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Guide to Dog Collars

Written by Anna Hollisey


Retrievers with their collar

Martingale, Buckle, Prong or Slip? The world of dog collars is wide and bewildering. Here’s our starter guide to the basic types to help you pick the right collar for your dog.

In most states, the law requires dog collars. Even if your dog is microchipped (as recommended by the American Humane Society, it’s good practice to keep them in a collar and tag when you are in a public place.

Check your local legislation to find out what information should be etched on your dog’s tag. At a minimum, their tag should display your address and telephone number – it’s much quicker for people to identify your dog if they wander away. Some states require additional information, such as rabies vaccinations and license details. 

First, measure your dog’s neck circumference using a soft tape-measure (or a piece of string, which you can measure against a ruler). Select a collar in the size range that suits your dog (making sure that their neck measurement isn’t right at the top end of the range). Also, try to choose a collar that matches your dog’s neck proportions: a narrow collar for small dogs, and a wider collar for bulky dogs.

Next, fasten the dog collar around your dog’s neck to assess the fit. 

  • If it’s at maximum size (on the last hole or setting), it’s probably a little small – a larger collar will be adjustable if your dog grows or puts on weight.
  • You should be able to place two fingers (not more) beneath the collar: this shows that it’s not too tight against your dog’s neck. A tight collar can cause muscle damage and breathing difficulties.

So you’re ready to choose a first or a new collar for your dog? 

Flat, Buckled Collar

handsome Dalmatian showing his smart collar

Here’s the traditional type of dog collar. Simple to fit and smart to wear. For a well-trained dog, the flat buckled collar can be perfect. It’s unobtrusive enough for long periods of use. 

  • Pros: It’s inexpensive and comfortable.
  • Cons: This collar can choke dogs who tend to pull.

TIP: It’s really important to consider the width as well as circumference when you choose this type of collar. A wide collar can rub shorter necks but is ideal for large dogs. 

Head Collar

dog wearing his head collar

This one features a strap that loops around the dog’s muzzle. It’s recommended to people who have dogs that pull on their leash. But it won’t actually prevent pulling – just limit your dog’s strength. If your dog yanks your arms from their sockets, this collar could be worth a try.

A head collar applies pressure to the neck and muzzle when the dog pulls, so they’re easier to steer into the correct position. Use verbal cues at the same time so that your dog eventually needs no guidance.

  • Pros: It’s a tool to help teach your dog to walk on a loose leash.
  • Cons: Some dogs dislike wearing this type of collar! Can injure the neck and eyes; not suitable for dogs who are at risk of glaucoma. 

TIP: Training your dog to walk at your side is sometimes easier to practice off-leash. Walk in your yard, holding rewards at your side so that your dog learns the verbal cue for ‘heel’.

Slip Collar

frenchie sporting a slip lead

Slip collars or leashes comprise a collar and leash in one. They’re made from rope or nylon and slip over the dog’s head, tightening to the correct size. They’re often used by animal control officers and shelter staff as well as handlers at dog shows, because they’re easy to put on.

  • Pros: It discourages pulling. It’s easy to slip on quickly.
  • Cons: The ‘choke’ sensation is unpleasant for the dog and may cause a defensive response. Risk of damage to trachea, or asphyxiation.

TIP: Reward-based training will get a better result than using a tool which produces a punishment. The slip collar is acceptable for highly-trained dogs who can reliably walk on a loose leash. 

Martingale Collar

Greyhound showing her martingale collar

This design combines a flat, buckled collar with a slip collar. Because only part of it tightens under pressure, the Martingale collar will never become too tight against the neck. So it’s a helpful solution for owners who are looking for a training aid. 

The martingale is especially popular with sighthounds like Greyhounds and Whippets who have long (and sometimes delicate) necks and comparatively small heads. A traditional flat buckled collar can sometimes slip over their heads. 

  • Pros: It discourages pulling when used carefully.
  • Cons: Like any collar, if it’s constantly tightened it can cause damage to the neck and trachea. 

TIP: Use gentle steering motion to correct your dog’s position – don’t jerk or yank on the leash, since the abrupt action is more likely to cause neck damage. 

Electric Shock and Prong Collars

Not only are these collars unnecessarily painful for our dogs, they’re also banned in some countries around the world. 

Dog Harness

Husky enjoying his harness

It’s not a collar – and it’s best worn with a collar, which can carry an ID tag. But it’s worth mentioning the dog harness here.

The harness may seem like a modern innovation, but variations of the harness have been used for centuries, especially with working dogs. They’re designed to spread the tension and typically don’t place strain on your dog’s neck. The harness can be helpful if you have a very strong dog, since you have greater control over their movements. 

There are many different designs of dog harness in all kinds of widths and styles, so you will find the best one through trial and error. Getting a snug (but not tight) fit is important/learn/dog-training/with-a-whole-manor-of-different-shaped-and-sized-harnesses – choose a design which can be adjusted to grow with your dog. 

  • Pros: Good for handling strong dogs. Comfortable for your dog, if properly fitted.
  • Cons: It may take your dog a while to become accustomed to wearing a harness. It also shouldn’t be worn while your dog goes swimming (in case it becomes tangled with underwater debris).

TIP: Testing out different harnesses can be an expensive endeavor! Try asking friends and neighbors if they have old harnesses that you can test out to see what style best suits your dog.