The always alert Ty sporting her Semper Paratus (“always ready”) collar.

When I start looking for a new collar for my pup, my eye goes right to the coolest one, the cutest one, the one that expresses something about my relationship with her.  But in truth, there are more important factors in choosing a collar.  What is the dog’s lifestyle? How are her leash manners? And the same applies for collar-wearing kitties.

Below are some of the most popular collar types.  There are additional styles for very specific uses such as daycare, climbing, or sports that can be found with a little online sleuthing.  We always recommend microchipping for backup identification.  


Quick release buckle: This is one of the most popular styles.  A plastic or metal buckle  secures the collar around your pet’s neck.  These are very easy to take on and remove. They’re also most appropriate for supervised play with other dogs.  On rare occasion, dogs at play can get a paw or lower jaw stuck under their playmate’s collar.  You would not want any kind of collar that cannot be quickly undone, such as a double bar buckle or choke collar on your dog.  Use caution when selecting a quick release collar if you have a very strong dog, as some buckles can’t withstand as much as others.


Quick release buckle collars


Double bar buckle collar

Double bar buckle: Another popular choice, a double bar buckle makes your pup look like they’ve donned a fancy mini belt.  They’re very strong, so even powerful pups aren’t likely to break or undo one.

Martingale (aka limited choke or limited slip collar):  A martingale is made by a metal chain or nylon webbing loop bringing together the two ends of the main collar, allowing for a limited amount of tightening.  For this reason, it is excellent for walking nervous dogs, those who attempt to back out of their collar, or dogs whose neck is wider than their head.  It will prevent escape but the tightening is limited so it will not damage the dog’s esophagus.  


Chain martingale

Hybrids: For picky folks like me whose pups see many different situations in a typical week, there are wonderful collar types that combine the best qualities of the styles listed above.  For example, some brands and shops make a martingale collar with a quick release buckle that provides the cinching qualities of the martingale but is safe for play because the clip allows it to be quickly removed.  

Breakaway dog collars act like many cat safety collars, coming undone when enough pressure is applied. Normally not what one is looking for to restrain a dog, it removes the risk of strangulation so it is ideal for playtime or when the dog is left alone.  The Chinook breakaway collar (manufactured by Petsafe) comes with a D-ring on each side of the breakaway clasp so that the collar can also be used as a traditional quick  release collar for walks.  Uncommon collars like this may be harder to come by but are worth the extra research.


Martingale – quick release combination collar


Breakaway collar

Head collar: If you have ever seen a dog with a bridle-looking contraption around their snout or wondered, “is that a muzzle?” more than likely, you saw a dog wearing a head collar.  It often takes some getting used to for the dog but a head collar strongly and humanely discourages pulling.  When the dog pulls, the head collar turns the dog in, disrupting the pulling.  Head collars have become very popular with difficult to train and powerful dogs; the dog can breathe and act normally but the handler has much more control.


Harnesses: Harnesses are hugely popular.  Small dogs fare much better in harnesses to prevent throat and neck injury.  Nervous dogs or dogs who like to wiggle out of collars often find themselves in harnesses to keep them safe.  There are many harness types available with slightly different purposes in mind.   For example, front attachment harnesses are gaining popularity.  With the D-ring resting on top of the sternum, it works on the same concept as a head collar, pulling the dog’s body to the side when she pulls.  Not liking that reaction, the dog corrects herself.    

4-8AEC6353-2350815-800 (2)

With a front clasp harness, the leash clips in the front for better training and control.


Photo courtesy of River Rose Photography


While not as popular a practice for cats, it is still important for them to have identification.  Some of the styles listed above are available for cats; however, due to their wider range of exploration, a breakaway collar is the safest.  Cats have been known to get caught on indoor objects while making leaps as well as outdoor obstacles like branches.  A breakaway collar will snap off if pressure is applied, saving your cat’s life.  Breakaways are made of many different fabrics and with different patterns, allowing your kitty to still look chic while being safe.

Bells and Whistles

There are all kinds of fun designs, embellishments, and customizations for collars that go beyond their functional need but some options are worth considering for safety.  ID tags are very important, whether they be traditional hanging tags or collar tags that are rectangular and attach directly to the collar.  Reflective striping or glow threads are great for visibility in low light conditions or if your pet is loose.