Understand your chihuahua reactivity

Why do they bark at other dogs, why can’t they just get along, they’re all dogs after all?

Understanding chihuahua reactivity is a big step in being able to work with them and help overcome it.

What reactivity isn’t is your chihuahua trying to dominate all the other dogs they meet. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard people use the term ‘small dog syndrome’ or ‘he thinks he’s a rottweiler’.

This belief that dogs strive to be ‘top dog’ over every dog they meet is very ingrained in people’s thinking. It originates from a very old study done in the 80s based on a pack on unrelated wolves and how they interacted. Even the originator of the study has acknowledged that the findings were flawed.

But it spawned a very aggressive form of dog training that told owners they had to be the alpha dog, or your dog wouldn’t respect you and this is an idea that is still widely believed even among other dog trainers today.

Domination or the need to be the ‘top dog’ is not what’s happening with your chihuahua. So, park the idea that they are striving to take over the world. They just want a happy life with their human family.

Why is he barking at other dogs out on walks?

The answers will vary slightly from dog to dog. But pessimism, overarousal and fear of novelty will be playing a big part of it. When they see another dog, they are worried about what that dog’s presence means for them. Is this dog a threat? Will they have to interact with it?

Imagine you see a clown in the middle of a field. Unless you’re at the circus that would be weird, and you would be crazy not to be wary. That’s how your chihuahua feels about stranger dogs or ambiguous things they don’t understand.

But, before you start beating yourself up and think you’ve done something wrong, pessimism is a natural state for a lot of animals, it helps them live longer in the wild. A pessimistic animal that doesn’t run up to something novel is likely to live longer. But pessimism is not something we need in our domesticated dogs; it can make things difficult and cause unhelpful behaviors like barking and displays of fear-based aggression.

It’s not about socialization

A lot of people will tell you it’s about socialization, but that’s not the case and often pushing a dog through a regulated programme of socialization can cause many of the problems you are experiencing now. Taking a puppy into a noisy class full of over excited dogs and stressed owners can cause multiple issues. Unless the class is very well run, and often they are just a free-for-all, you can end up with a stressed barking chihuahua.

How to stop chihuahua reactivity

Despite what the guy on the TV says there is no flick of the lead that can cure chihuahua reactivity. We need to look under the hood and fix it there. Turn your chi into an optimist, create a more relaxed chilled out animal that’s not always on the lookout for trouble. Reshape their thinking so when they see another dog, they can ignore it.

This may sound like an impossible dream, but it can be done. You can have a chihuahua that walks along happily and doesn’t go off like a rocket when they see another dog

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!

5 thoughts on “Understand your chihuahua reactivity

  1. Stephanie Faulkner

    I would like to walk my 3 Chi’s and enjoy the experience instead of dreading when I see another dog approaching

  2. Robin Woolford

    Mine is really bad with strange dogs but mostly at home or near our home or when with me. She is fine at daycare.

  3. Sherie Sylvester

    I am interested in learning about how to help my chihuahua’s reactivity towards other dogs when we are out and about.

    Much appreciation!

    • Louise Kirby Post author

      I am just about to publish a free e-book on barking and we are setting up a chihuahua training school membership site. so keep checking the website.

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