Chihuahua Temperament: What's Good About 'Em, What's Bad About 'Em
Chihuahua Temperament, Personality, Behavior, Traits, and Characteristics, by Michele Welton. Copyright © 2000-2018
Chihuahuas are comical, entertaining, and loyal little dogs. They are absolutely brimming with personality – often a quirky and eccentric personality unmatched by any other breed.
Other than that generalization, Chihuahuas are extremely variable. You can find individuals who are lively or placid. Bold or timid. Feisty or mellow. Confident or nervous. Stubborn or eager to please.
How a Chihuahua turns out depends very much on the genetic temperament of his parents and grandparents. In other words, entire lines of Chihuahuas are social or antisocial. If you bring home an individual who has inherited genes for a bad temperament.... well, let's just say that's not a wise thing to do unless you're prepared to live with an unstable dog. Socialization and training often can't overcome bad genes in a Chihuahua.
But socialization and training ARE still extremely important! As long as your Chihuahua has inherited genes for a normal temperament, how you raise him will determine how he turns out.
Chihuahuas do not have a particularly good reputation among the general public. Ask a few people, "Do you think Chihuahuas are nice dogs?" and see how many of them exclaim, "No! They're mean and nasty and they bite!"
Sadly, I have to say that this reputation has some basis in truth. So many people stupidly breed two Chihuahuas whose temperaments are not good. Then their puppies inherit genes for a bad temperament. Duh.
Other people take a perfectly good Chihuahua and treat him like a stuffed toy or doll, or as a substitute for a human infant. They carry him everywhere in their arms, don't teach any commands, laugh at signs of aggression, make excuses for bad behavior, and soothe and coo over the dog constantly.
It's no wonder so many Chihuahuas are neurotic! They're made that way by their owners. All dogs, whatever their size, must be taught how to walk on their own four feet, how to do what they're told, and how to get along peacefully with the world.
Now, "getting along peacefully" doesn't always mean that a Chihuahua LIKES everyone. On the contrary, many Chihuahuas are naturally suspicious toward strangers. But if you raise them properly, they can be suspicious without letting everyone within earshot know it, or without progressing to threats. It's up to YOU to draw and enforce the line.
Similarly, while most Chihuahuas get along great with other pets in their own family, they tend to raise a ruckus when they spy a strange dog. Again, YOU have to put a stop to this from day one or it will get out of hand.
Fortunately, there also exist Chihuahuas who are standoffish, but who will eventually approach people in their own good time, especially if the person isn't pushy or insistent. And some Chihuahuas are very friendly right from the get-go and will go to anyone.
Chihuahuas do seem to recognize and prefer their own breed, so it's a great idea to keep two of them. They keep each other company when you're gone, they play together, clean each other's ears (Chihuahuas can be obsessive ear-lickers!), and keep each other warm by snuggling together.
Chihuahuas adore warmth, oh, yes! They will seek out the tiniest sunspot in which to bask, and they tunnel under blankets and towels. You have to be careful whenever you sit down on your sofa or bed, as there could be a Chihuahua tucked under there!
The most difficult thing to teach a Chihuahua? Housebreaking. Chihuahuas are VERY difficult to housebreak – one of the most difficult of all breeds – especially in cold or wet weather. Consider an indoor litter box, or a doggy door that leads out to a covered potty area.
If you want a dog who...
- Is small and easy to carry
- Comes in several different coats and colors
- Is oh-so-funny and entertaining in quirky ways (hard to describe – you gotta be there!)
- Is very loyal
- Travels well
- Doesn't need much exercise
- LOVES warm sunny climates
- Usually has a long lifespan
A Chihuahua may be right for you.
If you don't want to deal with...
- The fragility of toy breeds (see below)
- The fine line you need to walk with toy breeds, where you need to protect their safety, yet require them to stand on their own four feet and be well-behaved
- Notorious housebreaking difficulties
- Suspiciousness, endless yapping, and nasty behavior if acquired from bad parents or when babied or spoiled or not socialized enough or made to behave
A Chihuahua may not be right for you.
Keep in mind that the inheritance of temperament is less predictable than the inheritance of physical traits such as size or shedding. Temperament and behavior are also shaped by raising and training.
- You can avoid some negative traits by choosing an ADULT dog from an animal shelter or rescue group. With an adult dog, you can easily see what you're getting, and plenty of adult Chihuahuas have already proven themselves not to have negative characteristics.
- If you want a puppy, you can avoid some negative traits by choosing the right breeder and the right puppy. Unfortunately, you usually can't tell whether a puppy has inherited temperament or health problems until he grows up.
