Why Do Chihuahuas Have a Bad Reputation?
Chihuahuas are one of the most loyal, lively, and attentive dogs that are known for their adorable physical appearances, including their large eyes, small snout, and sharp ears. However, when most people hear the word Chihuahua, they will instead picture a tiny, yipping “ankle biter” that shakes a lot and hates other humans and dogs. These are all dog breed stereotypes that are meant to help us make quick decisions and judgments, but in this case, these judgments are largely wrong and unfair towards this endearing breed. Moreover, this brings unnecessary prejudice towards Chihuahuas and more importantly, devastating action against them.
The origin and consequences of the stereotype.
Did you know that Chihuahuas are the second most euthanized dog in the U.S.? In California alone, city shelters are flooded with Chihuahuas waiting to either be adopted or euthanized by the state, with the main reason behind this overpopulation being abandonment. These dogs are either pure or mixed-breed Chihuahuas and their canine population in the shelters is rising, as there are simply more dogs than the shelters can find homes for. Unfortunately, their fate is not better in other parts of the world.
Abandonment occurs because many owners do not seem to realize that Chihuahuas are not just accessories but living beings that require love, care, and attention. This trend of the “accessory dog” soared in the ‘90s and early 2000s as a result of popular Hollywood movies such as Legally Blond, which showcased Chihuahuas as purse-dogs in the hands of these Hollywood stars. This desertion of Chihuahuas has risen so much that in the Los Angeles area, shelters are asking other parts of the country to take in some of the abandoned puppies in order to lighten the load in the system.
Sadly, it is clear that Chihuahuas do not have a good reputation, and the simple reason behind this is because they lack proper training and socialization from their owners. This breed is, by definition, very loyal and protective towards their home and owners, but these wonderful qualities are often converted into some very unwanted behavior, such as aggressiveness. This is often caused by the owners themselves (without them being aware of it) and by the very physiology of Chihuahuas.
Your pooch in a world of goliaths.
Think about it. Chihuahuas are tiny dogs living in a world of noise and giants. Everything compared to their little bodies is huge and therefore, intimidating. Intimidation spawns fear, and fear is such a powerful feeling for dogs that it can result in the previously mentioned aggression. In response to intimidation, dogs will have two responses: fight or flight, regardless of their size or breed. They will growl, yip, bark, and show their teeth in an attempt to scare away whatever they perceive as a threat towards them and their owners. When the threat is not removed, then they may respond with a bite.
Yes, Chihuahuas are aware of their small size, and yet they are brave and faithful animals that will not let their tiny frame stop them from protecting their family. Even the American Kennel Club explains that “inside each adorable Chihuahua is a miniature king or queen ready to govern their kingdoms, but they need to be taught what is acceptable in human realms.”
Does that mean that Chihuahuas are mean? Definitely not. They are instead instinctively intimidated by the massive world around them and so the need to protect themselves and their owners will be greater than other breeds, simply because of their stature.
The consequences of fear.
Another factor that contributes to the perceived aggressiveness of the breed is the behavioral problems created by the improper handling of their owners. For instance, carrying a Chihuahua around in your arms may look sweet and give you a sense of connection with them, but it has the opposite effect on your Chi, making them feel insecure as their control is stripped away. They are hoisted up in the air as if they are toys or dolls which makes them nervous and more importantly, afraid. Additionally, many people already believe that it is harmless and “funny” when their Chihuahuas display aggressive behavior. As such, they allow and even promote their dog to growl, bark and threaten other people and dogs, laughing it off because they look so “adorable when they do that”. As a result, the dog learns this as an acceptable behavior since their owner promotes it by not doing anything to fix these actions.
Of course, that is not to say that these wonderful dogs do not like interaction and contact. They will still jump up on the couch and snuggle next to their family, and they will always nuzzle you to show affection.
Personalities and aggression.
The stereotype that only Chihuahuas are mean is completely false. Any dog can be mean, depending on its specific circumstances. ‘Meanness’ is not a breed-specific trait, but instead the cumulative result of early life experiences, when the dog is still a puppy, and a lack of proper training. In the case of Chihuahuas, they actually have a wide spectrum of temperaments, as they do not have a defined personality. Depending on the upbringing and subsequent training they receive, they can vary greatly in personality, from a loving and loyal dog to a vocal, nervous breed that the stereotype comes from.
It is important to note that your Chihuahuas’ personality will also depend on the genes it received from its mother and father. This genetic temperament can span entire lines of Chihuahuas, making them prone to social or antisocial behavior. For this reason, it is important for you to meet your Chis’ parents if you have the option to do so, as you will learn many things about their personality. While it can be difficult to shape your pooch with “antagonistic” genetics into a friendly dog, it is certainly not impossible.
