Dog Collar Fitting: How Tight Should a Collar Be?

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Every dog needs to wear a collar. This is especially true when they are out of the house and especially when playing with other dogs. But plenty of pet owners mess up the fit of their dogs’ collars a bit. Then they’re surprised when their pups don’t want to wear the collars or never seem to get used to them.

It’s probably because their dog collars are too tight. To be fair, it can be tough to know how tight a collar should be. With that in mind, let’s break down dog collar fitting in detail. We’ll explore how tight a dog collar should be. We’ll also break down how you can tell whether a collar is too tight or too loose.

How Tight Is Too Tight?

We all want our dogs to be safe and secure. That’s probably why many pet parents try to make their dogs’ collars tight rather than loose. That said, it’s very easy to make your dog’s collar too tight for comfort or for their health.

So just how tight is too tight? If your dog displays any of the following symptoms:

  • They hack or dry cough constantly.
  • They take care not to tug on the leash even a little bit.
  • They seem to have difficulty breathing.
  • They seem lethargic or out of energy.

… it could be a sign that the collar is too tight. The collar may be restricting airflow, meaning your dog will gradually lose oxygen to the brain. Over time, this can lead to long-term health effects and medical issues.

On top of that, your dog may start to associate the collar and/or leash with punishment. Dogs don’t know that you are trying to keep them safe by tightening their collars. All they know is that the collar is incredibly uncomfortable and it makes them feel bad.

If your dog shirks away when you approach with their collar or leash, something is wrong. It may take some time to train your dog to accept the collar again. But with positive reinforcement, it is possible.

Yet as you reteach your dog to accept a collar and not fear it, you need to know how tight to make it.

So, What’s the Ideal Collar Tightness?

Two fingers underneath – that’s it.

When you feel your dog’s collar, you should easily be able to fit two fingers underneath it without circulation being cut off. In other words, you should be able to move your fingers left and right easily.

If your fingers are too tight to move around, the collar is too tight. Similarly, if your fingers can wiggle around with plenty of space, the collar is too loose.

Once you adjust your dog’s collar properly, you’ll likely see a significant improvement in their behavior. They may not act like they fear the collar and leash. They also shouldn’t dry cough or hack frequently.

Making sure that your dog's collar is fitted securely provides several benefits:

  • It prevents your dog from feeling sick or being harmed
  • It keeps your dog snug and secure on your leash
  • It gives you an easy way to grab your dog in an emergency
  • It’s a great place to keep a tag and other identifying information

Plus, making your dog’s collar perfectly tight allows them to eat and drink comfortably.

If you have just gotten a new puppy and don’t know how to fit a collar, don’t worry. It may take you a couple of tries to fit your dog’s collar properly. But it’s well worth the effort in the end.

After all, you don’t want to make your dog worry about a collar or turn them off collars forever.

Why Your Dog’s Collar Shouldn’t Be Too Loose

It’s very important that your dog’s collar isn’t too tight. But it’s also important that it is tight enough or that it isn’t too loose. Why?

A loose dog collar could lead to several potential dangers or hazards, like:

  • The possibility that your dog may slip out of the collar. While walking, this can be dangerous. It may allow your dog to run into the street or chase after another unfriendly dog.
  • Your dog could choke themselves on a loose collar, although this seems counterintuitive. If the collar is caught on a protruding object, it could tighten unexpectedly. Your dog could then lose airflow and be seriously harmed or killed.
  • Your dog will likely find a loose collar to also be uncomfortable. When they discover the collar, they could try to chew it off or otherwise damage it.

Because of this, you shouldn’t just slip a loose collar over your dog’s head and call it a day. Any collar your dog wears needs to be fitted properly and securely.

What If Your Dog Is Uncomfortable?

It’s natural for pet parents to want their dogs to feel comfortable. If your dog is uncomfortable with a tight collar, it’s a good idea to switch out the collar itself. Don’t make the collar too loose instead.

Choose a new collar with a soft interior or soft materials. You can also train your dog to accept the collar by leaving it on their neck for progressively longer and longer times.

What If Your Dog Wears a Harness?

