Among the most essential bits of kit for any dog owner is – you guessed it – a lead. So whether you’re one of the thousands of people who decided to get a dog during lockdown – or whether you’ve just got a pup or you have had dogs in your family for years – a good dog lead is a must-have accessory.
Standard leads are the most common – these come in a range of lengths, widths and materials and are ideal for walking and training dogs who are generally well behaved. Retractable and stretchy leads are great for dogs that like exploring, training leads are just the ticket for pups, and multi-purpose leads are great if you need flexibility.
Make sure the length is right – you’ll need to think about both the size of your dog and how much freedom you want them to have. And comfort matters too – nobody wants to get home from a dog walk with a fistful of blisters. Reflectivity can be important, especially for darker mornings and evenings. And if you have a puller of a dog, make sure your lead is strong enough.
Your lead should ideally be hardwearing, easy to clean and last you years. Then, of course, there’s the aesthetics – think about the look you like, and remember you can pair up many leads with a matching collar. We tested for all these things with different sized dogs over at least two walks each.
Rope leads are lightweight and strong but aren’t always the most comfy. Nylon is the most affordable material and the easiest to clean, as well as being comfortable to hold, but it doesn’t have as much give and isn’t as soft as some lead materials – plus, dogs that chew may make a meal of it – literally.
Leather leads give a lovely traditional look, and are strong and durable, but remember they aren’t as waterproof as some and can weaken over time – we’ve only included leads with top-notch leather.
How we tested
We have no shortage of dogs – big and small, young and old – among our family and friends, all of whom champ at the bit when the word “walkies!" is uttered. There’s Benny the young and spritely Cypriot rescue dog, Steve the slightly older Labradoodle, Daisy the 11-year-old Cairn Terrier and not forgetting the grand old dame of the bunch, Poppy, the 16-year-old Labrador cross. And so, armed with fistfuls of leads, we spent the past weeks marching these various hounds through rural Worcestershire to test comfort, style and practicality. Only when the canine seal of approval came through loud and clear (or, in some cases, our own seal of approval instead, if it meant holding them back from the likes of traffic on the lanes or sheep in the fields) did they make the cut.
The best dog leads for 2021 are:
Best luxury lead – Mutts and Hounds Camello leather & grey tweed dog lead: From £55.50, Muttsandhounds.co.uk
Best training lead – Toozey training lead: From £13.98, Amazon.co.uk
Best all-leather lead – Merlin leather lead: £50, Merlindogs.com
Best durable lead – 3 Peaks reflective dog lead: £12, Petsathome.com
Best retractable lead – Tug 360° tangle-free, heavy duty retractable dog lead: From £14.99, Amazon.co.uk
Best reflective lead – Long Paws reflective neon rope leash: £15, Longpaws.co.uk
Best value – Umi essential durable pastel reflective dog lead: From £9.99, Amazon.co.uk
Best for versatility – Halti 3m halti red double ended lead: £12.99, Dobbies.com
Best luxury looks at an affordable price – Rosewood luxury leather dog lead: £11.50, Viovet.co.uk
Mutts and Hounds Camello leather & grey tweed dog lead: From £55.50
Best: Luxury lead
Pricey, yes, but we can tell you this posh 43in British-made dog lead is worth every penny – and the stylish recyclable presentation box means it makes for a great gift for your dog loving friends too. Everything about it smacks of quality – the leather which softens and darkens with use, the nickel-coated brass clip and the on-trend Yorkshire grey tweed.
You can choose from slim or wide according to the size of your dog, and there’s a matching collar and even a dog bow tie (we told you it’s posh) and a blanket (that’s good enough for humans too, in our opinion). It’s classic, made to last, is comfortable to hold and ages beautifully – and with a handy card on top tips for how to care for your lead, what more can you ask for?
Buy now £55.50, Muttsandhounds.co.uk
Toozey training lead: From £10.98
Best: Training lead
Available in 5m, 10m, 15m or 20m, this dog training lead claims to be “almost indestructible” – a bold statement, if ever we heard one, especially when it comes to puppies itching to use their sharp whites. But it really does live up to its promise, and for teaching, recalling and staying, it’s a dream. It’s also weatherproof, highly grippable and it doesn’t tangle (as many training leads do), as well as being reflective for dawn and dusk.
Ours got quite muddy when we were out in the rain but wiped clean with a damp cloth, and you can store it away in the storage bag if you’re houseproud (good luck rolling it up). Once you’re done training your pup, you can use it when you’re camping when you want your dog to have some (but not complete) freedom.
Buy now £13.98, Amazon.co.uk
Merlin leather lead
Best: All-leather lead
Another well-worth-the-dosh, crème-de-la-crème dog lead, this 1.2m one is made entirely of leather which is instantly obvious from the earthy, slightly sweet and very appealing scent that hits you as soon as you unroll it from its stylish natural cotton bag.
There are plenty of options – two different widths (1.5cm and 2cm) and three colours: navy, ivy and our favourite. maroon, all finished with Old English brass clip and ring. Hand-made in rural Northamptonshire (which, reassuringly, is where the British leather trade originated), it’s a keeper – dare we say even to see you through more than one dog – on account of being double-layered and as hard-wearing as they come. A matching collar (£45, Merlindogs.com) is also available from the company, which was launched in 2021 and was named after the owner’s first dog.
