Holle has owned two Akitas and has trained and bred dogs for decades.
Selecting a Dog Collar
A collar is often the first dog training tool an owner uses, so it can be very important. If you’re looking for dog collars, the information below might help you make an informed choice.
Our Shopping Story
One of our adult Great Danes, Grendel, had gotten too big for his dog collar, so we had to find him a new one. I also had to find one for Shylock, one of our Great Dane puppies. Shy is the pup we’re keeping, so he just had to have a collar, right? We took the puppy with us so we’d be sure to get the right size.
Wow. Hubby and I were pretty overwhelmed by the number of choices we were faced with. We saw dog collars of every style and color imaginable, along with lots of leashes and harnesses. Shopping for Grendel was easy, as we just wanted a plain red nylon collar for him.
I wanted something a little different for Shylock, though. He’s black, and I thought a bright red model would look good on him, and I wanted it to have some sort of design or motif. We finally decided on a pirate dog collar. It’s basically a black collar with red edging. On the black part are skulls and crossbones. It looks great on our puppy!
Types of Dog Collars
There are lots of different types of dog collars. The most common materials for making collars are:
- faux leather
- nylon blends
- metal chains
The buckles are usually made of metal, but collars that snap together often have plastic snaps. Any collar is only as good as the fastener that keeps it together, so look for a metal fastener instead of a plastic one. If your dog is prone to jumping fences, playing in the woods, or getting into mischief, you might need a collar with a breakaway fastener, however.
Tip: Determine the Function
Before beginning your search, narrow it down to two or three types of dog collars. Go by function first. Why do you need the collar, and what purpose do you want it to serve? If you have an average dog, a regular collar will probably suffice.
Tip: Choose a Material
Next, consider the material from which the collar is made. If your dog gets dirty a lot and/or loves to play in water, nylon will be easier to maintain than some other materials.
Tip: Measure Your Dog's Neck
Once all those decisions have been made, you’ll need to measure your dog for its new collar. Sometimes it’s easier just to take the dog with you to the store, which is what we did for Shylock.
We didn’t take Grendel with us, though. We measured around his neck with a tape measure. To that number, we added two inches and looked for a collar of that length. If your dog is very small, you might want to add just one inch to the measurement of its neck.
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When you’re shopping for puppy collars, choose one that’s narrow and lightweight. Remember that the pup probably isn’t used to wearing something around its neck, so it might find a collar annoying at first. If the collar is small and light, the pup will most likely find it easier to accept.
Tip: Accommodate for Growth
Also, you need to think about growth when shopping for puppy collars. Puppies grow quickly, especially large dog breeds. Our Great Dane puppies are growing at an alarming rate! For Shy, we chose an adjustable collar that he’ll be able to wear for a few weeks. . . hopefully.
Resist the temptation to buy a long, heavy collar for your small or young puppy. Sure, you won’t need to replace it as often, but it won’t be nearly as comfortable for your pup to wear.
Tip: Check the Collar Often
Because puppies grow so quickly, you’ll need to check the collar’s fit at least once a week. Make sure you can fit two fingers under the collar, as an average. With small dog breeds, you should be able to fit one finger, for medium-sized dog breeds, you should be able to fit two fingers, and for large dog breeds, you should be able to fit three fingers between the dog’s neck and the collar.
You don’t want it to be too loose, either. The collar should be fairly snug, but it shouldn’t be tight. Dog collars that are at either extreme can be dangerous. Too-tight collars can embed themselves in the canine’s flesh, and too-loose collars can slip over your pup’s head. That could be fatal if you’re walking in traffic.
Collars that are too loose can also present choking hazards. Puppies are curious and into everything, and a collar that’s too loose could catch on something and cause choking or strangulation.
An option instead of using a standard collar when walking your pet is a dog harness. Dog harnesses are easier on your pet, as they place little or no pressure on the throat, depending on the style.
Tip: Get a Harness for Dogs With Sensitive Tracheas
You can find harnesses for dogs that distribute pressure over the chest, the shoulders, or even the rear end. Like dog collars, harnesses might be made of nylon, leather, suede, or sports mesh. Some are even lined with faux fur.
