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How Tight Should A Collar Be? Your Guide To Preventing Choking and Strangulation In Dogs - PawSafe

How Tight Should A Collar Be? Your Guide To Preventing Choking and Strangulation In Dogs

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

how tight should a collar be

Collars fit snugly around a dog’s throat, so it’s vital that we know how tight a collar should be for our dog’s safety.  Part of being a responsible pet parent is sticking to those evening and morning strolls for a happy doggo.

Dog strangulation is far more common than you might think. In fact, collar-related injuries are on the rise according to one study on dog leash-related injuries. The statistics are jarring, with most common emergencies being from pulling, and the second from tripping, falling, and tangled leashes. 

This is why we recommend  a safer full-body dog harness during walks. Of course, collars are still necessary to help identify dogs in cases where they may go missing, or for GPS tracking collars. So let’s look at what you need to know about how to fit a collar safely on a dog and your guide to preventing choking and strangulation.

Dog owners know the agony of having a runner that blissfully dashes into dangerous situations, escaping harm only by a close shave. Well, a loose collar allows your canine to wriggle out, causing them to escape if they try hard enough.

On the other hand, an excessively tight collar is uncomfortable for your dog. Too-tight collars make breathing harder and can cause significant neck damage when they exert force. Unfortunately, the risk of injury increases for dogs subjected to a tight collar 24/7. 

Fitting two fingers is also a valuable guide to dog harness sizing. However, the two-finger rule is only an approximation for collar size. You can use a tape measure to get the precise parameters if you want more accurate measurements.

Additionally, collars vary in material, type, and style, all affecting their fitting on your dog’s neck. This means that the two-finger space varies depending on the exact collar type, necessitating tape measurements even more.

How to Measure Your Dog for A Collar?

You’ll need to get the correct collar size for your dog to avoid having to return an improperly-fitting collar. To measure your dog’s neck for a collar, all you need to do is follow these simple steps:

Step 1: Gather the Materials 

A flexible, plastic measuring tape is best to use when measuring your dog. Rigid, metal ones pose the risk of injuries and won’t wrap around your dog’s neck properly to get the circumference. 

Step 2: Measure the Neck

Step

Most dog owners think that a collar should sit low on a dog’s neck, but experts beg to differ. A dog’s collar should be high up on your dog’s neck, just below the ears and the jawline.
This is the most comfortable position for your dog and the least likely to cause choking. As the narrowest part of the neck, positioning the collar in this area reduces the likelihood of it loosening. Setting the collar on the lower neck causes looseness when the collar travels up during walks.

Take your tape measure and wrap it around the dog’s upper neck, where they’ll wear the collar. You can also measure the lower neck for peace of mind.

Step 3: Refer to the Company’s Sizing and Purchase

Good collar companies offer size recommendations based on neck size. You can view these measurements online or call the company if the measurements aren’t listed. If your dog is below sizes, pick the higher number.

Step 4: Adjust 

Once you get your newly purchased collar, you can adjust it to your dog’s specific sizing. Here, the two-finger rule will come in handy.

Signs that your dog’s collar is too tight

  • Sudden coughing; 
  • Chafing of the skin and fur;
  • Excess fur bulges out of the collar; and
  • Shortness of breath that can lead to lethargy.

Types of Collars

Collars vary by material and purpose, and you’ll find all kinds of them in today’s dog accessory industry. Some, like E-collars and prongs, are in the middle of hot controversy and criticism. We haven’t covered every collar out there, but you’ll get a good idea of most of them.  

Different Collar Types by Material

  • Leather collars Known for their durability; 
  • Metal collars such as chains work best on short-haired breeds;
  • Fabric Collars that are incredibly lightweight but have a short lifespan;
  • Pearl Collars for aesthetics; and
  • Double-coated collars, but these can fit your dog too tightly.

Different Collar Types According to Purpose

1. Buckle Collars

These are the typical collars most people use with a buckle attached, as the name suggests

2. Head Halter Collar

Commonly called the head Halti, these fit over a dog’s head and muzzle to reign in pulling. The angle at which it can pull a dog’s head can lead to unnatural neck strain. Since owners like to use head collars when a dog is young and unruly, there are questions about damage they may cause to growing dogs neck plates and the developing muscles, bones, tendongs, and other tissues in their neck. 

