Ancient Egyptian artists sculpted graceful dogs wearing collars thousands of years ago, and the first known dog license tag in America was issued back in 1853. You’d think by now every dog mom and dad would have ensured that their pet was identifiable. Yet, every day, lost pets show up at animal shelters lacking any sort of identification to get them quickly home. Your pets love you, but they can’t tell others about your wonderfulness, let alone where you live.
July is Lost Pet Prevention Month, and I’ve decided it's time to jump in and help spread the word through the dooloop platform. The best way to get a wandering pup back home quickly is with identification. In addition to a traditional metal name tag, technology has given us lots of new options to identify or track lost pets.
From low tech to high tech, here are seven ways to help a dog find their way home!
A collar ID tag, the tried-and-true standard. When someone finds a lost dog trotting down the sidewalk, the first thing they do is reach under their chin for an ID tag so they can call the owner or give the wayward pup a lift home. A dog goes from lost to found as simply as that! Engraved metal or plastic tags are available online (buy two so you have a backup), or there’s probably a tag-engraving machine at a nearby pet store or animal shelter. Tags aren’t too expensive as a one-time purchase, but costs can rack up if your dog is a Houdini who sheds collars or breaks tags monthly. If your pooch lacks ID because they’ve lost yet another tag, you can get a pack of 5 laminated Jiffy Tags online for less than $10, and you’ll always have a replacement on hand.
Customized collars. If your dog is naked of ID because you dislike the jingle-jangle of metal tags, a collar embroidered with your contact information is bright, attractive…and quiet. In a pinch, you can even write your phone number on your dog’s current collar with permanent marker. This works best on light-colored collars and needs to be refreshed quite often, because the marker fades. There are even some niche products that hold the tags together, keeping them quiet.
Slide-on ID tags are another simple and quiet identification option. The custom engraved tag slides onto your dog’s collar and lies flat where it won’t jangle against your dog’s rabies or license tag.
Microchips are magical when it comes to reconnecting lost pets with their homes. These tiny transponders, only slightly larger than a grain of rice, contain a scannable registration number and the contact for the microchip’s registry service. Microchips are easily inserted under the skin between a pet’s shoulder blades by a trained technician or vet, and no anesthesia is needed. Some people mistakenly believe that chip will track a pet if they become lost. They don’t – and we’ll discuss real trackers in a moment. Instead, think of a microchip as a tiny invisible ID tag that is almost impossible for your pet to lose or for someone else to remove. If a Good Samaritan finds your lost dog, they can stop by most any veterinarian or animal shelter to have them scanned for a chip and start the process of getting your dog safely home. If an animal control officer picks up your dog, or someone finds your dog and tries to keep him as their own pet, sooner or later that chip should get scanned. More and more animal professionals scan pets as part of every routine exam.
Microchips are invaluable, but they are unfortunately prone to human forgetfulness. Pet parents often fail to register the chip of a newly adopted pet or forget to update their address and phone number online when they move. But as more and more pet lovers chip their pets, the number of fantastic happy-ending stories are increasing, including Ritz the cat, who was returned to his pet parents after sixteen long years!
A digital ID is a “smart” tag for your dog’s collar with a QR code that can be scanned using the finder’s smartphone. The code links to your pet’s personal online profile. Not only does it store your pet’s photo, emergency contacts, and vaccination info, if a stranger finds your lost dog, when they scan the code, they are put in touch with an operator who will contact you right away. Some smart tags, like PetHub Solutions, have services that range in cost from free to premium. The benefit of a digital tag is that it not only helps get a lost dog home, it also keeps the pet’s info all in one place where it's immediately available to share with a veterinarian or other member of your pet’s inner circle.
Personal property trackers, like the Tile or AirTag, were developed to help you find misplaced keychains, purses, laptop bags, and other non-furry personal property. But they can also be helpful to keep track of your pet in a pinch. The Tile tag can be detected if it’s within a few hundred feet of your smartphone, using Bluetooth technology. You’ll also get a location message if your Tile-wearing pup wanders within range of a person who has their Tile app open to the public on their smartphone. The AirTag uses Bluetooth and “ultra wideband” for added accuracy. Both tags (plus other brands like the Chipolo) have a ringer, so if your dog has been snoozing behind the couch for an hour, you can find them in their hiding spot by ringing their tag, instead of heading out to search the neighborhood. Because of their limited range and the fact that they are Android (Tile) and iPhone (AirTag) specific, property trackers are helpful, but by no means perfect, for tracking pets.
Here's a tip! Some property trackers have a smooth plastic surface with room enough to write your phone number with permanent marker, so your tiny tech tag can also serve as a standard dog ID tag.
