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Dog Tag History

Dog Tag History

All That Is There to Know About Dog Tags!

Introduction: What Are Dog Tags?

Dog tags are the small pieces of metal that were originally worn by the military personnel and soldiers in wars. They have some essential information embossed on it that helps with the identification of the soldier. The information present on a standard military dog tag is the first name, the last name, and the soldier’s military identity number. The reason why they are called dog tags is because they are similar in appearance to the tags put on dogs’ collars so they can be returned to their owners.

Dog tags came in as a replacement for the paper and plastic printed tags issued to soldiers. These tags were not strong enough to bear the rough climates like extreme rainfall, flooding, snow etc. The old tags weathered and were destroyed in the process and the purpose to have an identity document could not be fulfilled. To improve this, metallic dog tags were introduced. The new dog tags were made of reinforced stainless steel that could stand the rough conditions a soldier has to face in the battlefield. These steel dog tags are very durable and don’t break that easily. The stainless steel is made of 18% chromium and 8% nickel which prevent them from corrosion.

Dog tags were a new modified ID that was easy to carry around without troubling the soldiers. Soldiers are supposed to wear one of the tags around the neck like a chain and the other tag is supposed to be kept in the shoe so it does not get lost in an unforeseen mishap. The details, as mentioned before, are embossed firmly on the steel body tags so it does not erase over time. This serves as an identity token for the soldier throughout the battle or his posting. This works in both the cases i.e. if the soldier dies or is still alive.

Often during combat, there are explosives and bodies get dismembered. In situations like these, dog tags serve as the primary document for ID. It is also used to differentiate between the spies in the army. Another purpose they serve is of the grave registration. When soldiers die, they are given proper burial services by the military. Soldiers also have graves registered for them according to the military number they were given. As it gets difficult to identify a soldier’s body after the battle, dog tags become handy. Dog tags provide the necessary details required for the staff to arrange and carry out burial services. During the Civil War alone, there were thousands of casualties that couldn’t be identified. In the Vicksburg National Cemetery 75% of the soldiers buried from the Civil War are listed as unidentified and almost a whole cemetery, Salisbury National Cemetery, was especially made for the unidentified soldiers.

Introduction of proper dog tags was an untapped market with lots of room to innovate, which we will later see.

History of Dog Tags

The history of dog tags can be traced back to the age of the Roman Empire. In the early days, soldiers were given a ‘Signaculum’, a form of dog tag made of lead and wood. Soldiers were supposed to carry it around their neck or tie it to their wrists with a stick. It contained a leather string that contained information like the name of the soldier and the legion he belonged to.

old dog tags

Another point in time where we find the use of dog tags is during the Qing dynasty in China. During the Taiping revolt (1851-1866), soldiers from the Imperialists army and the rebels of Taiping, both wore dog tags around their waist. During that time, dog tags were made of wood and were a part of the uniform. The information engraved on the dog tags included the soldier’s name, birthplace, date of enlistment, and unit.

The current day dog tags have its roots in the American Civil War. During the war, there was a severe crisis regarding identifying the casualties. Soldiers who were found on the battlefield had nothing on them that could help to recognize them. Moreover, the injuries and deformations caused by the attacks made it even harder to identify the soldiers. This was when the need for some kind of identification for the soldiers on the battlefield was needed.

To fix that problem soldiers made prototypes of dog tags with different materials. Information written on paper was clipped on to their uniforms. They also tried making wooden tags with essential information on it.

During the war, soldiers continued to use makeshift forms of identification. It was a need that was much felt by both the authorities and the soldiers on the battlefield. In 1906, an aluminum disc was coined by some soldiers for this purpose. Britain followed this American move and introduced aluminum dog tags in 1907.  Other countries, including Australia, Canada, and Britain, used similar identification tags.  Moving on, the US military made it mandatory in 1913 for the soldiers to carry some form of identification.

According to the National Museum of Naval Aviation:

“In the days of the Civil War, 1861-1865, some soldiers going into combat improvised their own identification, pinning slips of paper with name and home address to the backs of their coats, stenciling identification on their knapsacks or scratching it in the soft lead backing of the Army belt buckle.”

