How to choose and use the right collars for your labrador

Photo credit: © / Chalabala

With so many types and styles available, choosing a collar for your Labrador isn’t as simple as most owners first think!

Nylon, leather or made from metal? Buckle or ‘quick-release’? How wide and what size?

Will one collar do for all occasions? Or should you buy a selection of collars for different situations?

And how about harnesses and head halters? What are they for and should you consider them?

By the end of this article you’ll be well-informed and far more confident in making the correct decisions about the collars you buy for your Labrador Retriever.

Contents & Quick Navigation

  • 3 What Size Collar Does Your Labrador Need?
  • 3.1 How Wide a Collar Does Your Labrador Need?
  • 3.2 How Long a Collar Does Your Labrador Need?
  • 4 An Introduction to Training Collars
  • 4.1 ‘Prong’ or ‘Pinch’ Collars
  • 4.2 ‘Choke’ or ‘Chain-Slip’ Collars
  • 4.3 How to Use Training Collars
  • 4.4 WARNING: Always Remove a Training Collar When Not In Training
  • 5 Alternatives to a Collar and Leash
  • 5.1 Slipleads
  • 5.2 Harnesses
  • 5.3 Head Halters
  • 6 High Visibility Collars For a Labrador
  • 7 When to Replace Your Labrador’s Collar
  • 8 A Few Final Tips!
  • 9 Collars Recommended By Us
  • 10 Conclusion
  • What is a Dog Collar Actually For?

    First and foremost, a collar gives you the ability to restrain your Labrador for safety purposes. For instance when walking beside or crossing a busy street, to keep your Lab safely by your side a collar is essential to attach a line or leash. Without a collar, you cannot enforce control and your dog is free to wander off into danger.

    A second reason for wearing a collar is identification purposes.

    In the UK, the Control of Dogs Order 1992 requires that any dog in a public place must have an ID tag with the name of their owner and address engraved on it so the owner can always be identified. This law applies to many other countries too and in some places you should also attach your license and rabies tags

    A third reason for some types of collar (pinch, choke and prong collars) are for use as a punishment during training, mostly for pulling on the leash.

    A fourth reason can be for ‘bark control’, as a way to curb a dog’s incessant barking. There are electric shock collars, ultrasonic collars that emit a loud sound, others that vibrate and others still that spray a nasty scent. All types are activated any time a dog wearing such a collar barks, interrupting them and helping to stop the behavior.

    A fifth reason is for control of parasites. ‘Flea collars‘ are a secondary collar (not the main one to attach a leash) steeped in chemicals that kill fleas and often ticks as well.

    The final reason for a collar? Well, to have some fun and make your Labrador look as cool or cute as possible! There are many different colors, looks and patterns to choose from, so you can have some fun :-)

    How To Choose a Collar For Everyday Use

    There are literally thousands of fantastic looking, functional and good value collars you could choose for everyday use. (We’ve put together a modest collection of the best collars for Labradors you can read by clicking here.)

    Your first decision is to choose either a flat or ‘rolled’ rounded collar.

    Flat Or Round Collar?

    Personally, I think a classic flat style of collar looks best on the classic looking Labrador. The reasons people would choose to avoid a flat collar are they tend to somewhat damage the coat in long-haired breeds, but this isn’t a problem with the short-haired Labrador.

    So I recommend flat leather or Nylon webbing collars, with ID attached and a quick-release fastening for everyday use.

    If you ever leave your lab unsupervised wearing a collar, and especially if your Lab’s an inquisitive exploring type that roots through undergrowth and jump into Lakes, there’s a very real risk of a collar snagging causing strangulation or even drowning!

    OK, It’s rare but it can and does happen, so I strongly recommend a quick release or ‘break-away’ fastening collar.

    These collars are designed to force open during a struggle if your Labrador should ever get their collar snagged and are a real life saver in these situations.

    What Size Collar Does Your Labrador Need?

    There’s no straight forward answer to this as Labrador neck sizes can vary wildly. English Labradors are larger than American Labradors, males are larger than females, genetics play a part and some labs carry more weight than others.

    But you need to know what width of collar best suits a Labrador, and then measure their neck to know the correct size.

    How Wide a Collar Does Your Labrador Need?

    The width of a collar has a direct relationship to the amount of pressure the collar puts on your Labradors neck.

    If your Labrador pulls or you ‘check’ your Labrador with a leash pull, a 1 inch collar concentrates all the pressure on a much smaller area of the dog’s neck than a 3 inch collar would that spreads the pressure out over a larger area.

    But of course, a wider collar is heavier and can be uncomfortably rigid so you have to strike a balance. Also, very wide collars can look a bit silly on all but the very largest of dogs.

    My recommendation? A good 1.5 to 2 inch collar is perfect for a Labrador retriever with a preference for 1.5 inches.

    How Long a Collar Does Your Labrador Need?

    When a collar’s fitted correctly, you’ll be able to fit two fingers between the collar and your Labradors neck. This will put the collar at the correct fit where it isn’t so tight it’s uncomfortable and rubs the fur off your Labradors neck, but isn’t so loose they could slip it off over their heads.

