published December 2017
The Chihuahua may be small in stature but is LARGE in personality. Although considered the world’s smallest dog, its spunky, adventurous and loyal personality makes it one of the most loved toy dogs. Nicknamed “Chis”, this breed has grown to be the fourth largest in popularity worldwide. Bark Buster trainers are often called upon to deal with this breed’s yappiness and tendency to be aggressive if not trained or socialised properly (see tips on correct way to socialise this breed in this article).
Why is this breed so popular among toy dog lovers? Its extreme devotion to its master, its look of vulnerability and love of affection make it a great companion dog.
If you decide a Chihuahua is your breed, be prepared to have your dog follow you around wherever you go. Going shopping? Better put him in your purse as you roam around the mall. Want to make dinner? Be prepared to have a mini chef at your feet. Going to sleep? Chihuahuas will burrow themselves under the covers right next to you as fast as they burrow into your heart.
Chihuahuas have one of the longest life spans compared to other breeds. If you adopt a Chihuahua, you can expect it to live until at least 15. In fact, the oldest Chihuahua ever, lived a full 20 years, 265 days old, and was named “Megabyte”. Another reason people love this breed stems from their wide range of colours with blue, brown, chocolate, white and black being the most common.
Remember that with any toy breed, you have to be careful because they can be easily injured by stepping on them or jumping out of your arms. Never leave them unattended in your backyard because if there is a tiny hole in your fence, they’ll find a way to squeeze through. As bold explorers, they can fit in places other puppies or dogs can’t fit.
Hawks have been known to swoop down and capture this breed, so keep them safe.
The Chihuahua's history is complicated and sketchy at best. There are many thoughts and theories in relation to the origin of the breed. Archeologic diggings have unearthed what seems to prove that the breed originated in Mexico. The most common and most likely theory is that Chihuahuas are descended from the Techichi, a companion dog favoured by the Toltec civilization in Mexico and the smaller hairless dog brought from Asia to North America via Alaska.
There are no records of the Techichi available before the 9th century, although artifacts dating back to 300 BC have been located, buried as part of the western Mexico shaft tomb tradition. Which are thought to depict Techisis society that buried the pets along with their owners.
There is also proof that the Chihuahua’s were used as living hot water bottles. Anyone who lives with a Chihuahua will understand why that is more than likely fact.
The breed’s popularity exploded when Taco Bell chose “Gidget”, a female Chihuahua for its mascot. Movies like “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” and “Legally Blonde” have made them more popular than ever.
Dog owners beware: if you pamper your pooch too much, he can become aggressive and bark incessantly at both people and other animals. Without proper training, this breed can become very demanding. They don’t respond well to negative reinforcement. Instead, a firm tone establishing yourself as the boss right from the start will help to prevent many misbehaviours.
If you don’t want endless yapping or biting and aggressive misbehaviours, start training and socialisation early. You’ve heard the phrase “dynamite comes in small packages”? Their natural distrust of strangers can create a nasty temperament if not stopped early on.
Also, too often they don’t know how small they are and will take on a breed twice their size. Fast learners, Chihuahua’s can compete in obedience and agility trials with the same finesse as much larger breeds.
They can be hard to house train, so it is best to follow Bark Busters toilet training tips. Because they do not like the cold or rain, getting them to toilet outdoors in bad weather can be challenging.
Personality and Temperament
It is the Chihuahua’s feisty nature that usually gets him in trouble. Chihuahuas never back down from a fight, even when encountering a larger, aggressive dog. Therefore, you need someone who can train this dog correctly, finding a happy medium between being a good watch dog yet not being aggressive. This breed will run your life if you let them. As the "leader of the pack", you have to establish the rules and boundaries or they will take over.
Because this breed is so tiny and somewhat fragile, you need to be extremely careful with a Chihuahua around younger children. It is very important that you don’t leave young children alone with your Chihuahua because they could be easily snapped at, nipped at or bitten. Also, toddlers can play rough thinking this dog is like a doll. Chihuahuas can easily be injured with rough play.
