Museum Spotlight: The Dog Collar Museum

Scattered across the globe are museums dedicated to every conceivable subject, from currywurst to broken relationships and pencils to bad art. In our latest feature on some of the world's most quirky museums, we look at the Dog Collar Museum which, in their own words is 'arguably the finest collection of historic dog collars on display to the public'. 

Dog and humans go a long way back - as do dog collars. One of the first bits of evidence showing a man using a collar to control his delightful mutt dates back to c3500 BCE. For the last four and a half millennia, we have used collars to restrain, protect and identify our dogs. 

A painted detail an outer face of the wooden coffin of Khuy at Asyut, Egypt dated to c. 3500 BCE shows a man walking his dog on a leash.

A painted detail an outer face of the wooden coffin of Khuy at Asyut, Egypt 

The Dog Collar Museum is located in the grounds of the beautiful Leeds Castle in Kent. The Museum was started in 1977 when 62 historic dog collars were donated to the Leeds Castle Foundation by Gertrude Hunt. The collection has grown to over 130 collars, which span five centuries, and tells the story of the dog's evolving relationship with man.  

The earliest dog collars in the collection are fearsome spiky affairs designed to protect dogs against wolves and bears when they were out hunting. 

Dog collar museum

Tudor spiked collar 

During the Renaissance period, noblemen grew fond of the idea of breeding dogs as companions. With this change in canine status came an interest in luxuriously fashioned dog collars, not only to emphasise a point of difference from strays, but as a stamp of affection and ownership that also indicated the taste and standing of the master.

As Curator, Annie Kemkaran-Smith explains :

'In the Renaissance period, the collars show that dogs had become prized possessions, still very much used for hunting, but this was now primarily a sport for the rich and noble, and their best hunting dogs added to the prestige of the owner and therefore wore highly decorative and elaborate collars'.

Dog collar Museum

Italian brass collar showing a family coat of arms (1630) 

Collars from the 17th and 18th century continue to be decorative but become more varied in size reflecting the fashion for smaller breeds being used as lap dogs and as companions.  With new technologies, beautiful silver, gold, and brass collars could be fashioned and stamped or engraved, or leather collars adorned with bells. Different materials are used for lining dog collars including leather, velvet and wool felt. Collars often have inscriptions to help owners to locate dogs if they went missing. Most of these inscriptions are a straightforward record of the owner's name but a few are more elaborate with some written (somewhat fittingly) in doggerel such as this one from 1793:

‘I am lost return me to my master, I am to go without a log, I am Mr Millard’s dog, my brother was christened Prickly Dick and my name is Nimble Come Quick.

You can read more dodgy doggy doggerel and see the beautiful collection by visiting this fascinating and unusual Museum. The Museum is open daily and admission is included as part of the ticket to Leeds Castle.

Address: The Dog Collar Museum, Leeds Castle, Maidstone, Kent ME17 1RG
Phone01622 765400

Our thanks to Annie Kemkaran-Smith and the Dog Collar Museum team for their help with this article.