    As a general rule of thumb, this means you want to measure the circumference of your Labs neck with a measuring tape and then add 2 inches.

    For Example: You measure your Labradors neck to be 18 inches. Add 2 inches for a correct fit making the collar you need 20 inches.

    You’ll find collars are sold at lengths that can be adjusted anywhere between 2 and 6 inches and you want to buy a collar that has a range with the measurement you’ve taken slap bang in the middle of this range so you can adjust as necessary.

    So for our example, we want to buy a collar with 20 inches in the center of what the collar says it fits. We should buy for instance, a collar to fit necks from 18 to 22 inches as 20 is in the middle and gives room for adjustment each way.

    To see a selection of the best collars, pre-selected as suitable for Labradors, all very highly rated by previous buyers, please click here.

    An Introduction to Training Collars

    There are two main styles of training collar used today:

    ‘Prong’ or ‘Pinch’ Collars

    This type of collar is a chain of metal links with prongs pointing inwards, the idea being that it ‘pinches’ a dogs neck all around when they pull.

    This creates a scenario where pulling causes a punishment and will decrease the behavior over time.

    Using them incorrectly and especially if ill-fitting, these collars can cause considerable harm and are considered by nearly all to be inhumane and should be avoided.

    However, there are some old-school, traditional trainers who swear by them in extreme cases, for strong and stubborn hard pullers when all other training avenues have failed. So it can perhaps be argued they’re sometimes an effective training tool.

    Having said that though – like most people – we do not condone them, believe they are inhumane and will not promote their use on this site.

    For a somewhat detailed discussion on the use of prong collars, please click here.

    ‘Choke’ or ‘Chain-Slip’ Collars

    This type of collar is a metal chain with a ring on each end, the chain being passed through one of the rings to form a loop to place around the dog’s neck.

    This allows the chain to be pulled through one of the rings on the end, so if the dog pulls, the chain tightens and constricts around the dog’s neck.

    Like the prong collar, the aim for this is to ‘punish’ a dog for pulling so it’s less inclined to do so in future.

    This collar can be very dangerous to use with the potential to cause permanent damage to your Labrador if used incorrectly. There’s nothing to stop the chain from being pulled ever tighter and crushing your Labradors throat!

    So extreme caution and education is needed before anybody ever considers using this collar.

    However, like the prong collar, we do not condone them, believe they should never be used and will not be promoted here.

    How to Use Training Collars

    If anybody does ever decide to use a prong or choke collar, please have a professional trainer show you how first. The correct technique is a quick ‘pop’ or ‘snap’ on the leash as a correction, followed by instantly releasing the pressure.

    The idea is definitely not to asphyxiate the dog into submission!

    Luckily there are now many methods to train a Labrador to walk nicely beside you without the use of such collars. Therefore I will rarely discuss their use on this site and certainly do not recommend their purchase or use.

    WARNING: Always Remove a Training Collar When Not In Training

    If you ever do use a prong or chain-slip collar, always remove it when you aren’t training your Lab. It’s incredibly dangerous to leave these collars on as they can easily get caught and cause in strangulation.

    No exceptions please, always remove these collars when not training!

    Alternatives to a Collar and Leash

    A collar and leash isn’t the only option available, and sometimes it isn’t the best option either. There are also slipleads, harnesses and halters to consider that are more suitable for use in specific situations.

    Slipleads

    Slip leads are a single piece of rope that effectively combine a collar and lead into one easy to use item that’s quick to put on and take off your dog, by slipping it over their heads as required.

    These are often used by working dog owners who want to avoid a traditional collar as they can be a choking hazard on a dog that spends time running through undergrowth.

    If yours is the type of dog who spends a lot of time off leash in bushes and undergrowth, then I can certainly recommend the use of a sliplead.

    You should take note that a slip-lead does tighten on a dog’s neck if they pull, so if your dog is a puller, I’d shy away from a slip-lead until they are sufficiently trained to walk nicely on a loose leash.

    To see the slip leads we highly recommend at Labrador Training HQ, please click here.

    Harnesses

    Harnesses are recommended for dogs that have injury, disease or other problems with their throats or neck.

    A collar can put a great deal of pressure on a dog’s neck when they pull, making any existing problems worse. A harness doesn’t place any pressure on the neck of a dog in any way, making them ideal for dogs with such problems.

    There are traditional back clip harnesses available that I wouldn’t recommend for a strong dog like a Labrador that can have a reputation for pulling…unless of course they’re already well-trained to walk nicely without pulling.

    The harnesses I would recommend are front clipped no pull solution dog harnesses that are a good choice for those with Labs that are determined pullers.

    As the name suggests, a front clip harness has a clip for attaching a leash to the chest which lessens a dog’s ability and desire to pull, therefore keeping you more in control. This contrasts with a back clip harness where a dog can really put his whole weight and strength into pulling, such as the harnesses you see on a husky!

    The ‘Easy Walk Dog Harness’ is the best and most highly recommended of such harnesses, you can learn more / Buy from Amazon by clicking here.

    Head Halters

    A halter for a dog looks much like a halter for a horse and has the same use.