Points of interest
Chihuahuas make ideal companions for people who live in apartments or don’t have a large yard. Know that Chihuahuas are not tolerant of cold weather and would prefer to be in the warm indoors, snuggled under a warm blanket. Cold and Chihuahuas don’t mix which is often why you see them bundled up in sweaters. If you don’t curb their natural tendency to bark a lot with the right training at the onset, other dwellers in the apartment complex may complain.
Socialisation at a young age is extremely important for these dogs. Try to expose them to different people, sights, smells and experiences so that you have a well-rounded and happy dog.
The Right Training For Your Chihuahua
This breed needs gentle and consistent training to control any aggression, nipping or barking as well as any tendency he has to fight with other dogs.
The Chihuahua is generally not the most social dog with others outside their family and rarely with other dogs, unless they have accepted them into the family.
Therefore, training is required in many cases though it does not need to be regimented, it does need to be consistent and focused on the issues your dog has.
Our methods are very compatible with this breed as we don’t have to just rely on treats to train, we also use communication.
The Chihuahua is a very finicky eater and it will usually ignore treats as being any incentive to do anything.
Always start any training with your dog slowly, gradually and try not to pick your dog up to control its behaviour. This can make them more determined to still do that which it always did but just then try to avoid your hands and run away.
The Chihuahua has been known to jump straight out of their doggie-parents hands to get to someone entering the home, seriously injuring itself as a result.
Many doggie-parents might think that training is unnecessary or pointless, but that would be akin to not seeking some form of education for your children.
The facts are you owe it to your dog to educate it if you can, or you seek professional help if you can’t.
Remember that your dog would have received ‘canine education’ if it had remained with its mother and litter mates. You have a responsibility to now complete its education.
Although we often hear about Labradors or German Shepherds being service dogs, don’t rule out the Chihuahua who is quite capable as well. Chihuahuas are intelligent and can be trained when it is done with a gentleness, patience and kindness.
Their large, round eyes are expressive and their single-minded determination makes them good at a variety of activities when they put their mind to it.
By Ruth Marquardt, Bark Busters Trainer
The Chihuahua can conjure up images of a sweet little dog cuddled up with its owner, or a snarling little “ankle biter”, depending on who you ask. Why are some Chihuahuas perfectly well-behaved, and others seem to hate everyone but their owners? The answer lies in two areas: socialisation and training.
Carly was a great dog and she fit right in, sleeping at the foot of their bed each night and sitting on their laps every chance she got. She was like their child, and they treated her just like their child, looking to give her everything her heart desired.
Chihuahuas, as with other dogs, need to be well-socialised, and the best time to do that is when they are puppies. When a puppy is born, he has no preconceived idea of whether people are good or bad. A puppy must be socialised by taking it into public often when it is young. He must have many positive experiences early on in order to view people as a positive influence.
She would then greet them wildly on their return, as if they had been gone for weeks. Apart from that, their lives together were fun and Carly was always just one step behind them, asleep on their lap or asleep in their bed. She was so loving, they saw no reason not to give her everything she wanted.
There is also a misconception that small dogs don't have to be trained. I tell my clients all the time that if they are relying on picking up their dogs in order to control them, then if they can't catch them they have no control. Sit on the floor or on a low chair often with your Chihuahua. Height is status to a dog, so if you are lower to the ground, you are less threatening. Call him with a fun voice! If they think that there is something good that will happen, they will be much more likely to come to you. Always use lots and lots of praise when they listen!
Sarah and James were confused as to why she had suddenly gone from being so good, to being so bad.
Sitting on the floor is also a great way to pet your dog. Remember, height is status to a dog. But people with small dogs (Chihuahuas being one of the smallest) pick up their dogs a lot! To a Chihuahua, he thinks you are giving him more status. Picking him up when he is doing something wrong then, really gives him the wrong idea. Even sitting on your lap is status to a dog, so he should only jump up onto your lap if you invite him first. Otherwise you may find your Chihuahua growling at other dogs or even your children when he's in your lap. If you can get your dog to come to you every time, then you will not need to pick him up to control him, just to love him.
