Proper Identification Tags Can Save Your Dog’s Life

Novel and inexpensive new products help ensure your dog’s safe return.


We can never say it often enough or loudly enough – proper identification can save your dog’s life. A dog license is required by law to be worn on your dog’s collar in most places in this country. Owner information from a license can usually be tracked through the local Animal Services agency or Health Department so the lost dog can be returned to his owner if he is picked up by an Animal Services Officer or turned over to an animal shelter by a helpful humanitarian. Obtaining your license in a timely manner can also save you money, since failure to do so can result in citations and fines.

Microchips and tattoos are two methods of providing your dog with permanent “backup” identification, and both have their benefits and drawbacks (see “Your Lost Dog’s Ticket Home,” WDJ November 1998).

However, a physical, visible ID tag that offers your current contact information is your lost dog’s first line of defense, and the easiest way for that helpful humanitarian to return him to you directly, quickly, and safely. While a trip to the local shelter to retrieve your safe and healthy dog is better than some of the tragic alternatives, avoiding that shelter visit by having his finder return him directly to you saves you anxiety and money, and saves your dog from possible exposure to those nasty viruses and bacteria that sometimes hang out in shelter kennels. For all these reasons, your dog should be wearing a current identification tag in addition to his license.

Types of tags
Once upon a time, “ID tag” inevitably meant an engraved metal tag that dangled from your dog’s collar from a metal “S” hook, jingling against his license every time he moved – a noise that some people found very irritating.

Today, your ID options range from simple to high-tech, and from dirt-cheap to high-dollar. We have yet to find the perfect dog identification system, however. Tags can fall off, or they can become worn and hard to read. Collars can be removed. Chips and tattoos can be overlooked. Still, there’s an identification system to meet the needs and preferences of every person and every dog, from the tiniest teacup Poodles to the most massive of Mastiffs.

The wisest people invest in more than one, so they have backup systems if one fails. We took a look at some of the low-to-mid-range options to help you choose, and left the high-end Mercedes models for another day. We evaluated seven different ID tags (and one collar), based on legibility, durability, functionality, aesthetic appeal, comfort for the dog, and cost.

Instant identification
We often like different products for different reasons. We have been huge fans of the next product for quite some time, based on its affordability and ease of use.

At 50 cents apiece (or less, if you buy them in bulk), the Jiffy-Tags/Instant Pet ID Tag (made by Animal Care Equipment & Services, Inc., of Crestline, California) can hardly get any more affordable!

It takes only a minute to customize this lightweight, heart-shaped tag. Basically, you write your dog’s information on both sides of a piece of pre-punched paper, and sandwich it between two pieces of adhesive-backed protective plastic. Then you slip it on the dog’s collar with the “O” ring conveniently provided in the packaging.

We always keep dozens of these handy little instant ID tags around. We give them to friends when they visit so they can slap an ID tag with local contact information on their dogs, and we take them with us when we travel so we can fill out new ones for our canine kids every time we stay in a new place. Having a friend or petsitter take care of your dogs while you are out of town? With these tags, you can inexpensively add the caretaker’s phone number to your dog’s regular arsenal of identification.

The lightweight tags are surprisingly durable – even on those of our dogs who like to swim regularly – and they don’t jingle against the licenses like the metal ones do. For all these reasons, we use them as our dogs’ regular ID, and think everyone should have a supply of these on hand.

FastTags are another type of tag that can be made quickly, and are inexpensive enough to use as temporary ID while traveling. Made by Ruff & Tumble Company of Woodland Hills, California, these are curious shrinkable plastic tags that you write on, then bake in the oven. They shrink and become thicker in the oven, and the writing becomes (more or less) embedded in the plastic (the maker also includes a small piece of adhesive-backed plastic that covers and protects the writing). These tags are not only attractive and durable, but also fun to make – they’d be a great project for a child under parental supervision. They come in a variety of different shapes (10), including a bone, doghouse, fire hydrant, and paw prints.

Since you write on these products yourself, it’s important to use good handwriting in order for them to be legible. If your handwriting is not good, have a friend write on the tags for you.

Made to order
We like both of the aforementioned products because they can be customized for your dog in minutes. The next few products are made to order, and generally take one to three weeks to be made and arrive at your door. Make sure your dog wears some form of temporary identification while waiting for the following products to arrive.

