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How Tight Should a Dog Collar Be?

A pet collar is essential for any dog that spends time outside. Your dog’s collar keeps them safe and identifiable, but if the collar doesn’t fit properly, it could pose a bigger safety risk.

If your dog’s collar is too tight, you risk choking or hurting your pup. A loose collar, on the other hand, means your dog could potentially escape or injure themselves.

Before you take your dog for a walk, use this helpful guide to determine how tight a normal dog collar should be.

A dog with a blue collar

The Two-Finger Rule for Dog Collars

To check if your dog’s collar fits them properly, the two-finger rule is a great benchmark to follow.

Two fingers are only a guideline, however, and the right fit will depend on your dog’s body size and the type of collar you choose.

For a small dog, one finger may be enough space. For a very large dog, you may need to go up to three fingers. Use your best judgment based on how the collar feels against your fingers or consult your vet or an expert trainer for more guidance.

Follow these steps to perform the two-finger test:

1) Take Your Dog’s Measurements

Before you can properly fit the collar to your dog’s neck, you need to purchase the right size for their weight and breed.

Use a measuring tape to measure the circumference of where the collar will sit on your dog. Depending on the type of collar that you’re using, this could be around the neck, behind the ears, or around your dog’s muzzle.

If you don’t have a measuring tape, you can also use a piece of string. Wrap the string around your dog’s neck, or wherever the collar will be placed, then mark where the ends come together. Then, lay the string flat on a surface, and use a ruler to measure the string.

Once you’ve measured, measure your dog an additional time. Double-checking your measurements will help you get the most accurate figure possible before you make a definitive purchase.

2) Find the Right Size Collar

When you have your dog’s measurements, add one to three inches to ensure the collar won’t be too tight. These measurements will determine what size collar your dog needs.

When you look for a collar in-store or online, always read the measurement and size charts instead of going by the standard sizing labels.

What one collar brand considers a medium may be a large in a different brand, so using the measurements is the only way to get an accurate understanding of which collar will fit your dog.

3) Test and Adjust the Collar’s Fit

Once you have the collar, clasp and secure it according to your dog’s collar type and the given instructions. Then, try to slide two fingers flat underneath the collar.

If the fingers slide in easily and the collar doesn’t feel snug against those two fingers, the collar is too loose. Tighten the collar until it fits snug against your two fingers.

If the fingers can’t fit under your dog’s collar, the collar is too tight. Loosen the collar until your fingers fit underneath, but the collar is still snug around your dog’s neck.

It’s important to also keep in mind that collars will naturally stretch over time as your dog wears them. Always check your dog’s collar with the two-finger rule and make adjustments as needed to keep your pup safe.

A Dalmatian with a leather collar

Why the Fit of Your Dog’s Collar Matters

Collars are an important part of keeping your dog safe, but they also present safety risks if they aren’t properly secured on your dog. Always make sure your dog’s collar is measured properly and fastened just snug enough to effectively restrain them.

Here are a few potential safety risks of ill-fitting collars for your dog:

1) A Choking Hazard

If your dog’s collar is too tight, it can restrict their ability to breathe, leading to painful coughs and strangulation, especially if your dog pulls on the leash.

The collar can also damage your dog’s neck muscles if they strain too hard against the collar. Repeated stress to the neck can lead to long-term medical issues like damage to the thyroid glands or neck tissues.

The risk of a too-tight collar is especially prevalent in puppies that are still growing and may outgrow their current collar before their parent realizes. Check the fit of your puppy’s collar with the two-finger test every time you put it on.

2) Skin Irritation

If your dog’s collar is too tight, it can also rub against their skin, leading to painful irritation.

The friction from the collar scraping against the skin can leave inflamed, painful spots along your dog’s neck, making daily walks uncomfortable. The frequent rubbing can also lead to hair loss, and the inflamed areas around your dog’s neck can become infected.

3) Escape Artist

While a collar that’s too tight poses many risks, so does a collar that’s too loose. With a loose collar, your dog can easily slip out when you least expect it.

If you walk your dog in crowded public areas like city neighborhoods, your dog could be lost, stolen, or injured by a car if they escape.

4) Accidental Injuries

A loose collar can snag on anything while you’re walking, from a fence post to a tree branch. Just one snag can injure your dog’s neck, or even cut into their skin.

Loose collars also risk capturing your dog’s paws while they scratch or paw at their collar. If your dog’s paw is stuck, this could break or seriously injure their limbs.

A dog with a patterned collar

How Often Should Your Dog Wear a Collar?

Even if your dog’s collar fits perfectly, it can still pose a safety risk if your dog wears it all the time. Keep your dog’s collar on for any outdoor activities like walks or outdoor playtime, as well as indoor public places like your favorite dog-friendly local brewery.

You can remove your dog’s collar, however, when they’re at home and relaxing inside. Not only does this help your dog differentiate between playtime and relaxation time, but it can prevent injuries during the night.

Your dog’s collar can get caught on their kennel or your dog’s paw could get stuck, and they may struggle to get free. Consider putting a collar on your dog inside only when you’re able to fully supervise them.

Should Dogs Sleep with Collars On?

For the reasons above, it’s best to remove your dog’s collar before they go to sleep. It will prevent any accidental injuries or discomfort during the night and give your pup time to relax without anything constricting around their neck.

Just make sure that your home is secure, and your pup can’t escape if they’re collar-less. It’s a good idea to microchip your dog as an extra layer of security. This way, if your pup ever does escape, they have a much greater chance of being returned safely to you.

What Is the Safest Dog Collar?

The safest dog collar for your pup depends on the size, breed, and activity level of your dog. Bigger dogs may need a thicker, more robust collar that won’t break easily in case of a sudden pull. Smaller dogs may benefit from thinner and more lightweight collars designed to provide some comfort while still allowing plenty of movement.

Martingale collars are a good option for dogs with narrow heads, as the two-loop design prevents your pup from slipping out of the collar. Reflective collars are also a great choice for any pup, as they help keep them visible in low-light situations.

Shock collars and prong collars are not recommended, as they can lead to pain and discomfort. Ultimately, the safest collar for your pup is one that fits appropriately – not too tight or too loose – and provides the necessary comfort and safety.

Does Your Dog’s Collar Fit Properly?

Collars are a necessary part of taking your dog in public – they help you keep control over your pup’s actions, as well as offer identification in the event your dog gets lost.

As long as your dog’s collar fits properly and you supervise them at all times while wearing one, the collar will remain a helpful tool.