Long before there were microchips, hunters and dog owners have been tattooing the ears of their animals for identification purposes. This is still available today and for good reason when compared to microchipping. There are, of course, pros and cons.
While it is rare that dogs fail to come back (eventually) while in the field at the end of a training session or hunt, occasionally this happens. Then of course, there are instances of dogs being stolen, breaking the fence, or getting out of the run. If the animal is not carrying some sort of identifying mark or number, good luck ever getting him back or proving he was yours to begin with.
Hunting collars with good thick brass nameplates and numbers are great (and in many states required on public land), but they can fall off, tear off, or simply are left behind. Microchips are notoriously (at least in my experience) unreliable. For example, I had a chip placed in a beagle, then had it checked a year later at the vet visit and somehow, it had completely vanished on the test scan. The vet advised that they sometimes are passed back out, or the RFID marker is hidden behind dense bone, or just stops reading. Example #2 (as if the first one wasn't bad enough): on a different dog, on a test scan two years after the chip was placed, it was only found after several minutes and it had migrated from the scruff of the neck to one hind inside leg.
An ear tattoo cannot move around, go silent, or are passed out. Further, it's readily visible to the naked eye without having to get a scan at a vet or animal shelter. Next, it's cheap, with a kit and ink running under $20 on average if you are willing to do it yourself.
Finally, it is a deterrent to dog thieves just as the old cattleman's brands were for cows.
The primary reason to shy away from ink on the pooches these days is the heartburn factor with many "animal rights" types flipping out on the prospect. However, getting identifying tattoos on dogs have been around for generations and even such wailing animal rights types as PETA are ok with the prospect. If done properly, it doesn't cause any more pain than getting a microchip (have you ever seen how big those needles are?).
While some get static over tattoos, these cases are typically of dog owners in urban areas that get elaborate decorative markings on their animals such as a North Carolina man did with his pit-bull. However, even in that case, animal groups came to his defense, citing that tattooing is a valid means of identification.
Still, you should check your state and local laws just to make sure that applying a tattoo isn't covered under some sort of animal cruelty ordinance.
A final concern is the price of registering your dog and their number with a recovery service. There are two out there, Tattoo-A-Pet (established 1972, charges $25) and NDR (established 1966, charges $45). On the brightside, while you do not have to register your tattoo, they often do multiple dog discounts so you do not have to pay the standard fee for your whole pack.
While some vets, especially in rural areas, or even horse farriers will perform the tattoo for a fee, the most common method is DIY. While it is easiest to perform on a puppy, you can do adult dogs too; just make sure you have a helper and a thin leash or cord to wrap the muzzle with to prevent nips.
Set up your tattoo pliers, shave the inside of the ear, wipe away the loose hair, swab it with a bit of alcohol to get any grease away, dry the ear, apply the pliers in one quick clamp, rub the ink in liberally to make sure it penetrates.
Most of the inks sold in kits contain an antiseptic and topical analgesic that will numb the ear a bit and help it heal with decreased risk of infection.
Keep it clean for a week, patting it with first a wet towel then a dry one and rubbing in a dab of lotion and you should be good to go.
While not for everyone, tattooing your rabbit dogs is a valid option to help keep everyone in the family.
What's your experience with tattoos? Drop them below.