Dog Collar Round-Up, Part V: The Glorious Martingale
Dog Collar Round-Up, Part V: The Glorious Martingale

Ok, really it’s just called a “Martingale” collar – the “glorious” part was added by me. Because I love and use this type of collar so much!

A Martingale is worn around the neck like a traditional flat-buckle collar, but unlike the traditional kind you have to put it on by slipping it over the dog’s head – since it doesn’t normally have a clasp that you can unlink to turn it into a flat strip. The leash attaches to the ring that’s linked to the little of the two loops.

Martingale Dog Collar, Brooklyn

The two clips shouldn’t touch when pulled

Because you have to slip it over the dog’s head, a Martingale collar normally needs to be tightened up after it is put on. The correct fit is loose enough so you can still fit several fingers between the collar and the dog’s neck – which is much looser than a traditional collar – but tight enough so that when you pull the leash, the two rings attached to the larger loop shouldn’t pull all the way together and touch. Pictured here is a proper fit: the rings pull closer together but only about halfway.

The Martingale collar was originally designed for dogs with little heads and thick necks – like Greyhounds – so that it won’t slip off the dog’s neck. But its uses and benefits are more than just for dogs with small heads.

Partial chain Martingale

Partial chain Martingale

First of all, because it tightens up when pulled like a slip/choke collar, it can be worn very loosely without slipping off. This makes it more comfortable for many dogs to wear.

Yet unlike a slip/choke, if sized correctly a Martingalge won’t actually choke the dog. Slip/chokes tighten like a noose and can be dangerous if the dog is running or left unattended; the Martingale doesn’t run this risk.

Additionally, unlike a traditional collar that pulls on the dog’s neck in only one direction – usually up against the trachea – the Martingale closes tight like it is gripping the dog’s neck all around. This makes for a safer, kinder, and gentler communication via leash-tug that the dog can feel more quickly. It is also safer for little dogs with delicate or weak necks, as the pressure is distributed around the entire neck. And I also believe that by gripping the neck all around the Martingale more closely mimics the sensation of being picked up by the mouth of the mommy dog (they’ll often pick their young puppies up by the scruff of the neck). So the communication is felt on a more innate level and most dogs are more responsive to it.

An upside of the Martingale that’s minor  but deserves mentioning is that unlike the E-Z Walk Harness, the Gentle Leader, and other patented brands, “Martingale” refers merely to that unpatented shape and construction of collar, and so comes in a zillion colors, patterns, materials, and varieties. Whereas the patented systems only come in black, red, and maybe a few other colors, you can find a Martingale that suits you and your stylish pup to a T. I should note here that the addition of chain link to the top ring of the collar isn’t just an aesthetic choice and is something I generally recommend avoiding, as it makes the tightening of the collar slower and more cumbersome.  Most of the Martingales available in retail stores seem to have that chain link (see above pic), but if you search online you can find pure fabric or leather Martingales in just about any design you can imagine.

The most important use of the Martingale in my experience has been when dealing with fearful, anxious, or mistrusting dogs that pull and wriggle away from people, other dogs, or things like buses and skateboards. If your dog slips out of his collar it is not only disastrously unsafe, it means you can’t provide positive counterconditioning therapy for the dog to help him ease through his fears. Also I’ve noticed that with fearful dogs who plant their feet on a walk or when confronted with one of their fear triggers, pulling on a harness only makes them resist and plant their feet more strongly – while if you gently pull the neck, it pulls the head forward and the body and mind relax and follow.

The only real downside to the Martingale is that it is not the ideal collar for all dogs. For some reason most of the Dobermans I’ve worked with – maybe because of their gangly long necks? – have continued to pull on leash with the Martingale and we saw a drastic improvement with the front-clip (E-Z Walk) harness. But in general this is the collar I slip on a dog and recommend as the starting point, to begin training and assess his responsiveness and special needs. If more control is needed we move to the Gentle Leader; if pulling is the dog’s only issue we move to the E-Z Walk Harness; and so on.

So here’s the recap of my favorite collar, the Martingale:

Pros

  1. Can be worn all day, loosely and comfortably
  2. Won’t slip off the dog’s neck when pulled
  3. Scared dogs can’t wriggle out of it
  4. Can pull a dog forward “through” its fear
  5. Makes for kinder, gentler communication through the leash 
  6. Safer for the neck and trachea
  7. Dogs respond more innately to the gripping sensation

Cons

  1. Not as supremely safe for running or offleash play as a harness
  2. Not as much control over the head as a head halter
  3. Some dogs (especially those with long necks) pull against it.

Overview: The Martingale is my go-to collar, what I love introducing new dog owners to. It is a nice balance of giving the dog comfort and freedom while giving the handler control and power. It can sit idly as just a pretty collar that holds the dog’s tags if your dog is a well-behaved couch potato, or it can become a powerful training tool for fearful dogs, hyperactive dogs, and even aggressive dogs. It isn’t perfect for dogs with extreme aggression quickly triggered by other dogs or people, nor for dogs that pull incessantly on the leash. But otherwise, or if you don’t know yet where your dog falls in these categories, the Martingale is a great place to start.


I hope you’ve enjoyed my “round-up” of the many collar and leash systems out there on the market today. Hit me back with any and all comments, questions, or anything I’ve forgotten or missed. And no matter what, keep on walkin’!

2 comments

  • Marla Capps says:

    Thanks for the info! I have 2 jack russells & 1 very round no neck chiweenie. They all can back out of their collars. These work great, however, I have custom collars with name & phone number. I want them to wear them all the time while we are camping. The problem is the loop hangs down pretty low. Especially on the chiweenie. Should I put a couple of strips of velcor on it while not on least?

    • Anthony says:

      Glad to have helped! Sounds to me like their martingales are too big. The loop should be tight enough so that when you pull on the leash, the rings slide toward each other but don’t come all the way together and touch. The idea is for it to squeeze in around the sides of the neck, instead of the loop just being an extension of the leash that’s effectively attached to a normal flat-buckle collar pulling only up on the esophagus. Sometimes it’s hard to find small enough ones for teeny-tinies. Anyway, I like your velcro idea! Let me know if it works and send me a pic I can post!

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