The Safest Types of Dog Collars (and the Most Dangerous) - Whole Dog Journal (2022)

What type of collar should your dog wear? It depends on your dog, your personal taste, and your training goals, philosophies, and needs. But from our force-free perspective, there are some types of collars we wholeheartedly endorse, some we support with caution, and some that we regard as unnecessary and risky.

The Most Dangerous Dog Collars

Let’s get these out of the way first. We recommend that you never use collars that are designed to work through the application of pain, discomfort, or aversive sensations, including:

  • Choke chains
  • Prong collars
  • Shock collars (training or no-bark)
  • Citronella spray collars
  • Any other collar designed to force compliance.

There are numerous current marketing attempts to make these collars more palatable to the public, including attractive, colorful cloth covers for prong collars, rubber tips for the prongs, and euphemisms for shock that range for “stim” and “tickle” to “e-collar” and “e-touch.”

In fact, shock-collar sales reps are quite skilled at convincing their clients that the application of an electrical stimulation doesn’t really hurt, while old-fashioned trainers are equally skilled at convincing these clients that the use of force is necessary to train a dog properly. Don’t be fooled. Shock hurts. And recent studies overwhelmingly support the position that, while old-fashioned, force-based training methods can work, they also come with a significant risk of causing injury (choke chains are known to damage canine tracheas) and creating behavioral problems, especially fear and aggression. These tools and the old-fashioned ways they are typically used often result in shutting dogs down – not something we want to see in our dogs. In contrast, we value confident dogs who are willing to offer behavior, something that many dogs who have been trained with behavior-suppressing methods don’t often do.

The Safest Types of Dog Collars (and the Most Dangerous) - Whole Dog Journal (1)

The bottom line with all these collars is that they work because they hurt or intimidate your dog – not a good training philosophy.

Dog Collars for Special Situations: Not for Every Dog

Then there are the products we would support the use of, in just the right situation, and in the right hands.

Head Halters or Head Collars

While there are many different varieties and brands of head collars, they all function by moving the point of attachment from the dog’s neck to the dog’s head. This gives the handler greater physical control of the dog’s head – and where the head goes, the body follows. A dog who is accustomed to pulling hard on leash with a conventional collar will find that he cannot easily pull while wearing a head collar.

Our first reservation about these collars is that many dogs (perhaps even the majority) find them mildly to extremely aversive. While they look kinder to us than prong and shock collars, if they are aversive to the dog, they are not a force-free training tool.

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That said, if the handler takes enough time to properly condition a dog to a head collar, some dogs learn to accept the collars and seem reasonably comfortable with them. Other dogs dislike head halters no matter how much conditioning is done. You can see dogs who have worn these for years but still try to rub them off every chance they get.

Another concern about head halters is that they tend to shut down behavior, so you may think you’re seeing a behavior change when, in fact, the dog is so stressed by the head collar that he stops offering unwanted behaviors. In other words, the discomfort of the collar just suppresses the behaviors you don’t like; he hasn’t learned to exhibit the behaviors you enjoy more in order to earn rewards from you. If you try this collar with your dog, be prepared to discover that your dog is one of the many for whom it is not appropriate because it is aversive.

Our final reservation has to do with the fact that this tool can be used to severely injure a dog if used improperly. A handler must never yank or pull hard on the leash, or allow the dog to hit the end of the leash with force when it’s attached to a head halter. Doing so can badly injure the dog’s neck or even paralyze him. It’s critical that handlers are taught how to use this tool properly: gently and with great awareness.

Slip Lead / Show Lead / Loop Lead

These are collars of convenience, often used by animal shelters and rescues, but also often in conformation showing. A slip lead is actually a leash/collar combination, made of a length of nylon or leather with a handle at one end and a ring at the other. The leash is pulled through the ring to form a slip collar at one end. This means that, like a choke chain, the collar part can tighten without limit, so there is potential for choking the dog.

