Collars: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Not all collars are created equal; here’s what you need to know.


Did you know that dog collars have been around almost as long as the dogs who wear them?

History actually reveals the existence of dog collars as far back as the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Chinese and Persians. Not all of them were used for control either; identification, protection, training and even fashion are all reasons behind the long history of K9 collars.

Here are some other interesting facts you may not know about the history of dog collars:

  • In ancient Greece, farm dogs wore leather, spike-studded collars to protect their neck against the bite of a wolf.
  • A cast made from the buried body cavities of a Pompeii dog in 1874, showed a bronze- studded collar around the dog’s neck.
  • Mosaics in ancient Rome show dogs with decorative collars and leashes.
  • In the Renaissance age, the padlock collar (a hinged metal collar with rolled edges and a dangling padlock) was a way to prove ownership since only the owner would be able to produce the key to unlock the padlock.

Collars: 5 Common Styles

Rolled or Flat Collars



Typically the “everyday” collar most dogs wear with a metal buckle or quick-release clasp. Also allows for hanging identification or license tags. Typically “fashionable” as well as functional.

Martingale Collars

(Also known as Limited Slip Collars or Greyhound Collars)



Designed to prevent walking dogs from slipping out of their collar. A stopping mechanism prevents the collar from completely closing on the neck helping to prevent injury and accidental strangulation. Commonly used for “sighthounds” like the Saluki, Whippets, Greyhounds and the Ibizan and Pharaoh Hounds.

Choke or Chain Slip Collars


Known as an “aversive collar.” Designed for training purposes using discomfort and pain.

Pinch or Metal Prong Collars



Known as an “aversive collar.” Designed for training purposes using discomfort and pain. Usually used in the training of strong and stubborn dogs who tend to pull on the leash.

Smart Collars



A relatively new collar category that combines a traditional flat collar with smartphone-compatible technology. Benefits include GPS, monitoring behavior changes and even training assistance.

Not All Collars are Created Equal When it Comes to Risk

As with harnesses, each collar style has a specific function. In order for the collar to be effective (and safe), owners need to understand how to properly choose and use the collar.

Common issues with using collars include:

  • Stress, strain and neck sprains;
  • Unnecessary pain;
  • Nerve damage;
  • Fainting;
  • Paralysis;
  • Choking or coughing;
  • Optic blood vessel injuries;
  • Injuries to the neck, throat, trachea, esophagus, thyroid glands and spinal cord; and
  • If left on the dog unattended, potential strangulation or suffocation.

Even the seemingly harmless flat/rolled, martingale and smart collars can pose a serious danger. A 2006 study in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, revealed the added potential danger of increased eye pressure when the dog pulls on the collar. This could be parpugticularly dangerous for dogs with glaucoma, thin corneas or other eye conditions where optic pressure is an issue. Dogs with bulging eyes (like pugs and bulldogs) are also prone to protruding eyeballs from too much pressure on the neck.

In addition to the danger of eye injury, dogs can also suffer potential airway and neurological damage from applying the wrong or too much pressure to any collar.


Dogs with short noses, bulging eyes and small tracheas can also be easily injured with a choke chain.

Dogs who always wear their collars and engage in rough play with other dogs, should only wear break-away collars to avoid the danger of strangulation, suffocation and injury if the collar gets caught.

A Collar is Not an Automatic Fix

It’s important to note that dogs with:

  • a high prey drive,
  • a tendency to pull against pressure (called the “opposition reflex”); and
  • those who are dominant, larger and stronger,

may completely ignore discomfort or pain with any collar including a choke chain/slip collar or metal prong/pinch collar! An acquaintance had a large, strong and prey-driven yellow lab that completely ignored the metal prong collar he was wearing to the point he developed open lesions from the pinching of the collar and had to have surgery to repair the damage.

While in the proper hands, a choke chain and/or metal prong collar can be a tool for training, but it also needs to be combined with positive training for the unwanted behavior to be properly addressed and corrected.

The Un-Collar: The Head Halter

Often called a “Gentle Leader” or “Halti,” the head halter is not a “traditional” collar (going only around the neck). But the head halter has become a favorite tool in training good leash manners and keeping the dog’s attention focused on the walker.

The head halter has two loops; one that goes around the back of the head (behind the ears) and another around the dog’s nose with a ring hanging under the chin to attach a leash. It is not a muzzle. The halter should be fitted snug and secure, but not too tight to prevent the dog from breathing, panting or barking.

The benefits with this type of control tool include:

  • It sits high on the dog’s neck without putting pressure on the throat;
  • No force is necessary to turn the dog’s head (and subsequently his body) back towards the walker; and
  • It’s easy and quick to “redirect” the dog into a desired behavior.

Once again, like with the other collars discussed above, the head halter must be used correctly to avoid potential injury to your dog. Neck injuries, even severe, can happen if a Gentle Leader is used harshly with a lot of force, snapping or yanking. Also enough time and patience must be taken to properly introduce your dog to a head halter to avoid stress and possible injury to your dog.

Always educate yourself on the proper and correct way to use any collar for your dog’s ultimate safety.

Resources and Additional Reading

A History of Dog Collars:

8 Different Types of Dog Collars:

Dog Collars: Which Type is the Best for Your Dog?

Which Types of Collars and Harnesses are Safe for Your Dog?



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