There was an incident several years ago when my dog, Glia, slipped out of her collar while walking through a neighborhood. She ran up to another dog and a dog-fight broke out. No dogs were injured, but it was a scary experience.
After that experience, I vowed to upgrade Glia’s collar to something that was escape-proof. I had two options – switching to a full-body harness (like the Ruffwear Webmaster) or considering a different style of collar. I chose to use a harness on the hiking trails and a martingale collar in the neighborhoods.
What is a martingale collar? A martingale collar (also called a “limited slip” collar) is made out of similar materials to a regular dog collar (typically a nylon or other fabric band). However, instead of having a buckle to open and close the collar, this collar has a second loop that allows the collar to widen enough to slip over the dog’s head when a leash is not attached. When a leash is attached, pressure on the leash attachment pulls the second loop and tightens the collar.
Below is a picture of three of Glia’s martingale collars. You can clearly see the two loops on each collar. We will talk more about how this collar works and why you would want to use one later in this blog post.
The Martingale Collar
Martingale collars were originally designed for sighthounds, like greyhounds and whippets. Because these dogs necks can be as wide as their heads, sighthounds can often easily slip out of a traditional buckle collar.
For a buckle collar to be securely worn by a sighthound, that collar would have to be fastened tighter than comfortable for regular use. A martingale collar can be left comfortably loose and only tighten to the point that it can not slip over the head if the dog is pulling on the leash.
Even though the collar was designed for sighthounds, over the years many dog owners have started using this collar for other breeds. Especially as prong collars and pinch collars are losing favor, martingale collars are considered a humane alternative. (For an interesting read on some of the collars that have been in favor over the years, check out “Collars I Have Known and Loved, or Not” by Patricia McConnell.)
How to fit a martingale collar
Martingale collars should be adjusted so that when there is tension on the leash, the collar is just tight enough that it cannot fit over a dog’s head. This will vary somewhat based on your dog’s size and shape. You do not want the collar so tight that it will choke your dog when you pull on the leash. While the collar will be snug when tightened, it should not be so tight as to cause your dog discomfort.
When there is no tension on the leash, the collar will fit looser than a traditional collar. It should be sized so that it can comfortably slide over your dog’s head.
Because the martingale collar is made to be slipped on and off over your dog’s head, be aware that you shouldn’t grab the main collar loop to lead your dog around by the collar. Grab the smaller loop with the leash attachment. Otherwise, you risk just pulling the collar right off over your dog’s head.
See the video below for a demonstration of how a martingale collar works when tension is applied to the leash. Note that in this video, only light pressure is being applied (Glia is trained to respond to a tug on the leash by moving towards the leash). Additionally, the collar is currently located near her shoulders but is fit to the circumference of her upper neck (near the base of her head) when full tension is applied to the leash.
Do all dogs need a martingale collar?
Honestly, many dogs do just fine walking in regular flat-buckle collars. But if your dog has a small head, has slipped out of collars before, or is a flight risk, the extra security of the martingale collar is a good option for your dog.
Dogs with previous neck injuries, tracheal collapse issues, or other concerns where a tightly fitted collar may cause injury/irritation should NOT use a martingale collar.
Do martingale collars help with pulling?
Martingale collars can help with pulling somewhat, as they tighten when your dog pulls and loosen when no tension is on the leash. The tightening of the collar can be considered a positive punishment (in that it adds something negative to your dog’s environment), decreasing the behavior of pulling. And the loosening of the collar can be considered a negative reinforcement (in that it removes something negative from the environment), reinforcing loose leash walking.
However, I don’t recommend martingale collars for dogs who haven’t learned some loose leash walking skills yet. You don’t want a tight, constricting collar on your dog for an entire walk.
If you need a training aid to help stop your dog from pulling, consider the Easy Walk Harness (picture below) or the Gentle Leader as options to help your dog stop pulling without putting pressure on his neck. You still need to use some caution with these aids.
The following images are links to Amazon. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn with qualifying purchases.
Be aware that the Gentle Leader is a head halter. A dog pulling against a Gentle Leader (especially a large dog) can result in significant force being placed on the dog’s head/neck. If you are interested in purchasing a Gentle Leader for your dog check out this great article by Dr. Sophia Yin about using a Gentle Leader safely.
On the other hand, the Easy Walk harness places pressure across a dog’s shoulders, which can impact the way they walk. Overuse of an Easy Walk harness can result in injury to the muscles it sits over. The Whole Dog Journal devotes an article to the debate on the pros and cons of the Easy Walk Harness.
Are martingale collars safe?
Since we are talking about safety, let’s specifically address the safety concerns surrounding a martingale collar.
There are many who recommend that martingale collars are not left on when a dog is unattended. There is some concern that these collars are easier to catch on objects due to the fact that they are worn looser and there is a second loop to catch on objects. If a dog catches the collar and tightens it past normal fit, it can become a choking hazard.
Additionally, a poorly adjusted martingale collar can become too tight when tension is applied to a leash. This has the potential to cause damage to the neck and throat and to restrict a dog’s airway. Properly fitted, this shouldn’t be any more of a problem than it is when using a traditional flat collar.
But overall, for many dogs, martingale collars are safer than a flat collar as they lower the chances that your dog can slip out of her collar and become a flight risk.
What is the best type of martingale collar?
Like traditional collars, martingale collars come in a wide variety of sizes, styles, and patterns. There is no one style that is truly better than others, but here are a few factors to consider when choosing a martingale collar for your dog.
The first consideration is the material the second loop is fashioned out of. In some martingale collars, both loops are made out of sturdy fabric. Others have the main fabric loop, but use a chain (like is used for a choke collar) for the second loop.
Personally, I strongly prefer the fabric loops, as these are gentler on both my dog’s neck and my hand (in the event that I need to hold on to her collar directly).
In addition to material considerations, there is also a question of what width of collar is best. Martingale collar widths between 1/2 inch to 2 inches are commonly seen. The wider the collar, the more the pressure of the collar will be distributed over the the dog’s neck. A normal collar width should work well for most dogs, but some dogs do benefit from a wider collar, especially those with longer or most sensitive necks.
But overall, when it comes down to it, the best martingale collar is a sturdy collar that is well-constructed and fits your dog’s neck well.
If you are interested, here are a few of the martingale collars that Glia has at home. The pink reflective one does loosen a little bit with wear, but I love the reflective quality when walking in the neighborhood at night.
The following images are links to Amazon. As an Amazon Associated I earn from qualifying purchases.
Does your dog wear a martingale harness? What are your thoughts? Do you have a favorite brand of collar? Let us know in the comments below.