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Are Chihuahuas Smart? Exploring Their Intelligence and Abilities

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Many people wonder if Chihuahuas, the world’s smallest dog breed, are smart.

Surprise! Chihuahuas actually don’t rank very highly as one of the most intelligent
dog breeds. Does this mean Chihuahuas aren’t smart, though? The answer isn’t
a simple “yes” or “no”.

chocolate chihuahua puppy wearing glasses with paw on book

As these tiny pups proudly strut around, their intelligence may not be the first thing that comes to mind. However, it’s essential to look beyond their size and adorable appearance to understand their intellectual abilities.

Chihuahuas possess an impressive level of intelligence, particularly when it comes to understanding human emotions and protecting their owners. While they may not rank high in obedience and working intelligence, according to canine psychologist Stanley Coren, these little dogs are quick learners and have strong adaptive intelligence.

A keen ability to pick up on their owner’s emotional state is an often underestimated aspect of their intelligence.

The AKC describes the Chihuahua as, “a very alert little dog of high intelligence. He is eager to please his humans and responds well to positive training practices.” (You can read the full article by the AKC here.)

Most dog breeds are smart, but “smart” is defined in different ways depending on
what purpose the dog was originally created for.

Taking their intellect and tenacity into account, Chihuahuas are certainly more intelligent than they might initially appear.

Chihuahuas have the largest brain-to-body size ratio amongst dog breeds, indicating their potential for intelligence (source).

Chihuahuas and Intelligence

I polled our Facebook group and asked if they thought their Chihuahua was smart. The majority, 79% said yes.

You can see the screenshot of the poll below:

smart chihuahua poll on Facebook

Adaptive Intelligence

Chihuahuas possess a high level of adaptive intelligence, which refers to their ability to learn from experience and adapt to new situations. This type of intelligence enables them to understand human emotions and establish strong bonds with their owners (source).

Chihuahuas are known to be highly alert and oriented to learn from and please their owners; thus, they excel at games and activities that keep them active and learning.

Instinctive Intelligence

While Chihuahuas may not rank high in obedience intelligence, they possess a keen instinctive intelligence when it comes to protecting their human family.

Instinctive intelligence refers to the natural abilities and instincts that a dog breed has been bred for, such as guarding or herding. In the case of Chihuahuas, their strong instincts to protect their owners make them fearless and loyal companions (source).

Obedience Intelligence

When it comes to obedience and working intelligence, Chihuahuas rank below average at 125th out of 138 dog breeds (source). This type of intelligence deals with a dog’s ability to learn commands, follow instructions, and display trainability.

Some Chihuahuas are easy to train, but a good portion of them can be stubborn
and willful, too. They likely won’t respond reliably to a command if it comes from
a person they’re not very bonded to (since they tend to be one-person dogs), and
Chihuahuas are not easy to housebreak (as is the case with most small dogs).

Combine the Chihuahua’s training difficulties and inappropriate behavior from
their owners and it’s no wonder people that don’t know the breed well presume
Chihuahuas to be yappy, snappy little ankle biters!

However, Chihuahuas should not be labeled as “dumb” dogs simply because they rank lower in this aspect. Their deficiency in learning commands is compensated by their exceptional adaptive and instinctive intelligence.

Understanding Chihuahua Personality

black and white chihuahua with tongue out on dog bed

Loyal and Protective Side

Chihuahuas have a well-known reputation for their loyalty and protective nature, making them excellent companions for many people. These small dogs can develop strong bonds with their owners, and this devotion can cause them to be fiercely protective.

This level of alertness can be both a positive trait and a challenge depending on the situation. In some cases, it helps keep a close eye on the surroundings for any potential threats or dangers, while in others, it can lead to unnecessary aggression if not properly managed.

Smart and Loving Nature

Despite their small size, Chihuahuas possess a smart and loving nature that can be observed in their ability to understand human emotions and learn quickly.

They may not rank high in lists of highly-intelligent dog breeds like the American Kennel Club’s “working and obedience” rankings, but their intelligence manifests itself in the emotional connection and intuitiveness they display towards their owners.

Chihuahuas are known to be responsive to human emotions, making them well-suited to serve as sensitive and understanding companions.

In addition to their emotional intelligence, Chihuahuas are often quick learners, and when given proper training, they can acquire new skills and tricks rapidly.

This learning ability, coupled with their loyalty and loving nature, make Chihuahuas highly adaptable and versatile pets. They can thrive in various settings, provided they receive proper care, and their socialization needs are met.

chocolate chihuahua sitting in sunshine on back of couch
A small reddish brown Chihuahua illuminated by the last rays of sunshine on a winter afternoon rests in darkness as it looks into the camera. Silhouette of another Chihuahua in the background

Training Chihuahuas

Obedience Training

Chihuahuas are often easy to train due to their desire to please their owners. However, they can also be stubborn, requiring a patient and firm trainer who uses positive reinforcement.

It is crucial to start obedience training early when they are still puppies. Begin with basic commands such as “sit,” “stay,” and “come.” Repetitions and consistency are key to ensuring Chihuahuas understand and follow these commands.

