Dognappers are being encouraged by looking at pets on social media, police chiefs have warned.
They are urging owners to be careful about what they post online amid a huge surge in thefts.
Figures from the charity DogLost show thefts soared by 170% in the last year as criminals exploited high demand for pooches during repeated lockdowns.
The cost of certain breeds has shot up as people have spent more time at home and decided to get a dog.
Crooks are said to track where owners of expensive breeds walk and where they might live on social media.
Instagram users are being advised not to use location tags while walking their mutt.
Deputy Chief Constable Amanda Blakeman, of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said: “Dog owners can take reasonable security measures to prevent thefts like checking privacy settings on social media before sharing pictures of your pet online, as this can attract the attention of some criminals.
“I also want to encourage those who are buying dogs to really consider where the pet has come from and ensure that it is being purchased legally.”
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She added: “During the coronavirus pandemic criminals have adjusted their activities and are taking advantage of the big demand for pets over the lockdown period.
“The cost of a puppy has considerably increased over the past year making this a lucrative market for organised criminals to exploit.”
Two men and a woman were recently arrested in Greater Manchester on suspicion of burglary, after someone was seen carrying seven English Bulldogs puppies into a property.
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And in Wales, officers returned nearly 30 dogs to their owners after they found 80 animals at a Carmarthenshire property.
They arrested one person on suspicion of handling stolen goods and another on suspicion of burglary.
The Blue Cross animal charity advises dog owners to “vary the routes you walk so you’re not following a noticeable routine”.
Revealing their home or frequently visited locations “can mean thieves can target specific pets”, the organisation warns.
It added: “Don’t post your address details online.
“If you’re an Instagram fan, don’t use location tags or make it obvious from photos that you are often in the same place at the same time with your pet.”
Policing Minister Kit Malthouse said: “Losing a much loved family pet can cause great distress and it’s a sad fact that criminals will seek to profit by this vile crime.”
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