A dog harness is a good choice for puppies that aren’t leash trained. It’s a great way to get a pup used to walking by your side, without making him fearful of the leash pressure on a standard collar.
Harnesses Are Great for Small Dogs
Harnesses are also good for small dogs. Diminutive doggies have tiny necks that could be easily injured from accidental jerks from leashes, but because a harness places the stress elsewhere on the dog’s body, it’s a safer choice.
I’ve seen a few owners of large dogs use harnesses, too, but a standard dog harness provides less control than collars do. If controlling your pet is a problem, a harness probably isn’t a good idea.
- Advantages: A dog harness provides comfort to the dog and reduces stress to the neck, throat, and trachea. Lined harnesses might also help fearful dogs feel more secure.
- Disadvantages: A typical harness does not give the handler as much control of the animal as a dog collar does. A few dogs are difficult to fit with a harness.
How to Fit a Dog Harness
Many dog owners prefer classic leather dog collars for their pets. Because leather is a natural material, it’s often less irritating than other materials. Some owners think their dogs can’t get wet while wearing a leather collar, but that’s not true. As long as the leather is treated correctly and regularly, a leather dog collar can handle moisture and will last for years. Of course, it’s best to remove the collar when bathing your dog.
Leather dog collars are available with metal studs, metal spikes, jingle bells, and embossing. They also come in several colors and styles. Most leather collars are flat, but round or rolled versions can also be found. The round collars are easier on the dog’s coat. Obviously, thick leather collars can be very heavy, so you’ll want to take the thickness, along with the width, of the collar into account.
- Advantages: Leather dog collars are made of natural materials, so they’re more earth-friendly. They’re also more comfortable for most canines, and they’re the best choice for a dog with super sensitive skin.
- Disadvantages: These dog collars are usually more expensive than those constructed of manmade materials. They’re also harder to clean and maintain and can get pretty smelly. If you have a puppy in the house, it might enjoy chewing on a leather dog collar, too.
Leather Care and Maintenance
Like I said, you have to take proper care of a leather dog collar if you want it to last for the lifetime of your dog. Leather dog collars come in two types of leather: finished leather and unfinished leather.
If your collar doesn’t indicate which type of leather it is, you can tell by the appearance. Finished leather has a glossy or shiny finish, while unfinished leather is dull. Neither type of leather is a big fan of water, but finished leather can usually handle it better.
How to Clean a Leather Dog Collar
- Use a damp cloth to wipe off dried mud and dirt OR apply a tiny amount of mild soap to stains and scrub gently with a small stiff-bristled brush.
- Remove the soap residue with another clean cloth that has been dampened with a little water.
- Buff the shine with a soft, dry cloth.
- Once the collar is dry to the touch, treat the leather with a conditioner or preservative.
- Buff again until shiny.
For collars made of unfinished leather, use saddle soap. Work the saddle soap into the collar with a soft, slightly damp cloth. Wipe away the saddle soap with a dry cloth. Don’t use a damp cloth for this unless you absolutely have to. Once the leather collar is clean and dry, rub it with an oil or preservative made especially for leather.
Nylon dog collars are perhaps the most popular dog collars on earth. Nylon is tough and durable, and nylon collars handle water well. They’re very easy to clean, too, and they’re generally less expensive than leather dog collars.
To clean these collars, you can use plain soap and water, but be sure to rinse the collar well enough to remove any soap residue that might irritate your dog’s skin.
Nylon dog collars come in practically any color you can think of, including solids, stripes, wild animal prints, geometrical designs, florals, and other prints. It’s also easy to find a wide range of selections. Another plus to nylon collars is that they’re often adjustable—by more than just a notch or two. Plus, it’s easy to find leashes that are an exact match.
You can find nylon dog collars with all sorts of embellishments, including metal studs, metal spikes, embroidery, bells, and even charms that dangle. The collars might also be decorated with rhinestones or fancy beadwork.
- Advantages: They are inexpensive, strong, and durable. They come in a huge range of sizes, colors, and styles. It’s also easy to find leashes that match the collars. These collars are easy to clean and maintain.
