Martingale collars are normally used for two very different purposes by two very different types of people.
- For safety
- For training
Let’s call the safety people Doris the Dog Lover and her friend Fiona the Force-Free Trainer. Let’s call the training people Peter the Punitive Trainer and his sister Barbara the Balanced Trainer.
Doris the Dog Lover has a dog whose neck and head are about the same size and the dog easily backs out of a flat collar. Doris uses the martingale collar to ensure that her usually well-behaved dog cannot escape from her in case the dog freaks out for some reason.
Fiona the Force-Free Trainer wouldn't normally use a martingale collar, to begin with. She might if she is working with Fiona's escape artist.
Peter the Punitive Trainer and Barbara the Balanced Trainer use martingale collars in an attempt to control and teach the dog something - usually not to pull. These myths circle around these two extremes.
Myth 1. Martingale collars are only for sighthounds, greyhounds and such.
Doris the Dog Lover uses a martingale collar on her sighthound for safety purposes.
Sighthounds have thick long necks and small heads so they can slip out of a flat collar quite effortlessly if they decide to back out suddenly. For this purpose wide, comfortable, and often decorative martingale collars are typically used with sighthounds. Not to mention the hound neck has plenty of room to show off a beautiful design.
That being said, wide, comfy martingale collars are an excellent choice for any other dog as well who is not a puller but might slip out of a flat collar in a situation where it is not safe.
All dogs who have a thick neck compared to the size of their head can easily escape from flat collars unless they are fitted uncomfortably tight. (Photo: Getty Images)
When you use a martingale collar for this kind of safety purpose you can measure the closed position of the collar to match exactly the tight measurement of the upper neck of the dog. That way, you can make sure there is no infinite choking happening when the collar tightens up.
Myth 2. Martingale collars are a training tool.
Peter the Punitive Trainer might use a martingale collar as one of his tools to teach a dog leash manners.
Training with aversive methods means simplified, that the dog experiences something uncomfortable until he stops the undesired behaviour. The reward is that the uncomfortable correction stops when the dog stops the undesired behaviour.
Peter’s sister, Barbara the Balanced Trainer doesn’t focus on the mistakes right away but teaches the dog first the desired behaviour. When the dog knows what’s expected but won’t comply, Barbara will correct in a similar way as Peter.
For Peter and Barbara, the dog-human relationship relies heavily on human being the leader and dog being the follower. Instead of training the dog to choose to follow, they like to use different control tools.
One aversive use of a narrow martingale collar. 1. The collar is adjusted tight so that it stays high up on the dog's neck also when the leash is lose. 2. When the leash tightens, there is more room to tighten than the circumfrence of the dog's neck. Not much difference to a choke collar.
For training purposes, they usually use narrower types of martingale collars, often with the smaller loop being metal chain instead of webbing or fabric.
A narrow collar is less neck-friendly but it gives a clear pressure message to the dog when it tightens. Metal gives a sound and the idea is that the dog learns that the sound of metal indicates a correction and the dog would eventually correct his behaviour before the tug is needed.
Doris the Dog Lover and Fiona the Force-Free Trainer communicate to the dog with leash pressure much less and in a completely different context and therefore they don’t consider a martingale collar a training tool particularly. For them, it’s just a safety accessory to connect the dog and the person.
Myth 3. Martingale collars stop a dog from pulling.
Peter the Punitive Trainer’s and Barabara the Balanced Trainer's favourite tool is the prong or pinch collar but they can make this promise with a martingale collar as well. (In all countries they are not allowed to use prong collars.)
The basic idea is more or less the same: The collar is adjusted quite tightly so that it stays high up on the dog’s neck rather than falls down loosely. The top of the neck area is a place where you can easily control your dog’s head because it's very delicate.
Applying pressure on any collar is potentially very dangerous for the dog's delicate trachea. A martingale collar evens out the pressure around the dog's neck making it a bit more safe. (Here is pictured a flat collar and pressure only on the trachea.) Teaching a dog to walk nicely on a leash does does not need to rely on any tool. (Photo: Getty Images)
The ideology with Peter the Punitive Trainer and Barbara the Balanced Trainer is that YOU are in control of the entire walk and the dog does not make initiatives and decisions. They also like to communicate with the dog through the leash.
When the dog gets ahead and the leash tightens, Peter and Barbara either change rapidly direction at this point and/or give a firm tug or jerk on the leash (to the side of the dog preferably instead of up). Barbara also might reward the dog for eye contact and not pulling.
A martingale collar on its own does nothing to stop a dog from pulling.
Using a martingale or any collar with a pulling dog is potentially dangerous for the dog’s neck. Jerks and corrections on the neck area are even more so.
Myth 4. Martingale collars are more humane than a prong or choke collar/chain.
The idea of this statement derives from the idea that a collar (any collar) is a training tool instead of just a safety accessory between human and dog.
As mentioned before, Doris the Dog Lover and Fiona the Force-Free Trainer wouldn’t even make this comparison, because they don't consider any of the above a training tool. For them, a martingale collar is simply a safety accessory. The other two collar types (prong and choke chain) they wouldn't use because they cause the dog discomfort and even pain.
Any collar can be dangerous and inhumane if you use it wrong. However, it's easier to do serious damage with a prong collar than a soft martingale just because of the material and construction. (Left photo: Getty Images)
If you use the martingale as a training tool as described above: Fitted so that it can tighten infinitely, then the only difference to a prong and choke chain/collar is just a softer and perhaps wider material. Which of course could be considered a more humane sensation on the neck.
However, the true devil is jerks and corrections.
Any collar is potentially dangerous, counterproductive and inhumane if there are jerks, tugs, corrections and pressure involved.
Myth 5. Martingale collars are dangerous.
Yes, like most things in life, also martingale collars can be dangerous if used improperly.
Because the martingale is designed so that the dog cannot escape, imagine if the dog gets caught up on something by the collar and nobody is supervising!
Another risk for some dogs with a loose martingale hanging on the neck is that they manage to get their snout stuck in the smaller loop.
As with any collar, there is a risk of neck injury if the dog pulls hard. However, compared with a flat collar the pressure is more evened out around the neck making the (wide) martingale somewhat safer and more neck-friendly.
Safe use of a martingale dog collar. 1. When it's lose, it's really lose and slightly falls down on the dog's neck. 2. When the leash tightens firmly, the two metal adjusters get pretty close to each other. This is the security part. In an emergency escape trial the collar would still tighten the remaining couple of cm but no more. The wider the collar, the more neck friendly it is.
Here is your safety checklist for using a martingale collar:
- Don’t leave your dog unattended wearing it. It is NOT a collar to wear 24/7 around the house.
- Don’t tie up your dog anywhere and leave unsupervised.
- Don’t let your dog run off-lead like a lunatic wearing it. Take it off in the park and in nature if your dog is a rough and tumble type.
- Use only when the leash is attached and you are on the other end of the leash.
- Adjust the size so that it’s in a closed position on the top part of your dog’s neck and there is no wiggle room.
- Don’t make jerks and corrections if your dog pulls.