How to Choose a Dog Collar

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on February 13, 2024
7 min read

Choosing the right dog collar for your pup is important for their comfort and can make training easier. With all the options available, stepping into the collar aisle at the pet store can be overwhelming. A standard collar that displays ID tags is always recommended, but it may not be the best option for training and walking your dog.

There are many options out there for choosing a dog collar. If you understand the choices and the main purposes of each collar, it can help your dog get the support they need and assist you while you train the newest member of your family. 

Flat-buckle collar

Flat-buckle collars, simple collars that buckle or snap closed, are the most popular 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 are 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, but it doesn't choke them. Martingale collars are often used as an alternative to choke collars.

Choke collar/chain

These collars are not recommended as a safe option for your pet. Choke collars work by tightening around the neck when the control loop is pulled. Because there’s nothing on the collar that keeps you, or your dog, from pulling too tightly, choke collars can cause throat damage and other injuries to your dog.  

Prong/pinch collar

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

Body harness

The body harness is a popular choice for small dogs or dogs with a delicate throat. 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

The head halter is designed to fit around your dog's head just behind the ears, while another strap fits around your dog's muzzle. There are also under-the-chin versions. These types are good for large, strong dogs that like to pull. These are also known as gentle leads/gentle leaders.

Because the head collar is placed around the dog's muzzle, you need to have it fitted to your dog. It is not meant to be used to jerk or aggressively pull your dog. Instead, it's meant to be used as a tool to help gently guide your dog in the direction you want to go.

Flea/tick collar

These collars can be worn along with regular collars. They have chemicals that help your dog stay protected against fleas and ticks. To be effective, you need to make sure they fit your dog well. Keep track of how long the collar is active and change it as needed. 

Vibrating collar

This collar uses a vibrating sensation to get your dog's attention. This can be useful for deaf dogs that can't hear your voice.

Elizabethan collar

This collar is used to help prevent your dog from licking or scratching if they have a wound or have had a procedure done at the vet. The dog should be able to eat and drink while wearing the collar but should not be able to reach the part of their body that's healing.

GPS collar

This collar comes equipped with global positioning satellite technology to help you find your dog if they get lost. Research the collar's tracking range, functionality, battery life, cost, subscription price, and product support.

The right collar can be a useful tool when training your dog. Other things to consider when buying a collar include:

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 do they struggle and pull to get their 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. Never leave training collars and harnesses 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 check the tightness 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. 

Collars to avoid

Some vendors sell what are known as aversion collars that deliver physical discomfort or pain to teach the dog what to do. Examples of aversion collars include:

  • Choke chain collars that use metal links to control your dog
  • Pinch collars made of fang-shaped metal links that dig into your dog's skin
  • Shock collars with metal contact points that use an electrical current to give your dog a shock

While these types of collars may temporarily stop unwanted behavior, they don't teach your dog what you would like them to do. Instead, the aversion collars cause fear, anxiety, and sometimes aggression.

When in doubt, stay away from dog tools that may harm your pets. It's always better to use humane collars that don't cause pain. You're better off investing time in their training and helping them learn how to behave well through positive reinforcement and training.

If your dog pulls ahead or stops constantly to sniff the world around them when you are walking, a dog harness may be your best option. 

Collars and leashes can cause strain on your dog's neck and throat. But a dog harness can help prevent injury, choking, and hacking. A dog harness is also a good tool when you're walking, running, or hiking with your dog because it helps make these activities safer and more enjoyable for everyone involved.

Dog harnesses come in many sizes and styles. It's important to consider all your options and choose the harness that works best for you and your dog.

Dog size and temperament 

Consider your dog's weight, character, and breed to decide what size dog harness is best. Different styles of dog harnesses fit differently. You can measure around your dog's rib cage to ensure that you're buying the right size. Harnesses that are too tight can be painful for your dog, but your pet can slip out of ones that are too loose. 

You should be able to fit two fingers under the harness straps, but you don't want to be able to pull the harness over the dog's head. You can test the dog harness by having your dog walk around your home with it on to make sure the harness isn't moving around, loosening, or rubbing uncomfortably against their skin. 

Harness design

When choosing a dog harness, consider how much or how hard your dog pulls. The wrong harness can make it easier for your dog to pull you around. The most common type of dog harness is a front-hook harness. It gives you leverage as you walk with your dog because it's attached to the front of your dog's body. Other types include a back-clip harness, which reduces throat damage and is best used for smaller dogs, and a no-pull harness, which applies pressure to your dog's chest to keep them from pulling.

If your dog is well-behaved, you can choose a harness with a clip on the back. If your dog pulls, you might want a harness with a clip on the front, which gives you more control and helps your dog learn to walk next to you instead of pulling ahead. 


Features, size, design, and materials all add to the cost of dog harnesses. You can expect to pay $15-$30 for the most basic small-dog harnesses, and around $35-$45 for fancier large-dog harnesses. 

If you're unsure of what harness is right for your dog, ask your veterinarian.

Dog harnesses have many uses and benefits. They can help you:

  • Have better control of your dog, especially when walking along a busy street or in a crowded area
  • Discourage your dog from pulling
  • Stop your dog from jumping up on you or other people 
  • Train puppies who might get tangled in, or hurt by, a regular collar and leash
  • Prevent your dog from getting distracted when hiking 
  • Walk multiple dogs at the same time 

Dog harnesses can also be a great way to help dogs get up without causing them discomfort or pain. Dog harnesses are also unlikely to come off accidentally. When dogs pull, their collar or slip leash may come loose, but harnesses embrace the dog’s entire body, so you can control your dog better.