A Soldier's Guide to Dog Tags

A guide to Military Dog Tags; its types, material, uses and history from across the world.
A Soldier's Guide to Dog Tags

What are dog Tags?

Dog tag refers to a type of military identification tags worn by soldiers during war. These tags are used in the identification of the dead and wounded in the battlefield. They are issued to soldiers as a replacement for plastic ID cards because of their resistance to harsh battle conditions and durability. In India, the term ‘dog tags’ is often confused with pet tags that are used on animals. For a simple understanding of dog tags and its uses you can take a look at this video.

History of Dog Tags

The identification tags first surfaced during the American civil war. The inability to identify some of the dead soldiers created a need for an identification tag that could withstand harsh battle conditions and resistant to corrosion. The soldiers were terrified of being buried in unmarked graves and found some improvised ways to overcome this problem. Marking on clothes, pinning paper tags on the shirts, using old coins, carving chunks of wood and stringing around the neck were some of the earliest attempts of identification. Later, vendors who followed the armies supplied engraved metal tags. After the Spanish-American war of 1899 an official request was made to introduce an identity disk. In early twentieth century the tags were officially introduced in the form of a round disk stamped with a soldier’s name, number, company and regiment. Shortly before World War I the tags became a part of the army field kit. Today dog tags are only the first level of identification in the battlefield. With advancement in technology, the problem of identifying the dead has been solved by using DNA sampling.

Why is it called a Dog Tag?

Military identification tags are called as dog tags since it resembles the tags used by pet owners. Therefore, if you are looking for a tag for your pet then, the appropriate term is ‘pet tags’ and not ‘dog tags’. The term ‘dog tags’, with reference to military tags, comes from the Prussian Army in 1870. It is derived from the term "hundemarken" which was similar to the tag that each dog in the then Prussian capital of Berlin required to wear, after their owner paid the license fee.

What are dog tags made up of?


Dog tags are made of corrosion resistant metal like stainless steel or aluminium. The mil-spec tags are made up of T304 stainless steel which has 18% chromium and 8% nickel to prevent corrosion. Tags are also available in brass and copper which patinate when exposed to air. A typical military dog tag set has two plates measuring 1 inch x 2 inches, with identical information on both the tags. These plates can be separate, like the American tags, or made as a single tag, like the Canadian tags, which can be broken into two when required. The American dog tags have two separate plates. One tag is hung on a long ball chain about 24 inches in length and the other tag is hung on to the long chain using a small ball chain measuring about 4.5 inches length. The standard issue ball chains are of 2.5 mm and the user can upgrade to a 3mm ball chain. Bigger dia ball chain will not move freely in the tag hole which is 4mm in dia.

What is the use of Dog Tags?

Dog Tags are used to identify the dead or wounded during war using the information recorded on these tags. During war, if the battle conditions do not allow immediate removal of dead soldiers, one tag is collected and the other is left on the body of the soldier for retrieval of the body later. Outside the military, they are used by bikers and adventure enthusiasts with their address and emergency contact numbers. Old people with special medical conditions have found the tags to be useful when travelling alone. These tags have also made their way into youth fashion and musicians.

How are dog tags made?

Military dog tags are personalized using embossing or debossing machines. These machines are similar to the machines that are used to emboss credit and debit cards. Small scale personalization can be made using manual machines which has a rotating drum and a handle for punching. The drum is rotated to choose the right alpha numeric character and then the handle is pulled down to make the impression of the character on the tag. Automatic machines are specialized machines which are more expensive and are used to personalize tags in large quantities at the rate of one tag in 30 seconds. Embossed or debossed tags are made up of thin metal sheets which are 0.04 mm thick. Thicker metal plates cannot be embossed and have to be engraved. The term 'Embossing' refers to raised letters that are formed on the tag when a character die is punched on it. Debossed is the opposite of embossed. Instead of raised letters it results in sunken letters. Debossing was used during WW II but, most modern tags are embossed.

What info do dog tags have on them?


A typical military dog tag has 5 lines of information that can be embossed on them. Each line can accommodate 15 alpha numeric and some special characters. The standard information given on the tags are first name, last name, service number, blood group and religious preference. Rank is usually not mentioned on the tags. The first and last name helps to identify the individual. In case there are more than one individual with the same name then, the service number helps in differentiating between them. Blood group helps if there is any requirement of blood transfusion to wounded soldiers. Religious preference is given for performance of last rites if the body is for some reason not able to be sent back to the soldier’s home. In US Army, the social security number on the tag is now being replaced by a randomly generated 10 digit Department of Defence number to prevent identity theft.

Why do military personnel wear two dog tags?

Two tags with identical information is worn so that in case the soldier dies in battle and the battle conditions prevent the extrication of the body then, one of the tags is collected to account the dead and the other tag is left on the body for identification and retrieval when conditions improve.

Where can I get customized dog tags in India?

You can buy customized military dog tags in India at


If you are looking to pick from a larger choice then this Canadian store offers a wide range of dog tags


It even has an online dog tag generator where you can see how the tag looks after embossing before ordering.

Why do some dog tags have notch on them?

Tags used during world war II had notches on them and they were provided to lock the tags in place while used with a Addresograph Model 70 machine. The purpose of the Model 70 was to allow the medic to take a soldier’s identification tag and transfer the information on the tag to medical documents by imprinting the text directly onto the document. The sole function of Addressograph Model 70 was to transfer imprinted information onto military paperwork.

What are silencers with reference to Dog Tags?


Silencers are rubber rings that are put around the tags to prevent the clanking noise that tags make when they rub against each other. The ones that are made with silicone rubber are the most popular since they do not cause any allergic reactions on the skin. These are expendable accessories and come in assorted colours.

Do Indian military forces wear dog tags?

Indian military forces use similar identification tags consisting of one round and one oval aluminium tags. The oval one is worn on the hand while the round one goes around the neck. They are more like the identification discs used by the British forces. Of late, the Indian military has moved to the US style military dog tags because of ease of mass personalization.



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