This measure was followed in the First World War. Soldiers in the military had identification tags as part of their uniforms. The circular dog tags introduced earlier contained vital information like the name, rank, serial number, religion, and unit of the respective soldier.

During World War II, the shape of the dog tags changed to resemble the dog tags that we see today. They were rectangular-oval shaped and had a notch at one end. They contained essential information about the soldier. The name dog tag was also coined around this time.

There was a rumor around the time of World War II that the notch that was introduced in the dog tags was to be kept between the mouth of the soldier when deceased. If a soldier was found dead on the battlefield or elsewhere, other soldiers were supposed to take one of the tags to the officer and stick the other one between the teeth of the deceased soldier. This would have helped in the identification process of the soldier. Though the rumor was widespread among the soldiers, there was no truth in it. The notch that was present in the tags was because of the machines that embossed on the dog tags.

The dog tags have remained the same ever since; from the time of the Vietnam War to today. The dog tags are still made in pairs for the soldiers. One is with a long chain and the other is with a short chain. The longer chain is to be worn around the neck at all times and the smaller chain is supposed to be in the toe or the shoe. So even if the tag around the neck is lost, the soldier will not lose the tag attached in the shoe.

In these technology-driven times, it is reported that the industry is working to design new electronic dog tags that will contain several pieces of information on the soldier. It is said that there will be a chip or a USB-style dog tag that can be attached to the database. The new tags are also being called soldier data tags, meditags, and personal information carriers.


Usage of Dog Tags in Other Countries

The need for dog tags was felt by all the armies around the globe. As identifying soldiers during wartime is a real issue that has to be dealt with, dog tags offer a great solution. Different countries opted for different dog tags with different information written on it.


austria military dog tag

Dog tags used by the Austrian army are long and rectangular with oval ends. The tags have the blood group and the Rh factor of the soldier stamped on it. It also has the ID number written on it underneath. The Austrian dog tag has holes in it so that it can be broken into two pieces.


Australia military dog tags

The Australian army issues two dog tags. One is circular in shape and the other one is octagonal shaped and bigger in size. Both the tags have the same information printed on them. In the case of casualty, the circular dog tag is removed from the body.

The information mentioned on these dog tags includes the service number allotted to the soldier. initials of the first name, the last name, religion and the blood group.


canada military dog tag

The Canadian army dog tags are called identity discs. They are designed in a way that they can be broken into two pieces. If the soldier dies, the lower half of the tag is returned to the National Defence Headquarters along with other personal documents.

The information written on the Canadian dog tags is the serial number of the soldier, the initial and surname, religion along with the blood group. The text ‘Do not remove’ is also written at the end.


china military dog tag

The Chinese army issues two rectangular dog tags which have information stamped on them. The information they carry include the full name, gender, date of birth, ID number, and blood type.


Denmark military dog tag

Dog tags issued by the Danish military are long and breakable in two halves. Both halves have the same information printed on them. Tags have the name, surname and the identity number on them. When a soldier dies, the lower half is kept and the upper half is returned with the body.


Finland military dog tag

A ‘tunneslevy’, the Finnish term for identification plate, is also designed to be broken into two when the soldier dies. It is made up of stainless steel and only has the identification number written on it. The tag also has a small tower stamped on the top half which has letters SF. On rare occasions, the letters FI are written on it. SF is the initial for Suomi Finland.


France military dog tag

The dog tags issued by the French army are rectangle and circular. They have the first name and the family name of the soldier, along with the identification number of the soldier written on it. Like other European country’s dog tags, the French dog tags also have holes in it. The holes were to break the tag into two halves when the soldier dies. Both the halves have the same information presented on it.


The German armed forces are called ‘Bundeswehr’. Bundeswehr is the name given to the unified forces of Germany and their civil administration authorities. The dog tags issued by the German authorities are oval shaped and have spaces between them so it can be broken into two at the time of soldier’s demise. There is information about the soldier written on both the sides of the tags. When broken into two, both the upper and lower parts of the tag contain identical information.

