Dog Collar Buyers Guide
1. Choosing Materials
Dog collars are manufactured in an amazing variety of materials, from the familiar leathers and nylons you find at any pet store, to unique cutting edge synthetics, and fabrics straight out of the New York fashion district. Not all materials are created equal, and some work better for certain dog breeds and personalities. Read on to find helpful info for selecting the right material for your dog's collar, and be sure to read the "Dos and Don'ts" in each introduction.
Leather Dog Collars
Leather collars are the most durable and comfortable collars for everyday use, combining the comparative affordability and versatility of a nylon collar with a more traditional and long-wearing look. Leather collars come in all sizes and styles, from tiny bling to big sturdy working dogs' collars. Leather can be colored, embossed, studded, or embedded with gems to match any fashion, but it is also used in training and outdoor collars where strength and durability is important. However, not all leathers are identical in quality, and there are some things you should know when it comes to selecting the best leather collar for your best friend.
Choosing a Leather Collar
When selecting a leather collar, it is important to know a little bit about the leather-making process. Ideally, you want naturally tanned (rather than chemically tanned) leather from a manufacturer that specializes in leather goods. If the company focuses on belts or equestrian leather, that does not mean they don't make excellent dog collars. On the contrary, a manufacturer who works with "people fashion" leathers and bridle leathers will be best equipped to produce long-lasting, supple, and beautiful leather dog collars. The finest sort of leathers are denoted as English bridle leather, used for equestrian tack that is meant to last decades, and Italian leather, which is made with age old tanning techniques that produce some of the most supple leathers in the world. Other quality leathers include latigo leather and full grain or top grain leather, which is some of the strongest as it comes from the toughest top layer of the hide.
If a company sells "leather" but makes no mention of the quality or kind of their materials, you may end up with poorly made leather or even patent or faux leather.
Not all leather alternatives are poor quality, and some are even made of high end materials that cost more than real leather. You want to be sure you know what you are getting if you are shopping for something that behaves like leather. Patent leather, the shiny colorful leather often used in women's shoes and purses, is sometimes confused with imitation leathers because of its high sheen. Patent leather is in fact real leather, but modern patent leather has a plastic or synthetic coating that keeps its gloss. Patent leather is durable, but its finish may scuff or crack with long wear. Patent leather is a great alternative to traditional leather if you want a high quality special occasion collar that will last for years as long as it is not used every day. Bio-Imitative Leather is an eco-friendly leather alternative that does not contain any real leather or animal products. However, this innovative material is designed to look, feel, and soften with age just like true leather. It exceeds leather in strength and is even resistant to bacteria, mold, and algae. A similar proprietary material is used to create a suede-like lining for the leather, make a bio-imitative leather dog collar as comfortable as leather, and even more suitable to all outdoor conditions.
Sizing a leather collar
Leather collars will almost always use a buckle closure, unless the collar is for training purposes. A leather buckle collar is measured by placing the tape at the edge of the leather on the buckle end and measuring to the middle or last hole (depending on the manufacturer) on the collar, not to the tapered end of the leather. To find the best fit for a leather collar, always check the sizing guides available on each product page.
Nylon and other Synthetic Dog Collars
Nylon and synthetics are a versatile and affordable way to collar your dog, and some offer the added bonus of being washable. Every season new designers put out patterns and prints on braided nylon and polyester, making for a huge selection of collar styles. The flexibility of nylon allows its use in every kind of collar and lead, from everyday wear to training collars, couplers, and outdoor uses. Since nylon and synthetics, like polyester, are so affordable, dog owners often purchase several collars, sometimes in seasonal colors.
