In This Chapter
- Examining Chihuahua traits and trademarks
- Exploring a Chihuahua’s relationship with other people and dogs
- Comparing dogs with different coat lengths
- Focusing on male and female personalities
- Dealing with problem personalities
What makes the world’s smallest dog one of our nation’s most popular pets? The Chihuahua’s perky personality, of course. Yes, this unique breed has more going for it than a serious case of the cutes. Chihuahuas are protective despite their size and react appropriately to their owners’ moods. They love lovin’, travel well, and adore creature comforts. In this chapter, I talk about the traits of a typical Chihuahua — complete with all its characteristics and quirks.
I discuss how Chihuahuas usually react to other animals; the personality differences between Chihuahuas with short and long coats; and what must go right so your Chi can mature with the personality traits typical of the breed.
This Bit of a Dog Is Big on Character
The breed standard for the Chihuahua describes its temperament as “terrier-like,” so I’ll start by talking about typical terrier personality. Most small terriers (think Fox Terriers and Scottish Terriers) originally were bred to go to ground after prey. They helped keep wily foxes out of henhouses and rats from fouling the feed in barns, and they didn’t hesitate to take on badgers, snakes, or anything else that intruded near their people or property. Although few terriers do their traditional work today, most retain their feistiness and are brave to a fault. Terriers are alert to their surroundings, quick to defend home and family, and positive that they’re tougher than the biggest dog on the block, making them alert watchdogs and energetic, playful companions.
The following sections break down the individual characteristics of the Chihuahua.
Although few Chihuahuas care to go rat hunting (aren’t you glad!), they do have several terrier traits. Bravado is one example. When your Chi trots down the street with you, he appears animated and confident — a bantam rooster with a proud posture.
Most Chihuahuas don’t realize that they’re small. Given the opportunity, they may approach big dogs in play, and occasionally — especially if the large dogs are invading their territory — they may act aggressively.
Although a tiny terror, barking and running full force, sends some gigantic dogs packing, this situation isn’t safe. Toy breed owners need to exercise caution around strange dogs, because even the friendliest medium-sized dog can seriously injure a small one during rough play.
The Chihuahuas’ bravado makes them good watchdogs. Like terriers, they’re alert and have amazingly keen hearing, and they possess a bark that’s loud and shrill for their size. To top it off, they can tell the difference between a family member’s footsteps or a stranger’s stride nearing the door, and they know when a vehicle other than the family car pulls up to the house.
Chihuahuas have an unjust reputation for excessive barking. Most bark an alarm when a stranger approaches, but when properly trained (see Part III), they won’t be any noisier than most other breeds.
A Chi is an affectionate animal that dogs your footsteps from room to room, because awake or asleep, he wants to be near you. Some breeds always seem in search of mischief, but the typical adult Chihuahua is content with its owner’s company (see Figure 3-1 for an example). After your Chi grows out of his busy puppy stages, he’s happiest when you and he are close — preferably touching. An accomplished cuddler, the Chihuahua lies on your lap for as long as you’ll let him, helping you relax as you read the paper or watch television. He adores being stroked when you have a free hand, and a gentle massage transports him to puppy paradise. Don’t be surprised if he rolls over to beg for a belly rub!
Figure 3-1: Chihuahuas need affection and thrive on togetherness.
After all that togetherness, your Chi may not want you to leave him, even at bedtime. Many Chihuahuas sleep in their owners’ bedrooms, but not necessarily in their beds. You can train him to snooze in his own soft bed or crate, which is where he’ll curl up when the lights go out (see Chapter Establishing Good Behavior and Manners
). It’s safer than sharing space with him in your bed. Sure, he’d rather snuggle up with you, but he can easily get hurt if you roll over onto him during the night.
Chihuahuas are heat seekers and masters of the art of relaxation. Indoors, your Chi will play bathing beauty, stretching out on the carpet right where a sunbeam shines through the window. On gray days, he’ll seek out another source of warmth, napping near a heating vent or in his own bed — that is, if your lap isn’t available.
You’ll know that your Chihuahua is a little chilly when he curls up into a ball with his nose under one leg. Dogs do that because it allows them to breathe in air that got preheated by the warmth of their bodies. Inhaling the warm air helps keep them cozy.