The information on both the sides of the tags is different from each other. On the front side, there are initials DEU for Deutschland imprinted. Historically, during World War II, the older tags had the initials GE for Germany . Then, there is space for specifying the gender of the soldier. Moreover, the religious affiliations of the soldiers are also mentioned. The letters used are ‘K’ or ‘RK’ is used for Roman Catholic, ‘O’ is used for Christian Orthodox, ‘JD’ for Jewish, ‘ISL’ for Islamic, and ‘E’ or ‘EV’ for Protestants. The religion space is left blank if there is no preference. The last space is for the service number designated to the soldier. It has the date of birth, followed by the last name initial, and then the five-digit number, according to the soldier’s administrative district.

The information on the back side is the blood group and the Rh factor of the soldier. There is also space for vaccination status and the year the soldier was immunized in.


The Hungarian army only issues tags to soldiers deployed outside the country. The tags are made out of steel and are designed diagonally. It is also perforated diagonally. When the soldier is killed during battle, it can be broken into two. The authorities keep one half as part of the records of the soldier, and the rest is attached to the body.

The information written on the tags are the words HUNGARIA, along with the identification number assigned to the soldier. In most cases, the blood group is also mentioned in it.


Israel dog tags

Historically, the Israeli army issued circular aluminum tags in pairs. The soldier wore them around their necks in a thread.

Now, Israeli Defense Forces issue three dog tags to every soldier. One is to be worn around the neck and the other two are kept in the boots of the soldier at all times. The tags are rectangular shaped and can be broken into two halves when required. The information they contain is the identity number, the first name and the surname of the soldier.


Japan dog tags

The unified military forces of Japan are called the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF). The tags issued by the JSDF are somewhat similar to the tags issued the US forces. There are two rectangular shaped tags with oval ends with information presented on them. The information is marked through laser etching on all the tags.

The information on the tags is the first name and the second name of the soldier. After that, there is the identification number allotted to the soldier, followed by the blood type. On the tag, there is also the marking according to the particular force the soldier belongs to. The tags of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense force has the marking ‘JAPAN GSDF’ on them. Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s markings are  ‘JAPAN MSDF’. Japan Air Self-Defense Force has ‘JAPAN ASDF’ engraved on their dog tags. The information engraved on the tags remains the same across the forces. However, the order of it changes a little.


rantai askar malaysia

In Malaysia, the armed forces issue two similar, oval shaped dog tags to the soldiers. In addition to the tags, soldiers may also wear a tag on the wrists and wear a pendant around the neck that signals the religion of the respective soldier. On the tag, a NRIC number is written. The male members have a number that ends in an odd number and the female members have numbers that end with an even number. Then there is a service number, followed by full name of the soldier, the blood type, religion and the branch the soldier serves in.

The funeral services of the soldier are arranged with respect to the soldier’s religion.

The Netherland

Netherlands military dog tags

Like other countries, the tags issued by Netherland’s army are also broken into two halves, in case of a casualty. The lower half is kept in the records of the Dutch army and the upper half is kept with the body and returned.

The information on the tag consists of the first name and the last name. It is followed by the service number. In the Dutch army, the service number of the army and the navy are different. The service numbers of the army are the date of birth followed by three digits. In the navy, service numbers are allotted as six random digits. After the service number, the religion, nationality and the blood group of the soldiers are mentioned. Both the halves are identical when broken.


Polish military dog tag

The Poland army first issued the dog tags in the year 1920. At that time, the tags were called ‘kapsel legitymacyjny’ that translated to ‘identification cap’ in English. They were made up of tin in rectangular frame with a cap that could fit into it. The details of the soldiers were written on a small paper that acted as the ID card and was placed inside the frame. In case of a casualty, the frame remained with the body and other components were returned to the authorities.

The modification to these tags came in the year 1928 when the new design was proposed. The new design was similar to other tags that are perforated from the middle to be broken when the soldier dies. The tag had the same information on both the halves of the tags. The new designs were oval with a notch at both ends, made up of steel or aluminum alloy. The design was adopted in 1931 by the army. The same design, with few modifications and refinements, is still being used today.

The information printed on the tag was the name, surname, the ID number assigned to the soldier, and the blood type of the soldier. The tags had a polish emblem of the white eagle on them, along with the words ‘Siły Zbrojne RP’, which means the Polish army.

