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Ashley Cole fights Cheryl for custody of chihuahuas

If a dog is a man’s best friend, then it comes as no surprise that Ashley Cole refuses to relent over custody of the two he shares with Cheryl Cole.

Men may be happy to leave their children in the custody of their mother, but when it comes to their pooches, it’s a different matter entirely. The philandering footballer is so intent on seeing his pets that, according to rumours, they have their own driver for the days he is allowed to spend with them.

Did I mention the dogs are chihuahuas called Buster and Coco? A bit unmanly, no? Well, according to the latest twist in the canine world, Cole’s bang on trend.

It started on the fashionable streets of Shoreditch, where men were spotted proudly leaving warehouse conversions accompanied by – no, not a Geldof sister – lap dogs. Tiny, ratty, yappy dogs. The kind that you might step on accidentally. The breeds adored by Paris Hilton. Pugs. Handbag mutts. The dogs that, let’s be honest, are a little bit girly.

At first glance, the trend is discordant. Society expects men to be hurtling down streets with slavering rottweilers or walking on the Downs with burly labradors. One thinks of Bill Sikes and Bullseye. Of hunt masters huddled around hounds on a frosty meet. Or men goading their staffies in concrete pockets of inner cities. The Pomeranians are zipped up far away in Hermès handbags in Los Angeles, or Cheshire. Until now.

The number of men unashamed to show off their little dogs is multiplying. Indeed, the other day, I saw three men with lap dogs sitting separately in the same bar. And it’s not just the trendy streets of E1. A friend’s mother tells me that she was taken aback to see a beefy man strolling around Windsor Great Park with a chihuahua. The phenomenon has been witnessed in Bath, Manchester and Scotland – and you can’t move in Milan airport for men with their bichons in tow.

Dianne Lunney, a breeder of chihuahuas for 40 years, says that male attitude towards small dogs often changes. “They start by saying 'I don’t want those little rats for dogs’ but when they get the dogs home, the wives call me up and say that their husbands have taken them over.”

Graham Foot, chairman of the British Chihuahua Club and a breeder for 50 years, is not remotely embarrassed to walk his Chihuahuas in public and says that they’re more of a challenge than his German shepherds. “Small dogs can be very aggressive and lash out just as much as more stereotypically dangerous canines.”

But it’s unlikely that men are coming round to the idea of “rat dogs” because their aggression would give them street cred. Despite its unlikely appeal, it chimes with the zeitgeist.

As men sneak fingerfuls of their girlfriend’s moisturiser, wax, and wear sarongs on the beach, why shouldn’t their canine tastes encompass the feminine as well as the masculine? Man-bags remain in vogue so the question of transport is already, erm, in the bag. And for the urbane bachelor, the smaller the dog, the easier to look after.

But is machismo really so passé? Do we feel comfortable about men sauntering around town with a pair of jewelled Chihuahuas? Is metrosexuality really attractive?

Judging by the scene I witnessed the other day, the answer is “yes”. One such chap strolled into a video shop with a miniature dachshund. Like iron filings to a magnet, the women raced to get as close as possible to the dog – and by extension, his owner. He could have left the shop with a full dance card.

Perhaps Barack Obama’s choice of a foolish-looking Portuguese water-dog called Bo has made it easier for men to shun what convention dictates.

You may be surprised to hear that the first dog to have dined in the House of Commons is believed to have been a chihuahua. It was the annual dinner of the British Mexican Society in 1954 and, apparently, the dog wore a green jersey and a diamond collar.

It remains to be seen whether this trend will stick with the urban Dandies or change the way we feel about man’s best (smaller) friend. Toy dogs may escape the associations of WAGs, Taco Bell and Madonna. But will men ever really be able to stomach walking what is, basically, an over-grown hamster on a lead?

© Telegraph.co.uk