Chihuahua aggression towards other dogs
Getting involved in a dog altercation is not funny. Especially when your dog starts it by showing aggression towards another dog that’s just minding its own business. Chihuahua aggression towards other dogs is a very common behaviour trait.
In this time of lockdown it can be difficult to think how you can start to work on your dogs behaviour. But the good news is that, yes, you can!
Depending on where you are in the world, you probably can lead walk your dog. So you can make a start with basic training. Getting your dog to walk to heel, sit, stay and come ect. While basic training does not address the issue of aggression directly, it is building a bond between you and your dog. Helping them understand who is in charge and that they can trust you. Have a look online for basic training videos. Stay away from anything that requires a gadget.
While all chihuahua owners know that their dogs are loving and loyal at home, we have to admit that some chihuahuas can be chippy. They can develop some very difficult to manage behaviours. Barking and lunging at other dogs is one of them.
I am having to go back to basics with Arlo as his behaviour towards other dogs has got really bad just lately. I used to take him dog walking with me and he was out all day and had plenty of exercise. He learnt to be more relaxed around other breeds, was able to avoid the ones he didn’t like and even played with some he did.
But since I stopped that, plus all the bad weather, now the lock down he just isn’t getting the socialization and exercise he needs. He has now gone back to barking and being aggressive. It makes it very difficult when you go out for a walk and takes all the pleasure out of it.
Understanding why your chihuahua is barking at other dogs is halfway there to stopping it. Understanding how you may be inadvertently making it worse is also very helpful.
Barking to stay away
Chihuahuas are very brave and spirited. But for some reason when something comes along they’re afraid of, rather than stay under the radar they do exactly the opposite. That means bark like crazy and if they are on the lead they will lunge and spin.
It doesn’t feel like it, but this behaviour comes from a place of fear. They want the other dog to stay away from them, and in most cases, it works as we will walk our chis away from the situation to avoid a confrontation.
Some owners will label their dog ‘reactive’ which is kind of true and ask other dog owners to stay away. But keeping your chihuahua away from other dogs will make the situation worse. What we are looking for is calm acceptance of the presence of other dogs rather than chihuahua aggression.
You can stop chihuahua aggression towards other dogs from ever beginning by making sure your chihuahua is socialised correctly from puppy hood. But if you’re reading this you are probably way past the puppy stage and looking to rehabilitate an adult dog.
Chihuahuas do tend to prefer the company of their own breed, but there are plenty of chihuahuas who live happily with other dog breeds. It’s also possible to reform a chihuahua who is aggressive towards other dogs and watch him become happy, relaxed and up for a game. I know this is true because we did it with Mika and Arlo. Although we are having to revisit this with Arlo, so you can see it is a continuous process of development.
How to resolve aggression towards other dogs.
Threshold training ‘lite’
What is threshold training?
The threshold we are talking about in this instance is the line between when your chihuahua is calm and happy and when he is aroused, excited or stressed. There are three stages of threshold:
Under is when your dog is relaxed and not showing any signs of anxiety or fear.
At is the point at which your dog may start to show signs of reacting to the stimulus.
Over is when your chihuahua is showing clear signs of anxiety like barking, spinning and lunging or showing other signs of stress.
Threshold training is the gentle process of reducing the distance between your dog and his fear, keeping him under his anxiety threshold while you do it.
Keeping your dog under his anxiety threshold is important because once he has gone over it you aren’t going to be able to teach him anything.
A good analogy here is it’s like trying to reason with a child having a temper tantrum. Some dogs may not bark at this point but might just become stiff, tense and slightly glazed or just stop. So, you need to be able to read your dog and understand the signs that he is stressed.
How to deal with chihuahua aggression towards other dogs
This bit is very important. You also need to be calm, positive and behave like a guardian. Your dog’s lead is like a telephone wire that communicates your emotions to him. If you are tense and stressed your chihuahua will pick this up as well. He will pick up your stress, and assume he is correct in being worried about the presence of this other dog. Your chihuahua absolutely must see you as the leader, the person who is in charge of the walk. They must trust you and just assume you wouldn’t take them into a dangerous situation.
Have a friend with a calm non reactive dog help you with this exercise.
Walk your chihuahua past the other dog at a distance your chihuahua is comfortable with. He needs to see the dog but be far enough away that it is not causing any reaction.
Praise your dog and offer a tasty treat as you go. Be enthusiastic and keep the treats on tap.
If you chihuahua starts barking, you have gone over his threshold so retreat further back.
What you are doing here is conditioning your chihuahua to seeing the presence of another dog in a more positive light.
Keep walking past and move gradually nearer to the other dog until you can walk past the dog without any reaction from your chihuahua.
You can also change the stimulation by having the other dog walking around, playing ball or walking towards you.
Don’t be tempted into forcing your chihuahua to face his fears by putting him in an enclosed environment with other dogs and leaving him to get on with it. This is called flooding. In some situations, it may work, but most likely you are risking your dog being so over stimulated he starts shutting down as a coping mechanism.
Also don’t be tempted to use an adverse stimulus to stop your dog barking at other dogs. By adverse stimulus I mean shock collars, citronella collars anything that creates an unpleasant sensation. All you will be doing is adding an additional fear of pain on top of the anxiety they already have over the other dog.
Long term behaviour changes
It’s much quicker to write this than do, but over time you should be able to walk down the street, see another dog, and be able to walk past it without incident.
All three of ours can happily walk past another calm, well-behaved dog, on or off lead. If a larger dog stops to sniff a butt, they might get a curled lip from Mika. Arlo will assess the potential for a game, if there isn’t one, he will just bugger off and do Arlo stuff. ( see above note)
However, it would be unreasonable to expect your dog to stand still and be happy if a larger dog is bearing down on them at speed. Other dog owners need to understand that in this situation your chihuahua is going to feel threatened and intimidated and likely to react badly. All dogs should be socialised and possess basic doggy manners of meet and greet.
If your chihuahua’s aggression towards other dogs is beyond this level of intervention, then we suggest that you invest in some 1:1 with a dog trainer who can observe you and your chi together. They would put together a tailored plan to help your chihuahua overcome his issues with other dogs.
Don’t skip training your chihuahua
I have started to talk about this at the beginning of this article, so if you made it this far then well done!
Have a look online for basic training videos from reputable trainers, like victoria Stillwell, Graham hall or Nigel Reed. Stay away from gadgets or potions that claim they will make your dog calm or stop barking.
They absolutely don’t work. They really don’t so please don’t waset your money. The only thing that will improve your chihuahuas behaviour is you understanding how to communicate with and train your dog.
It’s tempting to think that because he is small that training your chihuahua isn’t necessary.
“So-what if he barks at other dogs. He’s small, I can keep him on a lead”.
To start with you have a duty under the Dangerous Dogs Act to keep your dog under control and to make sure he is a good citizen. Chihuahuas are no exception because of their size. If another dog owner fears they may be in danger from your dog’s aggressive behaviour they can report you, and there can be consequences for you and your chihuahua.
The other side of this is a larger dog could become very agitated and attack your chihuahua. This is not an altercation that is going to end well and could even end up in the death of your chi.
But importantly your chihuahua does not like living in a state of high anxiety and fear. It is not good for them or you.
Some owners call this type of aggressive behaviour to other dogs ‘little dog syndrome’ but what it really should be called is ‘can’t be bothered to train my dog syndrome’.