Agility Training

Although Chihuahuas may not be widely known for their agility skills, they can be trained in this area, too. Their small size and quick movements make them suitable for participating in agility courses.

Introduce Chihuahuas to various obstacles gradually and always use positive reinforcement throughout the training process. As they become more comfortable with the agility course, increase the level of difficulty over time to challenge their mental and physical capabilities.


Socialization is a critical aspect of training for Chihuahuas, as it helps prevent aggression and fear toward other animals and people. Start socializing Chihuahuas when they are puppies by exposing them to different environments, people, and pets.

Attending puppy socialization classes can provide a structured environment for them to learn appropriate social behavior. Continued social exposure in various situations will help Chihuahuas become more confident and well-adjusted.

Comparing Chihuahuas with Other Dog Breeds

group of dogs

Border Collies and Poodles

Border Collies and Poodles are considered some of the most intelligent dog breeds. They consistently rank at the top of intelligence lists, such as Stanley Coren’s rankings of dog breed intelligence.

While Chihuahuas are smart and can easily learn tricks, they tend to rank relatively low on these lists compared to Border Collies and Poodles. Nevertheless, Chihuahuas are known for their loyalty and strong bond with their owners, similar to other breeds.

Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds

Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds are also highly intelligent dog breeds, often used as service dogs, police dogs, and in search-and-rescue work. These breeds excel in tasks requiring problem-solving, obedience, and agility.

Comparatively, Chihuahuas may not have the same working abilities but are still bright and loving with their families. Their smaller size and potential for social anxiety may limit their performance in some tasks.

Afghan Hound and Shih Tzu

Afghan Hounds and Shih Tzus are breeds that, like Chihuahuas, rank lower in terms of intelligence. According to the American Kennel Club, Afghan Hounds are independent thinkers and can be challenging to train, making their overall intelligence appear lower than it may be.

Similarly, Shih Tzus are known for their stubbornness, but they are still affectionate and good companion dogs.

Chihuahuas share these traits, exhibiting independent thinking and sometimes stubborn behavior while still making loyal, loving pets.

Bulldog and Pug

The Bulldog and Pug are two other breeds that often receive similar rankings as Chihuahuas in terms of intelligence. These breeds tend to be less motivated by obedience training and may struggle with more complex tasks. However, they are known for their charming, friendly natures which make them excellent family pets.

Despite differences in rankings of intelligence, it’s important to remember that each breed has unique strengths and capabilities.

Chihuahuas, for instance, make great watchdogs due to their alertness and tendency to bark at potential threats. Additionally, their small size makes them ideal for apartment living, and they often do well in homes with a single owner who can devote ample time to socialization and training.

Chihuahua History and Origins

tri-color chihuahua with blue sweater on

The Chihuahua is a small dog breed, believed to have originated from Mexico. This breed is thought to have been derived from the Techichi, a small mute dog kept by the Toltec people of Mexico as far back as the 9th century CE.

The history of the Chihuahua can be traced back to ancient Mexico, where these dogs were considered valuable by various civilizations due to their unique qualities.

The Aztecs prized Chihuahuas for their healing abilities, often using them as companions for the sick and elderly to provide warmth and comfort. Chihuahuas also played a role in religious ceremonies, serving as ceremonial artifacts and companions.

By the mid-19th century, the Chihuahua gained attention in the United States. The breed quickly became popular as a fashionable companion and was soon recognized as a distinct dog breed. Named after the Mexican state of Chihuahua, these little dogs are now considered to be the smallest recognized dog breed.

Chihuahua breed characteristics:

  • Origin: Mexico
  • Ancestor: Techichi
  • First noted: 9th century CE
  • Original purpose: Ceremonial, companionship, and healing
  • Modern function: Companionship

Chihuahuas and Family Life

little girl holding two chihuahua puppies

Interaction with Children

Chihuahuas are known for their affection and loyalty. However, their temperament varies between individual dogs and can be affected by factors such as their upbringing and socialization. Some Chihuahuas may be more tolerant and gentle with children, while most could be more anxious or defensive.

Chihuahuas have a strong-willed and stubborn nature, which can be both endearing and challenging for families. This tenacity may require extra patience and consistency when training or integrating them into the household routine. That being said, many Chihuahuas are also sensitive and responsive, allowing them to form strong bonds with their human companions.

So are chihuahuas good with children? Due to their small size and delicate structure, Chihuahuas may be better suited for families with older children who can interact with them without causing unintentional harm.

Younger children may be too rough, and their unpredictable behavior might provoke anxiety or defensive reactions from a Chihuahua. It is essential to teach children how to approach and handle these dogs gently and respectfully.

One thing to keep in mind is that Chihuahuas can be quite protective of their families, which can sometimes be perceived as aggression. This trait, coupled with their fearless nature, may lead them to act out when they feel threatened or scared. As such, parents should ensure that interactions between Chihuahuas and children are always supervised and safe.

In general, Chihuahuas are often regarded as lap dogs, loving to be held and cuddled. This preference for close contact can be a great source of affection and companionship for family members.

