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Recently, Leroy has started to show a bit of wear and tear on his old faithful collar, and it’s time to get him a new one. I usually get the dogs a new collar every Christmas, but this year I skipped it while I did a little research. See, I’ve always gotten the dogs leather collars because I thought they were more durable. But recently I found some collars made out of a super-tough nylon that could be personalized with their names. That got me thinking, though, about just how many elements there are when choosing a collar. There were some other features of this nylon collar that I really liked that are hard to find in leather options. When it comes to choosing a dog’s collar, a new dog owner might be seriously overwhelmed.
Step into a pet store or even the pet aisle at a supermarket, and you’ll find dozens or hundreds of options. We’ve talked before on this blog about different types of collars, such asprong collars and no-pull leads, but today I want to focus on the “regular collars” that you would go to grab for your very first dog. The kind that you think will be easy, until you show up and see the many options. Here’s what you need to know to choose a good collar the first time around.
Step One: Choose the Collar Style Based On Your Goals
The first thing you’ll need to do is choose the collar style; or more accurately, the buckle style. The biggest thing that this impacts is what you want the collar to do. Most new dog owners don’t realize that collar style has to do with a lot more than just holding the name tag and marking a dog as taken. Do you want to train your dog to do tricks? Do you need to walk your dog every day? Does your dog just need something to hold a tag and nothing more? Each of these goals could benefit from a different type of collar.
The first type is the traditional buckle collar that looks like a belt. This is probably the most common type because it stays on well. Even very active dogs have a hard time getting these off, so they are good for holding an ID. If your dog likes to wander, this is a good option.
The next type is called a quick release buckle collar. It acts like a seatbelt, with a female and male buckle that match up. This type of buckle doesn’t hold together as well as a buckle collar, but it’s really good for quickly releasing a dog should they get caught on something. This style of collar is good for dogs who regularly have to be around unfamiliar dogs, such as a dog that goes to doggie day care, because it can be quickly undone should another dog decide to grab and hang on.
The next type of collar is a safety collar, which has two rings on either side that act as pivot points. This type of collar is made for hunting dogs who might get caught up on something as they run. The O-rings help ensure that they can move their heads and won’t choke.
There’s another type of quick release collar called a Martingale collar, which is the favored type of collar for dogs that still need to learn to walk on a leash. This type of collar gives the dog instant feedback when pulling, without restricting their airway.
Finally, you can also bypass the collar altogether and go with a harness. There are many types of harnesses, from those that sit on the neck alone, to those that hug the entire body like a vest. Be sure to check out my post about no-pull leads to learn more about harnesses. In this article, I’ll say that there are some dogs who don’t do well on a harness because it ticks a box in their head that makes them think you want them to pull you. Dogs bred for sledding, for example, may see a harness as a reason to pull. But if you have a very hyperactive dog who just won’t stop choking themselves on walks, a harness may be a better option than any type of collar.
Once you’ve chose the type of collar you need, based on what you expect your dog to get into and what you want to do with your dog, the next step is to choose the material.
Thankfully for new dog owners, there are fewer options when it comes to dog collar materials. However, this is one of the more important features to choose, because this will dictate a lot of your dog’s comfort. Don’t get too caught up in how it looks – between your dog’s fur and their playfulness, chances are it won’t be visible much, or it will be dirty often. Think instead about what would be better for your dog.
The most popular material is nylon. Nylon is inexpensive, comes in tons of colors and patterns, and it’s very pliable. For dogs that are tiny, you’ll probably only be able to find nylon unless you go to a specialty shop. If your dog has a very sensitive coat, this is a good option because nylon causes less friction. It’s not totally perfect, however. My biggest problem with it is that it gets stinky. Nylon isn’t the easiest thing to clean, and it will start to fray at the edges if you toss it in the washer. Dogs can also have nylon allergies, so keep that in mind.
The next material is called biothane, and it’s a waterproof polyester that is coated in a vinyl-like substance. It’s often favored for the way it looks, and comes in tons of colors and patterns. I like this one over nylon because it lasts forever, doesn’t smell, and can handle all kinds of weather and abuse. It’s really good for water-loving pups, and it also comes in reflective and glow in the dark versions for safety. Some people don’t care for these because they aren’t very sophisticated looking.