This 12-month milestone in dogs usually coincides with reaching maturity. They hit that age of maturity, full grown, where they are now ready to work out the pecking order and to work out where they fit in the family unit, their position in the household, if you like. What they decide depends on how we behave and what we tell them via our actions and behaviour.
Often, I find small dogs are afraid to be picked up and will run away from the owner. This is usually a case of the owner overhandling his dog, such as picking him up to put him someplace where he doesn't want to go, or even handing him to someone he doesn't know! Dogs need to know their owners will keep them safe, and handing the dog to a perfect stranger to get him over his fear will only make him afraid of being handled. First, he has to know his owner will keep him safe, and then he will learn he doesn't have to worry about strangers, because the owner will make the decision for him.
The reason she took so long to get to that point was due to her lack of maturity. Until 12 months, she was not ready to act to claim her position until she reached the maturity needed to hold that position.
Finally, remember that a Chihuahua is a dog, not a child in a fur suit. They learn by association, so if they get a positive reaction from you, they will likely repeat that action. A negative reaction will help them to avoid that behaviour. Teach your dog to follow you and come when he is called, and you will be well on the right path to a well-behaved dog, one that everyone can enjoy!
Sarah and James had also made another fatal mistake of never separating from her when they were home. She slept in their bed, sat on their laps, and followed them from room to room, making the only time they left her alone was when they left for work.
Everyday Illnesses and Injuries
Your Chihuahua’s health concerns will change over the course of their life. A puppy might be more prone to eat something they shouldn’t, a 2-year-old Chihuahua may show signs of dental disease, and a senior Chihuahua may be more likely to develop a heart condition as they age. Chihuahuas also have personality and physical traits that may make them more prone to certain conditions—as a small, active breed, Chihuahuas tend to be more prone to fractures.
If you are ever concerned about your dog’s health, your local veterinarian is a great resource—no matter how small the question.
Genetic Health Concerns
Like many popular breeds, the Chihuahua has its fair share of hereditary based issues, like bone and joint problems. Most reputable breeders now have their breeding stock checked and scored for these hereditary ailments by a vet. You can request proof that the puppy you are purchasing comes from parents that have been checked for these issues.
Because many other health issues are also hereditary, you should do some research on the ancestry of your puppy and any health issues of that particular breed.
Many rescue organisations also check for common-ailments before making them available for adoption.
As a pet owner, you should expect to pay for basic veterinary care like vaccines, spay/neuter, and annual checkups. Many pet owners don’t consider the unexpected illnesses and injuries that can occur throughout a pet’s life, and they don’t prepare for them. Medical insurance can help a pet owner prepare.
The concept of medical insurance for pets is fairly straightforward—pay a monthly premium to be covered for eligible veterinary expenses. But every provider is different, offering varied coverage with different plans, pricing options and limitations. As you research, pay close attention to coverage, deductible options, and ease of use.
Bark Busters National Trainer - Jeff Drier on Chihuahuas
These diminutive dogs have personality plus and are experts at getting their way. They often do it by being very sweet and loving, jumping into their owner’s laps and snuggling in for hours at a time.
Multiple Dog Households
I vividly remember a very nice woman we worked with who had five Chihuahuas. To her they were like potato chips, she couldn’t have just one. She called us because she couldn’t have a cup of coffee or read her newspaper without the dogs being all over her. She loved them and the snuggling and cuddling with them but at times wanted to be left alone to enjoy her morning coffee or sit in her sunroom and read.
We spent a little time getting to know her and her dogs and watched as they continuously demanded and received her attention. Her biggest problem was that her dogs didn’t respect her. Because they didn’t respect her, they didn’t respect her space.
Chihuahuas Are Very Clever at Getting Their Own Way
One of them had her completely fooled. While four of the five would readily jump up on the sofa and then start climbing on her, one of them, who was a little on the plump side, would put her paws on the woman’s legs and make a little crying sound. The woman would then reach down and lift the dog into her lap, giving her the most desirable seat in the house.
