My friend Susan was beside herself.  Her Lab had disappeared from her fenced-in back yard over a week ago, and she’d done nothing but search for him for days.

She’d made posters, posted on craigslist, taken out a newspaper ad and talked to everyone she could about her missing dog. Finally a man she talked to told her his next neighbors had acquired a very good-looking chocolate Lab that looked a lot like the picture she had shown him. She got the address from him and headed there immediately.

Arriving at the house, she saw a very familiar dog in the back yard of the house. Sobbing, she ran to the fence. “Jack!” she cried in delight.  Jack ran to her, wagging his tail gleefully and pushed himself against the fence.  As she reached through to pet him, a sharp voice rang out, “Get away from my dog!”

The minutes that followed were tense, as the man insisted the dog was his. Susan called the police. When they arrived, the man produced an AKC registration paper as proof that the dog was his.

A few minutes later, Susan’s husband arrived with Jack’s registration papers. He also had a microchip scanner with him, borrowed after a frantic call to Susan’s vet. A quick scan between Jack’s shoulder-blades produced a unique number. Susan produced the microchip registration form and encouraged the police to call the company.

After that call, it was obvious that the dog was indeed Jack.  The microchip was proof positive that the dog was who she claimed him to be, and she went home with her dog.

It is critical that all dogs have identification. Collar tags are a great first step. A simple collar tag, with the dog’s name and your contact number, is the first thing an honest person finding your dog will look for. Because tags can fall off or rub against things and become unreadable, providing your dog with a collar with the contact info either embroidered or printed on it, or with a flat engraved plate secured to it, adds a measure of security.

While collars are an obvious means of ID, they are not a permanent method of identification. To really protect your best friend, you should have him microchipped.

A microchip is a small, electronic chip enclosed in a glass cylinder that is about the same size as a grain of rice. It’s injected under the skin using a needle like a typical shot, so no surgery or anesthetic is required. The microchip itself does not have a battery but is activated by a scanner. The chip transmits the identification number to the scanner, which displays the number on the screen. If the number has been properly registered with the microchip company, dog and owner can be reunited.

According to a study reported in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association of more than 7,700 stray animals, dogs without microchips were reunited with their owners only 21.9 percent of the time.  By contrast, microchipped dogs were returned to their owners 52.2 percent of the time. In the cases where the microchipped dogs were not returned to their owners, in most cases it was due to incorrect or missing information in the microchip database.

It’s clear that a properly registered microchip is a valuable aid in getting your dog back. Because a microchip is a means of permanent ID, it also provides clear proof of ownership should your dog be stolen, as it did with my friend’s dog.

A microchip must be registered to be useful. The microchip itself only contains a number. This number must be called in to the chip registry, which can only give the information provided by the dog owner. Thus, it is critical that if you have your dog microchipped, you register the chip and keep your information updated. Chips are registered through their various manufacturers, and the fees to do so vary.

I recommend that in addition to this registration, you also register the chip with the AKC’s CAR, Companion Animal Recovery, program. For a one-time enrollment fee, the CAR program will register a chip from any manufacturer and provides an extra layer of security.

All dogs should be microchipped, but it’s especially critical with dogs on the move. Please consider the permanent security of having your dog microchipped.

Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years.