- Disadvantages: They might irritate the skin and break the hair shafts of the coat. Nylon collars tend to lose their looks over time, as the fabric begins to fray around the edges and the original color fades.
There are basically two types of plastic dog collars. One is actually made of plastic, while the other is made of another material and then coated with plastic.
Plastic dog collars are fun and cheap, and they come in all sorts of designs, including holiday themes. Such collars are more for decorative purposes than they are for controlling the canine. Since they’re so inexpensive, they can be changed out frequently to match doggie clothing.
Plastic-coated collars are a different story. Many of them are made of nylon and treated with a plastic coating in order to provide superior protection. A good-quality collar of this type might be completely waterproof, strong, and easy to clean. These are not the type of dog collars I’m referring to below. There, I’m referring to cheap plastic dog collars.
- Advantages: This type of collar is very inexpensive and comes in a wide assortment of colors. The collars are waterproof and extremely easy to clean.
- Disadvantages: These dog collars are usually poorly made, so they’re not very strong.
I suppose my first introduction to spiked dog collars was through TV cartoons. I remember seeing big, tough bulldogs depicted wearing such collars. I was just a kid back then, and I always wondered why a pet owner would choose a spiked collar.
When my dad bought a German Shepherd watchdog for his store, he fitted her with a spiked collar, and I asked him about his choice. He felt that an intruder would have trouble grabbing his dog’s collar if it was embedded with metal spikes.
I understand my father’s reason for wanting to use such a collar, but that wasn’t the original purpose of spiked dog collars. The reason they were developed was to protect the canine wearer from attacks from other dogs and wild animals, like wolves. Because of the protruding spikes, it’s difficult for an attacking animal to seize a dog’s neck when the pooch is wearing a spiked collar.
Of course, you don’t have to have a reason to use spiked dog collars – or any other types of dog collars, for that matter. Many people just like the way certain collars look on their pets.
Spiked collars, for example, often give the impression of toughness, so they’re often chosen for big dogs, especially when the dogs serve the role as guardian. On the other hand, something like a pink spiked dog collar on a breed like a toy poodle can be quite a conversation starter!
- Advantages: Spiked dog collars might help prevent neck injuries from other animals to your pet. They also look tough, and the spikes make it difficult for the dog to be grabbed by the collar.
- Disadvantages: Metal spikes can be dangerous. They can injure humans and other pets, even during play. They can also wreak havoc on your home’s interior and on your furniture.
There are plenty of places online where you can buy custom dog collars, and many are handmade. In most cases, customers will have a huge choice of fabrics and materials.
The ones I’ve seen include nylon, leather, cotton, canvas, faux leather, ribbon, suede, and faux suede. The customer also determines the buckles to be used, the length of the collar, the thickness of the collar, and the width. Many businesses that offer custom dog collars also offer matching leashes and pet bedding.
You can design and order practically anything you want, whether it’s a strong, simple collar for a hard-to-fit giant dog, or a fancy rhinestone-studded collar for a pampered pooch. You’ll probably be able to add hanging charms or jeweled clips to the collars, too.
Many owners prefer to buy personalized dog collars for their furry friends. Such collars might display the pet’s name or the owner’s name, or both. Obviously, this information would come in handy if the dog is ever lost. You might want a personalized collar just because it’s attractive, without even considering the possible functional benefits.
There are lots of ways to personalize a dog collar.
- Buy a plain nylon dog collar and add your own rhinestones with E6000 glue.
- Sturdy leather colors are sometimes enhanced by a brass plate that can be engraved with the dog’s name.
- If you can sew, you can make your own fabric collar and embroider your pet’s name on the collar.
- Old leather belts can easily be turned into personalized dog collars. Just cut the belt to the required length, and use a metal stud kit to make the dog’s name with small metal brads.
- You can sometimes find the kits at dollar stores, and you can always find them at craft supply stores.
Choke chain, choke collar, and check chain are terms all used to describe a collar made of chain links. Most of these dog collars don’t include any sort of “stop.” In other words, the collar gets tighter and tighter as more pressure is exerted. A choke collar can be very effective, but if used improperly, it can injure or even kill the animal.
