A missing pets charity said an increase in dog thefts across the UK is linked to the coronavirus pandemic, and warned new owners might accidentally be buying stolen dogs.
Lancashire Constabulary recorded 116 dog thefts in 2021, according to a Freedom of Information request from Direct Line Pet Insurance.
This was up from 111 in 2020, and the highest number since the company's records began in 2015.
Across the UK, 2,077 dogs were reported stolen to 35 police forces which responded to the FOI request – though Direct Line Pet Insurance estimates the real figure to be as high as 2,760.
This estimate was up from 2,438 in 2020 and the highest number since their records began in 2015.
In Lancashire, 51 of 116 dogs were returned last year.
The Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance said the demand for dogs during lockdown caused a "huge spike" in them being stolen for breeding, with their value also increasing.
Debbie Matthews, chief executive of the charity, said: "Dogs were also essentially being stolen ‘to order’ for people who were looking for a certain breed, but would never know that they were receiving a stolen dog.
"We would always recommend that a new owner gets the pet’s microchip registration checked as soon as possible."
Direct Line Pet Insurance said French bulldogs were the most stolen breed in 2021, followed by Jack Russells, chihuahuas and pugs.
Dog breeds that are most likely to be stolen and their average price tag: