A quick stroll through the collar and leash aisle at your local pet megamart will show you just a small sampling of the collars and leashes available out there. How to know which is just the right one for your dog can leave just about anyone scratching their head. Here's a basic rundown on collar types and uses. We'll cover head collars (Gentle Leader or Halti) and leashes another day.
- Flat buckle or quick release collar: These are the most basic collars. They are the safest option for a dog who wears a collar all the time. Wider is better if you are going to be using them for training, as they give you the most control over your dog. If you have a large dog who is young or untrained, I recommend the buckle type. While the quick release is handy, a large exuberant dog can occasionally pop the release, leaving you standing with an empty collar while Fido races down the street. This is the collar I use in 90% of my training.
- Choke Collar: A long time trainer's favorite, they seem to be slowly losing their popularity. I'm glad of this. Choke collars are one of my least favorite types of collar. I never use them. Even when put on correctly, they have a tendency to remain in the "choke" position, not loosening when you take pressure off the leash. Additionally, using them correctly takes finesse, and again, I find that when training, a wide collar gives the best control over any dog. I've seen dogs with collapsed tracheas caused by the narrow, crushing effect a choke collar can have when used incorrectly or on a very exuberant dog. No dog should ever, EVER, be left alone with a choke collar on. The name alone will tell you why.
- Pinch or prong collars: Personally, for a certain type of canine character, I think pinch collars are perfect, and far kinder than a choke collar. "Huh?" you ask. Here's the thing: pinch collars provide even pressure. Think bed of nails. If there was only one prong, that would hurt. But there's not. There is a double row of many prongs. Additionally, pinch collars only tighten to a certain degree. They don't keep tightening, putting pressure on a narrow area of the trachea. Correct use of a pinch collar is dependent on having slack in the leash and using short, sharp corrections. Otherwise the dog just leans into it and is relatively comfortable.
- Martingale: This is my favorite type of collar, and the one my own dogs wear. Easy to use but hard to describe. Essentially it is shaped like a figure 8, it is wide enough to give a solid feeling correction, but has limited ability to tighten, is easy to use, and fairly safe as an all around collar.
- Shock or electronic collars: For very limited applications, these collars are indispensable, if all other options have been exhausted. They are a "last chance" option. I used one on my pit bull/bull mastiff mix. Bossy and bright, despite working up from a 6' lead, to a long line, to off lead recalls in an enclosed area, at 2 years old, Tug still did not have a solid recall when in a large area. Since, in my world, this is not an option, I broke down and purchased a shock collar for him. It solved my problem. Unfortunately, shock collars have become the easy answer for the inexperienced or lazy trainer. In these type of hands they can cause more problems than they solve, including increasing aggression in some dogs. In a perfect world, they would be available by prescription only. Since this isn't a perfect world, if you are considering using one of these, please work with a trainer while doing so. They may not be the easy answer they seem to your dog's problems.
As indispensable as they are, collars also pose a hazard to dogs. No dog should be crated with any type of collar on. Dogs have died in their crates when tags or rings became caught. No dog should ever be left alone, even loose in the house, with a choke, prong, or shock collar on. If you are using a shock collar on your dog, always take it off at night, and check frequently to make sure it is not irritating the skin. And lastly, be kind to your vet. No matter what type of collar you are using, when you go to the vet clinic (or the groomer), put your dog in a flat or martingale type collar.