolen dogs reported – 165.
Essex had 20 dog thefts in 2012, 38 in 2013