Written by Colt Rosensweig
Have I been putting off Part 4? You bet I have.
Because I have nothing to say? Nope. Way, way too much.
“Pro-tip: If you want me to end a conversation really quickly, ask intrusive questions about my disability or my dog’s job. If you want me to natter on forever with great enthusiasm, ask me about his collar.”
You see, Part 4 (which is going to end up Parts 4 and 5), is about collars. Well, leather collars. We shall leave fabric ones for their own separate post. Collars are probably my favorite inanimate objects in the world. I admit to being a complete collar snob, so I apologize in advance if I offend people. I hate nylon collars, okay? The kind you get at the pet store that are at most one inch wide with the plastic buckle. They just gross me out. If you like them, that’s cool. Sorry for my snobbery.
Having said that, my first dog spent her whole life in those collars. Juno, my retired service dog, spent her first several years with me wearing one. And then came baby Kaline, the Diva Dobe, with his ridiculously sensitive neck, which would almost immediately go bald in front when touched with a nylon collar.
And that is how I found Paco Collars in Berkeley, CA. I had perused some leather collars online, but at that point could not imagine spending that much on a collar. Cue my little bald puppy. I bought Kaline a tan leather collar with beautiful conchos, having been advised that tan would break in and get soft the fastest. Kaline’s fur quickly grew back on his neck. Now I felt bad for Juno, walking next to her little brother wearing his stunning Paco while wearing a tatty nylon collar from the MDen in Ann Arbor. Back I went to Paco, and soon Juno had her very own sparkly leather collar.
And so it began. Leather collars have become a passion. Plus, when your dog is a service dog, everyone is going to be looking at him anyway—why not bling him out with a fabulous collar? It’s way more fun to evangelize to members of the public about collar makers than try to explain to them why I won’t tell them details of my disability. (Pro-tip: If you want me to end a conversation really quickly, ask intrusive questions about my disability or my dog’s job. If you want me to natter on forever with great enthusiasm, ask me about his collar.)
Paco Collars will always have a special spot in my heart. Living in the Bay Area, I can actually go to their store and ogle things, talk to the collar makers, check out their collection of conchos, and get advice on designs. Paco uses some of the softest and lightest leather, and has a ton of beautiful designs. They make my favorite buckle style ever, the Sam Browne, which is much sleeker than a regular buckle. It also minimizes how much metal touches your dog’s skin, an important consideration if your dog has sensitive skin. Their collars are lifetime guaranteed, meaning if any repairs need to be made at any point, they’ll be done for free. Paco also will turn a collar into a memorial bracelet when your dog passes away. They’re fun to work with and two of my favorite collars have come when I gave the designers mostly free range to come up with a brand-new, unique design just for Kaline or Juno.
It took me a little longer to take my first plunge with Ella’s Lead, the sparkliest leather collar maker ever. Once I did, though, I got addicted. EL collars are generally made of thicker and sturdier leather than Pacos, so for smaller dogs, a double-layer collar may be overkill. (I’m obsessed with double-layer collars but I realize not everyone is.) EL uses Swarovski crystals, unbelievable oval and opal cabochons, and even Paua shells. If sheer sparkle is your aim, then EL is what you seek. They’re partnered with Aggie’s Anvil, which makes stunning metal nameplates. Like Paco, EL is amazing to work with and if you can dream it, it can probably be made into a collar. Their collars are also not as pricey, so you do get a better bang for your buck.
A more recent interest in leather collars, for me, has been carved leather collars. Getting to know the owners of BullyFlop Collars and Deaf Dog Creations, Beret Walsh and Bridger Watson, has been amazing, and the designs they’ve come up with for my and other people’s dogs have been nothing short of stunning. When we head to Michigan this summer, Kaline will be wearing exclusively DDC collars. BullyFlop has two options, one where the customer can be very involved in the development of the design, and one where the customer provides the general idea and then gives the designer free rein to execute it. From personal experience, I would highly recommend the latter. After sending in a brief description of Juno’s personality, I received a mind-blowing, alchemy-themed collar that looks stunning on my girl. I very much look forward to the day I can order a big BullyFlop for Kaline, too.
With Deaf Dog Creations, you can choose from a custom design or some of her ready-made designs like beautiful, colorful mandalas or basket-weave patterns in various colors. The customer can be as involved as they wish in the process of a custom collar, and should you express interest, you’ll get a flood of fascinating process photos as your collar is sketched, carved, and painted. I had a fabulous time working with Bridger on Kaline and Juno’s collars, most especially the Greenfield Village one. There are many dogs in the world with many kinds of Detroit Tigers and University of Michigan collars, I’m sure, but I’ve never heard of a dog with a Greenfield Village collar. She was able to incorporate so many of my favorite things about the village into a two-inch wide collar, I’m still in awe. And she was able to indulge my obsession with Sam Browne buckles.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of all leather collar makers, of course. I decided I shouldn’t write about makers from whom I haven’t personally purchased a collar. Please feel free to list your own favorite makers in the comments!