Choosing a Synthetic Collar
When choosing a synthetic collar, you want to get an idea of the durability of the materials used by the manufacturer. Braided nylon and polyester are strong, but you can tell just how strong if the vendor mentions a "heavy braid" or that the collar is machine washable. Some manufacturers use a rope braid that is strong enough for climbing. Since many synthetic collars feature prints, you want to be sure the collar is colorfast. Dye-sublimated polyester offers machine washable color-fast quality. Braided nylon where the weave is made of separate colored strands will also keep its look. The weaving of these braids also allows manufacturers to include strands of reflective material in the collars, which is a great option for dogs that spend a lot of time outdoors. Other synthetic applications can produce a flexible rubber-like polymer that is used to create waterproof and even anti-microbial (anti-stink!) collars.
Sizing a Synthetic Collar
Most synthetic braided collars use a quick-release or side-release buckle. Most of them are also adjustable by sliding a sizer along the fabric. You will find that most of these adjustable collars have a wide range of fits for each size, so it is quite easy to select the right size for your dog. However, you should always consult the sizing guide on the individual product page before purchasing. Polymer and other rubber-like synthetic collars of the waterproof kind are too stiff too allow for the adjustability that synthetic weaves offer. Some polymer and hard polyester collars use a side release buckle combined with a set of screws that can be moved to adjust the collar, while others opt for a buckle like that used on leather collars. So with the rubber-like synthetics, sizing is more of an issue than with the soft synthetics.
Fabrics are a great medium through which to express your dog's unique personality. New fabric patterns and prints come out each season, and since fabric collars are fairly simple to manufacture, designers can keep their finger on the pulse of the fashion industry and change out styles every year. Fabric collars run the gamut from inexpensive ribbon collars to high end handmade works of art, and come in a variety of styles to suit even the most discerning dog. Before you buy a fabric collar, you should consider if fabric is right for your pup. It is not as durable as leather or synthetics, and in some cases fabric collars are only meant for occasional wear. If you have a small dog, however, fabric may be perfectly fine for daily use. But on a larger and more active dog, like a lab or a rottie, fabric may be something you want to avoid, or simply save for a dog party or other special event.
Choosing a Fabric Collar
Fabric is such a broad category of materials, a list of them could go on forever! Durable fabrics used in dog collars include woven cotton and hemp (and blends of the two). Dressier fabric collars come in everything from grosgrain ribbon to appliqued silk, to synthetic fabric blends that imitate the "people fashion" of the day. As mentioned above, these more delicate fabric collars may not be suitable for large or active dogs, but make a great piece of decorative and expressive neckwear for your smaller pup. Larger dogs may do well, however, in a hemp or cotton/hemp blend collar, as hemp is one of the most durable fibers for making cloth.
As with shopping for fabric for any purpose, such as your own clothing or home decorating, you will find that fabric changes with the trends more than other materials. Fortunately fabric is an affordable way to collar your dog, so you can avail yourself of new looks every season. Fabric dog collars are often produced by manufacturers with experience in the fashion and textile industries. Many vendors set up shop in the fashion districts of New York, San Francisco, and other fashion-forward cities in order to ride the wave of trends just as they start to surface. This not only provides the collar designers with the style savvy to choose fabrics that sell, but gives them access to the high end materials and sought after patterns of the season. When buying fabric for your dog, read the designer's bio page to see where they picked up their fabric knowledge, and find out if they mass manufacture or hand make their products.
Sizing a Fabric Collar
Most fabric collars use a side release buckle and have some adjustability by sliding a sizer along the collar. However, dog collar fabrics are durable enough that the collar will not stretch therefore, measuring properly for a buckle fabric collar is important, as it will not have the same kind of elasticity as leather.
Spiked Dog Collars
Spiked and studded collars are usually leather or patent leather collars with metal spikes riveted to the material. Some of these collars have a backing to keep the flat bottom of the spikes off the dog's neck, but some have exposed metal underneath. Most modern spiked collars have snub nosed or rounded spikes to protect the dog (and his playmates) from scratching and punctures. Unless your dog protects a flock of sheep, there is no reason to purchase a spiked collar with sharp edges. Spikes on dog collars today are for aesthetic purposes only, to give a tough look to a tiny dog, or to accentuate the attitude of your oversized best friend. The spikes are heavy, however, so these collars may not be suitable for teacup dogs or toy dogs of some breeds. For spiked collar sizing information, see Sizing a Leather Collar, above.