We watched this happen a couple of times and then I told the woman she was being played and the dog could easily jump up on her own. The woman didn’t believe me so I asked if she’d like me to prove it. She agreed and I asked her to give me one of the dog’s favourite treats, which she did.
We got all the dogs into the next room and then I put the treat on the sofa. I let only that one dog into the room and within a matter of seconds, the dog was up on the sofa eating the treat. The woman laughed and said, “that little stinker has been playing me for two years”.
We helped her understand how her behaviour affected her dogs’ behaviour and how to begin changing the dynamics there. By the time we left she was able to sit on her sofa, drink her coffee and read her paper without her dogs demanding her attention. She said it was the first time in years she had her coffee while sitting down. She was now able to both enjoy her dogs and enjoy time without them.
The Right Socialisation for Your Chihuahua
Your Chihuahua will cope better if you start their introduction to other dogs by selecting calm and gentle dogs or match prospective play mates to their size or energy levels.
Match play mates the same way you would match friends for your child, with a view to their gentleness, their energy level or their size, whether they will teach them bad habits or hurt them.
Think of your close friend’s dogs that you know to be gentle and safe. Also consider if they might teach them to bark or might they pose a threat to an inexperienced young dog.
Dog parks are not the right place to commence your dog’s socialisation.
Remember: Dogs cope better with scary situations if they are mature and have some life experiences. If you feel you need to take your dog to a dog park, then leaving it until they are 12 months of age is advised.
Some Training Exercises to Try
One easy to start is try walking from room to room, or throughout your home and make sure you always lead the way through all doors as well as up and down the stairs. Dogs instinctively know that ‘the leader always leads’ and they are ‘hard-wired’ to try to see who is fit to lead.
It must be you if you want to make sure that your dog listens to you.
If your dog rushes through the door before you, then just turn around and go the other way immediately. Your dog will more than likely try once again to get ahead of you, but don’t give up.
Once your little charge starts to drop in beside you or drops behind, praise with just a very high-pitched melodic tone
Once you gain the ability to have your dog stop rushing ahead of you praise lavishly and go to the treat cupboard, you have done enough for the day.
Just remember to always do this every time you start to walk around your home or go for a walk.
Remember: 'The Leader always Leads' and this is a gentle and passive exercise to establish you as leader.
Because of their diminutive size, parents of Chihuahuas can sometimes cope with their dog’s bad behaviour and generally only seek help from Bark Busters when their patience in managing the behaviour runs out or they receive complaints from their neighbours.
Others call us immediately they get their puppy home, they want to prevent any bad behaviour from starting.
Most new puppy parents request help with toilet training, barking and separation anxiety.
You can avoid ongoing behavioural issues if you conduct research into the breed and ensure that you first of all select the right pup with the right personality and from the best source.
Check out the local Breed Specific Rescues, animal welfare shelters, Humane Society, SPCA and RSPCA’s as they have many great dogs looking for homes, who through no fault of their own, have ended up being abandoned. These organisations test their dogs for temperament and soundness.
We always recommend that you reach out to your local Chihuahua rescues and dog shelters and rescues.
However, if you don’t locate the dog you are seeking through a shelter or rescue, then be sure to research any breeder before you commit.
As a responsible dog owner, your dog depends on you for four basic needs.
Chihuahuas can be pretty picky about their food. Consult with your veterinarian about which brand of food you should purchase or which raw diet is best for your dog. Your dog’s diet is important to meet his nutritional needs and to maintain his overall health. Because they are so small, you don’t need a lot of food to fill them up!
Every Chihuahua likes to have a “den” to call his own, a place where he can get away when peace and quiet is needed. Remember that this breed does not like to be cold – their shivering is a sign that some warmth is needed.
Your dog depends on you to keep him safe and tell them what they are supposed to do. Remember your dog just wants to please you but many times he doesn’t know how. If you don’t quickly establish yourself as the leader, a Chihuahua will gladly assume this role and chaos will reign. You need to learn to communicate with your dog in a language he understands and have a relationship based on trust.
