A Personalized Dog Collar: The Best Way to Find a Lost Dog

Written by: Deb German

Teddy Blue and Maggie
Photo courtesy of Deb German

The single best way to find your lost dog is to outfit her in a personalized dog collar, embroidered or engraved with your phone number, before she goes missing. The reason is simple: the person who finds her is most likely to check her collar or tags first, and call the number on them before making ‘found dog’ posters or fliers, or dropping her at the local animal shelter. That one phone call will lead a good Samaritan instead directly to you, and hopefully your pal will be back in your arms again in short order. A redundant system is better still—adding ID hang tags to your dog’s collar and having her microchipped are smart backups.

If you’ve already taken these steps to protect your dog, good for you. But you are a minority among humans according to recent statistics: only 33% of pet owners keep identification on their critters. Sadly, the return-to-owner rate (RTO) for a lost dog, in particular, is only about 10% to 30% in most places, worse still for cats. It’s a no-brainer: your dog needs some kind of ID on her. And if you are not doing this one small but important thing for her, why on earth not? A personalized dog collar, dog ID tags, and the microchip: they are three inexpensive but important lines of defense against lost—and even stolen—dogs.

Embroidered Dog Collars and Dog ID Tags: Perfect Partners

An embroidered dog collar and dog ID tags are excellent strategies alone, but work better as a team. The Humane Society of the United States places “identify your dog” at the top of its list of ten dog care essentials. Your dog’s collar should have her name and your phone number embroidered on it in a clearly visible, contrasting thread color (or engraved on a metal plate attached to her leather collar). You can think of her personalized collar as an extension of her tags, the backup plan if they come off; a naked collar is no good without them.

And while microchipping is a simple and effective way to identify your dog, it requires a third party for a positive ID. The reality is your lost dog will probably be spotted first by somebody without immediate access to a microchip scanner. When the neighbor down the road finds her, or even the stranger on the other side of town, the first thing he’ll do if he is a person of integrity is check your dog’s collar or tags for a phone number.

What to Put on Your Dog’s Collar and ID Tags

Your dog’s name and your cell phone number belong on both her collar and her ID tags; the city where you live should also be engraved on her tag. But there is more to consider:

How much is too much information on a dog’s ID tags?

Your dog’s ID tag can pick up where her collar leaves off. Still, many tags do not have enough space for an entire street address. And some living situations may require a tad more discretion on your part. If you are a woman living alone in a dense urban area, for example, it is potentially unsafe to lead someone directly to your door via your dog’s ID tag. If you’re concerned the person who finds your dog might begin to bond with her, consider engraving or embroidering only a phone number on her collar and tags, and not her name. You might also consider a “Needs Vet Care ASAP” message (even if she’s fit as a fiddle) to prompt a dropoff at the nearest vet or shelter, where she’ll be scanned for a microchip. Use your best judgment.

Isn’t her rabies tag enough?

She should always wear a tag indicating her rabies vaccination is up to date, and this is especially important if she is lost. A current rabies tag is also reassuring to the person who finds her. But while the number on her rabies tag connects her to you, it is a less reliable ID method because it depends on a third party who can cross reference her registration only during normal business hours. (She had the courtesy to go missing during normal business hours, right?) The same holds true for her microchip tag if she has one, which will provide the phone number for the database where she is registered, as well as the unique number assigned to her chip. Your best bet is still a current phone number attached to your dog’s collar and tags.

Check her dog ID tags, and check them often.

It’s incumbent upon you to update your dog’s personalized collar and ID tags any time your contact information changes. But also check to make sure all her tags are there, and examine the surface of them every couple of months to make sure you can still read them: metal tags easily become scratched and worn, sometimes beyond recognition; replace them as needed. It’s also a great idea to keep spare personalized collars and ID tags in case your dog loses hers—sometimes one errant romp in the bramble is all it takes.

Should You Microchip Your Dog?

The answer is an emphatic, yes! What if her entire collar goes missing while she’s AWOL? Enter microchip technology, a game changer for pet identification, rendering ID tattooing all but obsolete in recent years. The chip itself is about the size of a grain of rice and is injected under the animal’s skin (typically between the shoulder blades) with a hypodermic needle; it is minimally painful, or even painless, and is veterinarian recommended. The microchip stores two numbers: a unique identification number connecting the animal to its owner, and the phone number of the database where that particular animal is registered. A scanner passed over the chip emits radio frequencies to activate it; the chip then transmits the unique ID back to the scanner, to be checked against the database.

Positively identifying a lost microchipped dog depends on three important metrics:

    1. The microchip itself must be in the right place and functioning properly (ask the vet to scan your dog’s chip annually to make sure it still works),
    2. The scanner must be able to detect the microchip, and
    3. The database must be accurate and up to date (sound familiar?).

Potential problems include improper scanning technique, matted hair, excess body fat, and a collar with lots of metal too close to the chip—any of these can interfere with an accurate reading. And it’s no good if you neglect to update the database where your dog is registered when you move or change your phone number. But microchipping is an effective form of animal identification when it is used in tandem with the collar and ID tags. The first thing a dog thief will do is remove her collar—the microchip will reveal her true identity if it is challenged. Microchip technology has helped lost animals return home months or even years after going missing.

A Dog (Collar) with No Name: the Story of Maggie

My family and I awakened one morning to our giant Shiloh Shepherd Teddy Blue barking like crazy at something just outside the mudroom door: unmoved by all the carrying on, a sweet yellow Lab stood patiently waiting to come inside. We had no idea how she’d made her way into our fenced yard, yet there she was, a lost dog now safely in our custody.

After a bit of excited jostling this petite blonde shouldered past a flummoxed Teddy and downed about half his water in a few sloppy glugs. She was hot and thirsty and showed signs of a recent litter. But nowhere on this pretty girl was any kind of ID—she wore only a frayed collar without tags. Neither was there any sign of a microchip in her shoulder when we took her to our local shelter for scanning.

About a week later we were able to reunite the mystery Lab, one 14-year-old Maggie, with her family after they spotted one of our neighborhood fliers and called us, but an ID collar and tags certainly would have helped bring Maggie home sooner. Her family had been out of town, they said, when she escaped her backyard enclosure, as was her habit. (No surprise there, considering she had somehow miraculously gotten into ours.) They were anguished to discover she had flown the coop.

The erstwhile nameless, homeless Maggie was lucky. Nor was it the last time she turned up at our door, but at least we knew where she belonged the next couple of times, even if she had her own ideas about that. It’s a cautionary tail, if you will, one that wags about in neighborhoods everywhere, all the time.

A personalized collar, tags, and microchip each work well, but together improve your chances of bringing home a beloved missing pet—think of them as the holy trinity of dog ID. Dogs can be stealthy and quick, sometimes slipping past even the most vigilant and responsible animal stewards among us. You know it will probably happen at some point in your dog’s life in spite of your best efforts to prevent it. Nobody needs to tell you there’s no place like home for a tail-wagging wanderer—give your devoted companion the loving gift of identification. She deserves the security, and you deserve the peace of mind.

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