Leather is another popular material, and it’s what I usually go for myself. Leather’s big draw is durability. It’s got a classy appearance as well, and just gets better with age. As leather is introduced to the natural oils of your dog’s coat, it starts to soften and look even better. Leather comes in a huge range of types, like padded, soft Italian leather, bridle collars, and more. If your dog has sensitivities to chemicals, leather is going to be your best bet. You can find very tiny leather collars at pet stores, but you’ll have better luck with a specialty store. Most working dogs’ collars are going to be leather for the durability.
So, once you’ve chosen the type of collar and the material, you get to personalize to your heart’s content. You can choose to have your dog’s name embroidered into a collar, or screen printed on a nylon collar. You can add a variety of ID tags that help your dog find their way back home should they get lost.
ID tags can be lots of fun. I’ve seen many novelty tags with dogs’ names, owners’ names, phone numbers, vet information, allergy information, and even behavioral information. For example, I once saw an ID tag that said “I’m Max. I’m not great with kids. Please call my mom.” And then it had a phone number. I think this is a very smart way to help someone keep your dog safer should they get lost.
Don’t forget that depending on where you live, it may be a requirement that a rabies tag is attached to your dog’s collar at all times. You may wish to have your dog’s name and contact information on the collar itself to avoid jangling tags, or you may want to grab some tag protectors, like these, that help reduce the noise. Silencers like that come in all shapes and sizes to fit standard dog tags.
Choosing a dog collar is only part of what you need to get ready for your new dog. The other half of that equation is the leash. If you need to train your dog to walk on a leash, here are some things to consider about choosing the right leash.
The standard dog leash is just a lead with a clip at the end, which usually measures around six feet long. This is almost always made out of nylon or leather, and you can often buy a leash and a collar together in a set. This works well for dogs that are already leash trained and only need the appearance of the leash to be led around. It can be harder to control a dog who is not well trained yet with this type of leash.
Retractable leashes are very popular, but not always the safest option. A retractable leash is a lot like a measuring tape, with a thin nylon rope lead inside a plastic handle. You can give your dog quite a lot of freedom, or restrict them to no freedom, with the click of a button. This can cause some health problems, like strangulation, if the dog is not very well trained. However, for well-trained dogs, this type of lead can help you give them a bit more exercise. In my opinion, this type of lead is very confusing for a dog, who won’t understand why their range of motion keeps changing. I’m not a fan, but there’s nothing specifically wrong with this type.
Chain leashes are another type of lead, that usually have a chain attached to a short leather leash, which you hold on to. These are good for heavy pullers who are still learning, because they are very durable. It’s also a good choice for dogs that like to turn around and chew on their leashes while you stop to check the mail or say hello to a neighbor.
A Martingale leash, or a slip collar leash, is a training leash that is a great option for training a new dog to walk on a lead. When the dog pulls, a small amount of pressure reminds them not to do that, without cutting off their airway. This leash basically acts as a collar and lead all in one, so you’d use it while your dog was wearing a different collar, or no collar at all.
The most common length on any of these leashes is about six feet long, which gives your dog room to go sniff the grass without getting too far away from you. However, if you live in a very busy urban area, you may want a shorter leash to keep your dog close. In rural areas, you can get leashes that are super long to allow for lots of play and exploration. It’s completely up to your situation. Be sure to choose a leash that is wide enough so that your hand doesn’t hurt if it pulls, and also so that it is strong enough for your dog. Only tiny dogs who don’t need to carry a lot of weight need thin leashes.
Overall, choosing the right collar and leash is very dependent on your dog and your lifestyle. If you want to train your dog to walk nicely on a leash, which I think should be a skill all dogs need to know for good socialization, I would recommend starting with a Martingale collar or lead. This is a humane way to stop pulling, keeping your dog and you very comfortable.
The only other concern to think about when choosing a collar is visibility. If you live in an area with a lot of traffic, choose a collar with some reflective elements to keep them safe. And be sure that your contact information is somewhere on the collar, whether on an ID tag or on the collar itself. Beyond that, just have fun representing your dog’s personality in their new collar!