Dog owners have long had to contend with fears that their beloved pets would run off and get lost. But increasingly thieves are literally snatching dogs from cars, homes, or even owners' arms. Here, a brief guide to this year's dog-napping wave:

What's going on?
We're experiencing a "sharp rise" in dog thefts, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC). In the first seven months of 2010, there were 150 reported dog thefts; this year there were 224 in the same period — nearly a 50 percent increase. In all of 2009, just 162 canine thefts were reported, compared with 255 in 2010.

Are some of these lost dogs?
No, those figures only accounts for dogs that were likely stolen. New reports come in almost daily. "Some are taken out of homes, some are taken out of cars, some are taken out of pet stores," says AKC spokesperson Lisa Peterson. "I've even seen some taken out of a child's arms on a park bench."

Why are people stealing dogs?
Money, and maybe the bad economy. The dogs might be held for ransom or resold as pets or for use in dog fights or lab research. But, Peterson says, money isn't a good motive: The doggy resale business isn't typically very lucrative.

What kind of dogs tend to get stolen the most?
It depends on whom you ask. Some say pit bulls and other large breeds are especially sought after. Others note the popularity of toy breeds, puppies, and purebreds.

What can dog owners do to protect their pets?
Keep dogs inside when not at home. Don't leave dogs unattended in cars or tied up outside. Microchip your animal so they have permanent identification. And if you suspect your dog has been stolen, immediately call the police and local shelters.

Sources: American Kennel Club, Sun-Times, Fox 19, Treehugger