Harnesses are great tools for keeping your dog safe and secure while on a walk. Harnesses wrap around your dog's torso and give you other areas to link up a leash. They put the pressure from the leash on your dog's chest rather than their neck. This is a far superior setup.

That said, your dog still needs to wear a collar even if they wear a harness. A collar is where most people will expect to find a dog tag and identifying information on the ID tag. Furthermore, your dog’s harness is not as secure as a collar.

Even if you buckle your dog into their harness, they may be able to slip out of it. If this occurs, and your dog doesn’t have a collar, finding them could be difficult.

In addition, some dogs need to be restrained more intensely when they pass another dog. If you have a collar on your dog, you can attach the leash there when necessary. Once the other dog passes, you can reattach the leash to the harness and resume your stroll.

Fortunately, plenty of harnesses go with collars and vice versa. Wild One even offers a Harness and Walk Kit so that you can pick up both the leash and harness for your new pup. In this way, you can guarantee your dog’s leash and harness will be high-quality.

Alternatively, you can go with a standard dog collar made with a super-strong flex poly strap. Wild One’s Dog Collar is made for all weather conditions and is both comfortable and functional. Even better, we've designed it to be dirt-resistant and odor-resistant!

The collar uses a simple yet standard belt hook for easy adjustments. There are different tightness levels you can choose from depending on your dog’s neck size. Plus, it even comes in several great colors.

How To Fit a Dog’s Collar Properly

New pet parents may have trouble fitting their dog’s first collar correctly. It can be even tougher if your puppy is a wiggly, cuddly canine.

Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of what you should do when fitting your pet’s collar for the first time:

  • First, open the collar using its clasp or strap. Let your dog sniff the collar before putting it around their neck. This is a crucial step because it shows your dog that the collar isn’t harmful.
  • If your dog shows some trepidation about the collar, offer them some treats. Don’t put the collar on just yet.
  • Then, reintroduce the collar with a treat. Your dog will start to associate the collar's appearance with a reward. This leverages positive training techniques to teach your dog that they don't need to be afraid of the collar.
  • Slip the collar around your dog’s neck and attach it. Err on the side of caution and make it a bit loose to start. The last thing you want is your dog’s first impression of the collar to be negative.
  • Check the fit by slipping two fingers underneath the collar. If they are snug but still flexible, the collar is fitted perfectly.
  • If you need to adjust the collar, do so while it is still on your dog’s neck. Use treats or sit commands to keep your dog calm and comfortable while you adjust the collar.
  • Once the collar is properly fitted, attach the dog tags or other accessories you’ve chosen.

Something To Get Used To

Let your dog run around with the collar for a little while. Watch them carefully to see their response. If they start to hack or dry cough, it might be a little too tight for comfort. In that case, you can loosen the collar just a bit without making it too loose.

It’s normal for your dog to spend some time trying to investigate their new collar. Don’t prevent them from checking it out or bending over to try to sniff it. It’s not a forbidden object, after all.

What If You Have a Special Use Collar?

No two collars are alike, of course. So what happens if you have a special use collar rather than a standard collar? Special use collars include vibrating collars or flea and tick repellent collars.

These special collars can usually be fitted to your dog’s neck in the same way. But you just have to keep their special uses in mind.

For instance, vibrating collars are used to train dogs who may be resistant to other training methods. These aren’t shock collars. Instead, they emit a harmless vibration when your dog gets a little too excited. Or you can trigger the vibration when you need your dog’s attention.

In this example, a vibrating collar may need to be a little tighter or looser, depending on the instructions. A flea-repellent collar has a special coating to protect your dog from fleas. Such collars may need to be a little looser than average. This may help the repellent get into your dog’s fur.

In general, the two-finger rule still applies. But you may have to adjust the fit a little bit or accommodate other collar aspects depending on its uses.

Two Fingers for Perfect Tightness

In the end, the best thing to remember is the two-finger rule. If you can fit two fingers under your dog's collar without it being too tight or too loose, it's perfect. You can adjust the fit using this basic rule of thumb as needed.

Plus, the earlier you get started fitting your dog’s collar and practicing, the better you’ll get. Your dog will also acclimate to the collar more readily if you introduce the collar to them earlier. Grab a collar, leash, ID tag, and harness, and get ready to make some unforgettable memories.


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