The ultimate house dog
If you pick up a leash and say, “Wanna go for a walk?” most breeds beat you to the door while dancing in ecstatic circles. Nevertheless, don’t be surprised if your Chi plants his feet and gives you a longsuffering look that translates into, “Do I have to?”
Most Chihuahuas (some exceptions live in semitropical climates) prefer their homes to the great outdoors. Lovers of warmth and softness, they consider cold concrete and dewy grass hardships to be endured, not enjoyed. (If your Chi is a smooth coat, he chills easily, sometimes shivering from ear tips to toes. See the later section “Decisions, Decisions: Comparing Long/Smooth Coats.”) He also hates rain, and it’s no wonder. Imagine being so low to the ground that every step you take splashes cold water onto your bare belly! Of course, you must take your pet outside no matter what the weather so he can eliminate on schedule (see Chapter Establishing Good Behavior and Manners
). (Chapter Welcome Home, Little Amigo
covers accessories you can purchase that help keep him comfortable.)
On cold days, it’s amusing to see how fast some Chihuahuas get their business over with so they can rush back to their warm homes. When I lived in New York, I carried Manchita to the curb during winter; otherwise, she squatted the second her toes touched the sidewalk!
Typical adult Chihuahuas are sassy with strangers and discriminating about making new friends. Few Chihuahuas, no matter how well socialized they are, run up to a houseguest and vie for his or her attention. Instead, Pepe makes sure you know a stranger is in the house by barking at the intruder until you tell him “Enough!” (see Chapter Establishing Good Behavior and Manners
). After that, he’ll probably take a position with a view of your visitor from across the room for several minutes until deciding that the person deserves canine company. Then his likely approach will be a slow and gradual offering of his furry friendship — provided that your guest lets him make the first move and resists the temptation to grab at him.
Environment trumps heredity
Although caution in choosing friends is a Chihuahua trait, not every adult Chihuahua is persnickety about meeting new people. Three-pound Manchita, for example (see Chapter What’s Behind That Unique Chihuahua Look?
), makes a merry dash into the arms of anyone who shows interest in her. When she was a puppy, my daughters were teenagers who had friends coming and going daily. All the kids fussed over Manchita during her formative months, so she grew up believing that every human is a potential petting machine. Manchita is almost 12 years old now, and she still falls for friendly people at first sight.
To speed up the buddy-making process between your friends and your dog, tell your guests to ignore your Chi until he approaches them. Then they can reciprocate by tickling him on the chest or under the chin. These actions are less threatening than reaching over him to pet his head. Chihuahuas don’t like it when strangers swoop down on them from above like hungry hawks. If your friends squat down and let your Chi check them out, they’ll soon become best buddies.
A Chihuahua probably will make friends much faster on neutral ground (such as a park) than in his own home, because he doesn’t feel the need to defend neutral territory.
Spirited, but not hyper
Although they’re playful pets, Chihuahuas aren’t hyper little dogs. In fact, most of them don’t have an especially high activity level. Rather than racing around the living room, your Chi prefers spending part of his day on your lap or burrowed beneath a blanket. His attitude about exercise is easygoing — ready to play when you are but content to relax when you aren’t in an active mood.
As Chihuahuas mature, they tend to take on the same activity level as their people. The same dog that acts frisky when he’s around his active family will turn into a contented cuddler when grandma and grandpa dog-sit.
Even though Chihuahuas prefer human company, properly trained adult dogs can occupy themselves for hours without looking for trouble or demanding attention. The Chapters of Part III cover training exercises, including making your dog feel comfortable when alone.
Chihuahuas thrive in living quarters ranging from country estates to studio apartments. Don’t worry about stairs or elevators; after you introduce your Pepe to them (see Chapter Socializing Your Chihuahua
), he will handle them just fine.
Because Chihuahuas are so small, they don’t need fenced yards or kennel runs to get their exercise. You can give yours a few toys (see Chapter Welcome Home, Little Amigo
) and he’ll play active games right in the living room. Or better yet, you can join in the fun, and both of you will get some exercise. I suggest some games you can play together in Chapter Chirobics: For Fitness and Fun
Chihuahuas are good travelers and adjust to moving better than many breeds. They feel at home wherever their owners are. That attitude, plus their small size, makes Chihuahuas an ideal dog for people who have to move frequently and for retired couples who crisscross the country in RVs.
