Hampshire has been named as one of the top six counties for dog thefts in the past year The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) wants members to be extra vigilant following news that the county is in the top six in the country for dog thefts in the last year.

Figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request reveal that 55 dogs were reported stolen in 2013.

The CLA says animals can often be sold quickly and not easily traced.

CLA south east director Robin Edwards said: “Dogs are targeted by thieves because they can easily make money selling them on, often for breeding or, most distressingly, for fighting.”

DogLost, a website which reunites missing dogs with owners, says it is a growing problem in Hampshire, which reflects the national situation.

Spokeswoman Nik Oakley said kennels and farms in rural areas are being targeted in particular for valuable gundogs in large numbers – Labradors, cocker spaniels and springer spaniels.

But in urban areas thieves are focused on designer breeds, with a huge upsurge in thefts of chihuahuas, pugs and mini French bulldogs, she said.

Ms Oakley said it is believed the M3 and M4 motorways are being used as getaway routes for people coming into the county to take dogs.

DogLost dealt with 2,500 to 3,000 dogs that it knows were stolen nationally last year, 15 per cent up on the previous year.

She said that although some acts are random and spontaneous, these thefts are becoming increasingly organised.

There have been incidents where dogs have literally been snatched in the street or houses burgled where only the dog was taken.

Thives have been targeting high-value breeds in the Southampton and New Forest areas and even breaking into people’s homes to get the dogs for breeding, hunting and to sell them on, or even use them for fighting.

Ms Oakley said the thefts are financially driven – highly trained gundogs can be worth £2,000 “Dog theft ten years ago was about someone getting a quick £50,” said Ms Oakley.

“Now there’s a much greater awareness of the value of certain breeds of dogs and it’s so well-known that very little action is ever taken.

“Although a gundog is a working dog and has to earn its keep, the majority are still well loved pets as well. People are absolutely heartbroken.”

Ms Oakley said at the moment dogs are classed as property, rather than a family member, and thieves are sentenced accordingly, but the organisation is calling for heavier punishments.