    There is a band that wraps around the back of the dog’s head and another band looping round the dog’s nose with a point to attach a leash just under the chin.

    One of the most popular styles of Halter is the ‘Halti’ as seen to the left.

    With a halter, when you or your Labrador pulls on the leash their head is pulled downwards or off to the side.

    This makes it very hard for the dog to pull forward as this would cause their head to be pulled even further down or to the side.

    This results in the dog stopping and over time teaches them that pulling only leads to stopping so they soon learn not to pull.

    So a halter is a useful training aid for walking a Labrador that pulls obsessively.

    Most dogs don’t take well to a halter at first, so it’s recommended to introduce it slowly and spend some time to desensitize them to it before any kind of regular use.

    It’s also very important it’s fitted correctly and this isn’t the easiest thing to do for a new user, so it’s worth seeking professional advice on how to fit and use it, perhaps a training session or two from a professional is a good idea until you’ve learnt to fit and use it right yourself.

    You can see more details of the two most popular style of ‘no-pull’ solution head halters by clicking here.

    High Visibility Collars For a Labrador

    There’s been a boom in recent years in the availability of high visibility collars for dogs, some reflective and others with LED lights.

    As the nights get longer, it’s darker in the mornings and night sets in quicker, so many of us are forced to walk our dogs when it’s very dark outside.

    But paths, fields and parks are mostly unlit and this is a dangerous situation for your Labrador to be in.

    If you can’t see them, you cannot possibly know if they’re heading for danger and cannot possibly know if they’ve run away from you.

    And others may not know there’s Labrador anywhere near which can create dangerous situations for not just your Lab, but for cyclists and motorists too!

    Wearing a high visibility or even LED collar eliminates this danger and allows everybody to see where your Labrador is in the dark.

    Once you use a high visibility collar for walking your dog in the dark and tasted the reassurance of always knowing exactly where they are, you may find you’ll never want to do without again!

    You can see and read more about our pick of the two best high vis, LED lit collars by clicking here.

    When to Replace Your Labrador’s Collar

    A collar is an important safety device! The last thing you want is it to break when on a walk so you cannot restrain your Lab.

    Every 2 to 3 weeks you should check your dog’s collar for any signs of stretching, tears or other damage and replace it if it’s stretched or defective in any way.

    During this check, also make sure the collar is adjusted to fit well as your dogs weight and coat thickness may fluctuate between seasons.

    It’s important to note that puppies grow very quickly and if a collar isn’t loosened as your puppy’s neck expands, the collar can grow into their neck causing discomfort and pain. You should check the fit of your puppy’s collar every week until they’re a fully grown dog at about 12 to 14 months old.

    A Few Final Tips!

    I strongly recommend taking your dog’s collar off when indoors for a number of reasons:

    • It avoids the collar potentially getting caught on their crate or other furniture which is a choke hazard.
    • Bacteria can grow under a sweaty damp collar, taking it off regularly will help decrease this and the associated, very unwanted smell!
    • It prevents excessive rubbing of the collar on your Labrador’s coat which can result in damage to their fur (though this shouldn’t happen if the collar is fitted correctly anyway.)
    • Taking the collar off for periods of time will extend its life, saving a few pennies…and every little helps over the lifetime of your Lab :-)

    Secondly, always measure your dog’s neck when figuring out the size for a new collar. Do not simply measure an old collar because they can stretch and you’ll end up purchasing a collar that’s too big.

    Finally, there’s no law stating you have to put the name of your dog on an ID tag, just your name and address. You can if you wish but I’d recommend you don’t because it massively helps dog thieves when you do!

    A thief will be more able to call and control your Lab and they’ll look more like the genuine owner if the name they use is the name the dog always responds to. This raises less suspicion than if they had the wrong name and makes it easier for them to sell the dog on.

    Collars Recommended By Us

    So which collar should you buy? I actually recommend the purchase of 3 different collars for 3 different uses.

    For everyday use I recommend a flat collar with a quick release or buckle fastener, made from leather or synthetic fibers.

    For when you take your lab out swimming or hiking, I recommend a quick release collar (no belt style buckle) or rope slip-lead, removing the possibility of a collar snagging and becoming a choke risk.

    Finally, I recommend a high visibility collar for wearing in the dark, so you and others can more easily see your dog which can help prevent accidents on dark country roads and paths, whilst helping you not to lose sight of him and worry all the time.

    You need to attach ID tags to collars while out in public in the UK and many other countries. But don’t help potential thieves by putting your dogs names on the tags.

    Prong collars, choke-chains, halters and harnesses I would never buy or recommend.

    For a hand-picked list of excellent quality, highly rated collars recommended by us, please click here.

    Conclusion

    After spending a few minutes reading this article, my hope is you’re now much more confident about how to choose the most appropriate collar for your Labrador.

    Video: How to use a chain training collar (choke chain)

    And if you haven’t done so already, I have a guide on how to get your Labrador puppy used to their first collar that you can read by clicking here.

    Thank you for reading and if you have any questions or anything to add, please leave a comment in the section below :-)

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