3. Martingale Collars/ Limited Slip/ No-Slip/ Half Check Collar

These are collars for controlling big dogs, especially those with heads narrower than necks. It usually has one chained section on the collar that tightens when dogs pull. The tightening effect allows the handler to correct a dog sharply, but again, there is danger of choking and long-term throat damage. This can be too harsh a training tool for most owners, so a no-pull dog harness is a safer and gentler way of correcting and controlling a dog on a walk. 

4. GPS Collars

These contain a GPS helpful in tracking lost dogs. In general, these are quite a good investment for keeping track of your dog’s whereabouts and activity. Attaching your dog’s identity tag and detail to this collar make it a good choice for outings or for daily activity. 

5. Prong Collars

Many call these collars inhumane because they function by painfully pinching a dog’s neck skin with the metal teeth on the inside that dig into the dog’s neck if they pull. 

6. E-Collars

These literally shock a dog into obedience and are also inhumane, especially if they malfunction and zap a dog too much. An e-collar is not the same as an Elizabethan collar, which is the famous “cone of shame” that vet’s put on dogs to stop them licking at area.

7. Choke Collars

These collars also tighten when dogs pull but are less painful than prong collars that mildly stab a dog’s neck.  It’s common for pulling dogs to keep pulling even if they are wearing choke collars, usually permanently damaging their throats.

8. Low Visibility Lighted Collars

Lighted collars light in the dark and can help make a dog more visible.

9. Breakaway Collars

Breakaway or tear away collars are built to rip off your dog’s neck in the event of a collar accident. These are good options if you are looking for a collar to keep your dog’s ID and contact details on in case they are lost.

Benefits and Risks of Dog Collars 

Collars are a necessary accessory for a dog’s safety on and off-leash. Collars have their pros and cons and are more suitable for some dogs than others. 

Collar Benefits:

  1. They’re usually  faster to put on your dog if you’re in a hurry;
  2. Collars are more affordable than harnesses;
  3. They’re effective at identifying dogs for owners that leave their contact details and dog name;
  4. They give you something to grab if you need control over your dog’s head area; and
  5. People with intimidating dogs like Pitbulls report better social acceptance when they wear fun collars like pearl ones.

Collar Risks 

  1. They put too much pressure on a dog’s neck. Some may even refuse to go for a walk or otherwise show distress when wearing a collar.
  2. Collars are not suitable for dogs with existing back and neck issues.
  3. They can cause long-term health effects like neck damage.
  4. They affect a dog’s quality of life if placed too tight and too long.
  5. Collars can hook on objects and cause strangulation, even in a dog’s own crate.
  6. Because they’re placed around the neck, collar accidents can be deadly.

Can My Dog Wear a Collar 24/7?

Can My Dog Wear a Collar 24/7?

Collars are meant to be worn when the dog leaves the house or when your dog is outside. There isn’t any justifiable reason to keep a dog’s collar on all day and night. In fact, even in a crate, they can be a choking hazard when your dog sleeps. They can also damage the fur and coat around the throat.

The main reason to have a collar on is for the ID tag, but microchips are a good backup for this. When your dog is home and locked indoors at night, go ahead and remove the collar. You will often see a dog’s relief when their collar is taken off. You may also notice that collars can be itchy and uncomfortable; just see your dog’s reaction when you scratch the area on their neck.

We recommend removing your dog’s collar indoors when it’s done serving its purpose. If you keep a dog’s collar on every time and it happens to be tight, it could affect their breathing and swallowing. 

Collar vs. Harness?

Harnesses are a popular alternativ-e-archive to traditional collars because they’re healthier and more comfortable for canines. There are different types of dog harnesses, but they all work by distributing pressure on a dog’s chest and shoulders instead of the neck. 

Since harnesses occupy a larger surface area, they exert less force on your dog’s body, making them safer and more comfortable. Dogs with existing neck issues like tracheal collapse and cervical IVDD can’t correctly use collars and benefit from harnesses.

No-pull harnesses with the leash clip in front control your dog’s pulling better by redirecting the dog towards you. Back-clip harnesses can increase pulling as they mimic pulling a sled. No matter the design, harnesses are easier on a dog’s neck and reduce choking risks and neck injuries. 

Final Thoughts 

Dog collars are an accepted part of doggy life. However, they can be too tough on your dog’s neck, potentially causing neck injuries and choking if a dog yanks too hard. A rightly fitting collar should allow two fingers to fit comfortably between the collar and neck.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.