You can’t get more personal than a Personalized Adjustable Collar, a good quality nylon collar with your dog’s information actually stitched right into the fabric. Made by RC Steele, of Brockport, New York, these classy and relatively affordable collars certainly eliminate the problem of tag-jingle and the possibility of a tag falling off. The collars come in small, medium, and large in a variety of colors, and you can also order a personalized leash to match, for the stylishly accessorized look. Perhaps the only drawback to this product is the limit to the number of characters that will fit on the collars – about 30, which should be enough for any dog’s name and phone number, but not much more.

The Personalized Brass Slider Tag, also made by RC Steele, is another product designed to eliminate the risk of tag loss or the problem of tag-jingle. The slider is a rectangular-shaped, flat brass tag with a slot at each end to run a collar strap through; it is engraved to order.

The slider is very durable and attractive, but doesn’t quite make our 4-Paw rating because (as we realized after we ordered one) it can be used only on a flat collar that buckles. You can’t put it on a snap-closing collar because the plastic snap hardware won’t fit through the slots. Also, it’s a tad large for toy-sized dogs – it would be a bit bulky, and the tag would need to be curved to form to the shape of a smaller dog’s neck.

Perhaps the most captivating ID product we examined is the PetScope, made by eScopes LLC, of Santa Monica, California. The PetScope is a small metal or plastic tube with an eyepiece at one end. When you hold it up to a light source and look into the eyepiece (like you would look through a kaleidoscope) you see a tinted screen that contains an incredible amount of information about your dog. Believe it or not, this tiny ID tag can list your name, address, and phone; your dog’s description and the name of his usual food; your veterinarian’s name, number and location; your dog’s medical information and vaccination history; special care instructions, and a place for you to sign to grant permission for your dog’s emergency treatment in case of an accident. Wow!

How do they get all that into that little tube? When you order the PetScope, you fill in the information on a large paper disc and send it in to the company, where they reproduce the sheet on a tiny disk of microfilm that fits in the end of the tube. (If you order online, the information is printed onto the form for you – a good option for those with messy handwriting.)

When we first saw the product advertised, we were worried that a person who found a dog with the PetScope on the collar might not recognize the tiny box as an identification tag. We were happy to see that PetScope solved this problem by stamping “PET ID” on one side of the tube and “LOOK” on the other side.

The product comes in several different models, from the affordable plastic $13 model, to a $17 silver tone, a $20 gold plate, and a classy $45 sterling silver version. The scopes are waterproof and come with a lifetime warranty.

Our only criticism? In one of the three samples we received, the tiny information disc had slipped loose inside its tube and was flipped sideways. We could tap the product so that it flipped to a readable position, but if we shook the tube it flipped up again. While we appreciate the lifetime warranty that would (ostensibly) replace this product with another one, we worry that if the disc came loose while the dog was lost, a finder might not be able to read the contact information on the disc.

Not recommended
We didn’t anticipate seeing any difference between this product and the FastTag, mentioned earlier. Both products are made of plastic that is written on and then placed in the oven to shrink. But the Shrink ID-EZE Instant Pet ID Tag, made by Kylen Company of Huntington Beach, California, is not executed quite as well.

After baking, we found this tag to be considerably thinner, so that it could bend and break more easily. Also, the designs on a few of the tags are dark and “busy” enough that it makes the writing on the tag difficult to read. Finally, there is no adhesive plastic provided to protect the writing from wear. This is still a usable product, but if you are interested in these “shrink to complete” tags, we suggest you spend the extra dollar and go with the FastTag instead.

As the name suggests, the Dog ID Tag and Reflector, made by Oster Professional Products of McMinnville, Tennessee, seemed to offer an additional feature – a reflector – that many dog owners would find useful for walking after dark. While the product does, in fact, reflect light well, it does not serve well as an ID tag.

This is a very low-tech product; you write on a bit of paper that is glued to the back of the reflector and snap on a protective see-through plastic cover. We doubt this tag would hold up to much wear and tear, and in order to be waterproof, the maker suggests you paint over the writing with clear nail polish – not a convenient process. It may be better than no tag at all, but we suspect you’d find yourself replacing it frequently – or worse, not replacing it and leaving your dog without ID.

Also With This Article
Click here to view “Microchip Your Dog to Get Him Home Safe”
Click here to view “The Safest Types of Dog Collars (and the Most Dangerous)”

-by Pat Miller