- Shopping for a Chihuahua breeder
- Checking out pet shops and classified ads
- Selecting a mature dog
- Exploring the meaning of pedigree
Whew! You’ve made the really big decisions (if you haven’t, head back to Chapters 1–3). You’re sure you want a dog, and you think a Chihuahua is the breed for you. But you aren’t finished yet. Now you have to make the most important decision of all — picking the one special Chihuahua to share your life.
There’s no such thing as a teacup Chihuahua. Contrary to false advertisements, Chihuahuas aren’t classified by size. Typical Chihuahuas weigh between 3 and 6 pounds. Dogs a little larger than 6 pounds make excellent pets — especially when children are in the family — but you should think twice before buying an especially tiny Chihuahua. Pups wrongly advertised as miniature or teacup often are too delicate for the average home and may have health problems.
Buying from a Breeder
– Go to the American Kennel Club’s Web site (www.akc.org) and click on its Breeder Referral link. Or you can call AKC Customer Care at 919-233-9767 for suggestions.
– Ask the Chihuahua Club of America (www.chihuahuaclubofamerica.com) for literature on the breed and for the address of the regional Chihuahua club closest to you. Contact that club for a list of member-breeders. You can do it all on the Net (see Chapter 17 for more resources).
– Talk to local veterinarians (see Chapter 13). They know which breeders have healthy dogs with terrific temperaments.
– Find the all-breed kennel club nearest you. Almost every sizable city has an all-breed kennel club. Ask around at a veterinary clinic, or call the library. Contact the all-breed club to find out if any of its members are Chihuahua breeders.
– Look at the breeder ads in dog magazines. You can check out AKC Gazette, Dog World, and Dog Fancy, for instance. Besides being available by subscription, the magazines are sold in many bookstores and at newsstands.
– Go to a dog show. Good breeders travel many miles to show their dogs, and they’ll be glad to talk to you after they finish competing. (Don’t bother them during the heat of competition!)
Dog shows are fun and educational even if you have no interest in showing your dog. With luck, you’ll see several Chihuahuas in the show ring. Watching them may help you decide what traits appeal to you. If several of your favorites come from the same breeder, you know where to look first. Find out from your local all-breed kennel club or the American Kennel Club (AKC) when shows are scheduled in your area (see Chapter 12 for more).
Visiting the breeder
Making a list of what you want in a Chihuahua and letting the breeders know your criteria before you visit simplifies things. For example, tell the breeder if you’re set on a male or a female, a smooth or a long coat, a certain color, and whether you plan to show your dog (see Chapter 12). That way, a breeder can save you a trip if he or she doesn’t have what you want, and he or she may be able to send you to another kennel where your dream dog awaits. Try visiting a few breeders and seeing several puppies before making a decision.
Evaluating the breeder
– If you see brood stock of several different breeds on the premises, or notice that the puppies are treated like merchandise, don’t purchase a puppy from that kennel. The best breeders specialize in one or two breeds, enjoying their dogs as a hobby rather than a business. They may even exhibit their stock at dog shows.
– Healthy puppies come from clean kennels. Check out the floor or grass the puppies are playing on. Has it been washed or pooper-scooped recently, or is it covered with miniature messes? Sneak a peek at the food and water dishes. Is the food dish clean, or is ancient goop stuck to the sides? Is the water clear or has yellow slime invaded the bottom of the dish? Use your nose. Sure, you’ll catch a whiff of fresh puppy poop, but if the stench is stale or overwhelming, try another kennel.
– The puppy play area shouldn’t be bare; the puppies should have a few toys to play with. Toys serve a purpose. They stimulate puppies physically and mentally, motivating them to exercise, play together, and learn.
– A good breeder knows the puppies’ personalities inside out and should gladly discuss them with you. In fact, he or she may talk nonstop and tell you even more than you want to know about the puppies, their parents, and extended family. Yes, good breeders may brag about their dogs, but that’s a good sign. It proves that they’re proud of their breeding and spend enough time with their dogs to know them well.