Bored dogs get into trouble. With nothing better to do, they will dig and chew their way into trouble. You need to keep your dog occupied and engaged with new toys, games or tricks.
Check out the GameChanger® by Bark Busters. This toy is a real Game Changer. Don’t let the size of the toy fool you as many Chihuahua’s love and treasure this
Chihuahuas can be very hyper and love to play. Although you might be tempted to carry your Chihuahua around, they need to walk. It doesn’t take much exercise to wear a Chihuahua out, but they need an outlet for all their pent-up energy both mentally and physically.
Hide the Treat is a great game to play since dogs have such great noses. Start by showing your dog the treat and then have you or someone else hide it. Increase the distance away from the dog that the treat is hidden once they catch on.
Hide and Seek that we played when we were kids is another excellent game. Hide treats or their favourite toys and see if they can find them. You can even try hiding yourself! Remember to give your dog a lot of praise when they find the missing item by saying “good boy” or “good girl” with a gentle pat on the head.
The Three Cup Game can help to ward off boredom. You will need three cups and a small ball. Place the three cups upside down on the floor, show your dog the ball and then hide it under one of the cups. Mix up the arrangement of your cups and see if you can get the dog to point to the right cup where the ball is.
Because they are so small, you will have to scale down on the size of their toys. The toys can be as simple as a ball or bubbles or a little more sophisticated like the interactive toy The GameChanger®.
Children and Your Chihuahua
Kids love this breed as they are easy for them to love and pick up, but you need to make sure that you always monitor their interaction.
They are a very delicate breed and can easily become concerned about any rough treatment.
Encourage your children to play and interact in a sensible way, where they don’t encourage biting or barking.
Hide and seek games where the child can hide and treat the dog with some tiny pieces of cheese when they find them.
Allowing them to dress a dog up that absolutely hates this, is not wise.
Never leave dogs and children alone, despite their size they can hurt children and kids can unwittingly hurt them.
Bark Busters has the ultimate toy for all dogs that provides dogs with several options. It’s an interactive puzzle toy that delivers a treat. It’s a chew toy, that they can carry around and take to their bed. They can’t rip it apart like many “stuffed” toys. It’s a workout toy, that they flip over with their nose and scratch at with their paws. It will possibly be your dog’s favourite toy. The GameChanger® comes in four vibrant colours and will give your dog hours of fun and mental stimulation.
Losing your dog is a frightening experience. Because Chihuahuas are so good at escaping it is very important they carry identification at all times. That’s why Bark Busters invented the WaggTagg™ which is free to all Bark Busters clients. It’s very different than many of the pet identification tags on the market.
First of all, most tags have the vital information engraved. But what if you’re not home or whoever rescued your dog can’t get ahold of you? If you’re considering a microchip, many veterinarians are leery of this because all scanners are not standardised. What if your pet is found outside of normal business hours or the chip has moved in his body.
That’s why Bark Busters developed the ideal pet tag. The dog owner first inputs some data about the dog at the WaggTagg website. Whoever finds the dog needs to simply scan the tag which sends a text message directly to the dog owner and several other people that the owner has nominated (like your vet, a neighbour, a family member, etc). The tag does not reveal any sensitive information to the finder because it protects the dog owner’s privacy.
The advantages of the WaggTagg include:
Bark Busters has many success stories about dogs that have been found with this tag!
Many of our Bark Busters were having problems with their dogs walking quietly by their side on a lead or harness. This is particularly true of Chihuahuas who can be rambunctious and hyper.
Danny and Sylvia Wilson knew there was a better way and out of many trial and error designs, the WaggWalker was born. Although the harness is not ideal for ALL dogs, Bark Buster trainers have successfully used this product so that dogs learn to walk correctly at their owner’s side. No more pulling or being thrown about!
The harness comes in 6 sizes and is suitable for dogs 6 months and older.
This harness is available from your local Bark Busters trainer or waggwalker