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Flat collar, head collar, prong collar—oh my! With so many options available at the pet store, how do you know which collar is right for your dog?
“Ultimately, you want to have a trained dog and not have to use anything but a flat collar.”
“Ultimately, you want to have a trained dog and not have to use anything but a flat collar,” Ulbrich says. “If you rely on any other collar, you’re not fixing the problem—you’re working around the problem, but not truly fixing it.”
Let’s explore the six most popular types of collars, with some of the pros and cons of each.
1. Flat Collar
Pretty much every pet parent is familiar with a flat collar—it’s the most common type of collar, and the gold standard.
“Every dog should be able to walk on the flat collar without any problems because they shouldn’t lunge, pull, or misbehave in some way that would have them injure themselves or their owner,” Ulbrich says.
Trainer Tip: Don’t pull on the leash to try to get your dog’s attention, which will inadvertently teach your dog to pull back—and make a flat collar useless.
“If you pull back to get their attention when they’re sniffing, or pull on the leash to tell your dog to sit, you’re trying to control your dog by pulling on the leash instead of controlling him vocally,” Ulbrich explains. “You’re teaching your dog, ‘you pull, I pull.'”
Pros: Gentle on a dog’s neck when used properly.
Cons: Dogs who pull on leash can choke themselves and not even realize it.
2. Head Collar
A head collar is similar to a horse’s halter—it slips over your dog’s snout and attaches behind his ears.
Pros: Can redirect your dog’s attention, preventing him from pulling. Can have a calming effect on the dog, making him give up control and feel safer on the walk.
Cons: It can jerk a dog’s head abruptly if used improperly. Some dogs are reluctant to let you put it on, and they will try to get it off. Can wear away at dog’s fur on face over time.
There are two main types of harnesses: a front-clip harness, where the leash attaches at your dog’s chest, and a back-clip harness, where the leash attaches on your dog’s back. Many of today’s modern harnesses conveniently have both.
Pros: Tension not on the neck. Can be beneficial for short-nosed dogs, such as Pugs or Boston Terriers.
Cons: Gives dogs leverage to pull aggressively, which hurts their back and can make them difficult to control.
Pros: Redirects your dog back towards you if he starts to strain or pull, allowing you to steer him. Helps control your dog more without straining his back.
Cons: Can still pull, but not as hard.
This is one of the more controversial collars—some claim if used properly, it’s the perfect training tool, while others claim the collar hurts dogs and is abusive.
The Humane Society emphasizes the prong collar must be properly fitted with the size of the prong links appropriate for the size of your dog, and it must sit high on your dog’s neck. They strongly encourage pet parents to consult a professional trainer if they decide to use this collar.
“The prong collar can only be used for corrections,” Ulbrich explains. “If you start pulling on it to tell your dog to come or sit, not only are you trying to use the leash for communication but you’re punishing your dog when they might not have done anything wrong.”
Pros: Self-correcting for lunging or pulling.
Cons: Must be fitted and used correctly 100% of the time to be effective and more humane.
A martingale collar combines the simplicity of a flat buckle collar with the added pressure of a slip collar, but with a built-in limitation on how tight the collar can slip.
Pros: Most suited for breeds with narrow heads in proportion to their necks, like Greyhounds and Whippets.
Cons: Can cause damage to neck if dog pulls excessively over time.
6. Slip Collar
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Slip collars come in a range of materials, like this sturdy and handsome rope model.
Pros: Easy to physically overpower a strong, untrained dog. You will see slip collars at shelters and vet offices in situations where for safety’s sake, untrained or extremely unhappy dogs must be controlled by their human caretaker, willing or not.
Cons: Can cause damage to neck if dog pulls or lunges frequently over time.
The Bottom Line
When choosing a collar, remember the ideal is to have your dog walk alongside you without pulling or lunging, and a flat or standard collar should suffice. The rest of the collars on the market are used to control bad behaviors that should be corrected with proper training over time. Remember to always consult a professional to teach your dog to walk nicely on a leash, or to teach you how to use any of these devices.