Choke collars are also notorious for damaging the coat around the neck. There are some choke collars, however, that have fabric woven through the metal mesh, preventing the collar from damaging the dog’s fur. Even those collars can be harmful to your pooch, however.
A choke chain should be used carefully. Instead of applying constant pressure, the handler should use a give-and-take motion. Also, the collar needs to be high on the neck, just below the dog’s jaw.
- Advantages: These collars are usually inexpensive, and they’re pretty much one-size-fits-all. They can also be very effective in handling stubborn dogs, and they’re quick and easy to use.
- Disadvantages: When used improperly, a choke chain can harm the dog. Also, poor quality chains will often rust. These aren’t the most attractive dog collars on the market, either.
A martingale collar is sort of a hybrid, combining the advantages of a regular collar with that of a check chain. These dog collars were originally designed for dog breeds with small heads in proportion to the size of the neck.
When a canine’s head is smaller than its neck, it’s easy for the dog to slip out of a regular collar. A martingale collar addresses the problem by tightening when pressure is placed on the collar by the leash. The dog receives negative feedback— a tightened collar—whenever it pulls too hard. It receives a reward—a loose collar—when it behaves properly.
Although this type of dog collar was specifically fabricated for dog breeds like the greyhound, the Borzoi, the whippet, the Sloughi, the Saluki, and other sighthounds, many owners with other breeds like using a martingale collar. It gives extra control but isn’t as harsh as a choke or check chain. With a typical martingale collar, the main part of the device is like a regular collar, often made of leather.
A small portion of the collar is a chain circle. When pressure is exerted from the leash, the collar gets tighter, but when the leash pressure is released, the collar gets looser.
- Advantages: A martingale collar provides the owner with more control. These dog collars are less harsh than check chains or choke collars. The collar will only go so tight, unlike a choke chain. Martingale collars slide over the dog’s head, without having to bother with fasteners or snaps.
- Disadvantages: These collars are sometimes expensive. They might also be hard to find locally.
If you have a hard-to-handle pooch, you might want to consider a prong collar. Also called a pinch collar, these dog collars provide the human handler with better control of the animal.
A typical collar of this style is made from metal, often stainless steel. Inside the collar are dull prongs. When the dog pulls against the leash, the prongs exert pressure on the neck. Most trainers see these collars as being more humane than choke chain collars, although some see pinch collars as temporary fixes.
In order for the prong collar to work properly and safely, it must be correctly fitted and correctly worn. If it’s not, it can cause injury to the trachea. Before using these types of dog collars, you need to learn to use them the right way.
It’s really best to work together with a dog trainer, at first. He or she can teach you to use the collar effectively and humanely.
A prong collar works with much the same principle as the martingale collar. To be honest, prong collars and pinch collars look scary, so you’ll probably get some disapproving looks. If you think that’s going to be a problem, you might want to choose other types of dog collars.
- Advantages: Prong and pinch collars provide handlers with more control, while being more humane than choke chain collars. With this device, the dog is punished and rewarded through its own actions.
- Disadvantages: These collars can be expensive and hard to find locally. You’re likely to get negative reactions. A collar of this type must be fitted and used properly.
A shock collar is an electronic collar that’s powered by a battery. The receiver is embedded into the collar, and the send mechanism, or transmitter, is held by the owner, trainer, or handler.
Different models of these collars have different ranges, and some are waterproof. There are also some models that allow a handler to signal two dogs from the same apparatus.
There’s a lot of debate about shock collars and whether or not they’re humane. I’ve trained numerous canines, and I’ve used a shock collar on a few. I prefer a shock collar that has a dial for controlling the amount of shock the dog gets, along with a sound alarm that delivers no shock at all.
Before we used a shock collar on our dogs, my husband tested it out on himself first. We adjusted the setting so that it would deliver a very mild tingle, and we only had to use the function once or twice. After that, the sound alarm was sufficient to remind the furkids what to do and what not to do.