Because dogs in shelters often must be moved quickly without time for collar fitting, this can be an acceptable brief use. (A product with all the convenience and less risk than the slip lead is the martingale variety of the show lead, which can tighten only to a specified point; martingale collars are covered below). If shelter dogs are to be taken for “real” walks, more appropriate equipment, such as flat collars or front-clip harnesses, should be used.

Show dogs are presumably trained to walk with their handlers, so while those collars sometimes look tight around a dog’s neck, it’s unlikely the dog is pulling on them the way an untrained dog might on a choke chain.

The slip leads used in shelters and rescues are generally workmanlike and made of sturdy nylon. In contrast, the ones used in shows are usually made with lightweight leather, nylon, or a thin chain. However, the function is the same, and they all have some potential to choke and cause trachea damage if a dog pulls hard and persistently, or if the handler jerks on them, in a way that they were not intended to be used.

Whole Dog Journal‘s Favorite Dog Collars

Without getting name-brand specific, here are the types of collars we do like – and why.

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Flat Collar

Your basic flat collar offers you many choices: leather, nylon, cloth; in solid colors, patterns, floral, embroidered, holiday-themed, bejeweled, reflective, glowing, padded; and with buckle or snap fasteners. You can even order collars embroidered with your phone number, in case your dog goes astray, and others with bow ties for “formal” occasions. A properly fitted flat collar allows you to slip two fingers under the collar (perpendicular to the dog’s neck).

The flat collar is great for everyday use, such as holding ID tags and perhaps for general walking and training purposes. If your dog is a dedicated puller, however, a front-clip control harness is a better choice for walks and training, until she learns how reinforcing it is to stay close to you.

See the “2018 Best Dog Harnesses Review” for Whole Dog Journal‘s harness recommendations if you think your dog is ready for one.

Martingale Collar

Also called a “limited slip” collar, the martingale has a loop that allows the collar to tighten somewhat, but isn’t intended to choke or give “corrections.” The primary purpose of this collar is to prevent your dog from backing out of the collar, as some dogs learn to do with a flat collar. The loop allows the collar to hang comfortably until the dog pulls back, then the loop tightens just enough to keep it from sliding over the dog’s head.

Note: Because the loop can get caught on objects, this collar should only be on the dog under supervision, not left on all the time.

Martingale collars are also commonly called “Greyhound collars,” as they are frequently used with this breed, whose narrow heads make it easy for them to slip out of flat collars. However, a martingale collar can also more securely hold thick-necked dogs, such as Bulldogs, whose necks are as wide as their heads are large.

The martingale collar should be fitted so that when the dog pulls it tightens just enough to prevent the dog from backing out of it, but not so tight that it chokes or restricts breathing in any way.

Safety or Breakaway Dog Collars

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This collar has a mechanism that releases under pressure, to prevent accidental hanging if it gets snagged on something, or choking when two dogs are wrestling and playing collar-grab. The double-ring feature allows you to attach a leash without triggering the breakaway function even if your dog pulls hard. This can be a very useful collar, especially if your dog plays with other dogs who like to grab collars.

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The downside is, if you have to grasp the collar suddenly in an emergency, it will come open and pull free from your dog’s neck. Therefore, while it can be useful, it does have limited application, and should not be used if you are in an open space where you may need to grab the collar.

Dog Collars for Unique Situations

Dogs who have extremely thin coats may benefit from wearing a fleece-lined collar, which won’t rub their hair off like many other materials can. Our favorite fleece-lined collars come from Planet Dog. Note that the fleece collars don’t come in a size suitable for tiny dogs, however.

Big, strong dogs who are allowed to pull strongly on leash, such as some dogs who work in law enforcement, tracking, and personal protection, are generally fitted with extra-wide collars, which disperse the pressure over a wider area on the wearer’s neck to prevent injury. Buckles on these collars are generally made with one or two metal tongues, rather than plastic or metal side-release buckles, for greatest strength. Check out the offerings from Blocky Dogs.