However, it may also contribute to separation anxiety, particularly if the Chihuahua becomes too attached to one family member. Families should work on building a balanced relationship with their Chihuahua, ensuring that all members are involved in the dog’s care and daily activities.

In conclusion, Chihuahuas can be a loving and loyal addition to the right family, particularly when proper care, training, and socialization are consistently followed. It is important for families to consider the unique temperament and needs of these small dogs, particularly when children are involved, in order to foster a harmonious and happy relationship.

Busting Chihuahua Myths

chihuahua reading book wearing glasses

Brain Size versus Intelligence

Although Chihuahuas have comparably small brains, it is important to not mistake their size for a lack of intelligence. Scientific research has not found a direct correlation between brain size and intelligence in dogs.

The intelligence of a Chihuahua, similar to other breeds, can vary significantly between individuals. Chihuahuas may rank lower in “obedience and working intelligence,” but they do possess a keen understanding of human emotions, as mentioned by The Smart Canine.

Celebrity Influence and Popularity

Chihuahuas gained significant popularity due to their exposure through celebrity culture. Their appearances in movies and with various American celebrities helped them gain worldwide recognition. This level of popularity, however, does not necessarily portray an accurate representation of a Chihuahua’s intellect.

Various experts, like veterinarian Dr. Katrina Warren, emphasize the importance of proper training from an early age to enhance the intelligence of any dog breed, including Chihuahuas (The Halo Pets).

Mainly because of their size and cuddly nature, Chihuahuas sometimes are associated with being “couch potatoes” or fashion accessories. Their alleged lack of intelligence is often exaggerated, but it is essential to acknowledge that Chihuahuas can indeed demonstrate smart behaviors when provided with the right environment and training.

Selecting a Smart Chihuahua

chihuahua puppy with arms out

Traits to Look For

Chihuahuas, though not ranked highly in obedience and working intelligence by psychologist Stanley Coren, do exhibit other intelligent capabilities, such as understanding human emotions and the ability to adapt to different situations. When selecting a smart Chihuahua, consider looking for the following traits:

  • Problem-solving skills: Observe how quickly the Chihuahua can figure out puzzles or find hidden treats.
  • Alertness: A smart Chihuahua should be vigilant of its surroundings and quick to respond to changes.
  • Loyal companions: Chihuahuas are known for their loyalty and protective nature towards their owners.
  • Interest in dog sports: Some Chihuahuas enjoy participating in dog sports, which can indicate a high level of intelligence and agility.

Adopting a Chihuahua

When adopting a Chihuahua, it’s essential to research and prepare for the responsibilities of being a dog parent. Keep the following key points in mind:

  1. Temperament: Chihuahuas may have a range of temperaments, from energetic and outgoing to shy and timid. Consider your household’s lifestyle when choosing your new furry baby.
  2. Training: As mentioned earlier, Chihuahuas may not excel in obedience training. However, they can still be housebroken and taught basic commands with patience and persistence.
  3. Socialization: Proper socialization from an early age is crucial for Chihuahuas, as they can sometimes be timid or aggressive around unfamiliar people and animals.
  4. Health considerations: Although generally a healthy breed, Chihuahuas are prone to certain health issues such as dental problems and heart issues. Regular vet check-ups and proper care can help ensure your Chihuahua’s well-being.
chihuahua with glasses with laptop

In conclusion, it’s important to recognize that Chihuahuas possess their own unique set of intelligence traits, which may not be as focused on obedience and working intelligence as other breeds.

Embrace their fierce loyalty and adaptability, which make them excellent companions and, , even reliable watchdogs. By carefully considering temperament, training needs, and overall health when selecting a Chihuahua, you can find the perfect intelligent and loyal companion for your home.

Would you say that your Chihuahua is smart? Let us know in the comments! My Chihuahua mix isn’t very smart though I have still been able to train him as he is very food motivated. But my long hair Chihuahua is very smart.

Things to not say to chihuahua parents

Cathy signature with cartoon chihuahua
blond woman holding white chihuahua

Cathy Bendzunas

Pet Blogger

I have had dogs all my life. I have been a pet groomer, worked in a pet hotel, and a kennel, and have bred and showed dogs.

Keely Clark

Sunday 30th of July 2023

Just love your email and blog. I think of you often and prayers to u..hope u are doing better. I am a 25 yr survivor of Breast Cancer. Have not figured out how to send pics of my babies.

Cathy Bendzunas

Sunday 30th of July 2023

That's Keely. I'm doing very well. Treatments are over except for one more maintenance chemo injection in a few weeks. If you know how to add a photo to your email (I don't know how comcast does it) you can email your photos to me at


Monday 8th of May 2023

My Yoda (9 y.o. short-haired, black/white applehead chi) is one of the smartest dogs I have ever known! And although my opinion is biased, all my friends and even strangers have expressed the same opinion after meeting him. And I didn't even train him much on anything, yet he seems like he's gone through all the trainings, he's that smart :-)

Cathy - I'm sorry you had to deal with the painful burns! But glad to hear it's better.

Cathy Bendzunas

Monday 8th of May 2023

Thank you Vera!