A Close Look at Dog Collars

The most useful, most attractive “regular” collars we’ve ever seen.


by Nancy Kerns

Dogs have become very popular in the last decade or so, and with their increasingly higher-profile place in our society, there has been a boom in businesses that create unique and useful dog-care products. Collars might just be the most ubiquitous.

There’s an adage: “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” We think it ought to be dog collar. There are now hundreds of special-purpose collars on the market: products that purport to prevent pulling, safety collars that release under tension, light-up or reflective collars for walking in the dark, collars with built-in retractable leashes or poop-bag dispensers . . . the list is almost endless.

Equally endless is the selection of plain old “regular” collars, products that provide only the most basic services: offer a place to secure your dog’s ID and your leash. It’s astonishing how much variety can be brought to the most basic product. Even in the “regular” collar category, there are products that emphasize certain abilities: increased strength, for example, or comfort, light weight, smoothness on the coat, or ease of use. Or, of course, fashion. Collars that look cool while working well – what more can you ask for?

Selection Criteria
Sometimes when we do a review of a certain type of product, there are only a few to examine, so we can try them all and tell you which ones performed well and which ones you shouldn’t waste your money on. Since this category is so huge – even with specialty collars excluded – all of the products we are going to tell you about in this review qualify as “top picks,” earning our four-paw rating (see “Rating System and Product Details” sidebar). We won’t bother telling you about the many products that failed our in-store examination, or the catalog-sourced products that disappointed us. We’d rather use the space on products we really like.

What, exactly, do we like in a collar? To start, we look for top-quality materials – leather that is soft and supple, evenly dyed, neither greasy nor dry; nylon that feels smooth and pliable; and buckles and snaps that open and close easily and securely. Next, we examine the quality of the workmanship. We want to see tight, even stitching, and nylon ends that are smoothly heat-sealed to prevent fraying. The collar should be constructed in such a way that it lies nicely around the dog’s neck, without pressing or bending inward in a way that could rub or otherwise cause the dog to be uncomfortable.

Next, we look for products that are easy to use. Sometimes this is a result of good hardware – for example, when the maker utilizes a D-ring that is especially large, making it easy to clip a leash onto it. In other cases, the ease-of-use is a result of good workmanship, such as when the holes for a buckle are punched a little on the large side, to make it easier to align the tongue of the buckle with just the right hole.

Last, but not least, we look for products that offer a lot more than the usual amount of attractiveness. Hip? Elegant? Showy? Any and all qualify.

Okay, let’s get on with it. In no particular order, here are the collars currently on the market that we like best.

Hemp Collars
Wow! Hemp has to be the softest, most comfortable, but strong fabric we’ve ever felt. Planet Dog has put the material to great use in its flat collars, available in an unlined style or lined with a soft fleece material.

As we went to press, we learned that Planet Dog recently discontinued its models with the belt-type buckles (shown in center and left, above) in favor of metal side-release style buckles. (The smallest size has plastic buckles – lighter for little dogs.) We liked both types, but the side-release models are more adjustable, so it’s fine with us.

We were originally attracted to the fleece-lined collar for dogs we know with very thin coats; leather, nylon, and even cotton can rub bare spots on some of these dogs’ necks and throats. The fleece does a nice job of keeping the coat intact, but we found that the unlined hemp was easy on these dogs’ coats, too. We also liked the ample size of the D-rings for attaching leashes.

Planet Dog offers these collars in just a few groovy colors: apple-green, orange, and purple. Matching leashes are available.

The company literature claimed that hemp takes washing well, and just gets better with time. That’s been our experience so far.

Soft Web Collars
There are dozens of nylon collars on the market, but we don’t know any company besides White Pine that uses this very soft, silky nylon for its collars (and leashes, long lines, and harnesses). It’s an absolute pleasure in the hand, making the order of a matching leash a necessity! The material is colorfast and can be washed frequently without stiffening. The collars come in a variety of widths, from 3/8″ (which is very lightweight, for tiny dogs) to an attractive 1″ for big dogs. They are also available in a wide variety of bright, pretty colors.

The Soft Web collars are available in two styles: the “Soft Snap,” which has a plastic side-release buckle (shown in the center of the photo above), or the “Soft Slip” (the outer collar in the photo), which is a limited-slip collar. The latter type of collar tightens slightly with leash tension to prevent a dog from slipping out of it, but if properly fit, they cannot choke a dog). The D-rings on the collars are black stainless steel. Best of all is the reasonable price.

Tail Waggin’ Collars
These are the second-most expensive collars we’ve featured here, but also the most attractive, in our opinion – colorful, unique, well-made, and perfectly functional.

