ALL DOG BREED PROFILES

Chihuahua

Chihuahua dog
John Walton
Written by John Walton

The Chihuahua is a feisty little dog with a lot of attitude. They are considered to be the smallest dog breed, with the standard to be not over six pounds. They were named for the Chihuahua region in Mexico, where they originated.

Chihuahuas can make wonderful pets for those in small spaces, and for those who are not able to provide a lot of exercise for their dog.  They are bold little dogs, but generally, are quite loving little lap dogs.

BREED CHARACTERISTICS

AdaptabilityHighest
TrainabilityAbove Average
Health and GroomingHigh
All Around FriendlinessAbove Average
Exercise NeedsLow

Breed GroupToy
Height6 to 9 inches
Weight2 to 6 lbs is breed standard
Life Span17 Years

Chihuahuas are one of the top ten most popular small breed dogs.  They have grown in popularity due to exposure in television, cinema, and their place in the arms and handbags of many well-known celebrities.  They are desirable for their small size, which makes them a great pet for apartments as long as you can keep them from annoying the neighbors with their barking.  They are also wonderful travel companions, and are small enough that they are welcomed on many airlines and in many hotels.

Chihuahuas are very intelligent dogs. They are generally loving and easy to care for, but they do require some training if they are going to get along with everyone. They can be bossy and insecure, and proper socialization is the best way to prevent bad habits from developing.

In general, Chihuahuas are most happy in homes that are quiet. Because of their size, they can be somewhat fragile. Care should be given to ensure they do not break bones jumping from furniture or playing too rough with larger dogs or humans. Chihuahuas must be indoor dogs.  They are highly susceptible to predators and to cold temperatures.

Chihuahuas come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  While the breed standard for show dogs dictates that they must be less than six pounds, there is a large variance in size. They are generally slightly longer than they are tall, and come in both short and long haired varieties.  Their ears stick up, and their eyes are wide and expressive.

Main Highlights

  • Chihuahuas require little exercise, and make great pets for apartments and for those who have disabilities that prohibit them from taking long walks with the dog.
  • Chihuahuas are not always comfortable with visitors, especially small children. Early socialization is critical to avoid problems.
  • Just because your Chihuahua is small does not mean you don’t need to train him. Chihuahuas are intelligent, and will thrive with plenty of positive reinforcement training.
  • You might be surprised to find that shelters are full of Chihuahuas and Chihuahua mixes. If you are considering a Chihuahua, try searching for a shelter or rescue in your area.
  • Your Chihuahua is an indoor dog. Chihuahuas are small enough that both predators on the ground and in the sky can make a quick meal of them, and because of their small size they are highly susceptible to the cold.  If you don’t want an indoor dog, do NOT get a Chihuahua!
  • Your Chihuahua is an expert lap dog, and loves to snuggle with you. Make sure that she gets plenty of love and attention.  But if you are a sound sleeper, you might consider NOT sleeping with your Chihuahua, especially when she is a pup.  They are very small and somewhat fragile, and most adult humans outweigh the Chihuahua by twenty to thirty times!
  • Chihuahuas can be very vocal, especially with strangers! Early training and socialization can help curb this.  While they can be great alert dogs, they do have a reputation for barking… a lot.
  • If you buy your puppy, carefully check out the breeder. Get veterinary references. In an effort to get smaller and smaller dogs, many breeders will inbreed their lines.  In addition, pet stores and puppy mills are inhumane and unhealthy environments for puppies and adults.  Many of the dogs that show up at pet stores are products of puppy mills, and they come with a plethora of physical and emotional problems.  Buyer beware!  If you can’t visit the breeder and see both of the parents, walk away.  If the environment is not clean, and you cannot get a veterinary reference and records that the pup has been evaluated by a veterinarian, go elsewhere.

Breed History

Chihuahuas are a very old breed originating in Mexico. There are some questions about their exact origin, but we do know that the Toltecs and Aztecs kept a small breed dog called the Techichi, which is believed to have been an acestor of today’s Chihuahuas.  The Techichi was kept as both a companion, and as part of the religious rituals of these ancient civilizations.  Evidence of the Techichi has been found in graves by Archaeologists.  These date back to the 9th century AD. Unlike the modern Chihuahua, the Techichi was mute.

