How Tight Should a Dog Collar Be? The Collar Fitting Guide

Picking out a collar for your dog should be an easy task, right? As new dog owners quickly find out, picking out a collar isn’t as easy as you’d think. When you get to the dog store, you realize there are many different types of collars than you thought. Then you realize you have no idea what size collar to get. Turns out, purchasing a new collar wasn’t as easy as you once thought!

If a dog collar is too tight it can cause skin irritation. Too lose and it can strangulate. This dog is wearing the proper fitting collar.

Let’s first address the issue of what type of collar to get. There are 3 primary types of collars.

  1. The Traditional Dog Collar
  2. The Martingale Dog Collar
  3. The Harness

Unless you have a specific need for the martingale or the harness, it’s best to go with a simple traditional collar. The rest of this article is going to be addressing how to get a proper fit with a traditional collar.

For those that don’t want to read all the details, here’s the quick answer

A dog’s collar should be loose enough so the collar can still spin around the neck, but tight enough so the dog can’t wiggle it off. The general rule is that you should be able to fit your index and middle finger underneath the collar. If you can fit a third finger, the collar is too loose. If you can’t fit both fingers, the collar is too tight. 

Now that you know the general rule, let’s go into detail on how to accurately measure so you know which size to purchase.

The 3 Step Method to Ensure a Proper Fit

Using the two step method, you'll be able to get the right fit for your dogs collar

Finding the right fit is a simple process that can be boiled down into three steps.

Step 1: Use a Cloth Tape Measure

The first step is to use a cloth tape measure to measure the circumference of the middle of your dog’s neck.

A lot of guides on selecting the right size for a collar will tell you that if you don’t have a cloth tape measure, you can wrap string or yarn around your dog’s neck, cut it, and then measure the length of the string. We DO NOT recommend this method because it isn’t accurate. String can stretch a little too much, and on top of that, to get the correct measurement, you have to have the perfect cut.

Cloth tape measures aren’t expensive, and you can get them at any convenience store. Since you’ll be purchasing new collars for your dog throughout their life, it’s a good idea to invest in a cloth tape measure instead of relying on string.

Step 2: Purchase The Right Size

Traditional dog collars come in 5 sizes, all of which are adjustable by about 3 inches. Take a look at the chart below to figure out which size you should purchase.

XS: 7”-10”
S: 8”-12”
M: 12”-15”
L: 15”-18”
XL: 18”-23”

 Note:  The measurements given above are a general rule and apply to most dog collars. However, some companies may size differently. It’s important to read the sizing info on the packaging before purchasing.

Step 3: Adjusting Using Two Fingers

Once you purchase the right size, now is the time to use the classic two finger rule. Start by taking your best guess on the proper length and try putting the collar on your dog. If you can’t place your index finger and middle finger in the collar, it’s too tight. If you can fit a third finger, it’s too loose. Continue to make small adjustments until you get the correct fit.

Importance of Regular Testing

Adult dogs can experience rapid weight fluctuations. Because of this, you’ll want to perform the two finger test once every 12 weeks to make sure the collar still fits.

If your dog is still a puppy (under 6 months), you’ll need to check the size of the collar every few days. Puppies grow at a rapid rate, what fits this week may not fit next week.

The Dangers of Too Loose

Many people think that a collar that’s too tight is more dangerous than a collar that’s too loose. The truth is, a collar that is too loose is just as dangerous. Here are some of the risks that come along with a loose collar.

Collar Gets Caught

This is the most significant danger to a collar that’s too loose. A loose collar increases the chances of the collar getting stuck on something and suffocating your dog. For example, let’s pretend your dog is trying to jump a fence. There’s a chance the collar will get caught on part of the fence, which will cause your dog to choke.

Leg Gets Stuck

This is another thing that a lot of dog owners don’t think about. If a dog’s collar is too loose and they scratch behind their ears, there’s a chance their leg could get stuck under the collar. This can lead to damaged ligaments and even a broken bone. If the dog tries too hard to escape, it can also lead to a hip injury.

Escaping/Running Off

This is the first “loose collar” problem most dog owners think of. If the collar is too loose, most dogs will easily be able to wiggle their way out of it. If this happens on a walk, your dog may escape the leash and run right into the streets.

Dangers of Too Tight

there are a lot of dangers to a dog collar that's too tight

Tight collars can cause serious harm to a dog. Unfortunately, some of the dangers from a tight collar accumulate over time. This means your dog may look fine on the surface level, but day to day, their health might be deteriorating.

Blockage of Airway

Anything tight around the neck can block the airway. You’ll be able to tell if the airway is completely blocked because your dog won’t be able to breathe. However, the collar can still be partially blocking the airway, which means your dog can still breathe, but it’s difficult and not much air is getting in the lungs.

This is extremely dangerous because not getting enough oxygen can cause major organs to fail. It doesn’t happen overnight, and your dog probably won’t give any warning signs until it’s too late. That’s why it’s essential to do a quick collar fit check every 2-3 months.

Skin Irritation

Although this one isn’t deadly, it can be painful! Even if the collar isn’t super tight (you can still fit one finger in), it will cause the collar to rub against the skin, which leads to skin irritation or rash. Not only is a rash painful, but it leads to a higher chance of infection.

FAQ Regarding Dog Collar Sizes

After releasing this article, we started receiving email with quite a few questions regarding the fit of dog collars. We will do our best to answer them below.

Does The Dog Need to Wear The Collar 24/7

I usually only take my dog’s collar off when it’s time for grooming. You never know when your dog will escape. If they do manage to escape the house and run away, the odds of reuniting with your dog are much higher if the dog is wearing a collar with identification tags.

What About The Width of The Collar?

This is a great question! The tightness of a dog collar isn’t all that matters. If the collar is too wide for your dog, then it can cause skin irritation. Our advice would be to go with the standard width which is 1.5 inches. This width works for just about any adult dog. If you have a large dog breed such as a Great Dane, you may need to go with a wider collar.

Should We Do The 2 Finger Test For Shock Collar?

No, the 2 finger test will not work for shock collars. We don’t really recommend shock collars in the first place, but if you must use one, you’ll need to make sure it’s a snug fit. If you choose to use a shock collar on your dog, don’t have them wear it all day. A shock collar does not replace a standard collar.

What if My Dog is a Fluffy Dog?

If you have a fluffy dog such as a pomeranian, getting the collar to fit properly can be a bit tricky. You don’t want it too tight or too loose, but the fluffy fur can make it hard to get the proper size. Measure just under the coat, but don’t press the measurement against the skin. You want it to feel snug but not choking. This is one of the few exceptions where the two finger rule does not apply. When taking your fluffy dog on a walk, it’s probably best to use a harness. Fluffy dogs tend to escape collars with ease.

Can I Tighten The Collar For a Walk?

You can, but ask yourself if there is really a need to? I understand the fear of your dog escaping the collar and running out into the streets or getting in a fight with another dog. However, as long as you can fit two fingers snugly between the neck and the collar, your dog shouldn’t be able to escape. If this is a big fear of yours, you may want to consider using a harness on walks instead of relying on the collar. If you tighten the collar too much, your dog may be uncomfortable the whole time and not enjoy the walk.

Getting The Right Fit is Your Responsibility

When you choose to become a dog owner, you accept a lot of new responsibilities. One of which is to make sure your dog is comfortable. Making sure the collar is a perfect fit is crucial for your dog’s comfort. The good news is getting the right fit is easy. Just measure the dog’s neck with a cloth measuring tape, purchase the correct size, and make sure you can fit two fingers between the neck and collar. No need to overcomplicate a simple process!

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