- Finally, you can avoid some negative traits by training your Chihuahua to respect you and by following the 11-step care program in my book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy.
More traits and characteristics of Chihuahuas
If I was considering a Chihuahua, I would be most concerned about...
- Fragility. Too many people acquire a toy breed puppy without understanding how incredibly fragile a toy breed is. You can seriously injure or kill a Chihuahua by stepping on him or by sitting on him when he's curled under a blanket or pillow, where he frequently likes to sleep. And Chihuahuas can seriously injure or kill THEMSELVES by leaping from your arms or off the back of your sofa. A larger dog can grab a Chihuahua and break his neck with one quick shake. Owning a toy breed means constant supervision and surveillance of what's going on around your tiny dog. Chihuahuas must always be kept on-leash -- they are just too easy to injure when not under your complete control.
Chihuahuas are NOT suited to young children, no matter how well-meaning the child. Children cannot help being clumsy, and that a child meant well is little solace to a Chihuahua who has been accidentally stepped on, sat on, rolled on, squeezed, or dropped onto the patio. Most Chihuahuas feel overwhelmed by the loud voices and quick movements that children can't help making -- and stress and fearfulness (even defensive biting) may be the result.
- Housebreaking. As a behavioral consultant, I would put the Chihuahua on my Top 5 List of "Hard to Housebreak." If you live in a cold or rainy climate, housebreaking will be especially difficult, because Chihuahuas hate both the cold and the rain. A COVERED outdoor potty area is strongly recommended. Sometimes a doggy door is necessary so your Chihuahua can run outside the moment he feels the urge in his tiny bladder. An indoor litterbox is another option. Read more on housebreaking your Chihuahua.
- Socialization. Some Chihuahuas are naturally friendly, but most are somewhat suspicious of strangers. More than most other breeds, Chihuahuas need extensive exposure to people and other animals so that their suspiciousness doesn't morph into downright nastiness.
Many Chihuahuas will put on a display of excited ferociousness (aka "they pitch a fit") whenever other people or other animals approach what they consider to be "theirs." Which, for some Chihuahuas, extends to the entire street. It sounds funny, but it's not. If you don't stop this behavior dead in its tracks, your Chihuahua may end up disliking everyone in the world, which is a short step to biting when someone unwittingly instrude on "his" space. Read more about socializing your Chihuahua.
- Barking. Chihuahuas are often too quick to sound the alarm at every new sight and sound. You have to be equally quick to stop them. Which won't work unless your Chihuahua respects what you say. Read more about respect training.
- Shedding. Many people have been misinformed that Chihuahuas are "hypoallergenic" or "light shedding." This is not true at all. If you come to my house, you will leave with dark gray hairs on your clothes. Dark gray hairs that belong to my Chihuahua, Mouse. Yes, Chihuahua shed.
Now, how MUCH they shed depends on what kind of coat they have. Chihuahuas come in four coats:
- Short coat, double. A short outercoat, plus a woolly undercoat for insulation. Because of the two layers, this coat sheds more than
- Short coat, single. With no undercoat, this coat is quite sleek (like a Doberman's) and sheds less than a double coat.
- Long coat, double. Long outercoat, plus wooly undercoat. Some of these dogs are so bushy they resemble Pomeranians! This coat needs the most brushing and combing and takes more blow-drying after a bath. It sheds a good deal.
- Long coat, single. This "long" coat is actually shortish on the body, with feathering restricted to ears, backs of the legs, stomach, hindquarters, and tail. This is much easier to groom than a double longcoat, and sheds less than a double coat of either length.
- Potential health problems. Chihuahuas are more prone to injury resulting from their tiny size, rather than to illness or disease. So whether a Chihuahua lives a long life or not is more dependent on how careful you are to keep them safe. But Chihuahuas are very prone to loose knee joints (which can require expensive surgery) and to dental disease (their mouth is too small to provide firm footing for healthy teeth).
Other health issues in Chihuahuas include corneal ulcers, collapsing trachea, and liver shunt. See Chihuahua Health.
To help you train and care for your dog
Dog training videos. Sometimes it's easier to train your puppy (or adult dog) when you can see the correct training techniques in action.
The problem is that most dog training videos on the internet are worthless, because they use the wrong training method. I recommend these dog training videos that are based on respect and leadership.
To learn more about training your dog to be calm and well-behaved, my dog training book is Teach Your Dog 100 English Words. It's a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will teach your dog to listen to you and do whatever you ask.
My dog buying guide, Dog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams, will teach you everything you need to know about finding a good-tempered, healthy dog.
My dog health care book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy, shows you how to help your dog live a longer life while avoiding health problems and unnecessary veterinary expenses.