How to Make Sure Your Dog's Collar is on Correctly

By Robert Cabral, dog trainer and member of the Wag! Advisory Board

Walking our dogs is one of the single best things we can do for them and with them. It’s fun, relaxing, and healthy for both pet and person. With that in mind, we want to help assure your dog’s safety, and that starts with a properly fitted collar or harness.

In this post, we'll look at some of the more popular collars and how best to use and fit them onto our dogs to ensure a safe walk. Check out our collars video, too! In a related post, we focus on harnesses.

Collars are my first choice

With very few exceptions, collars should be your first choice when walking dogs. They provide a safe connection — one that’s been used for countless years throughout the world. They vary from simple slip leads to the slightly more complex.  

Slip Lead (Sometimes referred to as a British Slip Lead) – This simple, one-piece collar and leash has a loop on one end for your hand and, on the other end, a ring with the rope fed through making a loop to place over the dog’s head.

On the dog’s end, there is also a leather stopper that keeps the collar from loosening, which could allow the dog to walk out of the lead. The slip lead’s a simple and effective tool for quickly leashing your dog and heading out. 

How to Make Sure Your Dog's Collar is on Correctly

Flat Collar – Flat collars are popular because they can be simple or stylish, depending on the pet parent’s preference. They’re usually made of fabric or leather and have a metal buckle or plastic snap to fasten them around the dog’s neck. They look a lot like a small belt. 

The most important thing to remember with the flat collar is that you don’t want it too tight or too loose. Too tight will cause discomfort for the dog, and too loose can allow the dog to slip out. The general sizing rule for a flat collar is that you should be able to slip two fingers between the collar and the dog’s neck.

That said, if a dog’s head is similar in size to its neck, even snug collars can ride over the dog’s head. You can assess this on your dog by placing a flat collar (properly fitted) on your dog’s neck and attempting to pull it over his or her head. If it goes over easily, your dog may back out of the collar. In such cases, I don’t recommend flat collars, but instead recommend a “cinching” collar, such as martingales or choke chains, or a harness.

How to Make Sure Your Dog's Collar is on Correctly

Martingale Collar – Martingale collars are among my favorite for a variety of dogs. They allow a comfortable, yet loose fit while still protecting the dog from escape. And they allow the walker to safely control the dog when necessary. There’s a wide array of martingale collars with different methods of adjustment.

Martingales are either placed over the dog’s head and then fitted with an adjustable buckle or the ends are placed around the neck, much like a flat collar, and snapped together.  I prefer the snap buckle because I can get the collar onto the dog faster and without any struggle.

How to Make Sure Your Dog's Collar is on Correctly

Pinch Collars – Pinch collars (sometimes referred to as prong collars) are beneficial for certain dogs but shouldn’t be used on dogs that haven’t been trained with them. If a dog has been trained and is accustomed to using one, a pinch collar can help the dog simply and fairly understand what the walker is communicating. 

The biggest mistake people make with pinch collars is fitting them too loosely. This can cause skin abrasion when the collar rotates around the dog’s neck. A loose fit often results when you place a closed pinch collar over the dog’s head.

To fit the collar properly, start with one end in each hand, then pinch a link to connect the two ends around the dog’s neck, making sure to fit it securely behind the dog’s ears. When using a pinch collar, a light tug should be all you need to communicate with the dog.  

How to Make Sure Your Dog's Collar is on Correctly

Choke Collars / Choke Chains Although the name may put you off, used properly, these collars assure the safety of a dog in the event he attempts to pull out of the collar. Keep in mind, though, a choke collar should not maintain constant pressure on the dog’s throat. The collar is there to protect the dog in the event they try to get away or get at another dog. Otherwise, you should walk the dog with a lead that’s loose enough to keep the collar from putting pressure on the dog’s throat. 

Choke collars can be made of chain, fabric or rope and, unlike other collars, should be fitted over the dog’s head. The collars should be snug enough to fit 2 to 3 fingers under and the collar loop should make a “P” when facing the dog and placing it over his head. This allows the pressure in the collar to be released when there’s slack in the leash.

How to Make Sure Your Dog's Collar is on Correctly

A special note about collars

Pet parents should exercise caution in leaving a collar on a dog when he’s not being walked. As a dog moves around the house or yard, a collar can get caught on any number of things. In extreme cases, this can cause strangulation.

A good alternative is a “breakaway” collar, which is designed to come apart if it becomes hooked on something. To walk a dog using a breakaway collar, connect the leash to both metal rings, which are on either side of the breakaway point.

How to Make Sure Your Dog's Collar is on Correctly
Summing up collars

Which collar or collars you use is up to you and any professionals you consult, such as trainers, veterinarians, or behavior experts. I understand that some collars we've included here won't be your first choice. That said, if you're a dog walker or you're simply walking a friend's dog as a favor, you'll want to know what you're dealing with — to ensure you and your dog stay safe. 

Happy walking!