The Best Way To Find A Lost Dog

Teddy Blue and Maggie
Photo courtesy of Deb German

The best way to find a lost (or even stolen) dog requires using three important but affordable lines of defense, and starts with a personalized dog collar. This one basic piece of dog gear, embroidered or engraved with your phone number, is the ‘ounce of prevention’ far preferable to the ‘pound of cure’ you’ll have to use if she goes missing without any ID on her. Why? Because the person who finds your dog is most likely to check her collar or tags first, and call the phone 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 directly to you, and hopefully your pal will be back in your arms again before you know it. 

Embroidered Dog Collars & Dog ID Tags: Perfect Partners

An embroidered dog collar and dog ID tags are excellent strategies alone, but they work better together. If you’ve already taken these steps to protect your dog, good for you. But you are a minority statistically among humans: Only 33% of pet owners keep identification on their critters. Sadly, the return-to-owner rate (RTO) for a lost dog is only about 10% to 30% in most places, worse still for cats.

It’s a no-brainer: Your dog needs to wear some kind of ID.

A personalized dog collar, dog ID tags, and a microchip: Think of them as the ‘holy trinity’ your doggo deserves to help bring her back to you in case she goes missing.

What To Put On Your Dog’s Collar & ID Tags

Your dog’s collar should have her name and your phone number embroidered on it in a clearly visible, contrasting thread color (or engraved onto 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. Her name and your cell phone number also belong on her ID tags, along with the city where you live. But there is more to consider.

Should You Put Your Address On A Dog Tag?

Possibly. 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’re 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. (Another reason to consider adding a microchip to your three-way pet protection plan!) Use your best judgment.

Isn’t Her Rabies Tag Enough?

No, a rabies tag alone isn’t enough, but she should always wear a tag showing her rabies vaccination is current, and this is especially important if she is lost. An up-to-date rabies tag also helps reassure 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—during normal business hours. (She had the courtesy to go missing during normal business hours, right?) 

The same holds true for her microchip 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 good, working phone number attached to your dog’s collar and tags.

Should You Microchip Your Dog?

The answer is an emphatic, yes! A redundant system is best—adding ID hang tags to your dog’s personalized collar and having her microchipped are smart strategies. What if her entire collar or harness goes missing while she’s AWOL? Enter microchip technology, a game changer for pet identification, rendering ID tattooing all but obsolete. 

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 your veterinarian will most likely recommend doing it when your new puppy or dog joins the family. 

The microchip stores two numbers: a unique ID number connecting animal to owner, and the phone number of the database where the 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 requires meeting these three conditions:

  1. The microchip has to be in the right place and working 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
  3. The database must be accurate and up to date so if you move, contact the registry to update your info

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 forgot to update the database when you moved or changed 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.

Check Your Dog’s ID Tags Often

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, so you’ll need to replace them for wear. 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.

The dog’s name and your phone number should be printed in a contrasting thread color.

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. It was not 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.

Dogs can be stealthy and quick, sometimes slipping past even the most vigilant and responsible humans 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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