– A good breeder should give you a grilling (see the following section). That means he or she wants to be sure that a Chi is the right breed for your family and that you’ll give the puppy a good home. Steer clear of money-hungry puppy vendors who pretend Chihuahuas are ideal pets for everyone. It simply isn’t so.
– Chihuahua puppies need to stay with their dam and littermates until they’re at least 8 weeks old. Beware of any breeder who’s willing to let a pup leave for its new home any sooner than that.
– A good breeder will tell you that if you ever have to give up your Chihuahua, he or she will take her back and find her a new home.
– A good breeder may feed you endless data about how to raise and care for a Chihuahua. You may get annoyed by all the you shoulds, but cut the overprotective mommy or daddy some slack. You’re talking to a caring person who willingly shares information and who someday, when you need advice, will be willing to help.
– Don’t be surprised if the breeder displays the puppies’ pedigree with pride. That’s a good sign that the litter came from well-planned breeding.
Oh gee, why the third degree?
– What made you decide on a Chihuahua? The breeder is making sure you chose the breed because you truly like Toy dogs and especially Chihuahuas — not just because they’re “stylish” or you think a little dog costs less to feed or is easier for your 2-year-old to tote around.
– Have you had dogs before? What happened to them? Good breeders want their puppies to have loving, permanent homes. If you’ve never had a dog before, the breeder probably wants to fill you in on the facts of dog ownership just to make sure you know what you’re getting into. If you had a beloved dog that eventually died of old age, the breeder will be happy to sell you a puppy. But if your previous dog ran loose and got killed by a car or died of a disease that you could’ve prevented, a responsible breeder won’t sell you a dog. Truthfully, you don’t deserve one — unless you’ve learned from the sorry saga and won’t let it happen again.
– What are your hours? How much time do you spend at home? The breeder wants to be sure that the puppy will get enough attention. Puppies must be fed and walked on a regular schedule to become housebroken (see Chapters 8 and 10).
– How old are your children? Are they gentle with animals? Tots and Chihuahuas aren’t a good match. Toddlers are too young and uncoordinated to safely handle small dogs, and Chihuahuas are too tiny for rough handling. Teasing by youngsters also turns nice dogs into holy terrors.
– Do you have a fenced yard? The breeder wants to make sure your dog won’t be turned loose to be flattened by a car, mauled by a bigger dog, or poisoned by eating something spoiled. Although fenced-in yards make dog ownership easier, many Chihuahua owners live in apartments or condos and exercise their dogs by walking them on the leash (see Chapter 9).
– Is everyone in your family looking forward to getting a Chihuahua? It isn’t fair to the Chihuahua if someone in the family despises little dogs but was out-voted. A dog can sense the disdain immediately; the person may go so far as to sabotage the socialization or training.
– What do you expect from your Chihuahua? Tell the breeder if you want a dog solely as a companion or if you also want to show your dog. Will your Chihuahua live only with adults, or do you have kids in the family? Will your dog live at home or travel in your RV? Will you have your pet spayed or neutered, or are you considering using the dog for breeding?
Small size doesn’t mean small price tag
Just because Chihuahuas are little, don’t expect the purchase price to be less than what you’d pay for a larger dog. Chihuahuas have small litters, and the cost of breeding them (including stud service and possibly a Caesarean section) is high. Raising healthy, outgoing Toy dogs takes a lot of time and energy. You should expect a good breeder to be happy with breaking even, though. They do it for love, not money.
When tempted to buy a bargain puppy, remember that the purchase price is only a small part of what you’ll spend on your dog during her lifetime. It’s smarter to pay more and get a dog that makes your heart sing. (For more on pricing and other basics, refer to Chapter 1.)
The more the breeder knows about your plans for the pup, the better he or she can help you make a selection. After all, the breeder has observed the litter since birth and knows each puppy’s personality.
Pick of the litter
To the show exhibitor, the pick is the puppy that comes closest to the description of the ideal Chihuahua in the breed standard (see Chapter 2).
