How to deal with chihuahua aggression


Chihuahua aggression is something I get asked about a lot. They have a reputation for being yappy and aggressive. If you are a chihuahua parent, then you may be familiar with the ‘curled lip of doom’ and the growl of disapproval towards strangers and the full on meltdown at other dogs. But you also know that, at home your chihuahua is adorable, cute, and hilarious. So, what on earth is going on?

Are chihuahuas more aggressive than other dog breeds?

I want to say no here, but the evidence does point towards yes. So why is that?

  • They are small, chihuahuas being the smallest dog breed. They naturally need to be wary of what’s around them and above them.
  • Another reason is that conventional training and socialization ideas do not generally work for chihuahuas and other toy breeds. Owners often start out with the idea of taking them to puppy class to then find out their dog is completely overwhelmed by the noise and larger breeds. They then either shut down and become a nervous wreck or they have a meltdown barking and lunging at the other dogs. This becomes a default behavior when they see another dog.
  • Owners then take to the internet and start copying adverse training methods like spraying water or rattling cans at their dogs.
  • Wholesale neutering of male dogs. Remove a male dog’s testosterone and you can turn your male dog into a fear barker. Research has shown that male dogs do better if left intact and females do better if spayed.
  • Willingness to let bad behavior go. Because chihuahuas are small some owners tolerate more. A snapping growling chihuahua can be laughed at, just search YouTube but a snapping growling German Shepherd is not so easily ignored.

Chihuahua aggression can manifest in different ways.

  • Growling at partners
  • Snapping at fingers when you take things away
  • Barking out the window
  • Snapping and growling when you move them
  • Chasing at the fence
  • Barking at other dogs on walks
  • Guarding their food

I’m sure there are other examples I haven’t thought of. So why do they do it, why are chihuahuas so keen to live up to their reputation of being yappy and aggressive? Why can’t they be more chilled out and friendly?

What chihuahua aggression isn’t

What I want to explain first is what chihuahua aggression isn’t. They aren’t protecting you; they don’t think they are a rottweiler and they don’t want to dominate every dog they see. I hear these things a lot from owners. They misunderstand their dog’s behavior and put a human narrative on what they see. The good news is it’s also unlikely to be anything you’ve done.

So, what is causing chihuahua aggression?

When a dog sees something, they will ask themselves ‘what does this object mean for me’ and is it good or is it bad? If they are barking at it then most certainly the answer is ‘it’s bad’. This will then instantly fill up their emotional bucket.

What is an emotional bucket?

If you follow my blog or ever listen to a Facebook live, you will hear me talk about a dog’s emotional bucket. Like humans they have one and like humans they fill and, once full, you get on overspill behavior. Think when you have ‘one nerve left’ and someone gets on it, and you explode.

Things that pay into a dog’s emotional bucket are interesting, fear, anxiety, feeling unwell or itchy. But also, happy events like fast play, a family member coming home or even a walk. Happy excitement and worry excitement fill up a dog’s bucket in the same way and have the same effect once your dog see’s something they are not sure about.

 It’s also how quickly emotions drain. How fast your dog can calm themselves down and the size of the bucket. Dogs that are more chilled and relaxed are likely to have a larger emotional bucket that drains easily.

Pessimism

This will certainly be playing a big part in how your chihuahua behaves. Dogs tend towards pessimism and optimism in the same way humans do. A happy-go-lucky dog that runs up to everyone pleased to see them will lean towards optimism and the more cautious dog that hangs back, avoids things are more likely to be a little more pessimistic.

But before you worry your dog is a pessimist, this is a more natural state for an animal. In the wild, an animal that avoids ambiguity or things it’s not sure about is more likely to live longer and get to pass on its genes. An animal that sees no danger is more likely to get eaten. But this is not the case for our domestic dogs, so we want our dogs to change from a pessimist to an optimist.

Resource Guarding

Pessimism is most certainly playing a part in a dog that resource guards, a dog that worries food or possessions are going to be taken away and will snap or growl at people or other dogs that come near them in certain situations. This can get so bad that just walking past their bed while they are in it will get you growled or snapped at. This is not ideal.

