Dog owners are being warned to keep their pets within sight this summer to avoid falling victim to thieves.

A total of 38 dogs were stolen in Essex during 2013, with gundogs and labradors the most popular breeds.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) believes the figure will rise because animals can be sold quickly and not easily traced.

CLA eastern regional director Nicola Currie said: “The temptation on a hot day is to let your dog go unattended into your garden, or out on your land, to find some cool shade.

“It’s also easy to let it run free and go out of sight while you are on walks.

“Unfortunately, this offers thieves a golden opportunity to take your animal.

“Many dogs are targeted by thieves because they can make money selling them on, often for breeding or for fighting."