5 Most Popular Collar Types for Dogs & How to Use Them!

If you’re new to dog ownership, you might assume that all dog collars are the same. As it turns out, there are many different types of dog collars to choose from, and each type serves a different purpose. 

While some help with dog training and socializing, others make walks safer and more enjoyable for the dog and owner alike. 

So, what are the most popular collar types for dogs, and how do you use them? Generally, there are 5 dog collar types: a flat collar, slip collar, Martingale collar, head collar, and dog harness. Which one is right for you depends on a few factors.

Let’s take a closer look. 

1. The Everyday Flat Collar

Lab wearing a flat collar
Flat collars are the most common collars used by dog owners. They’re generally adjustable and feature a D-ring and clip or buckle closure.

These are by far the most common types of dog collars and what you probably think of when you imagine a leather collar or a regular collar. As the name suggests, they’re the best dog collar for daily use (if you’re looking for nightly use, check out these Best LED Light Up Dog Collars).

These popular dog collars have a simple design with a flat hoop that sits flush with the dog’s neck. They usually feature a plastic clasp, which easily snaps into place and keeps the collar around the dog’s neck.

Some use a belt-style buckle to ensure the collar stays closed. In most cases, the collar uses simple D-rings as an attachment point for a dog leash.

This collar also features a D-ring for attaching various tags, like your dog’s identification, your contact information, and, in some regions, vaccination information that needs to be displayed. 

They’re almost always adjustable, so you can fit one to the exact circumference of your dog’s neck to ensure a comfortable, yet secure, fit so your dog will not slip out of its collar while out for a walk.

How to Use an Everyday Flat Dog Collar

Using an everyday flat collar is incredibly easy. Most people use them when their dog is just a puppy, as they’re so comfortable that many dogs barely notice they’re wearing them.

Open the plastic clasp and place the collar around your dog’s neck, adjusting it until it sits snug but not so tight that it’s pressing hard against your dog’s neck. You should be able to easily slip two fingers between the collar and the surface of your dog’s skin.

As mentioned, you want the collar to be tight enough that it will not come off if your dog squirms on its leash but not tight enough that it chokes or bothers your pooch. 

Once the collar is the right circumference for your dog, attach the relevant tags. When you’re ready to take your pooch for a walk, simply clip the end of the leash to the D-ring on the collar. 

Allow your dog to get used to the sensation by walking around the house for a bit. If your pooch seems to do okay, you can head out for a walk! Keep this collar on your dog at all times, as it will have its identification tag on it, which is incredibly important if your dog ever runs away.

2. The Slip Collar / Choke Chain

Dog wearing chain collar
Slip and choke chain collars are generally used for training purposes and teach dogs how to walk properly on a leash.

These choke collars are for training purposes, so they should not be used as an everyday option. They often consist of a metal chain that sits loosely around the dog’s neck. When the owner tugs on the chain or the dog attempts to bolt, the collar tightens around the dog’s neck.

As you can imagine, the choking sensation is very unpleasant for the dog, so you can use it as a training collar to discourage the dog from misbehaving while on its leash.

The slip collar or choke chain has fallen out of favor in recent years. Many veterinarians discourage dog owners from using them, as they can be a choking hazard. More importantly, repeated choking can increase the dog’s chances of developing permanent neck and trachea injuries.

With that said, certain strong breeds that tend to behave aggressively can be difficult to leash train with an everyday flat collar, making chain slip collars necessary.

While slip collars or choke collars are somewhat controversial, their effectiveness explains why they remain popular with American Pit Bull and Rottweiler owners. These powerful breeds can be difficult to control if not trained at a young age.

How to Use a Slip Dog Collar

You might want to start by attaching the leash. Then, create a loop large enough to pass easily over your dog’s head and neck. After the collar sits loosely around the dog’s neck, grip the attached leash with your dominant hand. 

Try not to place any tension on the leash, as this will tighten the collar and produce the choking sensation that you’re trying to reserve for when the dog is tugging, bolting, or misbehaving.

Aim for roughly 6 inches of slack in the leash to ensure the collar is loose enough for the dog. Give corrections with short tugs, but make sure you don’t pull back on the leash with sustained and heavy force, as this can hurt the dog.

Remember, the aim is to cause mild discomfort to help your dog learn not to misbehave rather than cause serious pain and injury.

Speak with your veterinarian if you’re unsure if you should use a slip collar. In most cases, your veterinarian will not recommend a slip collar for a puppy or growing dog as they can cause serious injuries.

If you have adopted an untrained adult dog that’s both large and powerful, a slip collar could be a useful training tool. Just make sure you use it properly!

3. The Martingale Collar

Martingale collars are a combination of the regular flat collar and the slip or choke collar. They can also be used for training purposes.

The Martingale collar or limited-slip collar acts as a hybrid between an everyday flat collar and a slip collar.

Essentially, they tighten slightly when the dog pulls, but only to a limited extent. In most cases, the dog will not feel choked. The collar only tightens to encourage it to stop pulling.

Since these collars don’t tighten all the way, they do not exert nearly as much force around the neck as a slip collar. They’re significantly less dangerous and rarely cause neck and trachea injuries that are far too common with chain slip collars.

Since they’re comfortable for the dog and fairly safe, these collars work well for dogs with long, thick necks and small, narrow heads, like whippets, Salukis, and greyhounds. Given their unique build, these breeds can easily escape from a standard flat collar, so the Martingale collar can help to keep them safe and secure during walks.

How to Use a Martingale Dog Collar

As mentioned, a Martingale dog collar is for dogs that slip out of a flat collar. They should not be used as a training aid for dogs that pull, as they will be tight constantly, which can be very uncomfortable.