There are also those that argue that the Chihuahua originates from dogs brought from Chinese and Spanish explorers. The modern Chihuahua may be a hybrid of the original Mexican dogs and these dogs brought over by early explorers. They were first brought to the United States in the nineteenth century.

Size

The Chihuahua is likely best known for its small size.  There are some that are small enough to stand on all fours in the palm of your hand, but most are closer to the breed standard, with some larger than the breed standard. The Chihuahua is the smallest recognized breed in the United States. They range from around two pounds, and while breed standards dictate that they be no more than six pounds, some Chihuahuas are slightly larger.  They are generally around eight inches at the shoulder, and are slightly longer than they are tall.

The small size makes them perfect dogs for small dwellings like apartments. They can be easily taught to eliminate on puppy pads, so they are a great option for those who live in high rises. Like all dogs, Chihuahuas do enjoy chasing squirrels in the yard, but beware!  These dogs can fall prey to large birds like owls and hawks.  So when you are out and about, keep them close by and on a leash.

Personality and Character

The Chihuahua is often compared to the terrier in his courage and tenacity. Most will not think twice about taking on even the largest dog if he feels threatened by it. Many Chihuahuas will also nip at strangers and children. Because of their size, their antics are sometimes seen as cute, but they are often rooted in fear.  Early exposure to all sorts of people in a positive way can help prevent their “little dog” syndrome by helping them to not be afraid of strangers.  But who could really blame them?  If you don’t teach them early to accept strangers who are 30 times their size, or small and moving fast enough to trample them, then it is reasonable for them to be afraid.  The potential for harm is very great in a world where everyone is so much bigger than you are.

Chihuahuas are wonderful lap dogs, and they thrive in a variety of environments. Like most dogs, they are faithful and loyal, and they want nothing more than to be with the humans in their lives. While your lab or your boxer might be constantly harassing you to play with them or take them on a walk, your Chihuahua will be happy just to sit with you and watch TV. They love their people, but are not always wonderful with strangers.  Because of their small size, too much activity and fast movement can frighten them.

Health and Potential Problems

  • Heart problems — Like all small breeds, Chihuahuas are prone to heart problems. Congestive heart failure is common in small breed dogs, and older Chihuahuas tend to have issues.
  • Luxating patellas — This is when the tendons under the patella in the knee move out of place, and allow the patella to slide around.  It can be very painful. This predisposition, in concert with the small and fragile bone structure, should be taken into consideration when allowing them to jump.  It may be a good idea to provide your Chihuahua with a set of stairs to get on and off of any furniture on which he is allowed in order to prevent him from jumping and injuring himself.  Some dogs live with the pain, and you would never know that they had a problem.  Others may limp, or even refuse to walk when the patella is out of position.  If it is severe enough some dogs undergo surgery that can help the condition.
  • Hydrocephalus is congenital in Chihuahuas. Hydrocephalus is a condition that causes fluid to build up on the brain. This condition can lead to seizures, which are commonly controlled with diuretics. Dogs with this condition can exhibit depression, extreme excitability, problems reacting appropriately to stimuli, visual and hearing problems, and an abnormal shape of the skull.

Care Features

Because of their small stature, care should be taken to protect your Chihuahua. Caution should be exercised when placing him on furniture. Some dogs are small enough to injure themselves by jumping from a couch or bed. Consider providing your Chihuahua with a ramp or a set of stairs so he can easily join you for a snuggle.

Your own size can be intimidating to your Chihuahua. The average human is close to thirty five times the mass of a small Chihuahua. Teach your Chihuahua to enjoy your approach by presenting treats to him when you tower over him. Always watch your step with a small dog. They can easily get in front of you and be stepped on or tripped over, and it would be easy to close a door on him if you aren’t paying attention. Pick him up slowly. A quick ascent up an elevator to the twelfth floor would leave the best of us disoriented and a little seasick.

