Choosing the Right Dog Collar
Choosing the right dog collar involves selecting the right kind of collar, the material that’s best for your dog, and the right size. We break down everything you need to know about choosing the right dog collar for your furry best friend.
Keep in mind, most dog owners will find having two or more varieties of dog collars handy. For instance, you don’t always need a waterproof collar, but you might want one for the summer. If you like to leave your dog home alone with a collar on, a breakaway collar is perfect, but you wouldn’t want to use that for daily walks.
Flat-Buckle: The standard dog collar is a flat-buckle style collar with a simple buckle (or sometimes snap). They’re available in a variety of materials, though mostly nylon, polyester, or leather, as well as lots of colors and patterns. Buckles can be hard plastic or metal.
Standard collars come in two basic styles: adjustable and non-adjustable. All collars should be sized appropriately, but adjustable collars give you a little more leeway in case your measurements are slightly off. They also allow for changes in your dog’s size over time.
Flat-buckle collars can also come in waterproof varieties or may have reflective strips for extra visibility in low-light settings. Waterproof collars, like the Pro Waterproof Collar, are chemically treated to resist water, as well as odor-causing bacteria.
One final option for a standard collar is a breakaway. These collars quickly and easily unsnap so your dog can free herself if she gets tangled in something, like a fence or around a tree. These are good collars if you’re planning to leave your dog home alone (inside or in the backyard) with her collar on. They’re not recommended for walks or for taking your dog anywhere you need her to be securely leashed.
The ultimate goal with all dogs is to get them comfortable wearing – and walking in – a standard flat-buckle collar. They are well-suited to all dogs and are only an issue with dogs that are aggressive pullers or expert escape artists.
The following three styles of collars are considered training collars and should only be used for training your dog how to walk on leash, or on dogs that are extreme pullers. They require training to use and pose several dangers if used incorrectly.
Martingale: These collars are most often used as training collars. They’re similar in style to standard collars, but they have a small chain looped between two rings, linked to the collar that tightens the collar around your dog’s neck if he starts to pull. The minute he stops pulling, the collar loosens up. Additionally, most martingale collars have a safety mechanism built in so they can only tighten so much. (Some martingale collars use fabric instead of a chain, like the No! Slip from Coastal Pet.)
If your dog is a puller and you’re thinking about using a martingale collar, find someone to give you a demonstration as misused martingale collars can damage your dog’s neck. When misused they can also lead to your dog feeling insecure and cause added anxiety during walks.
Choke: Another training collar, choke collars (or choke chains) tighten around your dog’s neck when he pulls. Choke chains have no buckle, are not adjustable, and are meant to hang loosely when the dog is not pulling. Most choke chain training collars are made with chain, but you can find nylon-based versions.
Most importantly, they have no safety mechanism to stop the collar from continuing to tighten. Fatal accidents with choke collars are not uncommon, as are neck, esophagus, and throat injuries. Trainers do not always recommend choke collars, and dogs should never be left alone with a choke collar on.
Prong/Pinch: Similar to choke collars, prong or pinch collars have small blunt prongs (metal or plastic) on the inside of the collar that tighten around your dog’s neck when he pulls. The prongs are designed to mimic the sensation of a mother dog biting a pup’s neck when it misbehaves, thus alerting the dog that he’s doing something wrong. They are sometimes used on bigger breeds that have thick skin around their necks, making them less likely to react to choke collars. Similar to choke collars, prong and pinch collars can be dangerous, should only be used under the guidance of a trainer, and should never be left on your dog without supervision.
Nylon or Polyester: The vast majority of standard, flat-buckle collars come in nylon or polyester, which are flexible, lightweight and comfortable for your dog. Nylon and polyester collars are available in virtually every color under the sun and every pattern you can imagine.
However, unless the nylon or polyester has been pre-treated, these collars do absorb odors over time and need to be replaced somewhat regularly. They’re also harder to clean. Though you can throw them in the wash, they won’t stay clean for long. If your dog likes to roll around in the dirt and mud, you’ll need to replace his collar frequently.
They’re also not the most durable. A strong chewer might chew through a nylon collar and over time, it will start to fray and eventually rip.
Neoprene: If you’ve ever worn a wet suit, you’ll recognize this material. Neoprene is soft, flexible and durable, and, most importantly, it’s water resistant and quick drying. Meaning, a collar made with neoprene will stay cleaner longer. It’s great for dogs with long fur that mats easily with other collar materials.
Biothane: The best material on the market for waterproof collars, biothane is a polyester blend combined with polyvinyl or polyurethane. It’s soft, flexible, durable, and, of course, waterproof. It won’t absorb odors and is a cinch to clean. The one drawback some people have with biothane collars is that the material tends to be plasticky in appearance, giving it a cheap look that some fashion-forward dog owners don’t like.