In my opinion, an electronic dog collar is valuable and efficient in the right hands. In the wrong hands, it’s a torture device. Never use a shock collar on a puppy. If you do, you’ll wind up with a fearful, timid animal.
Even when using an electronic collar on a large or giant dog, always try the sound alarm first. If that doesn’t work, start using the shock function at the lowest setting. You don’t want to hurt the dog—you just want to get its attention.
Also, NEVER leave such a collar on the dog unless you’re with the animal. The button could somehow get accidentally pressed, causing the canine extreme discomfort.
- Advantages: A shock collar can be extremely effective at sending signals from long distances. The handler can adjust the amount of current or use a sound alone, without shocking the dog.
- Disadvantages: These dog collars can be very expensive, and they can be too harsh. You’ll also need to buy a collar for everyday use, as an electronic collar should not be worn all the time.
A head collar is another one of the types of dog collars that provide the handler with more control. In case you’re unfamiliar with it, a head collar is much the same as a halter used on horses. It fits around the canine’s head, and the lower portion is the part that’s attached to the leash. When using this device, you’re controlling your dog’s head, not its entire body. Of course, the body will follow wherever the head leads.
A head collar can be an effective dog training tool, but you’ll need to be patient, as most canines don’t readily accept them. You’ll also need to make sure the collar fits correctly and that you know how to use it to avoid injuring the dog’s neck.
You’ll need to be diligent, too, while your pooch is walking on a leash with a halter. For example, if Rover is prone to go crazy when he spots a squirrel, he might run excitedly after the furry rodent and be stopped rather painfully once he’s exhausted the length of the leash.
You need to anticipate problems that might arise.
- Advantages: Head collars are reasonably priced and give you a lot of control. Many trainers consider them to be more humane than prong collars, choke chains, and shock collars.
- Disadvantages: These collars might cause injury to the neck if used incorrectly. The collar should only be worn while the dog is on leash or is otherwise being closely supervised. Many dogs find it hard to accept a head collar, also.
The Illusion Collar was created and developed by Cesar Milan, television’s famous dog whisperer. The collar is meant to be used as a dog training aid, to help canines learn to walk on a leash correctly.
As Milan explains it, most dog collars rest at the base of the neck, where the animal’s pulling power is great. A handler will have more control if the collar is at the top of the neck, just under the ears. The Illusion Collar is sort of like a dog harness for the neck. It consists of two collars that are joined together by vertical pieces. The top collar is a slip collar, and the base collar and vertical connectors keep the top collar in the correct position.
The Illusion Collar is not meant to be used with puppies or with small dogs. It shouldn’t be used with dog breeds that have short muzzles or breathing problems, either. This dog collar is not designed for canines with long, thin necks. It comes in three sizes and is adjustable.
- Advantages: This collar gives the handler excellent control, while teaching the dog by using immediate positive and negative feedback to its actions. The collar and leash are easy to clean.
- Disadvantages: These dog collars aren’t cheap, and the color selection is very limited. If your dog weighs less than eighteen pounds, the Illusion Collar isn’t recommended.
Which One Is Best?
There’s no simple answer to that question. It depends on your dog, its behavior, and on your personal preference and budget. For an inexpensive all-around dog collar, it’s hard to go wrong with nylon. On the other hand, if your pooch has sensitive skin, a leather collar might be a better choice.
If your dog is difficult to control on leash, using a check chain, an Illusion collar, or a prong collar will provide you with more control. If your dog has a small head, a martingale collar might work best for you. If you decide you need one of the collars that enhances your control level, please make sure you know how to use it without injuring your pet.
Really, the best dog collars are the ones that work best for you and your pet, so think about your specific needs before shopping. If you don’t have some ideas beforehand, you’ll most likely be frustrated and confused with so many choices of dog collars.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 Holle Abee
FJ on February 04, 2019:
The name shylock is anti-Semitic.