Russian Federation

Russian dog tags

The Russian Federation army uses simple oval-shaped dog tags for their soldiers. The metallic dog tags are inscribed with ‘Armed Forces of Russia’ in Russian language. Moreover, the alphanumeric number assigned to individuals is written under it.


Singapore dog tags

The dog tags issued by the Singaporean armed forces have information that is inscribed in them. The forces issue two tags to every soldier. One is oval with two holes, one at each end, and the other one is a round tag with a single hole in it. Both the tags are worn together by the soldier around their neck. The circular tag is attached to the main loop.

The Singaporean military tags have the NRIC number of the soldier followed by the blood type, religion and any drug allergies that are important to be noted.

South Korea

The South Korean army issues two rectangular shaped tags that are oval at the ends. The tags are to be worn around the neck at all times the soldier is on duty. It has information printed in the Korean language.

The information it contains is the branch of the armed forces the soldier belongs to. There is army, navy, marines, and the air force. It is followed by a ten-digit numerical number that is assigned to every soldier. The first two digits are the year of joining the force and the rest are the number allotted to the soldier. After that, the name and blood type are mentioned on the tags.


Swiss army dog tags

The military tags issued by the Swiss armed forces are an oval shaped metallic plate. The information presented on the tags is the social insurance number of the soldier. The surname and the first name, followed by the date of birth of the soldier are written after that. On the backside, the letters CH are engraved. CH stands for Confoederatio Helvetica. Moreover, Switzerland’s famous Red Cross is also engraved next to it.

United Kingdom

united kingdom dog tag

During World War I and II, the armed forces in Britain used to issue two dog tags. One was an octagonal tag and the other one was a red circular shaped tag. The tags were hand-stamped with the information presented on it. It had the surname, religion, and the service number on it. The old tags were discontinued in 1960 with oval-shaped steel tags replacing them.

Now, in the United Kingdom, the dog tags issued by Britain’s armed forces are metallic and circular in shape. They are issued in pairs, each with a different length of chain with it. The longer chain is for wearing it around the neck and the smaller chain is to be kept in the boots. The information engraved on them is the blood type, service number, last name and the initial of the first name of the soldier. The gender is abbreviated with either M or F. There is also a section for religion. If the soldier belongs to the Royal Air Force, then RAF is mentioned on the tags.


United States

United states dog tags

The dog tags issued in the United States are rectangular and ovals at the end. The text is both embossed and debussed, depending on the facility they were issued at. The armed forces are issued identical pairs of tags and when the soldier dies, one is kept and the other is returned with the body. The information on tags provided across the forces is similar, with a few changes of order in them. They have the last name of the soldier, followed by the first name and the middle initial. After that, the social security number is mentioned. The social security number is continued with the code for the respective force the soldier belongs to. The tags from US Air Force will have ‘AF’ written along with the branch name. US Marine Corps have USMC inscribed on them followed by the size for the gas mark the soldier requires. US Navy has ‘USN’ written on them after the social security number. The US Army tags have the department issued ID number written on them, instead of social security number. The US Coast Guard tags are followed by ‘USCG’ after the social security number. Moreover, the tags also have the blood type mentioned and the religion of the soldier.

Other Conventional Uses of Dog Tags

The use of dog tags is not just restricted to the army and armed forces of a country. There are many other institutions that make use of dog tags as it is a convenient way to identify the person. They were made to be worn as a tool for identification. Modifications made over time have made it convenient for others to use them as well.

A famous use of dog tags is by hospitals and other medical institutions. Patients who are suffering from chronic diseases or who have special conditions are encouraged by doctors to keep a dog tag which has some medical history and instructions written on them. There are many patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s, and they need a reminder for themselves. They are given dog tags that have their personal information written on it, like, their name, their address and an emergency contact number. Besides Alzheimer’s, other types of dementia patients are encouraged to keep identification with them and the dog tags are a convenient way of carrying ID around.

Patients are encouraged to have a tag with them that showcases the information and medical condition they are suffering from. This piece of information is highly invaluable to the medical staff or paramedics. The staff is mostly trained to find a dog tag or some piece of information related to the patient in their personal belongings. If any unfortunate incident happens and a patient needs medical assistance, dog tags come in handy for treating them appropriately.

