Although most people don't give a lot of thought to the collar their dog is wearing or the tags or information on the collar, these two different items are the front line in identifying your dog should he or she become lost. Although most dogs, whether they are purebred or not will be microchipped, at least around major cities and areas, microchipping can only be detected if you have a scanner wand to read the microchip transmission. Although most shelters, vets and rescues and some private breeders and kennels own scanners, the average person that might find your dog doesn't have ready access to this technology.
Tattoos, while permanent identifiers of purebred dogs are not typically used on mixed breeds, or just good old companion dogs of no particular lineage. This is because the registration organization or body actually is the one that originates the tattoo information based on the kennel and litter registration. The tattoo, while somewhat visible either in the inner ear or the groin area, is not always something that people know to look for. Often people that have purebreds or that run shelters, rescues or vet offices will know to look and then know where to go to find out who owned the dog at the time of the tattoo. Tattoos are permanent, so unless owners keep up the paperwork with the registering body all that can be determined is who the original breeder was. Even this information is helpful as the breeder should keep accurate records of what individuals purchased his or her puppies.
Collars and tags are the most common and easily read type of information that someone finding your dog can access and get in contact with you. They don't require the ability to read a tattoo and call a registry, nor do they require an electronic scanner to read them. What collars do require is to be properly fitted so they stay comfortably in place on the dog, plus tags need to be kept up to date and in a readable condition. Many tags and collars become dented, scratched, worn and even frayed over time, making reading the information almost impossible. The easier the information is to see and read, the more likely that someone finding your dog will take the time and effort to get in touch with you.
Getting the right sized collar is critical for your dog's safety and comfort. Collars that are too tight are painful and irritating to the dog and can cause serious health risks due to restricted breathing, swallowing and circulation. In neglected dogs often the collars were put on when the dog was a puppy and the dog's neck has literally grown around the collar, resulting in a painful and often fatal constriction around the throat.
Collars that are too loose, on the other hand, can simply be slipped. Typically this happens when the dog is tied up or on a leash or lead. It can also happen when someone new tries to capture a stray and read the identification. The dog simply slips the collar over the head and runs away, this time with no visible identification at all.
To fit a collar properly it is always a good idea to have the dog present at the pet store, but if that won't work simply take a piece of string or ribbon and place it around the dog's neck just above the chest at the front and at the top of the shoulder blades on the neck. Basically you are measuring where the collar would naturally sit on the dog. This measurement is the actual distance around the dog's neck. Insert your two fingers, held together and perpendicular to the neck, under the string, loosening as needed. This measurement is the minimum length of the collar. Buying a collar that is two to three inches larger than this measurement should assure a proper fit for an adult dog. A younger dog or a puppy will need a few different collars so buy lower cost collars until they reach their mature size at one to one and a half years old, depending on the breed.
There are two basic types of collars, leather with a metal buckle or nylon with a quick fastener or quick release plastic clasp. Both work well, it really is a matter of personal taste. Leather collars will eventually need to be replaced if dogs are outdoors a lot as the leather will age and wear with time. Nylon collars also need to be replaced occasionally, especially if they start to fray or become cut or damaged.
The advantage to leather collars is that a brass or stainless steel plate can be riveted to the collar, providing your contact information as opposed to having an attached tag that may become lost or come off with time. Some clip on type plates are available for nylon collars although they are more decorative than practical.
Dog tags provide a person that finds your dog with the information they need to get in touch with you. Important things to have on your dog's tag that is permanently fixed to the collar either by a metal ring and clip or on the collar itself are:
Current and valid phone number - Including area code!
Your city or area
Special medical issues or medications your dog is on
Your vets name and phone number
Having both your contact information as well as your vets ensures that the owner will get hold of someone when they call. Most vets have a 24 hour answering service or have an emergency number that calls transfer to after hours.
What you don't need to have on your dog's tags is your home address or your full name. This just clutters up the tag and makes it more difficult to read, especially as the tag becomes worn.
Check tags regularly to make sure they are easy to read and that the information is current. There are lots of engraving services that will provide clear, legible font on the tags, but you can also do it yourself if you have the tools.