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How To Choose The Right Collar For Your Pet

Vet Talks 7 min read
happy terrier mix dog sitting outside on the grass on a sunny day wearing a collar

Collars are an essential part of dog ownership. They allow dogs to be identified, they allow pet parents to walk their pooches on a leash and they also provide a proper place to hang important information such as ID, license, and vaccination status, for instance. For many pet parents, getting a collar for your new pet is a rite of passage that marks the official addition of a new furry family member. It can be difficult to know how to choose the right collar for your pet, but that’s why we are here to help!

There are so many styles of collars on the market but not all kinds of collars are appropriate for all dogs. The kind you choose to use and when you use them are very important aspects to have a pleasant experience for both you and your dog and also help avoid serious and even fatal injuries.

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When talking about possible complications from collars is when questions such as “Ok, so which type of collar should I choose?” or “Is it true that harnesses are safer than collars?” start popping up. So let’s start with what science tells us about collars and chest harnesses, first.

Two fawn frenchies wearing nautical themed harnesses while sitting on a rock beach next to a lake. How to choose the right collar for your pet - harnesses

Harnesses

Some studies like this one found that intraocular pressure increased significantly from baseline when pressure was applied via a collar but not via a harness. That means that dogs with conditions such as glaucoma, or conditions that leave their inner eye pressure higher than normal, should wear a harness instead of a collar, especially during exercise or activity.

Chest harnesses are also recommended for pooches with conditions such as tracheal collapse, laryngeal paralysis, and spinal problems because the harness fits around the dog’s chest and avoids unnecessary pressure on the neck. They limit pull and pressure on the dog’s windpipe and disperse that pull across the front of their body in an even distribution. For that reason, they are also good for dogs that pull or lunge. You just need to be careful with harnesses that are too tight, since a too tight fit could impede circulation in the dog’s front leg.

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Terrier dog wearing a beige flat collar while a human holds their head and tests to see if they can fit two fingers under the collar. How to choose the right collar for your pet - flat collars

Regular Flat Collar

You should be able to get two fingers comfortably underneath the collar to make sure you found the proper fit.

This is the standard collar for dogs. A flat collar should fit comfortably on the dog’s neck, however, it shouldn’t be too tight nor too loose that they can slip out of it. You should be able to get two fingers comfortably underneath the collar to make sure you found the proper fit.

In terms of health and training, when dogs are allowed to pull on the collar and permitted to sustain the pull, these dogs learn to override it, and by doing so, they are at risk for laryngeal, esophageal, and ocular damage. Unfortunately, most people do not use these collars correctly and this is another reason why their use is so controversial. Thankfully, with time more and more pet owners are preferring a head collar or a chest harness over regular flat collars for their dogs. When used correctly, these devices are much safer and easier to use than the regular flat ones.

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Actually, a recent study published in December 2019 intended to assess the pressure and force applied to the dog’s neck when exercising using a collar and leash of different materials. They found out that not only material and design/profile of dog collars, but also the direction of exercise affected the amount of pressure and forces applied to the canine neck. They also found out that the presence of cushioning was not effective in reducing total force and localized pressure on the neck. This is another example of how considering options other than regular flat collars are important, since a suitable collar should reduce load on the dog’s neck and regular flat collars will hardly do that, despite their fabric and/or design.

Husky mix dog wearing a blue head halter while outside in a field.

Head Collars/Halters

These collars work for most dogs and are appropriate for all life stages. They spare the dog’s larynx and esophagus, so they can also be used for pooches with conditions such as laryngeal damage, tracheal collapse, or cervical (neck) damage. When this leash is pulled forward or the dog pulls in the direction opposite to that of the leash, part of the collar slightly tightens and applies a small amount of steady pressure on the upper neck area. The head collar is good for strong, energetic dogs who may jump and pull as well.

Dogs fitted with head collars should be able to comfortably eat, drink and pant. It’s important to keep in mind that the head collar must be properly fitted in order to minimize the risk of injuries and some practice might be needed to determine the best adjustment of the neck and the nose straps.

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Close up of a caramel brown colored dog wearing a pronged training collar.

Training Collars

In case you’re considering using a training collar, it’s important to know that there are debates about the relative benefits of using different training approaches with respect to welfare implications and the use of training collars, such as shock collars, for instance.

