Tried & Tested: Pet accessories - Taking the lead

Walking the dog has never been so stylish. Our four-legged panellists test out a range of pet accessories and their owners report back
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The Independent Culture
Pity the poor canine who has to follow his master around attached to some naff restraining implement. After all, a collar and lead are usually the only items of apparel a dog really needs or wants, so why shouldn't they be stylish as well as comfortable? The pet accessories market has expanded five-fold over the past decade, with many chic imports brightening what used to be a design-free field.

The Panel

Beverley Cuddy, editor of Dogs Today magazine, was the expert on our panel, assisted by her dog Sal, a bearded collie. She was joined by Jane Bartlett, owner of Burford, a Border collie, and Elizabeth Jordan, owner of Poppy, a tiny Yorkie.

The Test

We asked the panel to try out a selection of leads, ranging from the purely practical to the absurdly extravagant. Assessment criteria included aesthetics, comfort for the dog and/or the walker, plus any special features and price.

***Petsafe security leads

From pounds 25.50 for collar and lead

Opinion was divided about the benefits of these colourful security leads made from satiny nylon webbing, into which the dog's name and owner's telephone number are woven on commission. All the testers loved the bright colours and found the nylon webbing surprisingly soft, even if the chunky buckle was a little stiff at first. The security of dog and owner, however, were reckoned to be two separate issues. Beverley Cuddy commented that "woven phone numbers are great, but the law says we still have to have a doggie ID disc too. Still, as these sometimes fall off, the phone number is a godsend. Also, if you have a nervous dog that can't be caught, then the number can be read from a distance. At the same time though, hairy dogs such as Sal make this difficult." Jane Bartlett was grateful for Burford's long hair in this respect, since although the Petsafe lead made her feel secure that he had a good chance of finding his way back home if he were to get lost, she did have reservations about having her telephone number so visible to the world: "Any sad pervert could make a note of it as I pass by and harass me with obscene phone calls," she said. Like Jane, Elizabeth Jordan especially enjoyed having her dog's name written on the collar, and said both the lead and collar had been admired by her vet and the local policeman, but she too was "not sure about the visible telephone number". All the testers thought that the lead was expensive for nylon, "but worth it, because they are so well made."

*Company of Animals' Halti headcollar

pounds 8

This soft nylon headcollar was designed by Dr Roger Mugford to stop dogs pulling on the lead - a sort of power steering which is alleged to be a very gentle experience. It was uncharted territory for our testers and their dogs. Jane Bartlett reported: "I was very excited about this as an alternative to the choke chain, which I do use on Burford when he's walking alongside the baby buggy. However, the harness drove Burford insane. He hated it and kept ripping at his face and clawing at me. It would take lots of training to get him used to it. I also noticed that it looked like a muzzle and passers-by gave him a wide berth, thinking he must be a dangerous dog." Beverley Cuddy had a similar experience: "Sal has never worn a headcollar in all her 13 years and she didn't like it one bit. She tried to pull it off and did some heavy metal-inspired headbanging. Apparently many dogs react this way. It's like a horse being broken, and according to the leaflet they all get used to it in the end. At least it gives you more control over the end that bites and is a very reasonable price." Elizabeth Jordan's Yorkie was "not too happy wearing it," but her owner thought it practical, strong and not heavy. "Poppy would need training, but I've noticed other dogs wearing the headcollar and they seem fine with it."

**Harmony Dog/Puppy Collars

pounds 17.95 for the collar and lead

Available in many pretty woven patterns and colours and distinguished by a plastic yin-yang fastening, the Harmony collars and leads were thought pricey by testers, but softer on the hand than they look. Beverley Cuddy was full of praise for the design: "Because these collars are totally adjustable, you can get the fitting exactly right. It also means when you put the collar back on after a bath, you can't do it up to the wrong hole and lose your dog when the collar comes up over the ears. The yin- yang fastener takes some figuring out, but it's much easier in the long run, and would be especially good for people with arthritic fingers." Her only caveat was the collar's look: "Thank goodness dogs are nearly colour blind," she said. Jane Bartlett's sample was woven in a black and white check which she thought very chic. "This would be Burford's choice of outfit if we were to go walkies along South Molton Street," she said, adding: "The yin-yang clasp is clever, and gives him the air of being an enlightened dog." Elizabeth Jordan, on the other hand, felt the yin- yang fastening didn't seem secure. "I'm sure it would come apart with any playfulness," she said. Meanwhile, Poppy's boyfriend, another Yorkie called Humphrey, also test-walked the lead and found the fastening "very chewable", which was not great news for the walker.