It can also be difficult to find collars that fit tiny dogs well – and often, when you do find a really small collar, the ring is so tiny that it’s hard to attach a leash or ID tag. We like this source for stylish small-dog collars.

Nix the jingling! We like collars that can be ordered with your contact information stitched right into the fabric, like these washable, durable bamboo collars from snazzyfido.com.

Avoid These Common Dog Collar Dangers

Even the best collars have the potential to cause harm to your dog if not used wisely. Here are some tips and cautions for proper, safe collar use:

1. Don’t Leave Collars on Unattended Dogs

Any collar left on an unattended dog has the potential to catch on something and hang the dog. In fact, some agility and barn hunt venues don’t allow dogs to wear collars while they are running the course, for fear that the collar could get caught on something. It is also possible for a dog to get her lower jaw caught in the collar.

While hanging potential is greatest with a choke collar (yes, this sadly happened to a St. Bernard of mine when I was young and too dumb to know better), it can also happen with regular flat collars. I do leave flat collars on my dogs – the tradeoff is that if you remove collars, your dog has no visible identification and may be harder to capture if she does somehow escape. You have to decide what hazard is a more likely threat to your dog’s safety.

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2. Don’t Leave Collars on Playing Dogs

Dogs who are playing together can get tangled in each other’s collars, especially if they engage in mouthy play. This, also, happened to one of my dogs: while Darby and Keli were playing, Keli got her jaw caught under Darby’s collar and then spun around, twisting the collar so that Darby was being choked. Fortunately, I was able to pick up Keli and un-spin her, releasing the tension on the collar and allowing the dogs to separate. Neither dog was harmed – but it could have been significantly worse. Dogs have broken their jaws, and others have choked to death in this way.

If you feel you must leave a collar on your dog when he’s playing with other dogs – say, at a dog park – make sure it has a quick-release buckle, or better yet is a safety or breakaway collar, which will release under pressure.

3. Watch Out for Tags on Collars

Dangling tags can catch on crate wires and heater vents. You can tape tags to the collar so they don’t dangle, or look for a dog tag “pocket” that holds the collars flat against the collar. Slide-on ID tags are available from a variety of sources, including this one. Alternatively, you can use a collar with your number stitched on it, or use a light-weight ring for the tags that will bend and release under pressure.

Now Go Find that Perfect Dog Collar!

If you need help deciding what’s best for you and your dog, find a good force-free trainer who can guide you in making collar decisions that are compatible with your training goals and philosophy.

I’m sharing a terrific quote that was passed on to me, offered by trainer Nicolas James Bishop at a recent conference of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers in Australia:

“Punishment gets compliance; reinforcement gets cooperation.”

Keep this in mind as you choose your dog’s collar!

FAQs

What is the safest dog collar? ›

Martingale Dog Collars. Martingale collars are one of the most popular types of training collars because they are the most comfortable and the safest to use. This style of collar is designed to tighten or cinch up a little bit when your dog pulls but then loosens comfortably when they are walking appropriately.

What is the most humane dog collar? ›

Here are the best humane dog bark collars.
...
10 Best Humane Dog Bark Collars
  • Citronella Spray Bark Collar. ...
  • EXuby Friendliest Bark Collars for Small Dogs. ...
  • MONTAUR Dog Bark Collar. ...
  • SparklyPets' Dog Bark Collar. ...
  • My Pet Command 2 in 1 Auto Dog Training Collar. ...
  • TopDale Bark Collar. ...
  • Lelekey Dog Bark Collar. ...
  • Bark Collar by Dog Care.
Sep 12, 2020

Which is safer for a dog a collar or harness? ›

Harnesses tend to be more secure: Harnesses are generally better at preventing accidents because they fasten more securely around your dog's body. While dogs can easily slip out of their collars and potentially run into traffic or another person's yard, harnesses offer much more security and safety, says Fox.