To the woman who lives alone in the city, the pick is the puppy that alerts instantly to strange sounds.
To the young couple with kids in elementary school, the pick is the largest and liveliest puppy.
To the retired couple in the condo, the pick is the quiet puppy that loves to cuddle.
The truth is, the pick is the puppy that appeals to you — provided that it’s healthy and has the right temperament to share your lifestyle (see Figure 4-1). If you’re dealing with a show breeder but have no intention of showing, you don’t need the puppy the breeder considers the pick of the litter. Chances are, the breeder won’t sell it to you anyway! It’s destined to become a show dog and possibly be the sire (father) or dam of the breeder’s next generation of champions. But one of its brothers or sisters may make you the perfect pet.
At the best kennels, show puppies and pet puppies come from the same litters. In fact, the last choice in a top breeder’s litter may be of higher quality than the first choice in a mediocre litter.
If you want to buy a show potential puppy, don’t be surprised if the breeder insists on keeping it until it’s 6 months old. That’s perfectly normal. Why? Because it takes that long to be positive (well, almost positive, anyway) that a puppy has what it takes to become an AKC champion.
Bring on all the puppies
– Trust your instincts. Did one puppy catch your eye immediately? Do you keep going back to her even though you want to give them all equal time? Are you already naming her in your mind? First impressions are important when picking a puppy, and love at first sight can last a lifetime. Just take the time to make sure your furry favorite is healthy and has a pleasing personality.
– Be observant. Watch the puppies play together for several minutes without human interference. (Chihuahua litters are small, so you can probably observe two to four littermates interacting with each other.) Your best bet is a puppy in the middle of the pecking order — neither the bully nor the scaredy-cat.
One sign of superior character is a puppy that stands up to the bully and then goes on about her business peacefully.
– Eye the eyes. The puppy’s eyes need to be bright, alert, and clear of mucous. Don’t mistake clear tears for mucous. Many Chihuahuas (and other Toy breeds) have too-small tear ducts, so tears occasionally fall from their eyes. A telltale sign is a small water stain at the inner corner of each eye. This isn’t a sign of sickness, but you shouldn’t convince yourself that the stains will fade away as the puppy matures. More than likely, the dog will always sport the tear stains, but they won’t affect her health or happiness.
– Check the coat. Bald may be beautiful on my husband, but it’s a bad sign on a puppy. A healthy coat is smooth to the touch and glossy, with no bald patches. Smooth coats without an undercoat may have thin hair on their temples and practically bald bellies, but no puppy should have skin showing through on its back or sides.
– Know the nose. The puppy’s breathing must be quiet and rhythmic, and the nostrils should be free of mucous.
– Watch the puppies move when they play. Despite a bit of baby clumsiness, puppies should appear quick, bouncy, and agile. Puppies standing up straight on legs that look strong enough to carry their bodies is a good sign.
– Check the teeth and running gear. If a show career is in your puppy’s future, don’t forget to check her teeth for a scissors bite (the upper-front teeth meet tightly outside the lower-front teeth). And although it isn’t easy to do with a tiny puppy, try to evaluate her gait (the way she moves at a trot) by watching her move both straight toward you and directly away from you. Front legs moving parallel with each other as she trots toward you and rear legs moving parallel with each other as she trots away are good signs. Study the breed standard (see Chapter 2) before selecting a potential show dog.
If you want a show puppy but don’t have a clue how to select one, take along someone who’s knowledgeable about show dogs when you meet the puppies. Another option is making absolutely sure that you’re dealing with a successful show breeder and then letting him or her choose a puppy for you.
When choosing your Chihuahua, avoid orphan puppies or litters of only one, because hand-raised orphans and solo pups get everything they want instantly. Consequently, they don’t learn how to handle frustration or get along with other dogs. In general, puppies that are raised by their dams (their mothers), along with at least one littermate, make better companions.
One on one
Never lift a puppy by its front legs. Not only is it painful, but it also can cause permanent injury to the puppy’s shoulders.