Pet tracker collars and tags could have an entire article of their own! There are many to choose from, and they vary widely in cost, technology, and tracking range. Some use cellular service, GPS, ultra-wideband, Bluetooth technology (or a combination of several) to track a pet who ventures out of your sight.
- There are highly sensitive and pricey GPS tracking collars developed for temporary wear to keep tabs on hunting dogs, but the large size of the device and the antenna aren’t suitable for companion canines to wear 24/7.
- Tracking technology is getting tinier! GPS and cellular trackers like Fi, or Whistle, or Link, or Tractive are far more compact. However, they may still be ungainly for a toy-sized dog or a cat to have tucked under their chin.
- There are also a number of tiny-sized trackers that are more suitable for your collar-trained pocket-sized pup or cat. Some utilize GPS and others use only Bluetooth, and their range will vary based on the type of tech packed in their tiny size.
Which type of ID should you use on your pet?
Because I haven’t tried all of these amazing tech options myself, I’m just listing them rather than recommending one over the other. However, if you decide to purchase a tracker, you’ll want to keep the following things in mind:
- If you’re a cat parent, you probably want a chip. Cat collars should be breakaway for safety. To date, our new cat, Moose, a found cat who is hellbent for leather to be indoor/outdoor, has now lost 2 collars and one harness in less than a month.
- Whether you need a waterproof tag. Some dogs love to dive into every creek they find, and a tag that dangles for the collar of a small dog may get a daily dip in the water bowl. Other dogs give water a wide berth, and a water-resistant tag, versus waterproof, may be just fine.
- Does it need a battery? Some tags are powered by replaceable batteries, and others need to be recharged once a week or so, like a fitness watch. You probably have a personal preference.
- The actual size of the device. Like objects in your rear-view driving mirror, tracking devices can appear smaller in illustrations than they are in reality. Check for actual photographs of real dogs sporting their wearable tech.
- Range and accuracy. If your dog delays your daily plans by playing hide-and-seek at home or likes to zip off to visit the next-door neighbor, a short-range tracker with a ring function can really help reduce your daily stress. But if your hound likes to follow his nose down to the creek a half-mile away, you’ll probably need extra tracking range.
- The initial cost – of course price is a factor.
- Any ongoing subscriptions fees.
- Availability – some trackers you’ll find online are only available in certain countries.
- Check out the reviews! How well has the tracker worked for other pet parents and what does it look like in customer photos? Reviews will also give you insight into how user-friendly the app is when you attempt to pinpoint your pet’s location.
Take steps now to ensure your pet is safe for Lost Pet Prevention Month.
While it’s fun to contemplate all the amazing wearable tech that you could choose for your pet, you’ll want to ensure your best friend is safe right this moment with a simple ID tag and a microchip.
STEP ONE! Call your best friend to your side right now for a cuddle or a treat. Is your phone number easy to find, and is the print still clear? If you don’t have a tag or the current tag is worn, grab a Sharpie and add your phone number to your dog’s collar. Then order a shiny new ID tag or embroidered collar online, or you can set a reminder to stop at your local pet store this week.
If you already have a high-tech tracker on your dog, or you’ve added a Tile or AirTag to their collar because you had an extra one on hand, grab that Sharpie and print your phone number right on tag so it serves double duty both as a tracker and an ID tag.
STEP TWO! If your pup is microchipped, jump online to make sure you can find the microchip registry and ensure the chip is registered with your up-to-date contact info. If your pup’s not yet chipped, give your veterinarian or local animal shelter a ring to make a clinic appointment. Then if your dog loses their collar, they can find their way home to you no matter where they roam.
Tell us about your tech, or share your lost-to-found dog story
We’re all about making life less-stressful for dog parents. After all, the dooloop dog-poop bag holder was created out of desperation. Angie and Bella would both have become lost pets had I dropped their leash while scooping poop, because they came to me as unsocialized, collar-less fosters. The ladies were unidentifiable until we got them IDs and chips. Managing their leashes was quite literally a matter of life and death. They were terrified of all new people, and as you know, their poop wasn’t going to take care of itself.
We’re here to help you deal with bags of poop. In our opinion, we’ve all got enough to worry about without also juggling dog poo. Let’s do make life easier while we also leave no trace, which is environmentally a big deal.
Nothing ratchets up the stress level like losing track of the pet you love as if they were your second self. Take just a moment now to be sure your dog and cat have their ID ticket home. And if an ID tag, microchip, or pet tracker has brought your pet safely back to you, we’d love to hear your story! Share it with us by email, here.