If you move often, a Chihuahua won’t mind — but you should think twice before buying one anyway. Finding rental housing that allows dogs often is difficult. My daughters faced that problem when they took Manchita to college, but they finally solved it by taking her along to meet potential landlords. When one landlord saw how petite and polite Manchita was, he made an exception. And the girls did their part by keeping her in a well-equipped playpen (the type meant for an infant) when they weren’t home to supervise (see Chapter Welcome Home, Little Amigo).
Chihuahuas can sense their owners’ moods and will react accordingly. When you arrive home after receiving a promotion, your Chi will recognize right away that something wonderful happened and dances around you with glee. But he’ll also sense when you’re sick or sad, and he’ll try to be consoling. Stories abound about Chihuahuas that stopped playing and had to be reminded to eat and even eliminate when family members were bedridden with serious illnesses. These companions tried to spend all their time with the sick persons.
Quick studies when trained with TLC
Although housetraining any dog (see Chapters Establishing Good Behavior and Manners and Keeping Your Place as Head of Household) is a chore, most of the other training you give your Chi should be pure pleasure for both of you. Chihuahuas love being center stage and are eager to learn — provided that the training is gentle, upbeat, and complete with plenty of positive reinforcement (read: praise and treats). Because they’re so people oriented, Chihuahuas have longer attention spans (when they’re past the puppy stage) than many other breeds. If you make training fun, your pup will focus his big eyes on you and pirouette happily every time you praise him.
After he learns a new trick, your Chi will never forget it. He may, however, try to improvise. Some Chis are so clever that as soon as they perfect a trick, they invent a new way to ham it up. Many Chihuahuas are successful in competitive sports such as obedience and agility. You can read all about those activities in Chapter Training Your Chi for Canine Events, Tricks, and for Show
If your Chi is a healthy, well-bred Chihuahua (see Chapter What’s Behind That Unique Chihuahua Look?
) and you take good care of him, chances are he’ll live well into his teens. Chihuahuas are one of the longest-lived breeds. And that’s great news for the humans who love them!
Friend to (most) other critters
Your Chihuahua may sass strange dogs when he’s out for a walk (basic obedience training cures that; see Chapters Socializing Your Chihuahua
and Establishing Good Behavior and Manners
), but he should get along with the other pets in your home. After you make the introductions (see Chapter Welcome Home, Little Amigo
) and the pets get used to each other, your Pepe likely will curl up with your cat, ignore your caged birds, and become buddies with your bigger dog.
Don’t be surprised if he shows a jealous streak over who gets the most attention, though. Dogs usually work these things out for themselves (with the Chihuahua often becoming the dominant dog). Just be sure to supervise the animals closely until they get used to each other and obviously get along.
Have you read about the terrier traits I talked about earlier in this chapter? You should keep little critters like hamsters, gerbils, iguanas, and small birds out of your Chi’s reach, or pouncing on them may be just too tempting.
One unique Chihuahuaism is that the breed recognizes, and almost always welcomes, its own. Even though your Chi may seem sassy or even scared around strange dogs, in most cases he’ll become ecstatic at the sight of another Chihuahua, and the two will quickly make friends.
Decisions, Decisions: Comparing Long/Smooth Coats
When deciding whether you want a long-coated or a smoothcoated Chihuahua (see Chapter What’s Behind That Unique Chihuahua Look?
), you should consider more than just the length of coat you want to cuddle. That’s because the differences are more than skin deep. In general (with some exceptions), slight personality differences exist between the two coat types. Here are the more obvious differences:
– Long coats can handle the cold better. Although no Chihuahua can stand the cold for long, many long coats enjoy a short walk in brisk weather and may even play in the snow (provided it’s only a couple inches deep). Not the case with smooth coats. Chihuahuas with short hair are miserable in cold weather and should wear a sweater outdoors on chilly days, even when going for a short walk (see Chapter Welcome Home, Little Amigo).
