STAFFORDSHIRE bull terriers are being stolen for ‘underground fighting’, it has been claimed.

It comes after an investigation found the breed was more likely to be stolen than any other.

Figures from 23 police forces across the country showed 1,468 dogs were reported missing last year, 224 of which were Staffordshire bull terriers.

There were dog 77 thefts in Lancashire.

Archie Bryden, chairman of the North West Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club, said thieves chose the dogs for breeding and fighting.

He said: “The figures were not a surprise because there have been cases where the dogs have been stolen by underground fighting people.

“It is a totally disgusting thing, but that is the sad side of the world.”

The research, which was carried out by the ShootingUK website, found five per cent of reported dog thefts led to prosecutions last year.

The area with the highest number of Staffordshire bull terrier thefts was London Metropolitan, but Mr Bryden said this could be put down to there being a higher total number of the dogs there.

Mr Bryden, who has two Staffordshire bull terriers named Susie and Phoebe, said the dogs were not naturally vicious and had to be trained to fight.

He said: “They are not good guard dogs despite what some people might say and they are very human friendly, which makes them easier to steal.

“They are also very good with children. When my daughter was growing up, we had lots of children at the house without any problems.

“The problem is that they are easier to steal and they are seen as the ‘in’ dog by the wrong people.”

Other breeds which were popular with thieves included Jack Russells, chihuahas, lurchers, labradors, British bulldogs, Japanese akitas and Yorkshire terriers.

The website also said most dogs were stolen from gardens.

Mr Bryden advised dog owners to make sure their pets were kept safe.

He added: “All people can do is be more vigilant. Dogs should not be allowed out loose and you have got to make sure your property is secure.”

Legislation is currently being considered to make the micro-chipping of all dogs compulsory from 2016.