Chain Dog Collars
There are several types of collar that use chains. A Martingale is a loose ring of rolled leather or sturdy fabric that expands and contracts with a chain loop (though some martingales have fabric loops). A choke chain collar is simply a chain loop with no leather that tightens when a trainer gives a correction. A pinch collar can be either a martingale style or made only from chain the thing that makes it a pinch collar is small spikes on the inside against the dog's neck that aid in training a very disobedient or aggressive dog. No chain collar of any kind should be used except for training purposes. Moreover, a dog should never be left alone in a chain collar. Read about Training Collars below for more information before purchasing a martingale or other chain collar.
A Note on Hardware: Closures
Dog Collars usually feature one of the following types of closures: Buckle, Side-Release Closure, or Slip-On with chain or rings.
(belt-style closures) are usually forged from brass, stainless steel or another durable metal. Buckles will never be plastic as the prong could break off too easily. Always read the descriptions of the collars you are considering to be sure the buckle is made of a quality metal.
Side-Release or Quick-Release Closures
Side-Release closures can be made of durable metals like stainless steel or nickel alloy, and it is important to look for these high quality metals in a side-release closure collar that is meant for outdoor or working use, or meant for a large or active dog. Side-Release closures are also made out of plastic on some collars. Most of these plastic closures are very durable, and are usually only used on fabric collars to match the weight of the fabric (a very small dog would be weighed down by a large metal closure). Plastic also allows the manufacturer to color the closure to better match the collar. Always read collar descriptions carefully to see what kind of hardware you are getting.
Slip-On Collars like martingales and choke collars are used for training purposes, and have a combination of chains and/or rings that hold them together where you attach the leash. The chains and rings should be made of stainless steel and plated for "smooth action" so that the collar does not catch when a correction is made. Do some research when you plan to buy a training collar to make sure you get a safe and effective product.
2. Dog Collar Uses
The Everyday Collar
An everyday dog collar can range from simple and durable to posh and decorative, depending on your dog's lifestyle. But the key here is to get something your dog will actually want to wear every day. A collar is part of a dog's identity, as it is one of the few things that really belongs to him! For some dogs, this is the collar that never comes off unless it's time for a bath of course.
Everyday wear collars can be leather, synthetic, or fabric, but most importantly they must be comfortable and somewhat durable. If you have an indoor dog, durability may not be as important as it is for a dog that spends his days chasing horses or diving into rivers. However, since dogs do form an attachment to their collars, a bit of durability in an everyday collar, even for an indoor dog, can save you the trouble of introducing your pup to new and unfamiliar neckwear.
If your dog is a frequent swimmer, a working dog, or in training, you will probably need separate collars for your dog's outdoor and training activities. You will definitely need a separate training collar—no dog should wear a training collar as his everyday collar.
Things to consider when buying an everyday collar:
Outdoor and Sport Collars
Outdoor and Sport collars are durable, job specific collars that keep your dog safe, and they stay intact under varied conditions. Some types of outdoor collars are:
Reflective and LED collars
Reflective and LED collars are great for nighttime walks and outings, but also help you keep an eye on a dog that works or spends time outside. When the sun begins to set or those winter nights start creeping up on you, it may be harder to see your best friend bounding through a field. A collar that reflects your spotlight or flashlight, or a collar that lights up all on its own, is a great choice for doggy night owls.
Some pups never touch the stuff, but others live in it! If your dog is in the drink on a regular basis, you may want to consider prolonging the life of his everyday collar by outfitting him in a waterproof collar for his swimming and boating days. While many quality leather collars can withstand frequent exposure to water, no leather collar should be immersed in salt water for any length of time. Waterproof collars are often microbe and mildew resistant as well, making them easy to clean and dry when your dog comes in. While they are great for the water, waterproof collar should not replace your dog's everyday collar. The thick materials and rubber texture of waterproof collars may cause chafing and discomfort if worn for extended periods.
