Thursday 25 October 2018

What Collar is Right for My Doggy?

One size does not fit all, and one kind of collar is not suitable for all dogs. Since I started making collars because I couldn't find a collar I liked for my poodles, I've sold around 300 collars or leads and learned a lot about why other people choose particular collars and what needs different dogs have, and sometimes these choices are made for the wrong reasons and a dog's collar doesn't suit its needs. I'm also horrified to find out that some people leave collars on their dogs constantly, even when they go out and the dog is at home without supervision (please don't do this, dogs have been known to get their collars caught on objects or other dogs and be seriously injured or even killed). I'm going to try to explain here which collars are suited to which dogs doing what, and provide some links to other collar makers that are more suitable for specific circumstances.

If you bought a pair of expensive handmade shoes, you would expect them to be good quality and durable. Something you probably wouldn't do is wear them at work if you worked in a garage and spilt diesel and engine oil all over them, wear them in the kitchen while cooking your dinner and spill tomato sauce on them, and every weekend go to the seaside in them and stick them in a rockpool and jump up and down in the incoming tide and then go to bed in them soaking wet. If you did, I don't think you'd really have much cause for complaint if they didn't last as well as they might otherwise, or if they ended up looking like they had just been found in a peat bog next to Tollund Man.

Therefore, if you also bought an expensive handmade leather collar, and you treat it in the same way, don't expect it to last as long as it might, or to stay looking nice. The price you are paying for is to cover the workmanship and materials, and it does not mean the product is indestructible.

This is Adhara's collar that she has been using for around two years. It could do with a clean as she wears it doing agility and the floor is very dirty, and if I have to take it off her it generally gets thrown on the ground. Other than that, it's in good condition and will continue to be usable probably for the rest of Adhara's life. Crucially, Adhara only wears this collar when she needs to (when I need to put a lead on her or she's in a public place). At home and on my own land she doesn't wear a collar.

In contrast, this is Indi's collar, which she has been wearing for two years, and I mean literally wearing for two years. As there is usually someone at home, it doesn't get taken off unless Indi needs to be washed or the dogs are going to be left in the house unsupervised. Indi is my 'collar tester' for a two main reasons: firstly because, before I sell a product, I want both a good idea of how it will last with proper treatment, and an idea of what will happen to it if it's abused, and Mr Brock-o-Dale Rare Breeds takes Indi out in the rain and to all sorts of revolting dirty places. Secondly is because Mr Brock-o-Dale Rare Breeds also frequently confuses poodles for other poodles and if Indi is wearing a collar it makes it more likely he will take Indi out in the rain and not another black poodle by mistake. Indi has been in the sea in this collar and it's never been cleaned or shown any kindness. The linen thread on the inside has rotted and the seam has split. Despite this, the collar is still functional and safe to use. The failed seam is a pretty easy repair, but even with a good clean it isn't going to look new again. Believe it or not it started life being yellow. Good-quality leather that has seen a lot of use tends to oxidise and darken.

Here is another collar showing a fault that can happen. This dog is a puller and this is the second collar he has broken in this way, and instead of a repair this time he received a replacement and a complimentary prototype for him to test for me! Dogs who pull hard over a period of time can cause the stitching behind the D-ring to blow out. This doesn't affect the collar's safety as the ring is still attached to the collar, but you should stop using the collar and get it repaired. If someone returns a collar after having this happen, I resew it and set a rivet behind the D-ring so it doesn't fail again. I've started routinely riveting the larger poodle collars based on feedback due to this, and the Samson collars have always been riveted.

If you have a long-coated dog like a poodle, a quality rolled leather collar such as this or similar is what you need. The collar needs to fit correctly. You also need to remove it when it isn't needed. You'll notice that my collars are made of natural vegetable-tanned leather and have a smooth, moulded seam that stays on the inside. This minimises friction on the coat and the leather becomes softer and suppler with age as it moulds to the shape of its wearer. Good leather is expensive and has to be handstitched and shaped. Cheap rolled collars are frequently made from leather intended for upholstery or handbags, which is chrome-tanned and coated with a sort of plastic colour. The colour tends to last well, but the leather is not as strong and doesn't. This kind of leather can be cheaply machine stitched and a lot of these collars are described as rolled, but are in fact just folded in half over a core and seamed, leaving a rough, crumpled edge that won't mould to the shape of the dog.