Sit on the floor to play with the puppies during this first meeting. You’ll enjoy it more because you won’t have to worry about dropping a pup, and the breeder’s blood pressure will normalize.
3. Show the puppy a small ball or other dog toy just the right size for her, and roll it about 3 feet away from (never toward) her.
Potential problem pups
– Don’t buy an unhealthy puppy. This could include a skinny puppy or one with pimples or raw patches on its skin, excessive dander, mucous seeping from the nostrils or the corner of the eyes, or diarrhea.
– Please don’t purchase a puppy out of pity. When an active litter of puppies vies for your attention but one hangs back or hides in a corner, she isn’t an abused baby in need of comfort. If the breeder neglected or mistreated the pups, every one of them would shy away from people. The truth is, that puppy has a temperament problem. Yes, she may improve a little with time and a lot of socialization (see Chapter 9), but her apprehensive attitude is probably a permanent problem.
– Go for impy, not wimpy. Don’t pick a puppy that shies away from its littermates’ games. I know it’s tempting to take home a little underdog, but resist as hard as you can. Pups that allow themselves to be terrorized by their littermates seldom become confident pets.
– Avoid anxious Annie. Don’t buy a puppy that runs away or crouches fearfully in one spot when you take her out of sight of her breeder and four-legged family. It’s okay if it takes her a couple minutes to get her bearings, but after a few moments, expect her to show some interest in her surroundings and be curious about you.
A puppy that tests well probably will make someone a wonderful pet, but that someone may not be you. How do you feel when you play with the pup? Is she the tiny soul mate you’ve been searching for? Or are you thinking of buying her only because she tested well and you’re tired of Chihuahua shopping? When tempted to think that way, remember that you’re choosing family. Keep looking until you know you’ve found your canine counterpart.
Meeting the extended family
A mature female dog is a bitch, no matter how sweet she is! And when used for breeding, she’s a brood bitch. The mother of a litter of puppies is the dam and the father is the sire.
The more of your potential puppy’s close relatives you meet, the better. Why? Because their attitudes and appearances give you a good indication of how the puppy may turn out. For example, does the pup come from a friendly family? Or do its relatives aggressively attack your ankles or cringe behind a couch in terror? Do you find the family attractive? Or do most of the dogs have a trait that you’d rather avoid?
– Whether the puppy is to be spayed or neutered
– Whether the puppy’s AKC registration will be full or limited (see the final section of this chapter)
– How soon you should have the pup checked out by your veterinarian to rule out genetic problems
– An explanation of the breeder’s responsibility if a genetic problem turns up
– Whether you’re expected to exhibit the pup to her championship should she grow up show quality (if you buy a pup with show potential)
– An explanation of the breeder’s responsibility if you plan on showing your pup but she doesn’t become show quality at maturity
Surveying Additional Places to Purchase a Puppy
As for online ads, they span every extreme. Top show kennels have Web sites (see Chapter 17), but poorly bred specimens are also offered on the Internet. If you make contact with a breeder through an online ad, use the info I present earlier in this chapter to figure out if you’ve found a good one.
What about pet shops?
Dog lovers have a name for the over-crowded, filthy facilities that breed litter after litter and sell hundreds of poorly bred puppies every year. We call them puppy mills.
Although both parents you see through a classified ad visit may be healthy Chihuahuas with excellent dispositions, it’s better to have plenty of knowledge about picking puppies before trying to select a pet from the litter. See the section “Pick of the litter” for plenty of advice on picking out the right puppy.
If you dream of owning a show champion, buying from an established breeder is your best shot at success. Why? Because puppy sellers who advertise only in the paper or online, and not through the dog journals, probably bred their pets to their friends’ pooches without studying the standard (see Chapter 2) or comparing pedigrees.
The Ups and Downs of Choosing a Mature Chihuahua
You must beware of baggage, though. All adult dogs have a past, so every member of the family should meet an adult Chihuahua before a decision is made to buy or adopt it. That’s because something in its past may have caused it to love men but hate women (or vice versa) or become defensive around children.