Lack of confidence

Lack of confidence will certainly be paying into their emotional bucket and cause your chihuahua to bark at novelty or things they are not sure about. If you take your chihuahua out for a walk and someone appears in the field, or a crow fly’s down, or a carrier bag blows past they may start to bark at it. This is because they are unsure of the object and ‘what it means for them’ and this worries them. Building a tolerance of novelty or new things and growing your chihuahua’s confidence are key.

Illness

Being itchy, in pain or having a tummy upset will have a big impact on your chihuahuas demeanor.  Dealing with anything physical like this would be the first place to start when trying to unpick your chihuahuas aggressive behavior. Imagine constantly itching and not even being able to scratch it. This would make even the most even tempered of us a little tetchy. Diet will certainly be part of this picture and poor diets will often be the cause of gastric upset, itchy skin and sticky ears.

Diet

Whenever I start with a new client, one of the first things I will ask is what are you feeding your dog? If it’s a weak or dry diet, then this is where we will start to unpick their behavior struggles. A properly balanced diet is essential and dry food, no matter how science based the packet looks, is not a good diet. There is also a lot of research that shows a direct link between gut biome and brain function. So, step one is certainly make sure your dog is getting a good diet based on fat and protein.

Training methods

I am adding this in here because it’s so important to your relationship with your chihuahua. They bark a lot, and this can be annoying and get you into trouble with your neighbors or landlord. If they are barking, they are worried about something. Shouting, spraying them with water, using an air horn or another gadget to stop them are very common methods to interrupt this behavior. While it may do so it will be adding to the excitement of the situation and filling their bucket, so you will pay for it later and your dog will start to not trust you.

Rest

Being overwrought and overtired can also pay into behavior. Chihuahuas do like a snooze in the day, but they are also up and barking in a nanosecond. So, it’s not real deep rest. They need a good snooze out of the way of footfall, children, and general interference. If you have crate trained your chihuahua then use a crate or if not, then use a puppy pen and put them down for a good nap in the day.

Can you cure chihuahua aggression?

Certainly!  you can work with your dog and turn them from a pessimist to an optimist, grow their confidence and tolerance of novelty, build a calming protocol so they have appropriate rest and calming activities and make sure they have a well-balanced diet.

How we do this is by using short training games that anyone can access. Games that help re-shape their brain and help them relearn responses to situations. Anyone can do it if you have a few minutes to spare for your chihuahua each day.

Got more than one chihuahua. No problem, you can still resolve the issues.

Where to start to transform my chihuahuas behavior?

You can jump on a Chihuahua Power training seminar, book 1-2-1 training (in person or online depending on where you are I the world), come to our NEW Chihuahua School. (Opens 2022) Drop me a line using the form below and I can let you have the details.

Louise Kirby

My name is Louise Kirby and I’m a freelance writer and certified Pro Dog Trainer. I adore and train all breeds but have a special interest in chihuahuas and their rehabilitation. Chihuahuas are awesome little dogs, spunky, full of joy, loyal and tenacious. But some present with behaviours that make them a challenge to manage. I’m on a mission to restore the relationship between owners and their dogs. To help you get back the dog you always dreamed of. That’s why dog training is a happiness project!

Please use this form if you would like to book a consultation.

22 thoughts on “How to deal with chihuahua aggression

  1. Lynda Reply

    I enjoyed this article. My chi only gets aggressive if she is sitting on a lap or if someone is holding her. If anyone comes near she really gets nasty. She will do this for anyone she is sitting with whether its my husband or any member of our family. Its like she is protecting us. If anyone raises their arm she will go for them. We put her down when she does this but she just keeps on doing it.