Dog tags are majorly used in hospitals across the US as well as other countries. Hospitals issue tags for their patients that include crucial patient information.

The medical dog tags are made separately with special markings on them. Usually they are embossed with a red Caduceus. The symbol showcases the ‘Staff of Hermes’ a Greek god. The symbol has a staff with wings on top of it and two snakes coiling around it. The other common symbol often seen is the ‘Rod of Asclepius’. The symbol shows a snake winding around a rod. Some medical dog tags also have the Red Cross symbol made on them. All these symbols represent medical or related subjects. Therefore, it’s a good sign to attach to your dog tags, helping others to identify your medical condition, if you have any. 

Another disease in which the doctors encourage the patients to wear the dog tags is diabetes type 1 and 2. People who suffer from diabetes know how quickly their condition can alter. Whether it is one bad meal or a hot day, patients with diabetes are always recommended to stay cautious of their condition. If the patient loses consciousness, then the tag helps the people around him to deal with the matter accordingly.

There are many more conditions that require sensitive and immediate care. To make it possible for others to identify the needs of the patient, it is important to wear dog tags around your neck or keep it in your wallet so it can be found easily.

Another use of dog tags is in the morgues. Usually, the bodies in morgues have a cardboard or paper tags hanged around the toe for identification purposes.

As the name dog tags is inspired from the tags used by owners of dogs, another conventional use of dog tags is for identification of pets. How often have you heard that someone’s cat or  dog ran away from home or are missing? Dog tags are an essential accessory that you need to put on your pets.

The details people put on the dog tags of their pets are the name and phone number of the owner. Sometimes, an address is also mentioned on the tags. This is a vital piece of information because whoever finds your pet will immediately be able to contact you. There are many cases reported as well where the lost pets were found by strangers and with the help of the information on the tags, they were able to trace it back to the owners.


Modern Day Use of Dog Tags

The primary function of dog tags has remained the same over the years. Today, it still serves the purpose of soldier identification on the battlefield and identifying any deceased soldier. But over the years, dog tags have also attracted another huge market that is full of potential. This new market is the fashion industry and it’s being used by many brands. Besides brands, people from all walks of life have welcomed dog tags as the ‘bad-ass’ accessory.

Celebrities dog tags

Popular media, like movies and TV, have played a huge role in bringing dog tags into our daily lives. There are lots of movies being made on the military that glorifies the soldiers and the wars they fight. This has an influence on people’s mind and they want to mimic the way these heroic soldiers live. You often see people wearing the aviator shades, as popularized by the Air Force and the movie Top Gun. In the same way, we see soldiers keeping dog tags along with other things in their belongings. Though we cannot carry a gun every day, we can surely carry this small piece of accessory that makes us look cool.

The fashion industry was quick to respond to the popularity of dog tags and added it to their ensembles. The lightweight metal plates proved to be a trendy addition to the fashion scene and it was supported by many. The first and most famous use of dog tags started in the form of street fashion. Groups and gangs also adopted the use of dog tags to differentiate between themselves. Often you see people wearing chains around their necks and it has a pair of dog tags in them. The introduction of dog tags to the local fashion also made them a replacement for big and heavy pendants. Since dog tags are very lightweight, you can easily wear them for a longer period. Moreover, some celebrities also endorsed the use of dog tags as a fashion statement. Famous stars like Justin Bieber, Hugh Jackman, Chris Hemsworth, Selena Gomez, and even the former First Lady of US, Michelle Obama, were seen sporting the dog tags.

These endorsements were a big boost to the dog tag industry and led to its exponential growth. People now try to find new and innovative ways to use dog tags. If you go to an online apparel store, you will be able to find dog tags in several categories. From the range of fashion accessories to gift section, dog tags are widely available.

modern days dog tags

One popular use of dog tag is for them to be used as love charms. What do you think any two lovers like the most as a gift? It’s probably something that reminds you of your beloved. What better gift to remind you of the love of your life than a dog tag with their details, close to your heart. As cheesy as it sounds, it is a popular choice among folks.