– When meeting a mature Chihuahua, remember that you’re a stranger and adult dogs are more discriminating than puppies. Don’t force your attention on the dog. Instead, sit down and talk to the owner for a few minutes until the dog warms up to you.
– Check for general good health by looking at the dog’s eyes, nose, coat, skin, and movement. The eyes should be clear and bright (not cloudy). The nose free of mucus. The coat should cover the body with a healthy shine. The skin smooth and supple, without bumps, lumps, or pimples. And movement should be easy and animated — not stiff or labored.
– You and the dog need to appeal to each other. Give her time to accept you and then pet her if she allows it. Does she relax and enjoy your company, or is she fearful or aggressive? Ask the owner to place her on your lap. Is she content to cuddle? Or is she scared stiff or frantic to escape?
– Ask if you may put a leash on the dog and take her for a walk. Encourage her to walk beside you with soft, happy talk. Does she trot down the street with you willingly, or does she freeze in place, cry, balk, or try to make a break for home?
– Perform the smile test. Does looking at this dog make you smile? That’s good chemistry, but it should work both ways. After the dog knows you, does she wag her tail and dance a few happy steps when you talk to her? Liking each other is the most important criteria of all.
Many dogs are protective of their homes but warm up to friendly strangers easily on neutral ground. Moving to a neutral site is worth a try if you like everything about an adult Chihuahua but she doesn’t seem to like you.
What is a purebred? It’s a dog that descended from dogs that were all the same breed. A purebred Chihuahua has two Chihuahuas for parents, four Chihuahuas for grandparents, eight Chihuahuas for great-grandparents, and so on, as far back as records can be traced.
Crossbreed fables abound
One fable about Chihuahua origins contends that the Chihuahua came from a cross between a dog and a rodent in the desert surrounding Chihuahua, Mexico. Another theory claims the Chihuahua evolved from a cross between the Techichi and a small wild dog called the Perro Chihuahueno, which lived in the area now known as the state of Chihuahua. And if that isn’t enough, a few historians think the Techichi may have been crossed with a small hairless dog that was brought across the Bering Strait from China to Alaska.
Deciphering full or limited registration
If the puppy you fall for has been selected by the breeder for limited registration, ask why. Usually it’s because of some small fault that won’t matter to you anyway unless you’re planning to show and/or breed your dog. In fact, a puppy with limited registration from an excellent breeder usually is far superior to a puppy with full registration from a strictly commercial breeder.
Registering your new dog
Thousands of eligible dogs aren’t registered even though their owners think they are. That’s because their owners put the registration applications in a safe place but never read them. That officiallooking piece of paper is only an application. It means your dog is eligible to be AKC registered. For the dog to actually be registered, you must fill out the form and send it in.
Don’t be surprised if the breeder/kennel where you purchase your Chihuahua wants to either name your puppy or include its kennel name as part of your dog’s registered name. That isn’t an unusual request. Breeding superior dogs is an art form, and putting a kennel name on a top-quality dog is the same as an artist signing his or her work. Most of the time, you and the breeder can get what you want. For example, if you buy your dog from Talko Chi Town Kennels and want to name her Susie, her registered name may be Talko Chi Town Susie. In dog-show lingo, Susie is her call name.
If a seller doesn’t have a registration application for your puppy but assures you that one is coming, proceed with caution. Maybe the seller didn’t apply to the AKC soon enough and expects the paperwork in a week or two. If you trust the seller enough to buy on that basis, ask for a bill of sale signed by the seller that includes your dog’s breed, date of birth, sex, color, the registered names and AKC numbers of the pup’s sire and dam, and the full name and address of the breeder. That way, if you don’t receive official paperwork in a week or so, you can write to the AKC and fully identify your dog.
Chihuahuas without credentials
The American Kennel Club allows purebred dogs with no papers to compete in obedience and agility if they have Indefinite Listing Privilege (ILP) numbers. A form for you to fill out is available at www.akc.org, or you can call AKC Customer Care at 919-233-9767 and ask a representative to send you an ILP form.
by Jacqueline O’Neil