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on January 31, 2019:
joe foe on January 29, 2019:
what do you mean brother this is the best dog collar article I've ever read
Poca on August 22, 2017:
I am not a fan of breakaway dog collars. Say you're outside walking your dog, your dog sees a cat or a squirrel or another dog. and he bolts, the color breaks away and he attacks and kills that animal, you're at fault. Harnesses are also a very bad idea. Years ago and I'm talking a few thousand years ago, we put dogs to work. We put harnesses on them to pull things for us. So when you put a harness on a dog it instinctually tells the dog to pull. Every time I see a dog on a harness they're pulling their owner down the street.
Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on August 11, 2017:
But I thought.........
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 11, 2017:
Sorry, Jay, but I haven't had any experience with rope collars. Maybe you could ask your vet?
Jay Clouse on August 10, 2017:
Hi Holle thanks for the helpful article! :) I'm just curious if you know anything about rope collars? I am considering buying braided rope collars for my girlfriend's small dogs, but am somewhat concerned about whether they will be harmful, as one of them likes to pull her leash when walked.
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on July 29, 2017:
Kate, thanks for your input on dog collars!
Kate on July 28, 2017:
As someone who has worked with dogs before, I cannot recommend a shock collar to anyone, even for training usage. Most trainers have dismissed the use of negative reinforcement on dogs for good reason- it can be dangerous to the dog's physical/mental health, and it's not as effective as it's opposite.
When I was younger, my family used a shock collar to keep one of our dogs in the yard. It got to the point where we could take off the collar to take him for a walk around the neighborhood but he would violently resist (and loudly cry as if in pain) passing the line he KNEW would send a jolt to his throat. Whenever he'd hear any beeping similar to that that the collar gave off as a warning, he'd lose bowel control entirely (whether it was the collar itself or something on tv.)
I also want to share that using a prong collar is far safer on the dog than using a "regular" collar. (Regular meaning anything that is a plain band.) It dissuades pulling which another collar will not. A study was done in Germany on 100 dogs from birth to death. 50 were given flat collars, 50 were given prongs. Of the 50 given flat collars, nearly every single one of them developed tracheal scarring and back issues from trauma. Of the 50 using prong, 48 had no throat damage and the two remainder that did proved to have genetic disposition to defects of the neck.
That said, yes it looks scary to use a prong, but when you weigh the difference between your dog's health and the frowns from strangers who have no idea the dangers one collar can provide versus another... I know which us dog lovers would pick :)
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on February 22, 2017:
David, as I mentioned in the article, we DID use the shock collar on ourselves before placing it on the dogs. We adjusted it to just a "tingle." From then on, we had to use only the sound alarm. And our dogs range from 170-200 pounds. As I also said, a shock collar is cruel when used improperly. Thanks for reading!
david halton on February 22, 2017:
any one who tells you to try a shock collar should put it round his own neck and put it on full power .bastards.
Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on August 12, 2013:
Wow- what an educational hub! I love the harness- especially with "runner" dogs, but what I didn't know that if a dog is determined enough they CAN escape them! Mine did in the middle of a parking log- thankfully we caught him!!
I agree what you said about shock collars if they get into the wrong hands. Some people use them as punishment which has SUCH an adverse effect often causing the dog to become violent, but I do know that some of the vets that I've spoken to have used them on their dogs in the right way. It's supposed to be like a tap on the shoulder- not full blast so that it hurts them.
When we first got one of our dogs, we adopted him and he was wearing the prong collar. Back then I didn't have much experience and didn't realize how damaging these can be. Shortly thereafter, that was replaced with the harness. Much better! Voted up!
Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on August 11, 2013:
I was not expecting such a comprehensive overview! You've covered everything. Thanks for the great resource.
Deonne Anderson from Florence, SC on August 10, 2013:
Great hub on dog collars. I learned about the type collar I need to get for my dogs Thanks ! Voted up and useful.
drbj and sherry from south Florida on August 10, 2013:
Wow, Holle. I always thought a collar is a collar is a collar. Who knew? It's been a long time since I had to shop for a dog collar so forgive my ignorance. Thanks for the extensive education. Love the photos of your dogs.
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 10, 2013:
WND, he's doing great...and growing in leaps and bounds!
wetnosedogs from Alabama on August 10, 2013:
So many types of dogs collars now!
Shy looks terrific. And big!