  2. Cheryll georgie rohman Reply

    I feel there is no longer any answer for me so I wonder if you could help. I have a chi ziller called meg she was 7 last week she was born at home and I have mum too I also have a rescue. They all get on well. Meg is complicated. At home she’s OK she’s not very playful. If you go to move her she growls badly but doesn’t bite. She has nipped a police officer and the carpet fitter on the back of the leg when they were in our home. But my BIG problem is when I take them out I get so stressed everyone I come back in a rage screaming to my husband that I will never take her out again. When out she’s on an extended lead because in the past she has nipped other dogs as soon as she sees any dog she barks like mad and launches towards them hackles up and looks like she’s trying to nip them. So many people have had a go at me I now keep her on an extended lead. But even on the lead she’s a nightmare I have to quickly reel her in when she starts. My walks now are just miserable and awful.and I don’t enjoy going out. I walk along the seafront sometimes and because I have a nerve disease I need a rest a cup of tea but she was so bad barking I was getting looks so I left this has happened so many times. I bought a puschair because my rescue girl has a bad leg and sometimes she needs a rest so I thought if I have a cup of tea at the cafe I can put meg in there with the others but that I’d just as bad she does not shut up.barking and whining so yet again I cannot sit down for five minutes. I feel miserable and don’t know what to do anymore I can’t work and my only pleasure is getting out with the girls but that has been ruined by meg. I have in the past left her behind but it made no difference. Ivery also taken her out on her own but again she’s the same. I love her and could not give her up. But please I’m desperate for any advice I’ve never felt so miserable x

    • loukir47 Post authorReply

      Hello Cheryll,

      I am so sorry that you are having such a sad time with Meg.

      There may be many different reasons for her difficult behavior, but even though she is 7 it should be possible to change. I think you need to find a local dog trainer who can spend some time with you and Meg and see you both together and be able to give you more informed advice, maybe your vet who can recommend one.

      Chihuahuas are very territorial and won’t like strangers in the house, my chi ‘Mika’ has nipped at the legs of visitors. They do it if the person gets up suddenly and starts to walk about. Chis are fear biters and will nip first and ask questions later if they think they are under threat. Just remove her when people come around to save you from the aggrevation.

      When you are out walking put her on a fixed lead so she can’t wander towards other dogs and if necessary put a muzzel on her until she is under control.

      You sound very stressed which is not good for you or for Meg, and as she has many years ahead it would be worth getting her trained and talking to a dog trainer who can help. You should be enjoying your dogs not feeling like you can’t take her out.
      Kind regards
      Louise

    • Carolyn Reply

      If you are stressed, your chi will be stressed. Maybe practice walking around the house or backyard with a short leash. Be sure you are breathing properly and intentionally relaxing your body. Then gradually taking a short walk outside and building up to a longer walk as you have “encounters”. Do no svoop up your dog or give affection in any way as she misbehaves. But rather, find a short word “off” and say it in a dominant voice while keeping her slightly behind you. Only when she listens and behaves give her your sweet kind voice and say “good girl”. Chi’s get so much affection because they’re small and cute, they are in expectation of it no matter how they behave. We give the wrong signal when we pick them up and try to reassure them. Hope that helps! A professional trainer could def give you pointers.

  3. Aurora Reply

    We have two chis a male (Deer Chi) and a female (an Apple head) they do bark when they see other dogs or at people who come to the gate at home. They get along really well with each other and are very obedient. When they start barking at people whom they don’t know we tell them get inside and in their room and they both run in and get in their room. The male will bark only if he feels threaten but the little one the female she’ll bark and sometimes won’t listen but as soon as they both hear my husband or I say the word “stick” they settle down and won’t get out of their room until they are told they can get out. We have had them since they were babies and have never touched them with the “stick” but they don’t like that word. The male will make a grumbling noise when he doesn’t like something but they both have never bitten anyone because they are put in their room when someone comes by. They are allowed to mingled with the person if they know the person as someone who comes over on a regular basis, at these times they just sit or lay down and listen to what is being said. They also don’t come into the house unless they get the ok that they can come in which is either a nod or the words “come in” from my husband or I, they will stand at the door until they are given the ok to come in. They are both very intelligent and the female is very brave she thinks she is a big dog and will bark until we go to see what she is barking at and than she will quiet down. My husband and I often say that they are talking just by the way they greet us when we get home it’s as if they are telling us what happened while we were gone. They will also let us know when they are hungry or thirsty. We love them so much they are our babies and of course they both know it.