Fit is very important. Make a parting in the coat where the collar is going to go and slide it around the neck. When it is correctly adjusted, you should be able to get two fingers comfortably in there, and no more. A properly fitted collar is extremely unlikely to get caught on something, and the dog can't wriggle out of it. Loose collars are dangerous.

What about quick-release buckles? Quick release buckles, sometimes called side release buckles, are not the same as breakaway buckles. They are not guaranteed to break if your dog gets caught on something. However, they are easier to remove in an emergency, so if your dog gets caught and starts panicking, you should be able to get the collar off easily. They are a halfway house for people who insist on leaving collars on their dogs at home, but you MUST still take the collar off if the dog isn't supervised. They are also good for people with arthritis and similar conditions who struggle with a traditional buckle. They are not as strong as a traditional buckle and not a good idea for big dogs who pull hard.

If you have a short-coated dog, or a poodle whose neck is always clipped short, then you don't need a rolled collar. It doesn't have any advantage over a flat collar. I have found Australian company Red Dingo's collars to be hardwearing, quality collars that should be suitable for short-coated dogs. They make really nice tags as well. I also make jingle bell collars and other funky stuff. Although these are novelties, I make them to be just as robust and secure as a normal collar. They should look decent for years as long as you don't leave them on the dog when they aren't needed. Constant use puts a huge amount of wear and tear on a collar. Dogs tend to scratch at collars if they are left on, and this is guaranteed to damage and dislodge decorations however firmly they're attached.

If you have a dog who likes to go swimming or otherwise gets wet a lot, you need a plastic collar. Leather products are great because they're biodegradable and better for the environment (or at least, ones made from the right kind of leather are) but plastic has its place. Choose well-made collars that will last to reduce plastic pollution. One such maker of collars is Dublin Dog Collars, which is in the USA and not Dublin, and makes buckled plastic collars themed after fish. I have a couple of these and they are what I put on my dogs if they're going swimming and I don't want their good collars trashed.

If you absolutely must leave a collar on your dog unattended, you need a collar with a fastening that's designed to fail under strain. There is always a tradeoff with safety features like this, and this type of collar is not as safe or reliable at doing what a collar is supposed to be used for. Most of them have two D-rings that you have to connect the lead to, and if you don't do this properly the collar is likely to come off. If your dog is off-lead and someone needs to restrain it and grabs the collar, again the collar is going to break. This can lead to dangerous situations that would have been prevented by a more secure collar. If you do decide you need one of these collars, it might be better to use a stronger collar when walking your dog and exchange them when the dog is at home. One make of such collars is called Keepsafe. Fit is again important as a properly fitted collar greatly reduces the risk of your dog becoming caught on something by the collar.

Very small dogs need soft, flexible collars that are easy to remove. These dogs can't pull like large dogs, so strength is less important.

There are a few kinds of collar you should not buy. The cheap 'rolled' collar made from plasticy upholstery leather is one of them I already mentioned -- they don't do anything to protect your dog's coat over a flat collar, and they often are sold with customised nasty little metal ID plates threaded onto them that will really shred your dog's coat. I'm often asked if I will make rolled collars with motifs sewn into the leather, and I refuse to do this because it's bad design and defeats the purpose of a rolled collar. The rolled part should be as smooth as an eel and the fastening part in contact with the dog as small as possible. Another collar you should not buy are the cheap ones from the pet shop. They are made from unsustainable materials, don't last long, and likely come from China where welfare for the humans and animals involved in their production just isn't great. Another kind of collar I've found to be no use is the big padded satin collars advertised as coat savers for poodles. Although these look delightful, they just don't work at what they're intended for. The friction from the large surface area encourages matting rather than protecting the coat and a rolled collar works better.

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