To use a Martingale collar, open the latch and place it around your dog’s neck. Then, close the clasp. You should be able to fit two fingers between the collar and your dog’s neck.

While these collars are safer than slip collars, they can still cause some discomfort, so they should only be worn while the dog is out for a walk. Remove it once you get home from the walk. 

You can attach a standard leash to the collar before you go out for your walk, as the D-rings are connected so that any pulling force tightens the collar slightly, preventing it from slipping off of your dog.

4. The Head Collar / Head Halter

Dog wearing a head halter
Head halters give you optimal control over your dog while keeping them safe from the choking sensation of a collar during walks.

Headcollars, also known as dog head halters, slip over a dog’s snout and attach behind the ears. They’re a practical option for those who have a dog that’s easily distracted or tends to pull and bolt.

Since they attach to the dog around the head rather than the neck, head collars make it much easier to keep your dog’s head pointed in a specific direction. The person holding the leash can gently redirect the dog’s head in the direction of their choosing.

Dogs usually walk in whatever direction their head is pointed, which is very useful if you have an energetic dog that loses focus easily. If, for example, the dog begins running to your side, you can easily direct their head back towards the path ahead, helping to get them back under control in a painless way.

When used properly, head collars discourage pulling and other undesirable behaviors. With that said, you should not leave a headcollar on your dog while they’re unattended, as some dogs find them to be very annoying. Instead, use the collar for walks and remove it once you get home.

How to Use a Dog Head Collar

Start by placing the head collar around your dog’s snout and behind its ears. Some dog owners have difficulty getting their dogs to cooperate the first few times they attempt to use a head collar. Many dogs don’t like to have anything on their face.

If your dog is resisting, use treats and other forms of positive reinforcement. Once the collar is in place, make adjustments by pulling the tabs. 

Like with the other types of dog collars, you want the head collar to sit snug but not so tight that it causes discomfort and skin irritation. The dog should be able to open its mouth, so ensure that it’s not sitting too tightly around the snout.

Once the head collar is positioned correctly, attach a leash to the D-ring under the chin. Get your dog used to the sensation of wearing the head collar by walking around the house or backyard. Once the dog seems ready, go for a short walk. Try to keep the first few walks brief to help your dog adjust to the new style of collar.

Do not pull too harshly or abruptly on the leash, as you don’t want its head to suddenly pull in one direction. Not only can this be irritating and even somewhat painful, but it can also put your dog at risk of spinal injuries. Always aim to gently lead the dog in the direction of your choosing rather than yank them where you want to go.

5. The Dog Harness 

Dog walking on a harness
Harnesses are the safest option to use while walking.

While they’re very different from a traditional dog collar, a dog harness serves a similar purpose. Essentially, they act just like any other type of collar but with reduced tension around the neck. The harness slips around the front legs and clips in behind the abdomen.

The leash then attaches at the top of the harness, which sits around the upper back. 

A dog harness can be an outstanding option for certain breeds, especially those known to suffer from breathing issues, like just about every brachycephalic breed. This includes Pugs, Boston Terriers, French Bulldogs, Boxers, Shih Tzus, and more. 

Since they don’t exert any pressure around the neck, a harness doesn’t add to the dog’s breathing issues. They’re a popular choice for those with a small dog or toy breed that has incredibly fragile spines and neck muscles.

While they certainly have advantages, dog harnesses make it somewhat more difficult to control the dog. They don’t exert any neck tension or allow you to control the direction of your dog’s head, like a head collar. 

Some people choose a harness designed to work with a dual leash, which attaches at two clipping points, to give the owner a greater level of control over the dog.

How to Use a Dog Harness

Using a dog harness requires a little bit of training and conditioning. They can be somewhat difficult to put on. 

To start, the dog must step into the harness. Once its paws are within the loops, pull the harness upwards, so it sits snug around the chest. From there, snap the strap buckles together around the dog’s upper back.

If you have a dog breed that will do better with a harness over a traditional neck collar, get them used to the sensation of wearing it from a young age. The earlier you start and the more consistent you are with putting it on, the more comfortable your dog will be wearing it.

Once the harness is on the dog, adjust the straps and ensure it sits snugly without being too flush with the dog’s skin and fur, which can lead to chafing and irritation.

After you secure and adjust the harness, attach a leash and take your dog for a walk. As mentioned, it can be difficult adjusting the direction your dog is walking, so you may need to practice.

If your dog is just a puppy and new to going on walks, practice in the backyard, giving verbal cues and treats for following them.

Which Type of Dog Collar Should You Choose?

The collar you choose depends on several factors, including the type of dog you have, the dog’s life stage, and how well they’re trained.

In most cases, a well-trained dog is fine with a flat collar; however, if they have a restricted airway or are one of the many flat-nosed breeds, a harness might be a better option.

If you’re struggling to leash train your dog, consider obedience classes or one-on-one sessions with a professional trainer. In most cases, these two options yield better results than using a slip collar, and they reduce the chances that your dog will experience a painful or dangerous injury.

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Jesse Hopping, CCDT

Jesse is a natural-born dog-lover certified dog trainer (CCDT), dog foster, and former volunteer at Richmond SPCA and surrounding dog shelters for over 10 years. Her pack includes a Bernedoodle and 3 Boston Terriers. She’s sipping caramel coffee and watching her pack play in the sun when she’s not writing blogs. Jesse has her Certified Dog Trainer designation from CATCH Canine Trainers Academy since 2018 and and majored in English from the University of Virginia.

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