  4. Suzanne Reply

    My chi was attacked by another dog when she was a baby. Now she’s afraid of everything & every animal. How do I get her to be friends with other dogs?

    • loukir47 Post authorReply

      Hi Suzanne,

      What a horrible experience for you both, to see that happen must have been very traumatising for you.

      Without meaning to criticise you in any way, you may need to have a look at how you are around your chi, after such a horrid experience it would be natural to be protective and wary of other dogs. If you find yourself picking her up when other dogs approach or soothing her when she gets skittish then you might, inadvertently, be reinforcing her view that there is something to be afraid off.

      You are her compass and she will take her cues from you. So if you are calm and relaxed then she will pick this up.

      Try to organise some play dates with friends who’s have dogs you trust, meet them away from home in an area that is safe and spend some relaxed time chatting and petting the dogs. Let her find her own feet with them in her own time, don’t interfere unless she is in danger. You may need to do this a few times.

      When you take her out for walks don’t pick her up when other dogs approach, but maybe keep her on the leash to start with in case she bolts. Power past the dogs making positive and encouraging noises. I have to do this with Minnie as she is also not keen on other dogs for much the same reason. Once she is less skittish try it without the leash and then progress to stopping to pet the oncoming dog. (checking with the owner that it is friendly) Could you start agility with her and build up her confidence this way.

      If none of this has any effect then speak to a local dog trainer who can observe you both together and help you put a plan together.

      Hope this helps, let me know how you get on.

      Louise

  5. Zoe Cottrell Reply

    I have 3 chi, a mither and puppy and another. The mither dog barks on walks at other dogs and lunges for them. I walk her on her own with my mum walking the other two at the same time. She appears to scream when any other dog apart from her pack approaches. She is very domineering in the home attacking both her daughter and the other one, taking toys or treats or even if they are in her space. She appears to be struggling for top dog all the time and as soon as she starts growling or attacking one of the others I remove her from the room and leave the other two with me. She will also move any of the others to get my attention which can include pushing them out of the way to sit on my knee. Other times she can be lovely and play with the other two but always wins the game. Help what can I do?

    • Louise Kirby Post authorReply

      goodness me what a pickle. I think you are right and in the home she is trying to be top dog,You are right to remove her when she is behaving in this way. but screaming at other dogs is a problem. I am guessing she is scared and makes this noise to scare them away. I think you need to start with establishing yourself as pack leader in the home and follow the advice in the article. Once she is sure who is in charge she may calm down. There are also some articles on the blog about how to socialise her more with other dogs. But she does seem to have a complex range of issues, my feeling is you need to speak with a local dog trainer who can help you 1:1 and give you some tailored advice. But for the time being work calmly with her to establish yourself as the boss and to make her feel more secure. Don’t punish her or be angry as I think this will heighten her anxiety and make the situation worse.

  6. Lucy Reply

    I have a jack/ chihuahua he’s a very living dog but is slowly getting more narky and anxious I’m pregnant with my third child and have put it down to his sensing this change my 2 year old loves him but when he trusts to get close my dog grumbles but of I click my fingers and point to the door he does leave the room is there any other advise you can give me he was socialised as a pup but was pinned down by a pit bull at a young age and has been skittish since

    • Louise Kirby Post authorReply

      He is growling because he wants the children to stay away. If this is a change in behaviour take him to the vet to make sure he is not in pain. Chihuahuas are not always the best dog to have around children, they dislike the unpredictability and the fast movements. I would never leave one of my chis with the grand kids as he will do the same if they approach. Make sure he as a safe place where he can go and that the children understand to leave him alone when he is in it. Maybe a crate with the door open. Keep a close eye on their interaction and look at the situation from the dog’s point of view, chihuahuas are tiny and children are a huge, unpredictable giant. You do not want to risk a bite, if the chis behaviour deteriorates it might be a good idea to think about re-homing.