Many gift shops keep a plethora of dog tags and such pendants on display. The pendants are available for both genders in different colors and styles. There are styles of dog tags that interlock with the pendant of your lover. It is a constant reminder of our lover. You can wear it around your neck, add to the charms on your wrist, or even just keep it somewhere safe as a reminder.

Dog tags are also used as friendship bands. You must remember the time before social media took over, when friends used to give friendship bands to each other all the time. In our modern world, dog tags are a good friendship band to give to your best friend. It is something your friend can wear or add to the charms they collect. There are dog tags which have friendship quotes written on them. You can even customize it to your requirements and add some of your own text to it.

The next time you go to a jewelry shop, notice the shape of the pendants and see how many of them are similar to what the military dog tags are like. It is a great and personal gift idea that you should consider, if you plan on giving someone a special gift.

Customized Dog Tags

Popularity of dog tags has also been greatly helped by the ability to customize them. Many companies and retailers are designing customized dog tags as per the requirements of the customers. The customization features make dog tags much more appealing to users as they can have anything imprinted or engraved on it.

Initially, when dog tags were becoming fashion accessories, they used to be plain or have some artistic touch to it. Instead of having metal plates with irrelevant information inscribed on it, the dog tags had peace signs, decorative elements, flowers, and other symbols stamped or painted on them. This added an infinite number of possibilities and customizable options available to the buyers.

Previously, most dog tags were either hand-stamped or were painted. However, with advancement in technology and the latest printing options available to us, the possibilities for dog tag customization have only increased. Now you don’t have to be restricted to the stamps or painting ability of the retailer. Instead, you could just make your own design and add it to the tags. Along with having trendy and unique designs, people were now able to personalize them, according to your own liking. Retailers give you the option of making one-of-a-kind tags that you can gift to the people you love or for keeping them yourself.

The pendants you see in shops are all customizable as well. If you are looking for something for your partner, you can add their favorite quote, a memory of you two together, a memorable date or even a picture of the two of you. The customization possibilities are endless. The only limitation that you now have to deal with is the space on the metallic sheet available to you for personalization. You aren’t even restricted to the color black. You can furnish your designs with a wide variety range of colors and shades.

Customized dog tags are a favorite among people because they can even get them shaped the way you want. Though the conventional rectangular design with oval shapes is still a favorite, you can get a completely new shape as well. The material that is favored for creating dog tags is aluminum, as it can easily be transformed into any shape and is also rust-free. You can also find customized dog tags of the material you prefer. For example, semi-precious and precious materials, like silver, and gold, are also being used by many retailers to broaden the use of dog tags. It has also become a popular choice for people to use it as a decorative accessory.

Custom pet tags

Another feature that has been added to dog tags is availability in several different colors. Since several materials are being used to make them, it has also increased the possibility of adjusting the color to your needs. Plastic dog tags can easily be colored and are available in several options.

As with the customization for your personal dog tags has increased, the personalization for the dog tags for pets has increased as well. The pet lovers have always wanted to see a fancy identity tag around the collar of their pet. Having the same old designs got boring. The possibility of adding colors and shaping it the way you wish is a good prospect for them. Through customization of your choice, you can now shape the tags in whatever way you want to. There are many shapes now being made at a bigger scale. You’ll find dog tags in the shape of a dog, a bone, a cat and many more.

Retailing of customized dog tags has also turned out to be an excellent business opportunity as nothing compares to a personalized gift. People also like to pay a lot to personalize something. With modern pieces of machinery like lasers and printers, it is only a matter of minutes to get a dog tag made with the information you want on it.

As discussed earlier, dog tags have also been used to showcase any medical conditions of patients. This is another popular use of dog tag today as patients can get them customized in whichever way they want. They add information like the medicines they need or the allergies they have and other essential information.

custom logo dog tags

Dog tags have a long history and the way they have been brought in from the battlefield to the fashion scene is remarkable. Though the purpose of dog tags is still the same, they are being used for lot more than just identification in the military. You can use it as a gift, as a medical tag or even just wear it around your neck to make a fashion statement. The possibilities with dog tags are endless.