Now, you may ask. How can I make sure that my Chihuahua turns into a happy, gentle dog that rejects the sad influence of the stereotype? The answer is simple.
Socialization. Training. Rewards.
Socialization in dogs involves having pleasant, enjoyable social interactions with other canines, children, and adults as well as experiencing careful exposure to the outside environment since it creates a wide number of stimuli that they will have to cope with in life. In the case of Chihuahuas, size is intimidating, and allowing your Chi to see the person or other dog (and not necessarily interact with) is sometimes preferable. Socialization for Chihuahuas is extremely important, and regardless of its genetic temperament or previous home, you can make a significant improvement in its personality by dedicating yourself to giving it numerous wonderful experiences and encouragement for socializing!
Proper training and its benefits.
By teaching your Chi to follow basic commands as mentioned in our How To Train Your Chihuahua blog post, you will instill a sense of safety and self-control within them. Combined with socialization, this will produce the best effects on their behavior. Training your Chihuahua further promotes the successful raising of your dog, as then you will be able to prevent aggression and fear-centered behaviors through the use of basic obedience and control.
You can use two types of training. The first one is called ‘shaping’, where you guide your dog into following the most appropriate behavior through positive reinforcement. The other training method is called ‘counter conditioning’ and works best for Chihuahuas that like to bark, as it changes how they feel about their barking trigger.
Shaping works for many behaviors that you may want your Chihuahua to learn. One interesting technique you could use is the trading game, where you give your Chi a treat in exchange for a toy. They will usually want the treat more than the toy. Then, you can continue by using a high-value toy and a lower-value treat. This will teach your Chi to not aggressively guard its resources, but it takes time and practice to do so!
Counter conditioning involves you being mindful of the possible triggers that exist in your surroundings. For example, if you notice that your Chihuahua barks at the door when guests arrive, then you can begin by placing them quietly on the floor. Then, lightly knock at a nearby wall and immediately reward them with treats! That way, your pooch should learn that the knocking is a precursor to getting a treat. You can further build criteria with counter-conditioning until your Chi becomes a lovely and obedient pet!
The best time for socialization.
While dogs of all ages can and will socialize, the most critical socialization period for Chihuahuas is between 4 and 16 weeks of age. During this time, puppies are learning how to react in situations that are new to them, such as for example meeting new people and other dogs. The more they are exposed to these new things in a positive manner, the better their later response will be as adult dogs. Taking the extra step and providing your puppy with safe and fun socializing opportunities will do wonders when it grows into adulthood! These experiences also expand on learning about their living environment and other objects that exist in it, such as tables, carpets, and even vacuums. You can easily make a Chi come in terms with the loudness of a vacuum by following the ‘counter conditioning’ method described above!
Initially, this can often push your puppy past the threshold of its comfort zone which might make it run away or react aggressively. As discussed before, fear is an important stimulus for dogs, but that does not mean that it should be avoided. If you see your puppy struggling to acclimate to their home or training, you can let them recover from the initial fear and provide them with positive reinforcement in the form of playtime, treats, and most importantly, toys!
Toys! Toys! Toys!
Chihuahuas are smart, inventive dogs that need toys to provide appropriate mental stimulation, allow chewing, and finally, operate as important tools for their socialization and training. Dog toys will also stimulate your dog both physically and mentally, helping in fulfilling their natural and emotional needs of playtime. However, you will discover that for your Chi, there are some challenges of finding toys small enough for them to enjoy. Worry not, because we did the hard work and we have found the best toys that your pooch will absolutely fall in love with! Read our quick picks below on what toy we would recommend for your doggo!
The Tooth Cleaning Carrot Toy will not only provide your Chi with plenty of fun times with you, but it will also help it clean its teeth without hurting its mouth. It is a reliable gift for your pooch, and they are bound to fall in love with it!
If your Chi wants something more boisterous, then we would recommend the Ice Cream Squeaky Chew Toy, a mentally stimulating toy that will allow your Chihuahua to satisfy its instincts in a fun and safe way. You can use this toy as a high-value reward when your dog exhibits good behavior!
Finally, its normal for your Chi to sometimes feel anxious or nervous against the big world around it. For that reason, we present the Chihuahua Stress Release Snuffle Mat! Not only this snuffle mat is multifunctional, providing both a highly stimulating method for your Chi to play and a fun way to earn its treats, but it also works as a toy that will reduce the stress levels of your dog!
Like other dogs, Chihuahuas need proper training and socialization to become a proper member of your family. The stereotype that Chihuahuas are mean has been ingrained too much into this wonderful breed, which is extremely unfair to these fantastic dogs. Their unique size might make your Chi perceive more things as threats, but if you do your best to give them consistent training, socialization experiences, and exciting rewards, then you will have a wonderful best friend for life.