How to Choose a Dog Collar

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on July 07, 2021
3 min read

Choosing the right dog collar for your new pup can make all the difference when it comes to training. With all the options available, stepping into the collar aisle at the pet store might even be a little overwhelming. A standard collar that displays ID tags is always recommended for your pup, but is it good enough to train and walk your dog with? 

There are many options out there for choosing a dog collar. It’s important to understand the choices and the main purposes for each collar before deciding on one. Making the right choice will ensure that your dog gets the support they need and will also help assist you while you train the newest member of your family. 

Flat-buckle collar. Flat-buckle collars, which are simple collars that buckle or snap closed, are the most popular choice by far when it comes to dog collars. They’re available in a range of sizes and materials and can be very fashion-forward. Some also come with light-reflective strips, which can be useful when walking your dog at night. A flat-buckle collar is a great choice for securing tags to your dog.  

Martingale collar. This collar was designed specifically for dogs with narrow heads, like Greyhounds and other sighthounds. It helps prevent anxious or fearful dogs from slipping out. The collar is designed with a strip of material with rings on each end, attached to a smaller loop. The leash attaches to the smaller loop and the collar tightens when your dog tries to back out without choking them. Martingale collars are often used as an alternative to choke collars.

Choke collar/chain. Choke collars work by tightening around the neck when the control loop is pulled. Unfortunately, there’s nothing on the collar that safeguards how tightly it can be pulled. This can result in possible throat damage and other injuries to your dog. They’re not recommended as a safe collar option. 

Prong/pinch collar. Prong collars have a similar function to choke collars, except for the small, blunt, metal prongs on the inside of the collar. These prongs are meant to dig into the dog’s skin when the leash is pulled. Because they’re easy to misuse, they’re also not recommended as a safe option.  

Body harness. The body harness is a popular choice for small dogs or dogs with a delicate throat area. A body harness might make your dog more prone to pulling on the leash because they don’t feel tension around the neck. In this case, front-hook harnesses come in handy. Because the leash is fastened in the front, it gives more leverage to the handler and requires less strength. 

Head halter. There are two types of head halters (think the Gentle Leader and the Halti are typically the most popular, but they are under the chin versions: "When you have a choice, select a design that seems to provide the most comfortable fit for your dog’s head. More importantly, as described above, there are two main functional differences in the location of the leash attachment: under the chin or behind the ears. 

The right collar can be a useful tool in training your dog. There are a few other factors to consider when buying your dog a collar.

Breed and temperament of your dog. Dogs with smaller heads and slender necks, like greyhounds, might benefit from the support of a martingale collar, while a head halter would be a better fit for a big, energetic German shepherd. Take your dog’s build and walking etiquette into account when making your choice. 

How much training does your dog need? Does your pup behave on a leash or does he struggle and pull to get his way? Dogs who pull usually need a collar meant for training, like a harness or martingale. Consider your training goals and struggles before you buy. Training collars and harnesses should never be left on your dog when they’re unattended or left home alone, or they could cause injury. 

Take your dog’s growth into account. If you’re buying a collar for your puppy, make sure to periodically check the tightness of it as your dog grows. You should be able to slip two fingers under the collar. This ensures that it’s not too tight around your pup’s neck but is snug enough so they can’t slip away if they spot a squirrel.