Puppy Identification

Identification Collars, Tattoos and Microchip Options

A woman holding her dog
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It breaks my heart whenever I hear about a lost puppy because proper puppy identification can bring your puppy back home again. It doesn’t take long once you’ve adopted a puppy to fall in love. One out of three pets will get lost during their lifetimes. Without identification, 90 percent won’t return home.

A lost puppy strikes close to home for me because my Magic-dog has upon occasion decided to “go south” on us (as my husband calls it).

It usually happens if his nose gets him in trouble sniffing after interesting smells that communicate irresistible information. But most often, he eyeballs a coyote and decides he must chase the interloper away.

How Puppies Get Lost

Puppies can become so interested in the world around them they forget and wander away to explore. They might follow a neighbor dog away from your house—or be chased by a scary stray dog or cat. Other times your puppy might chase a squirrel out of the yard, or nosy pups follow a bunny scent. Magic used to run next door to visit his horse buddy--and munch on the droppings, eww!

More puppies and dogs run away from home over the July 4th celebration than any time of year because they become scared of the loud noises. Halloween is another lost puppy bonanza because trick-or-treating kids prompt doors to be opened, offering a quick escape for pups sometimes scared by strangers wearing funny costumes.

Puppy Identification Options

There are several ways for your pet to have a fighting chance to be homeward bound, should he become lost.


Magic has a tattoo in his ear that identifies him. The number is included on his registration papers, and he got the tattoo from his breeder while just a tiny pup.

Tattoos also may be placed on the puppy's tummy or inside of the puppy’s thigh.

Tattoos can be a good way to mark your puppy to identify him permanently. However, if your baby gets lost and is found by strangers, they must know to look for a tattoo. And they must also know what to do with the numbers. Unfortunately, tattoos fade over time or may be hidden by the pet’s fur.

Identification Collar Tags

Collar tags work very well because they are seen easily. A collar not only identifies your puppy as owned, but the tag can also provide detailed information that includes his name, your phone number or even the vet clinic that cares for his health. I once found a lost pet and was able to call the clinic named on the rabies tag. And the clinic by law keeps track of the rabies tag number, and so this pet was reunited with his owner.

High-tech tags also include a tiny USB computer chip—sort of like a flash drive—that attaches to your puppy’s collar. It holds reams of information you can download directly from your computer. The drawback on collar tags, though, is that they can be lost.

Many online database services allow you to register collar tag number, USB, tattoo or microchip information. These systems can be accessed from any computer, and track down your lost puppy information no matter how far he’s roamed.

Microchip Identification

Microchips are the gold standard for identification. Microchips can’t be lost, they never wear out and are engineered to last a lifetime. They’re also easy to find and to trace.

The microchip, embedded in surgical glass about the size of a grain of rice, is injected beneath the pet’s skin in the shoulder region. Even tiny pups won’t react any worse to this procedure than when they’re vaccinated. Owners provide the information that goes into the microchip and is stored in a pet recovery database.

The microchips are read using a hand-held scanner over the shoulder region. Microchips transmit specific frequencies like a small radio station, and the scanner must be “tuned” correctly to read the information. It’s important that shelters and veterinary hospitals in your locale have scanners able to read the specific microchip implanted in your pet, so ask before you ‘chip.

The most popular pet microchip companies also offer microchips in bulk for rescue or shelter organizations, recovery database systems, and other benefits like pet health insurance in case a pet is injured while AWOL. Local veterinarians and shelters provide the microchipping service using one or more of these products, and the cost varies. Typically, shelters offer lower cost “deals” and microchipping may even be covered by the adoption fee along with spay or neuter when you acquire your pet.

Will his microchip prevent Magic from “going south?” Of course not. Proper training to come when called, a secure fence, and other protection can help. But if he should dash off and is recovered by a friendly human, that microchip could very well be his ticket home.