All in the Family
If you want to generalize Chihuahua temperament, it comes down to two things, genetics and the amount of socialization he or she receives.
If your puppy comes from high-strung, aggressive, and rowdy parents, you'll have this as something to look forward to. Likewise, if he or she comes from a low-key friendly family, you’ll tend to see a little more fun-loving nature.
Annie is from a very easy-going family. From day one, she was never afraid, never bit, barked, or caused mischief. Her worst offense was eliciting smiles wherever she went.
Considering there has not been one thing to this day that's needed correction, these behaviors must be inherited.
Roxy was a different story. She wasn't plucked from the crib as soon as Annie, thus she spent a little more time with her siblings. On her first day home, she was feisty, growled, and protected her food and toys. This seemed to be a mixed bag of tricks.
The good news is that this behavior has not been set in stone. I can asure you, that if home life is calm and consistent, and you offer plenty of firm, loving direction, especially when your dogs are puppies, you can still have the Chi of your dreams.
Getting Along with Others
Consistent socialization is crucial to keeping a well-mannered Chihuahua.
In fact, regardless of the genes, whether good or not so good, the manner in which you raise your puppy ultimately determines his or her fate.
Keeping a calm household with plenty of exposure to other dogs and people will make all the difference in Chihuahua temperament.
Having ‘pets in pairs’ is always recommended and a great way to help with socialization. Dogs are pack animals and need this additional bond on many levels. If they get along, another mate most definitely helps them develop faster and provides a level of consistency and security that these little guys require.
However, just because you have more than one Chihuahua doesn’t mean you’re done socializing them. They require continual exposure or they will retreat into their territorial and protective nature.
For Barking Out Loud
Chihuahuas are barkers. If you have a Chihuahua, you’re going to have to face this sooner or later. Annie didn’t start barking until much later in life. It’s a part of socialization and the pack nature; it’s her voice.
They bark to communicate that they’re excited about something. It's also signal to show who's in charge of the pack. As I said, Annie didn't start barking until we started to quiet Roxy. She realized that a pack needed a leader and if Roxy wasn't going to sound the alarm she must.
The funny thing is that Annie really didn’t know what she was supposed to bark at, she just knew it needed to be done. Consequently, Annie picked people to bark at, whereas, Roxy only barks at dogs.
The barking can be triggered by nearly anything that excites them from a rattling keychain to a houseguest moving inadvertently. On a walk it could be a stroller or a cat in the bushes.
A Chihuahua owner must be aware that barking can quickly move from distractingly amusing to downright infuriating. It can even negatively affect a dog’s health. It’s important to understand why the dog is barking and then correct the situation immediately and consistently.
If not addressed immediately, it can lead to a health issue. Not only does it create undue stress and tension in the dog, and stress is not healthy, barking fits can cause hernias. The surgeries are extremely expensive, yet completely avoidable. I’m sorry to say that as a result of my ignorance, Roxy underwent two operations.
Still, you have to find a way to chill out about it and stay calm. I was walking the girls one day and came by another man walking his dog. Roxy immediately launched into one of her uncontrollable barking fits directed at the dog while Annie began barking at the man. I felt completely helpless and embarrassed. It was at this point, the man turned to me, smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said, "Dogs bark."
Dogs bark, they just do. I suppose if you want a quiet animal there are cats, birds, and rabbits. But, if you are insistent on having a dog, I would recommend chilling out a bit more and letting them speak their mind now and again, within reason, of course.
Loyalty Runs Deep
Chihuahuas will easily become a one-person dog if you allow them. They'll adopt a human and become a protective follower for life.
And, as the lucky human, you’re in the leadership role. You feed, bathe, and comfort them; in short, you provide all the happiness they need – you are their world. Now, isn't it obvious why they naturally become your devoted best friend?
Unfortunately, this protection and devotion can manifest into unwanted behaviors such as barking fits at other dogs or even nipping at people. To ensure that their loyalty to you stays in check, it’s important to let them know that you won't tolerate any of this behavior, not for a second.
A Little Napoleon Complex
Chihuahuas can be very strong-willed and stubborn at times. They know what they want and many times won’t be swayed otherwise.
Annie is a good example of this very strong will. I joke that she’s a dog that doesn’t want much, but when she wants something, you cannot change her mind.
On our walks, she’s all too quick to get into the neighbor’s flowerbeds. Even though I tell her “No”, it’s very clear when she's made up her mind. She’ll freeze and look up in my direction, but like a defiant child, turn her head just enough to avoid eye contact with me. At this point, I have no choice but to go over and pick her up and put her back on the sidewalk.
Roxy, on the other hand, has a very short-lived stubborn side. After a minute or two she’ll have completely forgotten what she’s fighting for.
What ever the case, more often than not you’ll find Chihuahuas know what they want, when they want it, and will be very persistent in getting it. I would suggest embracing this stubborn side as a sign of their intelligence, but never letting it get the best of you.
A side note for people who may find this stubborn streak annoying and may be in the habit of using force. Physical force is not only harmful, it’s ultimately ineffective and counter-productive. Creating fear as a way to prevent, or even punish, an action opens the door to serious behavioral issues. Stubbornness is an area that needs your greater understanding and patience. Multiply the harm of force by a 100 with Chihuahuas– a total mistake.
Roxy's stubborn side is found in the kitchen. After all, I don't call her "little sausage log" for nothing. She gets under my feet while I'm making meals; she's after scraps. As a consequence I'm always afraid of stepping on her or tripping over her. Fortunately, she listens and will leave when prompted, but in five minutes the lure of the sights and smells brings her back.
I've been told, "Well, she just needs to be stepped on to learn that she shouldn't be there." This statement is not only irrational, but ignorant. Only humans have the capacity for reason. Dogs are not logical thinkers that can think about the consequences before acting.
Because I understand that Roxy can be stubborn, constantly want food and scraps, ideally, I should train her to sit at the kitchen door and wait for instruction. Since she already responds to me when I am telling her to leave the kitchen, this could be a very easy fix, but it's up to me.
Smart As A Lick
Chihuahuas are very intelligent dogs and when they want to learn they will do it quickly and efficiently.
I am continually amazed at how sensitive and alert they are. Their ability to feel the mood of a room, the weather outside, or even my walking habits is uncanny. On top of this, they have a desire all their own to see and do things; they don’t just turn off when you leave the room.
Small as they are, their bodies are affected by cold quite easily. Annie, for example, will not want to go on her walks on cold days. She’ll sit at the top of the stairs and won't come down, but will in fact run back to her heating blanket.
She also recognizes my subtle behavior patterns around the house and knows that I turn to the right every time I reach the top of the stairs or when I walk into my studio, that I’m headed for my chair.
On a deeper level, they can feel tension; they know when I’m upset. If I'm raising my voice, Annie will begin to shake and groan. To this reason, it’s important to keep a calm household so this tension doesn’t manifest into other forms for them.
Chihuahuas are thinking dogs, they're constantly alert and ready for more, thus, they need to be mentally stimulated. Walks for this reason are absolutely the best thing for them. Roxy is quite in tune to the words, “let’s go!” and, if these words are spoken, even out of context, you'd better be ready to go.
The good news is, not only are you keeping them happy and healthy, but they are keeping you in check.