**Gun dog leads

pounds 5.25

These low-cost, silky, olive-coloured rope leads, with an interesting rubber stopper, were judged "much too smart for fieldwork" by Elizabeth Jordan, who decided she would keep the lead as a spare. She wasn't the only tester to make this decision, but for different reasons. Beverley Cuddy thought she would keep the gun dog lead "in the car for rounding up strays," complaining that the lead's style was: "more reformed New Age traveller than anything - perhaps Swampy at M&S." The problem was that "Sal was horrified. This lead has no separate collar, just a noose which tightens up on her neck. It might be all right for a rough and ready labrador." Jane Bartlett was of similar mind. "This lead is very functional and macho," she said. "It's a real working dog outfit to go with an owner's green wellies."

****Town and Country Tartan leads

pounds 23, collars, pounds 22

Red Stuart, Blackwatch and yellow tartan are the themes for these Town and Country leads, which were universally admired by the panel. Beverley Cuddy described them as "lightweight for summer wear and nicely finished with leather trim, but not so good in muddy weather, when they get dirty. This is a lead for special occasions, and it is expensive, but then it looks it." Jane Bartlett was thrilled with the long lead and smart tartan design, which would be "very fetching on our holidays in Scotland. I did find the lead hard and inflexible, however - I like to be able to carry it around my neck when Burford is running free, but it was too stiff for this. Perhaps it will soften with use."

****Specific Breed Collars

Yorkie Collar, pounds 12.50, lead pounds 12.50

Manufactured separately for 12 different breeds, these Specific Breed collars have gold-plated motifs of the breed on the leather collar. Poppy tested the Yorkie collar and lead, since there were no tartan leads small enough for her. It was acclaimed by Elizabeth Jordan as "a wonderful town lead, expensive but frightfully superior - I would buy it. It feels so soft and everyone turns to look at you."

*****Flexi UK Ltd retractable leads

Three sizes available at pounds 9.99, pounds 11.99 and pounds 20.99

Despite controversy over their use - some experts say that a dog on an extended lead is hardly under control at all and they are not recommended for busy roads - one in five dogs in the UK is walked on a flexible lead, of which the German-made Flexi-lead is the original. Now 25 years old, the lead has been much improved by the use of new webbing tape instead of cord - a revelation for our testers, who proclaimed this lead the winner in our survey. Beverley Cuddy recalled: "The old type weighed a ton and really hurt Sal when her clumsy owner dropped the handle. Also, the thin string on the old type could burn when tangled round her legs, whereas the webbing on this lead is much more gentle on her and on the bare legs of any joggers we get tangled up with. Now Sal is getting older and her selective deafness is increasing, it's useful to have her on the end of a long lead. The braking system seems much more positive, too. Anyone who has the old model should certainly trade up." Although Burford never gives his owner any problems with running away, Jane Bartlett found the lead "useful when there are sheep about", although she did find it unhelpful when tying him up outside shops and cafes. Elizabeth Jordan says she "wouldn't live without the Flexi. This one is a great improvement on the original, which could make your arm ache, and it stops Poppy running away when frightened by bigger dogs. It works perfectly, too. I've never had a problem with the lead getting trapped in the machine itself."

Stockists

Petsale mail order, 01473 737877; Halti Headcollar mail order, 01932 566696; Harmony dog and puppy collars, and gun dog leads from Dog and Bones catalogue, 01285 750007; Town and Country leads and Specific Breed collars from Selfridges, Harrods, Animal Fair, 0171 937 0011 and Pet Pavilion, 0171 376 8800 (all do mail order). Flexi-leads from pet shops and department stores nationwide. !

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