Caution should be exercised when allowing your Chihuahua to interact with larger dogs.  Because of the disparity in size, even rough play can lead to injury. Many dog owners do not consider that their large breed dogs outweigh your Chihuahua by as much as thirty times. Imagine someone over four thousand pounds wanting to wrestle with you, and you have some idea of how your Chihuahua feels when he meets a large dog.

Predators in the wild are also a danger to your small dog. As natural habitats of wild animals become smaller and smaller they get closer to our own living spaces. Bears have entered large metropolitan areas in North Carolina in search of food and habitat. Wildcats have been spotted on city greenways in Virginia. Perhaps the most common predators we have to worry about with small breed dogs are birds of prey. Owls, hawks, and other large birds, can easily make a meal of our tiny companions.

Chihuahuas are also sensitive to cold temperatures.  While many large breed dogs can stay alive in the winter months, Chihuahuas can easily freeze to death. The speed at which an organism loses heat is related to the ratio between his mass and the surface area of his skin. This is greater in small animals, which is why many small wild animals must hibernate underground during the winter. They simply cannot produce enough energy to heat their bodies enough to stay alive.  It’s a bad idea to leave your Chihuahua outside unattended.  It’s an even worse idea to do it during the winter.

Feeding Schedule

Very young puppies should have food left down for them, but after they are a few months old, it is time to put them on a schedule. At this point you should begin feeding them three times a day, reducing it to two times a day when they are about six months old.  Scheduled meals help with housetraining, obedience training, and with proper digestion.

If you are going to train your dog, consider starting by asking him to work for his meals.  Teach a nice sit and then offer his food to him.  Gradually ask for him to sit longer and longer with the food sitting in front of him. By doing this you are teaching him to say please, and you are also helping him learn to restrain himself around food.  Once his food is down, drop a treat in it every now and again, getting your hand closer and closer to the bowl to do so.  Don’t take the bowl away from him! You wouldn’t want someone to snatch your food while you were eating, so don’t do it to your dog. By dropping a treat into his bowl he will learn that your hand near his bowl is a good thing.

It is not uncommon to see a portly Chihuahua. Please don’t let your little guy get fat.  It is damaging to his joints and to his overall health.  For a long and healthy life, your dog should have a well-defined waist.  In terms of caloric intake, the chart below should be taken as a guide, and not a hard and fast rule.  Your Chihuahua may be less active or have a lower metabolism than the average Chihuahua.  If you see him losing his hourglass figure, cut him back!

AgeCaloric intake per pound of body weight
Less than one year50
One to Seven years35-40
Over seven years30

The type of food you choose is up to you and your vet.  In general, you want to stay away from any food that does not have real meat as the first ingredient. It’s also best to avoid food that has corn, and some dogs are allergic to wheat. Meat meal can be any part of any animal from just about any source.

Be cautious about adding too many snacks to your Chihuahuas diet.  They are very small, and any extra calories can quickly cause unwanted weight gain. Make sure that snacks are healthy and natural, and proportional to his small stature.

Coat, Color and Grooming

Chihuahuas can be either smooth or long coated.  They come in just about any color you can imagine and can be solid, have patterns, or have spots. The smooth coated dogs require minimal bathing and bi-weekly nail trims. The long coated dogs require regular brushing.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

Because of their tiny size, Chihuahuas can be easily intimidated by energetic toddlers.  They are generally not the best dog to choose if you have small children. One wrong step by your toddler could be the end of your dog.  It could also scare him so badly that he resorts to a bite.

If you have a large breed dog carefully consider not adopting a Chihuahua. Not only is there a risk that your large breed dog will accidentally injure your Chihuahua, but there is also a phenomena called predatory drift.  This is when a large dog stops seeing a small dog as a dog and begins to see it as prey.  Even dogs that live in the same household for years have seriously injured or killed small dogs due to predatory drift.

Chihuahuas are wonderful companions for anyone ready to take on the special care required to keep a small breed dog. If they are well socialized and trained using positive reinforcement, they can be well balanced companions open to any adventure you want to throw their way.  But they are not for everyone.  If you want a dog to go running with, you probably don’t need a Chihuahua.  But if you want to take leisurely walks in the park, stay home and watch TV, or travel the world, a Chihuahua might just be the dog for you!

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.

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