Do choke chains hurt dogs? ›

Choke and prong collars are designed to punish dogs for pulling by inflicting pain and discomfort. They can cause serious physical and emotional damage to dogs and should never be used.

Are leather collars better for dogs? ›

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.

What's the most expensive dog collar? ›

The most expensive dog collar in the world is the $3.2 million, diamond-studded Amour Amour, once called “the Bugatti of dog collars”. The chandelier-design, 52-carat collar has over 1,600 hand-set diamonds, with a 7-carat, D-IF (flawless) color-graded, brilliant-shaped centerpiece.

What collar is best for puppies? ›

While a flat collar is best for everyday wear and for displaying ID tags, our experts agree that a harness is the safest option for going on walks and other outdoor activities or situations that might cause your puppy to pull on the leash.

Should dogs wear collars all the time? ›

Accidents happen and pets get lost, which is why it's advisable to keep your dog's collar on whenever possible, especially when you're walking him on a leash, moving households, or traveling.

Do vibration collars work for aggressive dogs? ›

Bottom line: shock collars are never a good idea when addressing aggression in dogs. They make things worse. If you see signs of aggression in your canine, please seek the help of an experienced, full-time and independently certified dog behavior consultant.

How do I stop my dog from barking all the time? ›

When your dog is barking, say “Quiet” in a calm, firm voice. Wait until they stop barking, even if it's just to take a breath, then praise them and give them a treat. Just be careful to never reward them while they are barking.

Why do dogs lick their collar? ›

The primary reason why dogs lick their collars is that they're simply attached to them. Dogs usually have a collar on them at all times, which catches their scent. Since the collar has its scent, they consider it a part of themselves or as their personal belonging.

How do you stop a dog pulling on a lead? ›

If your dog pulls ahead, simply stop. Lure them back to your side with a piece of food and when they do this, feed and praise them again. This technique is very simple and uncomplicated – if your dog walks on a loose lead they get well rewarded and get to continue on his journey.

Do dogs like collars? ›

In fact, most dogs despise collars and that is because of what they associate their collar with. The size of the collar is important for their comfort. Just as humans grow, so do dogs. Their weight and size may fluctuate and their collar should fit them in whichever stage of life they are at.

Are dog chokers illegal? ›

Pinch collars are not illegal unfortunately and although those who sell them state that they are 'quite gentle training tools', we believe the opposite to be true and we want to see them banned.

Is e collar better than prong? ›

One major benefit of the remote training collar over the prong collar and many other tools is that we are not required to have a leash attached to the device in order for us to benefit from it. As such, the e-collar gives us the ability to effectively communicate with the dog, off-leash and at great distances.

Are spike collars cruel? ›

Myth: A prong collar isn't inhumane if it fits right.

Fact: Sadly, this is a false statement that's been perpetuated by aversive trainers. Even properly fitted prong collars dig into the sensitive skin around the neck, risking severe damage to the thyroid, esophagus, and trachea.

Do dog like to be hugged? ›

Experts in dog behavior believe that, in general, dogs do not like being embraced. However, every dog has a unique personality. Some may dislike hugs more strongly than others, and some may actually adore them. The closest thing our furry family members do to a hug is something referred to as 'standing over'.

Is leather or nylon better for dog collar? ›

Here are a few reasons why leather is the best choice for your favourite canine companion. Nylon collars have edges that are stiff and abrasive against your dog's neck or sensitive skin. Leather is a natural product that's breathable and less irritating for your dog.

Should you take a dog collar off at night? ›

All veterinarians and dog trainers would agree that the collar is not designed to be a 24/7 accessory. Another good reason to remove it at night is nonstop wear could cause fur to break off leading to irritation or infection. The risk jumps if the collar frequently gets wet or if it's a bit too tight.