– Smooth coats cuddle closer. A short-coated Chi will enjoy feeling the warmth of your body on his nearly bald belly as he lies on your lap while you read or watch television. His longcoated counterpart wants your company, too, but he’s more likely to sit beside you rather than on you. Differences also are noticeable if you decide to bed down with him. A smooth coat curls up under the covers, and a long coat usually lies on top of the blankets.
– Long coats shed less. No, that isn’t a misprint. Long-coated Chihuahuas shed seasonally — usually twice a year. During those periods, they lose a lot of hair quite quickly. But a few good brushings, plus vacuuming the carpets and furniture, put an end to the problem for several months (see Chapter Grooming the Body Beautiful
– Long coats are a bit more reserved. Smooth coats often are more outgoing and accept new friends faster than long coats. Although long coats like attention, too, they tend to be a little more reserved and need more time to warm up to friendly strangers.
Long coats and smooth coats often are littermates, which means they’re brothers and sisters born in the same litter. According to an old wives’ tale, at least one long-coated Chihuahua appears in every litter of smooth coats — a gift from Mother Nature to keep its short-coated littermates warm. Although this is a sweet story, it doesn’t always happen that way. Besides, smooth-coated pups don’t need the help. They do just fine by cuddling up to their mom and to each other.
Battle of the Sexes: Observing Male and Female Traits
You can find plenty of Chihuahua lore concerning which sex makes the better pet. Some people favor males while others extol the virtues of females. The truth is, the personality of a puppy’s parents is a much better indicator of potential temperament than which sex the pup happens to be. Even so, you should be aware of a few characteristic differences between the sexes before you decide on the dog you want:
– Unspayed females have heat cycles (usually twice a year), and these can make a mess on your clothing and furniture. And even if your female is indoors almost all the time, neighborhood males still can smell her enticing scent and serenade her. You can’t let her out of your sight when she’s in season, or it could result in an unwanted pregnancy — or worse if her suitor is big enough to injure her.
– An unneutered male has a sex drive that makes him follow a female’s sexy scent until he finds the female — no matter how big she is or how many larger dogs also are competing for her favor. Consequently, he can become quite the escape artist and put himself in life-threatening situations. He also may take out his frustrations by becoming affectionate with a throw pillow or someone’s shin (see Chapter Keeping Your Place as Head of Household). Some unneutered males tend to be aggressive with other dogs, and a Chihuahua in a fighting mood believes that he’s the biggest bruiser on the block — a dangerous situation.
– Male and female Chihuahuas are equally affectionate and appealing, and initially take about the same amount of time to housebreak. But many males (if they haven’t been neutered) disregard their training when they get old enough to lift their legs and mark their property (a sign of sexual maturity) and may regress to urinating in the house You can correct the problem by catching it early and returning the male to his crate-training puppy schedule (see Chapter Establishing Good Behavior and Manners) for a few weeks. If that doesn’t do the trick, you can find help for hard cases in Chapter Keeping Your Place as Head of Household.
The good news is that spaying or neutering nullifies much of the behavior in the previous list, making males and females equally excellent as pets. Chapter Visiting the Vet
discusses the altering procedure and its importance for your pet.
Checking a Chi Pup’s Résumé
Several things must go right before a Chihuahua puppy grows up to be typical of his breed. A puppy will mature with characteristics that people admire if it is
If any of these necessities are missing during the dog’s upbringing, or if it gets neglected or abused, chances are it won’t behave like a typical Chihuahua. Unfortunately, Chihuahuas often get a bad rap from people who meet sorry excuses for dogs and decide that the entire breed behaves badly.
The following undesirable traits are the ones that frequently plague poorly bred, undernourished, unsocialized, untrained, or unloved members of this breed. These traits are, in a sense, typical of the atypical:
- Timid, shy, or extremely nervous
- Frail and sickly
- Refuses to accept friendly strangers
- Vicious (snaps at people without warning and for no reason)
Possessive (defends his food dish, toys, or favorite chair, even from his owners)
Oh my! That’s a scary list, isn’t it? I bet it doesn’t sound like anything you want in a dog. Don’t panic. In Chapter Choosing Your Ideal Chihuahua
, I tell you how to avoid the unhappy traits and find a Chihuahua with the potential to grow up with all the breed’s best characteristics.
by Jacqueline O’Neil