Walking Collars and Harnesses
Many dogs wear an everyday collar that is suitable for walking. That is, the collar has a d-ring or other reinforced hardware to which a leash can be safely attached. However, some small dogs may wear light collars made of ribbon, or other materials that are not sturdy enough to ensure your dog stays attached to his end of the leash! Also, small dogs that pull hard will surely need to walk on a harness, as not to hurt their throats by pulling against a collar. Other larger dogs may have handling issues or be chronic pullers, and these dogs may also require a collar that keeps them safe and at arm's reach.
So what do you look for in a walking collar or harness? You want to keep your dog out of the street, and you want to keep him away from aggressive dogs or fearful humans. All without causing him undue pain. A comfortable, sturdy collar with quality hardware may seem like a no-brainer for a good walking collar, but when you think about the collar as being specifically for walks, you may pay more attention to these important features.
Some things to consider when buying a walking collar or harness:
Decorative and occasional collars are just that—for decoration and for celebrating occasions. While many decorative collars are available these days, extremely detailed and delicate collars may not be suitable for everyday wear (see Everyday Collars above). That said, the recent surge in interest in dog fashions means there are as many haute couture collars to choose from for your dog as there are styles of clothing for yourself! Another exciting trend is dog collars and dog accessories that follow the current "people fashions." Whatever is hot, whether it's hot pink leather or Burberry patterned silk, the dog designers have got it.
High fashion is one route you can go when outfitting your dog for a special occasion, but exquisite collars can also be found on the eco- and artisan-friendly front. From stunning beaded collars made by African tribes, to bio-imitative leather collars featuring locally sourced precious gems, you can find so many one-of-a-kind collars if you have the budget and the desire.
As much as you love to shop for your pup, he may not have your taste for fine collars. Always consider his comfort zone and his "style" (as well as his activity level) when buying something more decorative.
Some things to consider when buying a decorative collar:
Training and Restraint Collars
Training and restraint collars are used for many reasons. Some dogs may be difficult or aggressive, and need training or restraint collars whenever they are out and about. But for most dogs, the training collar is only a tool to be used for the training period, and to be used with care by a knowledgeable trainer. NOTE: NO dog should ever be left alone in a training collar. They are for training only, and therefore require the supervision of a trainer at all times. Some types of training and restraint collars are:
Martingale collars are made of two connected loops. A leash connects to the small loop, while the dogs neck goes in the big loop. When the dog pulls, or when the owner makes a correction (tugs the leash), the big loop tightens around the dog's neck. The martingale design allows for a fabric or leather correction collar that can be comfortably loose most of the time. The interlocking small loop can be made of fabric as well, or can be chain for quicker action. This is the most comfortable type of training collar.
Choke collars are made of a single chain with one round ring at the end, and another that slides along the chain. The leash is attached to the sliding ring, and the chain tightens when the dog pulls or when the trainer makes a correction. Choke collars are sometimes made of synthetic material with metal rings, but these choke collars do not slide the same way as the chain, and slip off more easily. Check out what materials are used in the choke collar you are planning to purchase, as some metals offer smoother sliding and quicker correction action.
Head halters are used to train chronic pullers to heed the cues of their owner or trainer. Dogs that have been properly trained will not pull while on a choke chain, but those that have not may continue to pull until they harm themselves. A head halter distributes the pressure of the dog's pulling around his head and over the back of his neck. By stimulating the same area the dog's mother grabbed when she picked him up by the scruff of his neck, the dog is calmed by the pressure. Not only will the dog chill out and stop pulling, but he will be calm enough to work on other behavioral problems. The dog can still drink water while in a head halter.
Muzzles protect a trainer and others from a dog's bark and his bite. Some cities require muzzles on dogs, and for aggressive dogs, a muzzle may be a safe idea no matter what the law. Muzzles come in leather and synthetics, and keep the dogs mouth closed almost completely. Eating and drinking are not possible in a muzzle, so the dog should never be left muzzled for an extended period.