NutriSource Blogs

Right collar for the right dog: How to choose?

February 20, 2020

Puzzling over the selection of collars at your favorite pet supply shop? Not all collars are alike, and it’s possible that the wrong collar for your dog can cause discomfort or even injury.

To avoid mistakes, it’s important to go into this knowing that different collars serve different purposes. Use this list to help you choose the collar that’s best-suited for your dog and your training goals.

Find the right fit

Besides being uncomfortable, a too-tight collar can dig into your dog’s fur and skin, resulting in hair loss along with pressure sores. On the other hand, if the collar is too loose, it will slip over your dog’s head and he will be free to flee! So before you buy, always measure the dog, keeping in mind that weight changes and even a recent haircut can make a difference on what size collar your pup needs. Using tailor tape (or a string and ruler), find the circumference of the dog’s upper part of the neck, in the approximate area of where the collar will rest. You should find the measurement on the leash’s label or packaging. If practical, do a test fitting on the dog at the store, adjusting the size as needed.

To test for a secure but comfortable fit, slip your pointer and middle fingers between the collar and your dog’s neck. If it’s a snug without squeezing, you’ve found the right setting. If you’re struggling to work those fingers in, the collar is too tight. But if you can easily slide three or four fingers under the collar, try tightening it a notch.

Flat collar

Perfect for everyday use, flat collars come in a variety of materials and styles to keep your dog not only secure, but comfortable and stylish. Consider the options so you can find the collar that’s best suited for your dog and your lifestyle. Nylon offers water resistance, especially for dogs that like to go for a swim, and some come with a reflective strip for better visibility. Leather collars, on the other hand, offer durability and look attractive. Look for collars with rounded edges so they don’t dig into your dog’s skin; comfort padding is also a plus, but that can make working the buckles more difficult. Finally, when it comes to fasteners, quick release is a popular option, but metal buckles work best for stronger dogs.

Training collars: Which is right for your dog?

If your dog is wearing a flat collar but still needs work on their leash manners, all that excess tugging and lunging places excess pressure on the neck, potentially causing injury. That’s when you may want to consider a training collar as a teaching aid so they’ll learn just how you want them to act when you’re out on your daily stroll. In addition, check out episode 23 of the Raising Your Paws podcast, where we talk about leash techniques that stop your dog from barking and lunging.

Before you buy, spend the extra time with a dog trainer or a knowledgeable clerk at your local pet supply shop. You’ll want to ensure a tailor fit, and feel confident that it’s working the way it should.


Because harnesses put no pressure on the neck — it’s all distributed through the chest — some pet parents prefer these over flat collars. Some see the harness as a more humane tool for leash training, especially for puppies. However, when the leash connects to the metal clip on the back of the harness by the dog’s shoulders this can give the dog greater strength to pull. Better to get a harnesses that also has a front ring positioned at the dog’s chest, to attach the leash. Front clip harnesses reduce your dog’s inclination to pull. (Listen to Raising Your Paws podcast episode 5 and see the accompanying blog about this subject.) If your dog has neck issues and you’re still working on their leash manners, a harness may be a good option. To ensure a good fit, get measurements of your dog’s lower neck area as well as around the widest part of their torso.

Head collar

This collar has a distinct look because it has a piece that fits around your dog’s muzzle. Except, it’s not a muzzle, and that’s because it doesn’t constrain the dog’s jaw. For pet parents that need help with training dogs to get calm and settled, this lead lets you stay in control, gently, while encouraging your dog to keep their head facing forward. Some even tout the head collar’s dog-calming abilities because it hits pressure points in the dog’s neck. Keep in mind, overuse can wear off that finer muzzle hair, so be sure and remove it after the walk. Once your dog becomes accustomed to walking calmly by your side with the head collar, you can start to wean them off with a regular flat collar.

Choke collar

In dog circles, the topic of using the right training collar can spark a lively discussion, especially if choke collars come up. Some decry this collar as inhumane, but other trainers say they’re ideal for dogs that are both strong-willed and strong-bodied. They’re designed to apply pressure when the dog tugs hard on the leash, releasing when the dog eases up, giving the dog an incentive to walk calmly. That said, a choke collar won’t release if it’s not fitted correctly. So take time to educate yourself before your dog wears it.

Pinch/prong collar

This one steps up the pressure of a choke collar, and is made up of inter-fitting prongs that lie flat against your dog. But when he starts tugging, the prongs on the back of the collar shift, putting the pinch on the back of your dog’s neck. They’re useful for teaching strong-willed dogs to heel, and for correcting behaviors you don’t want, such as eating things on the ground, or reacting to other dogs. Because of the pressure, these are not suitable for all dogs, especially small and slender breeds. In fact, they’re really best for animals with a thick or fatty neck.

Martingale collars

If your dog has a small head that easily allows a flat collar to slip over (e.g., a greyhound), the martingale gives you an escape-proof option. It tightens as your dog pulls, but there’s a safety mechanism that keeps it from putting a squeeze on your dog’s throat. Because these are made of fabric or nylon, they’re seen as gentler options than a choke or pinch collar.

Now that you know the differences between collars and how they work, head to your local pet supply shop to learn more. Many carry brands that are family owned and high quality. Because many of these shops are also dog friendly, you can try before you buy, and get an expert opinion from the helpful staff.

Before your walk, don’t forget to pack a few delicious treats to reward that good behavior! Your dogs will love the NutriSource Soft and Tender treats that come in three enticing flavors, chicken, lamb and salmon, all sourced from our trusted U.S. suppliers. This nutritious snack gives your pup all the rewards, but without the worry they’re getting too many extra calories. Find them at your locally owned, independent pet supply shop.