Written by: Deb German
I’ve lived with big dogs my entire adult life, sometimes as many as three at once. My Shiloh Shepherd, Teddy Blue, paced and worried every time his collar came off. True story. This only happened at bath time and for swapping out his tags. But it clearly bothered him, and he was palpably calmer when it was once again safe around his neck, where it was supposed to be. The dog collar is indispensable: whether you leash him for walks, or turn him out into your fenced backyard (or if his behavior and recall are so impeccable you grant him off-leash privileges), he needs a collar for his tags, at the very least. And he might possibly feel naked without it, as Teddy Blue evidently did.
There are scores of dog collars in the marketplace—how best to choose? To synthesize, your decision boils down to two broad categories: design and material. And before we march down either road, please note this disclaimer: there will always be exceptions to any dogmatic wisdom you might encounter.
Does this collar make me look fat?
First, design. The basic model is an adjustable flat collar with a “quick-release” plastic or nylon snap closure and a metal D-ring for tags and the leash clasp. The rule of thumb when you adjust this kind of collar to fit your dog is to make it snug, but not over-tight: you should be able to get two fingers under it comfortably. (And some flat collars are available with a more traditional buckle closure.)
The Martingale design works well for dogs with narrow heads (the Greyhound and the Whippet are examples) or dogs who have demonstrated time and again that they can slip the collar. It fits loosely until Houdini attempts to pull out of it and then tightens against the tension he creates when he pulls—but not so much that it chokes him, if his human has adjusted it properly. (And some animal organizations suggest this collar design is a more humane approach to behavior modification than a choke or pinch collar because you can control how tightly it closes around the dog’s neck.)
You might also consider a harness for your pooch. Strictly speaking, a harness is not a collar. But some dogs suffer allergy- or collar-induced lesions or other neck injuries that make wearing a collar difficult or impossible. A harness still allows you to control your dog without placing any strain on her neck at all. (And some dog harnesses also work interchangeably as car restraints.)
Hey, can I eat that?
Now, to materials. We can distill down this decision to nylon or leather, easy-peasy. Thence to expense: nylon costs less in most cases than leather. But leather—if it is kept cleaned and oiled (and therefore supple)—usually outlasts nylon, which has a tendency to fray over time. And as always, the exception: to some dogs a leather collar has the smell of a delectable hors d’oeuvre. (How thoughtful of you; au revoir, expensive leather collar.) Having said that, nylon’s über-flat edges can dig into your doggie’s neck and leave uncomfortable abrasions. And nylon can get pretty smelly, but you can easily pitch it into the wash; some nylon collars nowadays are woven of specially treated fibers that resist the odor-causing bacteria. (Neato.)
If aesthetics matter to you, leather collars can be quite handsome; styles run the gamut from less-is-more simplicity to fancy-schmancy hardware and intricate woven overlays. Nylon is decidedly Proletariat, but now comes in a wide variety of patterns and designs if you want something sexier than a solid. And the overwhelming majority of dog collars—regardless of material—can be personalized. That’s always a good idea, even if your dog is microchipped.
Let your sleeping dog lie, or take her with you. But not without a nicely fitted collar ‘round her neck.