Training collars should only be used as a last resort when all positive methods of training have been exhausted and failed and when the dog is likely to be euthanized without their use. Unfortunately, these collars can easily be misused by the general public.

There are different methods to train a dog and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPCA) explains that aversive training techniques – which are based on the principle of applying an unpleasant stimulus to inhibit their behavior – can include the use of prong collars and electric shock collars, which can cause pain and distress. WSPCA considers these techniques unacceptable from a welfare perspective, and this type of approach is unnecessary for the modification of dog behavior. They state that the use of these techniques can compromise the welfare of dogs, they may worsen behavioral problems, and can even put owners at risk.

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Many scientific studies have found an association between the use of aversive training techniques with the occurrence of undesired behaviors in dogs. The WSPCA defends this point of view based on the fact that dog trainers all over the world use reward-based methods to train dogs very effectively without subjecting them to training techniques that may cause pain or distress.

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) has a similar position about the use of humane training methods that are built on current scientific knowledge of learning theory. They mention that methods using positive reinforcement are highly favored and methods causing fear, distress, pain, or anxiety are unacceptable.

In fact, a recent study published in July 2020, refuted the suggestion that training with an e-collar is either more efficient or results in less disobedience, even in the hands of very experienced trainers. The researchers found training with positive reinforcement more effective at addressing the target behavior as well as general obedience training. This method of training also posed fewer risks to dog welfare and the quality of the human-dog relationship. The scientists suggested that there is no evidence to indicate that e-collar training is necessary, even for its most widely cited indication. In some places, shock collars can only be used by veterinarians and qualified dog trainers. In New Zealand, the law requires that e-collars can only be used for the training of serious behavioral issues in cases where other training methods have failed and the dog is a candidate to be euthanized because of inappropriate behavior.

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Boxer mix brindle dog sleeping on a dark grey couch while wearing a collar. Should pets wear collars at home?

Should My Dog Wear A Collar While At Home?

Ideally, your pooch should not be wearing collars at home since there are risks of accidents such as strangulation by the collar, especially when they are left alone at home. Factors such as skin allergies and neck damage should also be taken into consideration when deciding to keep your pet wearing a collar at all times as well. It’s also recommended to avoid dangling identification tags in order to prevent incidents. A tag that slips onto the collar and lies flat or collars that have safety information embroidered onto them are much safer options.

Many pet owners defend the use of a collar at home especially when their pets are escape artists and if anything happens and the dog escapes, he/she will have identification on them. Some pet owners also defend that in an event of an emergency where you need to evacuate your place, it’s easier to put the dog on a leash and leave quickly when they are already wearing their collars. These are valid points however, some preliminary studies suggest that the annual amount of accidents such as strangulation by collars are more frequent than most people think. An average of 26,000 collar strangulation accidents occur yearly in homes and establishments in the United States. Crates and kennels, playing with other dogs, fences, heating/cooling vents, shrubs, and branches are a few of the most common strangulation hazards dogs and dog owners face each day.

This is one of the reasons why pet owners should always consider microchipping their pets. Microchips work as a permanent pet ID, it’s about the size of a grain of rice and is injected beneath the surface of the pet’s skin. The process is safe, quick and the microchip will last for the pet’s entire life. In the case your pooch escapes, collars can be taken off and ID tags can be lost, but a microchip underneath your doggo’s skin can’t be removed and will help identify the pet later on.

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We hope this post could help you and your little one to live a loving, healthy, and safe life together! If you are still wondering about how to choose the right collar for your pet, it’s a good idea to chat with your veterinarian or you can ask our pet experts for more tips.

Dr. Aline Dias DVM

Dr. Aline Dias DVM

Dr. Aline Dias is a veterinary graduate from the Federal University of Pelotas, Brazil. She worked for five years with research in Bacteriology and Virology fields, but she found her true passion in feline medicine. As soon as Dr. Aline immigrated to Canada, she adopted two kittens: Chilli and Keke. Dr. Aline is now a full-time crazy cat lady and when she’s not working at NHV she spends her time spoiling her furbabies or going for walks at the beach.

Published: February 20, 2021

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