Why you in charge = happier chihuahua
Despite their size, Chihuahuas can be feisty and often appear to have little or no fear. They make fantastic watch dogs and are excellent at protecting their people and their space.
In previous articles, we have looked at some of the issues around some of the less desirable of chihuahua behaviours, like furniture guarding and aggression towards visitors. But why is your chihuahua behaving in this way?
Like all dogs, chihuahuas are pack animals and accept and need a hierarchy, that is a pecking order of importance. It is where your chihuahua perceives he is within this pecking order that can determine his behaviour.
This may be silly to us as we know we are in charge, after all we decided when they eat, go out for a walk and we take them to the vet when they are ill. But if for some reason your chihuahua has a different view of things this can lead to some of the behaviours that give these awesome and intelligent dogs a bad reputation.
Be a leader
If your chihuahua perceives that the pack leader is weak or worse there isn’t one he is, by his nature, hardwired to step up to the plate and take on the roll. This is where you will start to see some of the behaviours we have talked about before.
He won’t expect to be moved from the sofa because he is the boss and he has the right to sleep where he wants. He will pull on the lead because he is, in fact, leading the pack on the walk.
But chihuahuas are small so does anyone mind if they growl when you try and sit down or bare their teeth when you approach their food?
The answer should be yes, chihuahuas may be small but they still need boundaries and training. It is wrong to assume that your little feisty chi wants to take on the role of leader. It is very likely that it is stressing your chihuahua out. He is trying to be pack leader in a world he has no control over, with situations and rules that keep changing. Why is he being scolded for biting the gas man when in his head, he is protecting the pack from an unknown interloper? Chihuahuas are very territorial by nature and take a dim view of strangers in the house.
So, give your chihuahua a break and take control in a way that your chi recognises. He will be much happier and more relaxed handing back the baton.
How to take back control
First, being in charge does not mean dominate your dog in a way that is physical or aggressive. Never punish your chihuahua physically or be mean to him. It is not necessary, changes can be made over time with positive reinforcement.
Don’t get excited
Be firm and calm in situations that your chihuahua gets excited. If he is barking because someone has walked by the house, in his head he is warning you of danger. If you ignore it he will carry on, assuming you haven’t realised. If you shout and get excited then he will assume there is something to be excited about. So, investigate calmly, acknowledge the good job done and thank him, then tell him to stand down. If you as pack leader have investigated and are not worried, he will not be worried either.
We have been doing this with Mika, who barks at anything that moves in the street. The difference has been amazing. We are also working on attacking the post in much the same way.
You can find out more about how to stop your chihuahua barking at everything that moves. It’s such a common issue that we have written an eBook on how to train them not to bark constantly (without resorting to gadgets). It is currently as a PDF download from Etsy while we re-format for Amazon.
If furniture guarding, which means he may be snapping or growling at people or other animals that try and sit where he is sitting, then take back control using the methods outlined in the article on furniture guarding. If you think you might get bitten then put him in his harness and keep a lightweight training lead on him. Let him back up to sit with you when you are ready to invite him.
It is the pack leader who decides who will eat and when they will eat, so before you serve food, eat something yourself and make your chi wait till you have finished. Then put his food down and walk away. But if your chi leaves food take the bowl away. Don’t leave it so he has constant access. He needs to see you as the provider.
Do some basic training, not only does this reinforce who’s in charge but it could save your dog’s life if you need to call them back from a dangerous situation. Things that need to be addressed might be, jumping up at visitors, barking all the time, running off and pulling on the lead.
Be consistent with the house rules, the goal posts keep changing he will get confused and start to doubt you.
Be active by taking him out on regular walks and rambles, chis are small so they don’t need huge amounts of exercise but they do need to get out and do dog stuff, and remember to spend time playing and interacting with your chi. They love a game.
If you want to understand more of how your dog perceives things I can’t recommend this book enough. The Dog Guardian by Nigel Reed. It will change the way you interact with your chihuahua and he will be a happier dog.