Wendel Wirth, proprietor of “a tail we could wag” (yes, it’s spelled with all small letters), made the first “Tail Waggin’ Collar” for her own dog out of an old leash and a worn Guatemalan sash. She and her dog received so many compliments about the collar, that she began sewing a limited number of the collars and selling them in a local bar and grill. A thriving business was born.

Wirth now offers collars (and matching leashes) in a number of gorgeous patterns, all of which are traditional Mayan designs, woven for the company by native Mayans in Guatemala. The woven cotton is then stitched to a strong, soft nylon backing. The hardware used includes large solid brass D-rings and plastic side-release buckles that are slightly curved, for the dog’s comfort. Little touches like these really improve the performance of a product, and we just love these collars.

Top Rope Collar
This flat collar has a couple of cool features that almost make it too “tricked out” to include in this “regular” collar review.

It gets its name by virtue of an elegantly simple (and probably soon-to-be-copied) feature: a plastic “keeper” that keeps a large D-ring conveniently positioned at the back of the dog’s neck, where you can quickly and easily snap the leash on and off. Plus, with the leash fastened at the back of the dog’s neck, he’s less likely to step over the leash when you’re not paying attention. Too cool! An extra-heavy side-release buckle also serves as “ballast,” helping to hold the collar in the “right” position. This might prove a bit too clunky for a very small dog, but then again, the smallest size can be adjusted down to only nine inches, so perhaps this is self-limiting.

Another innovative feature (shared by some of Ruff Wear’s other collars) is a separate plastic loop, sewn onto the nylon fabric, for your dog’s ID tags. No more accidently clipping the leash onto the flimsy little ring the ID tags hang on!

The Top Rope Collar is available in four solid colors and four cool patterns.

Here’s another basic collar from Ruff Wear with some neat “extra” features.

The Knot-a-Collar has a minimal appearance that some owners will like; it looks like just a bit of light, mountain-climbing-type rope tied around the dog’s neck. But as the name suggests, the knots that the collar is tied with are what makes it special. You slip the buckleless collar over the dog’s head; it takes two hands pulling on the collar a certain way to adjust its fit. When a leash is attached properly to the stainless steel ring on the collar, no amount of tension will make the collar tighten. But if the dog snags the collar on something, it will slide loose enough to free him.

Ruff Wear has again included a separate ring on which the dog’s ID tags can be hung, so you don’t accidently snap the leash onto the flimsy ID tag ring.

The Knot-a-Collar is available in three colors and two widely adjustable sizes.

Mrs. Bones Collars
Okay, we know: That’s a crazy price for a dog collar. These collars are for dogs who belong to completely dog-crazy people.

All of Mrs. Bones collars are made of washable fabric, and use solid brass hardware, or in some designs, plastic side-release buckles. That’s the only generalization we’ll make about these collars, because the company offers a head-spinning array of deluxe fabrics and patterns to choose from. The tiny ones start at 5/8″ wide; the giant collars are up to 2″ wide. The fabrics include velvet, brocade, tartan, and silk-lined models.

All of Mrs. Bones collars are available in three different basic forms. The first has a standard plastic side-release buckle (the nice, curved kind). The second is what Mrs. Bones calls a “sighthound” style – a “limited slip” design that slides over the dog’s head and then is adjusted to fit. The D-ring for leash attachment is sewn into a separate loop of fabric that tightens to a limited degree with tension on the leash.

The final style is a “single loop” design that also passes over a dog’s head and is adjusted with a slider to fit. The latter style is particularly well-suited for tiny dogs or dogs with delicate skin or coats, since there is no buckle to rub the coat or irritate the dog’s neck.

Simply put, Mrs. Bones has the biggest offering of really gorgeous and unique designs available; there are several hundred styles and sizes to choose from, and the collars are custom-made for your dog. If it’s important to you to have the only collar of a particular kind in your whole town, Mrs. Bones is the place to shop.

Presidio Collar
This is a very simple collar that makes our list by virtue of the unique material it is made of: BioThane, a patented material made of a polypropylene webbing that is coated with urethane.

Used increasingly in horse tack, BioThane is an incredibly strong, flexible material, and available in a wide variety of vivid colors (and even a glow-in-the-dark option for an extra $2, but we didn’t test that one). BioThane is also waterproof, if the material is heat-sealed at every spot where it is cut or punched. We couldn’t detect evidence of heat-sealing in the products we tested, but even if OllyDog doesn’t do it, it’s a simple thing to do yourself, with a fire-heated blade or screwdriver.

These collars are lightweight, smooth, and so flexible, they must be comfortable. They can be ordered in one of two widths: 3/4″ or 1″. The hardware appears to be high-quality stainless steel. Best of all, the material can be kept clean and odor-free with the wipe of a sponge.