      • Lucy Reply

        He has plenty of places to go I have a large house he doesn’t growl as such just mumbles but I do keep an eye and I make sure I’m there when there are in the same room he veries day to day one day he stays away the next day he’s in the garden playing with my 2yr old but I’m not one to let my children torment animals so my son knows when I tell him to leave the dog he does just that he’s been round my eldest who was 7 when when we had him I’ll keep an eye thank you for the advice

  7. Kay Reply

    My chihuah is one year old and does not like being left alone she as eaten my couch and all the cushions and I get stressed leaving her this does not happen all the time I don’t like the ideas of putting her in the cage any advice please.

    • Louise Kirby Post authorReply

      Hi Kay,

      Separation anxiety is common in chihuahuas because they tend to imprint on one family member and become devoted to them. Here is an article from the blog that might help: https://wp.me/p8cXX2-1xK

  8. Carol Reply

    I have a nearly four year old female chihuahua My partner has a sharpie Eveytine he comes round to my house my chihuahua just barks growls at his dog She will not let him
    Near her toys her bed her food herchew sticks even if he goes near the sofa or me she shows her teeth I would like some suggestions please on what to do
    Thank you

    • Louise Kirby Post authorReply

      Chihuahuas are naturally very territorial and will take a dim view of another dog in the house. She feels threatened when the dog comes around and barks at him because she wants him to stay away from her things. Don’t expect her to share her toys and bed with another dog.

      Have the dogs spent time together in a neutral area, like a park, has your chi been around to this other dogs house? They need to learn to play together in a neutral area with toys that don’t belong to either dog. If she shows her teeth when she is on the sofa, then without any drama, put her out side for a minute, she won’t like being separated from everyone and will soon learn that behaving like this means the ‘naughty step’ read this article on aggression towards other dogs:https://wp.me/p8cXX2-fq

  9. Michael Reply

    My wife’s chi pee’s in the house even after she was out. We have three dogs inside my chi and wife’s beagle but her also growls at us. Any suggestions?

    • Louise Kirby Post authorReply

      Hi Michael, if you look at the comment about, I think the same applies to your chihuahua. She is not sure where she is in the pack and probably thinks she is the boss.Read this article to help you get things back under control: https://wp.me/p8cXX2-lk

      She is peeing in the house because she feels safer indoors and she hasn’t understood the instructions to pee outside. Chihuahua are very hard to toilet train. Read this https://wp.me/p8cXX2-196

  10. Carol bull Reply

    I have a pomchi from a puppy he won’t let me wash or groom him he won’t have harness or lead on he attacks us if we try he’s got a red mark on his name at the vets he as to have a muzzle on or they wont see him he’s neutered we done nothing but spoil him he will be two in june my son brings his dog here and my brother as bought his dog and he’s ok with them how can I help him loose his agression

    • Louise Kirby Post authorReply

      Your pomchi sounds very stressed out. My feeling is he is not sure who the boss is and had decided it’s him. Chihuahuas have a tendency to promote themselves if they think there is a vacancy. I don’t want to offend anyone, but it may be because he has been a bit spoilt and is too used to getting his own way and having a fuss made of him. Here is an article about taking back control. Your pomchi will be happier and less stressed when he has a clearer idea of where he is in the pack. Have a look through the article and at the bottom is a book I recommend. https://wp.me/p8cXX2-lk

  11. Jane mcdonald Reply

    My chihuahua Chico, can be very aggressive with me when he is eating something he is not meant to be eating and I try to take it away as he wont listen to the word leave!. He has bitten me badly quite a few times, I did do dog training with him 3/4 yrs ago, but he is just so disobedient, every time he has bitten me I think I’m going to need hospital treatment as the wound is quite severe.
    When he is not biting me he is a lovely dog and j don’t want to get rid of him…… Any suggestions please?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.