Leather: Classic leather collars are attractive, flexible enough to be comfortable on your dog and tend to be long-lasting. Leather collars are available in flat styles (like the Circle T Rustic Town Collar) or in rolled leather (like the Circle T Latigo Round Collar), which are better for dogs with thick neck fur.
Because it’s a natural material, leather is less likely to absorb odors (depending on your dog!) and can be cleaned with a moist wipe. Be careful with dyed leathers as the dye may bleed into your dog’s fur, particularly with collars made from poorer quality leather.
Some dogs may be sensitive to leather, especially if any chemicals were used in the curing process. If you’ve never used a leather collar on your dog before, start slow to ensure your dog doesn’t have an adverse reaction.
Vegan dog owners can look for pleather (or faux leather) collars, however they’re not nearly as durable as the real thing and they’re more likely to bleed dye into your dog’s fur.
Chain: Though not all choke collars are chain, all chain collars are chokes. Usually made of stainless steel, they are heavy and sturdy and will withstand the efforts of even the biggest, roughest dogs to break free. They’re easy to keep clean, don’t absorb doggy odors, and, when made with quality stainless steel, will not become discolored over time. They’re also incredibly durable. Unless a dog outgrows a chain choke collar, it rarely needs to be replaced.
Chain collars should never be left on an unattended dog as they can cause a great deal of damage, including death, if they get caught on something. They’re also no great for cold weather as the metal will absorb the cold and transfer it to your dog.
Buckles: Most standard collars have a buckle, as opposed to most martingale or choke collars which slide over the head. Buckles generally come in either metal variations or plastic. Metal buckles tend to be traditional in style, while plastic may be traditional but might also be snap style. Snap buckles are easier to put on, but plastic is less durable than metal and may be the first part of your collar to break.
Decorations: Many fashion collars come with some type of decoration. These can range from mini bow ties to embedded jewels to metal spikes for that “tough dog” look. Keep in mind that though, they might look cute or cool, they can be dangerous. Dogs can chew off that cute attached flower and end up with a gastrointestinal blockage. Other dogs may hurt themselves on your dog’s spike collar.
Accessories that are simply glued on are apt to break off after just a few wears, especially if your dog will be playing with other dogs or rolling around in the grass.
If your dog just has to have an accessorized collar, be sure to keep an eye on him at all times and never leave the collar on longer than necessary.
A Quick Note on Sizing
One of the most important steps in choosing the right collar for your dog is getting the right size. Too large and your dog can slip out. Too tight and your dog can get hurt.
Always measure your dog’s neck and then pair with the measurements of the collar you’re interested in. Do not rely on labels such as small, medium and large. Instead, check the actual measurements to ensure the right fit.
Measuring your dog’s neck can be done with a fabric measuring tape or a string (and ruler). Wrap the tape (or string) around where the collar will be. Make sure at least two fingers can fit between the measuring tape and your dog’s neck. We recommend always measuring twice, just to be sure.
Different types of collars will sit on different parts of your dog’s neck. Standard collars are meant to sit on the lower part of your dog’s neck, while martingale collars need to be wide enough to fit over the widest part of his head as they don’t have a collar to open up.
A Few Tips for the Best Collar Experience for Your Dog
Take them Off
Many owners leave their dogs collars on 24/7, but it’s helpful for your dog to go for periods of time without the collars on, especially at night when she’s trying to sleep.
Similarly, take them off when you’re bathing your dog. Wet collars can rub against your dog’s skin, causing irritation or a rash. And, if the skin and fur don’t get to adequately dry because of the collar, your dog could end up with a fungal infection.
Opt for Adjustable When Available
Even adult dogs put on or lose weight. To ensure that your dog’s collar will always fit, choose an adjustable collar that you can loosen or tighten as needed. This is especially true of younger dogs that have growing to do. Unless you’re okay with buying multiple collars during your dog’s first couple of years, an adjustable collar can give your pup room to grow.
This is also true of dogs that put on heavy winter coats, then shed them during the summer. Or that you plan on shaving during warmer months. Their neck size will vary by how much fur they’ve got.
Using a Harness? Pair with a Collar
Collars are recommended even for dogs that use harnesses, as they’re better for holding ID tags than any other accessory.
Training Collars Require Training
If you have a strong puller and you’re thinking about adding a training collar to your puppy or adult dog’s routine, find a trainer to work with first. Training collars are easy to misuse and can cause severe damage and even death when used improperly. These collars are also not meant to be a permanent solution. Use them to correct your dog’s behavior, reinforce with praise and treats, then move on to a standard collar. If your dog’s behavior hasn’t corrected in two to three weeks, it’s time to move on to something else. Front-connect harnesses, like the K9 Explorer Brights Reflective harness, are a safe alternative to training collars.