Prices of some of the UK’s most popular dog breeds soared by 157% during lockdown – making them prime targets for thieves.
Figures from online sellers show the cost of Beagles went up from £563 to £1,447 within nine months due to rising demand.
Similar rises have also affected the price of Chow Chows, Dachshunds, French Bulldogs, Pugs and English Bulldogs leading to a spike in thefts.
But the Dogs Trust says while thousands of dogs are stolen every year sentences are not strict enough to deter criminals.
Chief executive Owen Sharp said: “Given the high demand for dogs and the increase in prices, it is no wonder criminals are taking advantage of the situation.
“Our dogs play such a huge and important part in our lives but sadly thousands are stolen each year, which is absolutely heart breaking.
“Current sentencing does very little to deter thieves and does not take into consideration how devastating it can be to have your dog taken from you.
“Punishment for dog theft is determined by the monetary value of the dog, meaning perpetrators are often given fines which do not reflect the emotional impact of dog theft on the families involved.”
The law states thieves can face up to seven years in prison for stealing pets, but the charity says offenders rarely end up behind bars.
Mr Sharp added: “We fully support any action to introduce tougher sentences that will act as a deterrent for those committing these crimes.
“At the very least, a community order or custodial sentence being given, rather than a fine.”
No figures were available about how many dogs were stolen during lockdown but the government this month launched a Pet Theft Taskforce in response to the spike in pet thefts.
Bringing together the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Home Office and Justice Ministry, it aims to collaborate with experts to understand the problem and create an action plan to reduce thefts.
Reacting to the rise in dog thefts, an RSPCA spokesperson said: “We would encourage all dog owners to take extra precautions to protect their pooches from thieves by neutering their pets, ensuring they are microchipped with up-to-date contact details registered, ensuring they wear a collar with contact details embroidered or an engraved ID tag.
“We’d also advise that owners never leave their pets tied up outside shops or alone in cars, ensure their gardens are secure with gates locked, and ensure their pet has a good recall and doesn’t stray too far when off-lead on walks.”