Tattooing is a very old form of identification used in a similar fashion to cattle and horse branding. It is meant provide owners, kennels and breeders with information as to the breed, purebred status and identification of any purebred dog. Although generally most breeders and kennels have moved away from tattooing to microchipping, organizations such as the American Kennel Club (AKC) still lists tattooing as an accepted method of dog identification.
These tattoos, microchips and even collars are used to identify dogs for a variety of purposes. Dogs that are turned into shelters as strays or lost dogs can be more easily reunited with their owners if they have some type of permanent marking. Even though tattooing only indicates the original breeder, typically that breeder will have records as to who he or she sold the dog to, so a paper trail can be followed in finding the dog's current owner or owners.
In addition tattooing provides absolute proof for individuals that they are the owner of the dog. Unlike collars that can be replaced with different information, tattoos are permanent and the tattoo number will be registered on the American Kennel Club paperwork, as it will be with any other breed registry or association that records ownership. This does mean, however, that both buyers and sellers have to ensure that bill of sale and change of ownership paperwork is provided to the registering body to keep information and records up to date. Typically this is the responsibility of the new owner, with the breeder or current owner providing a bill of sale and his or her signature on the required transfer of ownership papers that accompany the dog during the sale.
Basically breeders that use tattooing as a way to identify puppies from particular litters are providing a lifelong, easy to read and recognize way of identification. Anyone can read a tattoo, it is easy to see on most dogs and doesn't require state of the art technology for the dog to be identified.
Most dogs are tattooed with a litter registration number and then an individual number for each puppy. No two dogs will have the same tattoo, making it an absolutely unique form of identification. Of course this will only work if the dog is a purebred and is registered, but this covers a great number of dogs today. The tattoo is applied by someone that has been trained to properly give a tattoo either in the groin area of the hind leg or in the ear. Breeders typically prefer the groin tattoo as it is easier to do plus it also is easier to read. Puppies are often tattooed around the seven to eight week stage, just before they leave the breeder and move to their new families.
Often breeders, professional groomers or animal health technicians or vets can perform the tattoo procedure as necessary. It seems to be relatively painless for dogs and they don't tend to whine or cry even though the procedure is done without local anesethesia. A person that is aware of how to correctly complete the tattoo can permanently mark the dog for identification according to the litter number and individual identifier in just a few minutes, typically much less than 10 minutes from start to finish.
One of the reasons that tattoos are preferred by some breeders over collars or microchips is because they are permanent and immediately visible. Any attempts to alter an existing tattoo will be evident by changes in the ink color and skin pigmentation between old and new lines, meaning that it is very difficult and highly unlikely that anyone would attempt this and expect to get away with it.
Tattooed dogs are also less likely to be stolen and sold to research facilities. Although many people disagree with the practice of animal experimentation and product testing, it does go on despite the best efforts to put and end to the practice. If a dog is brought to a research facility and is tattooed, unless the person attempting to sell the dog can verify ownership by having papers for the dog, the dog is immediately check out through the different registries and returned to the owner if it is found to have been stolen. In addition the would be dog seller is then subject to legal proceedings by both the owner as well as the facility he tried to sell the dog to.
Many dogs that are stolen and later found to be tattooed are simply dumped, often not far from the location they were taken from. The same cannot be said for microchipped dogs or dogs with simple collar identification. Collar ID can be removed and microchips cannot be determined until the animal is scanned, often resulting in the dog being let loose miles away from where they were taken. With the microchip they would still make it home if turned into a vet or shelter, but there is always the risk someone might not know to take the dog to a clinic for scanning.
Tattooing can also protect prospective dog owners from being scammed into thinking they are buying a two or three year old dog for their kennel or as a companion only to find out later the dog is eight or nine years old. Anyone can check the tattoo registries and search for the dog's registration and paperwork. Most tattoo registries will charge a nominal fee for these searches, but they are well worth the time and small expense to verify the dog you are buying is as it is being represented.
Finally, tattooing provides protection for the breeder and seller. With a tattooed puppy the new owner cannot claim that a particular puppy was from that sale and bring it back for a refund without the breeder verifying the tattoo. Without tattooing or microchipping the puppies prior to sale breeders run the risk of this type of a scam occurring.
If you have a purebred dog or puppy, consider the pros and cons of tattooing, check with your dog registry and vet and see what they recommend. Many dogs are both tattooed and microchipped, plus they wear identification collars so they are always safe and easy to identify should they become lost.