6 minute read

Canine ID

by Brandon Phillips

The “standard” pet identification (ID) is made from plastic or metal and dangles off your pet’s collar or harness. Tags are engraved a current phone number and your pet’s name. If space permits, it’s important to include things like “Needs Meds” or “Reward for Return.” The benefits of this type of tag are the cost and the fact that a “Good Samaritan,” who finds your pet, can call you immediately. You might also consider having a backup phone number engraved, in case you can’t be immediately reached. However, the tags are very customizable and come in every conceivable shape, size, and color. The negative with standard ID tags is that the engraving can wear off over time, making the tag impossible to read. You also need to be sure your dog is wearing a collar/harness, with the tag, at all times.

Digital ID tags are now offered by a growing number of companies. First, you can create an account on a website and add a profile for your pet, then purchase a digital ID tag or collar on the site which will contain a unique QR code for your individual dog. When you receive the tag or collar, log back into the site and link it to your pet’s profile. If your pet goes missing and someone finds him, the Good Samaritan has a few options to help the dog get back home; 1) scan the QR code on the tag with a Smartphone, 2) type in the tag’s web address and enter the tag number, 3) call the number listed on the website to retrieve your info from the ID on the tag. Today, you can often text the number for a data look-up. Typically, membership in the database is free, you will need to be sure both your information and your dog’s info are kept current. The company PetHub also offers a GPS map showing where your pet’s tag was scanned, and a database that allows you to broadcast your pet’s profile to shelters and local businesses near the location your pet was last seen.

You can also find USB flash drives that attach to your pet’s collar or harness like a standard ID tag. They come in cute shapes and a wide variety of colors. These can potentially provide added value because they store complete care information which will be immediately available to, veterinarians, boarding kennels, or the person who finds the pet. While these are typically very inexpensive, I can’t imagine why you would need 32MB of data storage for even the most complicated care routine, so they may be a bit overpriced. For dogs that live near water or those that just can’t seem to resist a ditch full of water, this is probably not your best choice in ID. USB devices that have been submerged in water are far from reliable.

GPS trackers are typically designed for owners who want to monitor their dog’s movements. While these devices don’t directly offer ID for your dog, they will alert you if your dog leaves established virtual boundaries. Alerts can be sent directly to your cell phone, and if your dog is just a few houses away, you can quickly retrieve him. If your dog is a professional escape artist, this may offer a layer of confidence in locating his where-abouts fairly easily.

GPS systems come with a hefty price tag, and are typically comprised of high-tech collars with receivers attached. Again, check into water resistance and response relative to terrain. You will also want to know the typical battery life, and set up a regular schedule to check that the collar is active when your dog is out and about. There are often annual or monthly fees associated with canine GPS systems. Garmin offers one having an initial cost of $200 and an annual fee of $50. Verizon’s Pet Tracker has an MSRP of $100 and a monthly fee of $7.95. Again for the right dog, this can offer a layer of comfort, but your dog still needs a microchip and a hangtag of some sort. The downside would be that these collars can be bulky and are probably not well suited for small or toy dogs.

Pet microchips contain an electromagnetic transponder with a unique code that must be registered with a recovery program, such as HomeAgain. A scanner is needed to locate and read the code on the chip, which most veterinary offices and shelters have. The microchip, which is the size of a grain of rice, is injected under your pet’s skin, in the neck area, and between the shoulders. The popularity of microchips has increased tremendously in recent years, many shelters implant chips in all adopted pets before the animal leaves the facility. One of the main benefits of microchipping is that your pet can’t lose his ID. Chips have become a standard method of identifying strays. Any lost animal brought to a veterinary clinic or animal shelter is automatically scanned, so your information must be kept up to date for your dog to have the best odds of returning home. Keep in mind microchips are not GPS systems and they do not emit any signal; they simply lay dormant in your dog until they are activated by a scanner.

Tattooing is a unique code or information typically on the inner ear flap, the belly, or the inner leg of a fully grown dog. Ideally, ID tattoos should be done while an animal is under anesthesia for another procedure. If your pet is very furry, tattooing is not a preferred option as it will be difficult for a Good Samaritan to see. You can always consider the ear flap as an option, but many people don’t like this placement for aesthetic reasons. Also, thieves have been known to remove the part of the ear that shows the tattoo, and you certainly don’t want to subject your dog to that, should they fall into the wrong hands. You can increase the likelihood of your tattooed pet being returned by registering the number with the AKC, the National Dog Registry, or Tattoo-a-Pet. Any number can be registered with the National Dog Registry, and all tattooed animals can be enrolled in the AKC’s Companion Animal Recovery System regardless of species, age, size, or number used. Tattooing is also a controversial topic for many. Some people see it as animal cruelty, while others think the ink may have adverse effects. Like all ID options, there are pros and cons.

In short, your dog needs an ID, and with the wealth of options available, surely there is one to fit your budget and style. No matter the option you choose, mark your calendar to review the information at least annually, perhaps on your dog’s birthday. Also, consider having more than one type of ID for your dog. The most popular combo today is a microchip and a collar tag. Microchip clinics are a very affordable option, and you can easily pick up a plastic or metal tag at your local pet store, groomer, or from your veterinarian.