Dog Collars: Which is Best for Your Dog?

Choosing the right dog collar is one of the most important decisions you will make for your dog. This dog collar buying guide should help you make the right choice.

No collar or harness can function as a panacea for behavior problems (there are no "miracle cures"), nor can it replace the need for consistent and dedicated training. Actually, some training collars and harnesses can exacerbate physical and behavioral problems, particularly in inexperienced hands. If you are concerned about a significant behavior problem or obedience hurdle - from aggression to shoddy recalls, consider enlisting the services of a great dog trainer near you. Your trainer and your veterinarian can work together to help you choose the right tool for your dog.

Some of the tools mentioned should only be used under the tutelage of an experienced trainer. Any of these tools can be a safety risk when used inappropriately.

How To Choose A Dog Collar

Your dog may have a license tag, a microchip tag or other identifying tags. Generally, these tags are attached to a traditional/standard collar. Buckle collars can be made from nylon, leather, or other fabrics. These are the collars that many dogs wear all the time (as identification collars as opposed to training tools). If your dog always wears his buckle collar for I.D. and is ever left unsupervised, it is worthwhile to consider a "break away" or "quick release" collar.

Dogs in collars can strangle themselves during play with other dogs, in crates, on fences or gates, and in myriad other ways when running and romping - "break away" collars are designed to release under pressure in these situations. You may want a "break away" collar for your dog's "all the time" collar and a different tool for walking your dog.

Another popular collar is the martingale collar. While these are widely recommended for sighthounds, martingales are a good collar for any dog prone to backing out of the leash. A martingale collar fits loosely when walking, but tightens if the dog tries to back out of the collar - not enough to cut off air or hurt the dog, but enough to keep him safe.

Certain collars may be recommended for medical purposes including the Elizabethan collar (the infamous "conehead") and parasite repellant collars. Other collars may be recommended for behavioral reasons, most notably the D.A.P (Dog Appeasing Pheremone) collar which disperses a calming canine pheromone.

The final category of collars is correction collars; which includes choke collars, prong collars, shock collars, and citronella collars.

According to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, "punishment (e.g. choke chains, pinch collars, and electronic collars) should not be used as a first-line or early-use treatment for behavior problems. This is due to the potential adverse effects which include but are not limited to: inhibition of learning, increased fear-related and aggressive behaviors, and injury to animals and people interacting with animals," and lists a number of adverse physical and behavioral side effects (including but not limited to nerve damage, asphyxia, increased aggressive response, glaucoma, etc.). Refer to AVSAB's advice on finding a good trainer if you are considering using these tools, and consult with a professional.

Halters

Another tool that should be used under the guidance of a training professional is the head halter. Two popular examples of the head halter are the Gentle Leader and Halti. These tools need to be fit properly and as importantly, desensitized well before you even begin using it on walks. Halters can be difficult for owners to fit well, and it is worth taking a few training sessions to make wearing one a comfortable, low stress experience for your dog!

Harnesses

Before getting to walking harnesses, it is important to acknowledge a very important specialty harness - the car harness. If you enjoy traveling with your dog, provide for his safety by providing him with a impact-tested safety harness for riding in the car. Not all available harnesses are tested to human impact standards. To learn more about the ones that do, check out this great Dogster forum thread.

For dogs that pull like freight trains, front clip harnesses are a great choice. With a front clip harness, the leash clips at the chest. Two of the most popular of these are the Easy Walk and SENSE-ation harness. With both choices, there are no straps around the neck, effectively eliminating stress on the delicate trachea.

Finally, there are traditional back clip harnesses. These can be good choices for small dogs, but are not generally recommended for pullers. To understand why, simply search for images of sled dog harnesses or weight pull harnesses - they are always hooked to the dog's back. Back clip harnesses give dogs maximum leverage for pulling with all their strength.

More Questions? Get Help!

Dog owners are encouraged to research all training tools well, and to consult with a trainer for any questions regarding appropriate use or fit.

Photo: Angela N.