How common is collar strangulation in dogs? ›

Dog collar strangulation is more common than you think. A survey of veterinarians, trainers, and doggy daycares indicated that more than 50% of pet professionals have experienced a collar related accident with a dog. It is estimated that upward of 26,000 collar related accidents occur each year.

Is a harness better than a collar? ›

Which is Safest: Harness or Collar? While a flat collar is best for everyday wear and for displaying ID tags, our experts agree that a harness is the safest option for going on walks and other outdoor activities or situations that might cause your puppy to pull on the leash.

Is a harness or martingale collar better? ›

A martingale collar tightens in response to a pull on the leash, which can prevent dogs from slipping the collar, but a harness can distribute the force from a pull—which is easier on her neck and your shoulders. Whether you choose one or the other—or both—dog collars and harnesses are in near-constant use.

Should I take my dog's collar off at night? ›

All veterinarians and dog trainers would agree that the collar is not designed to be a 24/7 accessory. Another good reason to remove it at night is nonstop wear could cause fur to break off leading to irritation or infection. The risk jumps if the collar frequently gets wet or if it's a bit too tight.

Can a dog strangle another dog? ›

Other pets: Pets like to play with their mouths, especially dogs. They'll nip, lick, and play mouth each other's neck area. The collar or D ring can then get stuck to the other pet's lower jaw and teeth. While struggling to free themselves, one dog may strangle, and the other is left with a broken jaw.

Can dogs hurt their throat from pulling? ›

Your dog pulls while walking on a leash which can lead to gagging and coughing. Your response may be to jerk the leash to stop him, but there can be long-lasting effects on his health. Obvious injuries caused by pulling and jerking are to the trachea and neck.

Should a dog wear a collar all the time? ›

Accidents happen and pets get lost, which is why it's advisable to keep your dog's collar on whenever possible, especially when you're walking him on a leash, moving households, or traveling.

Why do dogs lick their collar? ›

The primary reason why dogs lick their collars is that they're simply attached to them. Dogs usually have a collar on them at all times, which catches their scent. Since the collar has its scent, they consider it a part of themselves or as their personal belonging.

How do you stop a dog pulling on a lead? ›

If your dog pulls ahead, simply stop. Lure them back to your side with a piece of food and when they do this, feed and praise them again. This technique is very simple and uncomplicated – if your dog walks on a loose lead they get well rewarded and get to continue on his journey.

Should a dog wear a collar at home? ›

Though it may be tempting to take your pet's collar off when inside your home, it's important that your pet wears a collar both indoors and out. Accidents can happen when you least expect it and it's best to be prepared.

Can you leave a martingale collar on all the time? ›

No, martingale collars should NOT be worn all the time. Because of the martingale's tightening function, martingales can become a choking hazard if left on unattended dogs.

How do you walk a dog with a martingale collar? ›

How To Teach Loose Leash Walking
  1. Use a flat or martingale collar.
  2. Use a standard 6' leash.
  3. Start on sidewalk or other visual path.
  4. Stop & Turn BEFORE tension in the leash.
  5. Lower your hand below the dog's neck.
  6. Gently pull your dog forward.
  7. Don't turn around at the same spot more then 3 consecutive times.

Do dogs like hugs? ›

Dogs Don't Like Hugs

So, when you hug a dog, they don't understand what you're trying to say. In fact, you're essentially trapping them. They can't get away from anything that scares them or makes them uncomfortable while in your arms.

Do dogs like kisses? ›

Most dogs tolerate kisses from their owners fairly well. Some may even come to associate kisses with love and attention, and quite a few even enjoy kisses from their people. They'll usually show their pleasure by wagging their tails, looking alert and happy, and licking you back.

Do dogs like their ears rubbed? ›

Dogs like their ears rubbed because it brings them pleasure through reflexology and endorphins. There is no doubt about that. Humans love massages too, so it is not hard to see why dogs love them. So, go ahead and show your dog a little love with a good ear rub.

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