Buy now £50.00, Merlindogs.com
3 Peaks reflective dog lead
Best: Durable lead
As the name suggests, this functional, durable lead is aimed at more hardcore dog walkers who can’t wait to get their hounds up into the hills or mountains. Even if you’re out all day, you’ll find the padded neoprene handle comfy to hold and stops your hands from getting clammy. We also score it highly for visibility even in the dark. The clip isn’t the quickest to secure, but that’s with good reason – it has been designed to lock onto your dog’s collar for added security – particularly handy if they’re a puller. The mountain climbing nylon braided rope helps on that front too, as it’s ultra-strong.
Our only two disappointments are that (a) it’s only available in one size – 102cm – whereas we’d have liked a choice of longer or shorter to suit the size of your hound, and (b) the handle can look a bit worn over time. It gets a 10 out of 10 for cleanability though – a quick wipe with a damp cloth doesn’t get it looking pristine but it’s nearly there.
Buy now £12.00, Petsathome.com
Tug 360° tangle-free, heavy duty retractable dog lead: From £14.99
Best: Retractable lead
If your dog is big in stature and prone to tugging, look no further. Even if your beloved canine has snapped through a few retractable leads already, leading you to wipe them clean off your shopping list as you’re so fed up of replacing them, we can assure you this one is as durable as they come. It allows your dog a decent 5m of roaming while still being under your control, and better still, it doesn’t tangle – so no potential for rope burns, as with so many retractable leads on the market. The anti-slip grip works a treat, and we found the lock/pause/open feature meant we could quickly yank the dog back when trying to, for example, run near a road.
The lead is a doddle to get used to so even if someone else grabs the reins either momentarily or for the whole walk, it’s intuitive. It’s also available for smaller hounds – in fact, there are four different sizes from tiny to large.
Buy now £14.99, Amazon.co.uk
Long Paws reflective neon rope leash
Best: Reflective lead
No chance of a discreet dog walk in the dark with this bright yellow neon lead – people will see you coming right from the far side of the park or from way up the road. The high-viz is all thanks to the 3m reflective strips in the rope – and it truly is brighter than any other lead we tested.
There are other benefits to this lead, not least that the shock absorbent rope has enough give to save your shoulders from heavy pullers, and that the woven rope feels comfortable in the hand. The clip is quick to attach but suitably robust and the lead is a good length at 1.2m. We also like the lifetime guarantee, coming from a reputable brand that’s focus is all about appreciating the outdoors and keeping active with your dog, whether that’s on a beach or on top of Snowdon.
Buy now £15.00, Longpaws.co.uk
Umi essential durable pastel reflective dog lead: From £9.99
For a mere tenner, you get a no-nonsense dog lead that ticks all the boxes – a good length (1.5m for the small and medium, 1.2m for the large), different widths (1.5cm for the small, 2cm for medium and 2.5cm for large) while it’s also suitably sturdy. We also love that it’s machine washable so you can keep it looking pristine at all times, and we’re giving it bonus points for the reflective threads that are handy for walking at dawn or dusk (it’s not quite so brilliant in the dead of night).
It’s not going to win any prizes for being the strongest or most comfortable lead, but it gets the basics right and comes in a whopping eight different colours. We tried the medium very berry, which just the ticket for our medium sized lab.
Buy now £9.99, Amazon.co.uk
Halti 3m halti red double ended lead
Best: For versatility
Versatility is the name of the game with this extra-long 3m lead. There are no less than eight different ways to use it – dual control for headcollars and harnesses, three adjustable lead lengths, hands-free, easy to tether, and it can even be used to tether two dogs. It took us a while to get our heads round all of them but we managed it, and by the end of the week wondered how we’d ever live without it.
It might not look up to much strength-wise, but actually the heavy-grade nylon keeps things slimline and lightweight while being impressively robust. We tested the red one but it comes in three other colours, and there are matching collars which are nice and soft – well worth pairing up, in our view. Suitable for dogs of all ages, including puppies. Although, we would add that it’s not as comfortable to hold as some.
Buy now £13.99, Dobbies.com
Rosewood luxury leather dog lead
Best: Luxury looks at an affordable price
This quality herringbone 122cm lead made from leather and suedette has a timeless design that makes it look a lot more expensive than it really is. And it’s not as if you have to compromise on practicality as it’s small and lightweight enough to pop in your pocket when you’ve let your dog off to roam. Plus, it has good quality fittings for when you need to re-attach it to your dog’s collar again at the end of the walk.
So often with dog leads, nobody seems to have thought much about the handle, just doubling over whatever material it’s made from, but with this one there’s padded black webbing which – along with the 1.3cm width – makes it comfortable to hold. It probably won’t last you as long as some of the more expensive leads in this roundup but we think it’s great value nonetheless.
Buy now £11.50, Viovet.co.uk
The verdict: Dog leads
With many of our roundups, there’s one product that ticks the most boxes and wins us over by a long shot. But with dog leads, it really is about finding the best one for your individual needs – an eight-year-old ridgeback is going to need a very different lead than a dachsund. Forced to pick, we’re going with the stunning and practical Mutts & Hounds mustard camello leather & grey tweed dog lead – if nothing else, you’ll be the talk of the town due to your great taste.
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Make sure your pet always looks on point with our review of the best dog collars