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Have you ever wondered about martingale collars…the ones with two loops, one small one large? They have a very interesting history and are a useful alternative to chain and prong collars for dogs that need a little more control.
Why Are They Called Martingales?
The martingale collar was anecdotally invented by a British coachman in the 19th century. Hence the name; to a coachman, the martingale was the strap that passed between the forelegs of the horse, but in equestrian terms it also means a variety of devices that typically have a strap between the front legs and a strap around the neck to add control for the rider. It’s unsurprising that the term would pass over into a dog collar that was used primarily on coaching dogs such as dalmatians. Other theories, however, claim the martingale collar was invented by greyhound handlers.
The origin of the word in this context, however, remains unclear. Over the centuries, the word has variously referred to somebody from Martigues, a prostitute, pants with drop seats so you can poop without lowering down, a gambling technique, and a sailors’ folk dance. None of these seem to connect to horse tack except, possibly, the pants.
What Is the Purpose of a Martingale Collar?
The original purpose of the martingale collar was when coaching dogs were secured to the carriage. With a regular collar, the dog could simply have enough, stop, and pull their head out of the collar. The martingale collar tightens slightly when they do that. Of course, a very well trained dog would not need one, being happy to run alongside. The coachman also needed to be worrying about controlling the horses, not the dogs.
Most of us are not trying to train our dogs to run alongside a carriage. In modern usage, a martingale collar is used to discourage pulling in a more humane manner than a choke chain or prong collar. One advantage of the martingale collar is that it can be adjusted. A choke chain will always apply full pressure when the dog pulls, while that from a martingale collar can be dialed down. However, it should never be adjusted too tightly. A correctly-fitted martingale will not tighten more than the size of your dog’s neck. A martingale should not be used to replace training and a good relationship with your dog, but rather to improve safety (keep the dog from escaping) and make it easier for small people such as children to control larger dogs.
Another use for a martingale collar is if you have a greyhound or other dog with a long neck and narrow head, that can very easily back out of a regular collar. Regular buckle collars rely on the head being wider than the neck, and in these breeds, that is often not the case. In this case, the martingale collar is an important tool to ensure their safety, particularly greyhounds, who are notorious for becoming lost. For these dogs you should also consider a wider martingale collar that spreads pressure out more on their long necks.
Lastly, some people use a martingale collar as a backup when also using a harness or a head collar, as it means there is something left on the dog (that the dog can’t get off) in the case of an equipment failure.
If you own a dog with a tendency to pull or a sighthound type that backs out of their collar, a martingale collar is a great alternative.