Chihuahuas have the unsavory reputation of being yappy, snappy little dogs. The breed as a whole did not create this behavioral cliché all on their own, but the much of it can be traced back to the owner! You can both stop aggressive problems as well as prevent them all on your own with some of the most common training methods that anyone can do!
Why Are Chihuahuas Aggressive?
The fact is that Chihuahuas are not aggressive, but they can be reserved towards strangers and other animals. Chihuahuas were bred for generations as loving and loyal small companions for humans, and were never really meant to be social butterflies or dogs that share their toys. Today’s Chihuahuas may bond with only one or two people, but they can be accepting and relaxed around other people and pets if taught properly!
A behavioral condition known as Small Dog Syndrome runs rampant among all small dog breeds, and is most prominent among the smallest of small breeds, especially Chihuahuas! Small Dog Syndrome is not a health condition, nor is it something that any dog, no matter his genes has ever been born with.
Many times Small Dog Syndrome is a direct result of improper or a total lack of basic obedience training, house training and boundary control. In other words, if your dog has developed Small Dog Syndrome you are the cause, however you are also the solution!
Symptoms of Small Dog Syndrome include reactive barking, resource guarding, leash pulling and over all bad behavior, including ignoring your commands! Reactive barking is most commonly seen when your dog barks his head off at the sound of a knock on the door or your doorbell ringing. He may also bark at the sight of strangers, other dogs, or other sounds. He is not being protective or cute, he is acting aggressively out of fear!
Resource guarding is the behavior you see when you try to take a toy from your dog. He will hold his head over the item he wants to keep, curl his lips and growl. He may even lunge to bite! Toys, food and treats are not the only things he may guard – he can guard over you, too! Again, he is not protecting you to keep you safe but he is acting out of fear of losing something he values as a necessity to survival. Resource guarding can be a dangerous behavior and dogs at shelters are often euthanized for fear of bites!
Preventing Your Chihuahua’s Aggression
If you have not yet adopted your Chihuahua, or are currently working towards properly and successfully raising your own Chihuahua puppy then you have the ability to prevent aggression and fear based behaviors through the use of socialization, basic obedience and boundary control. You have the opportunity to teach your dog to follow your command, and that he is safe. He will also learn to respect your commands and your requests, but not out of fear or domination. He will do it because he wants to do it!
Dogs of all ages can continue socialization, but puppies are exceptional as they go through two fear periods, one from 4 to 12 weeks and the other at 7 or 8 months of age. These fear periods help to “hard wire” their minds as to how they should react in situations that would normally cause fear.
If you can create safe and planned socialization experiences, most puppies only take about 5 minutes to learn! This doesn’t mean just meeting people and other dogs, but also learning about other floor types, objects like umbrellas or flowing coats and even loud noises. Let your puppy recover from the initial fear and provide positive reinforcement in the form of play or a treat!
Curing Your Chihuahua’s Aggression
If you have recently adopted an older Chihuahua, are fostering one or your little one already has the symptoms of Small Dog Syndrome and aggression, know that there is indeed hope! You can help your dog over come his fearful and aggressive tendency so that he may become a more comfortable and happier companion.
Two types of training can be involved. One is called counter conditioning which works best for reactive barkers in which they change how they feel about their trigger. For example, if your Chihuahua barks at the sound of door knocking then you can change his emotions from fearful to relaxed and calm. The other training method is called shaping in which you help to guide your dog into doing the right thing through positive reinforcement.
Shaping is best done with a clicker, but you can also say “Yep!” as a bridge between your dog’s good behavior and his reward. It simply lets him know that his did the right thing and he is about to get his treat.
Shaping works through building onto behaviors. For instance, if you want your dog to stop pulling on his leash you would click your clicker or say “Yep!” every time he did not pull, and reward him. Then, you would build onto it from a loose leash to rewarding only when he was beside you, and so on.
Shaping works for almost any behavior you want to train your train you Chihuahua to do from sit to letting you take a toy or treat away from him. When you are training your little one to stop resource guarding, you will work on what is called the trading game. You give him a treat in exchange for letting you take a toy from him. You start with a high value treat and a low value toy. He will want the treat more than the toy. Then, build up to using a high value toy and a lower value treat, like kibble. It takes time and practice, but remember to keep training sessions short and always end on a good note!
Counter conditioning does not require your dog to do much, but it requires you to be mindful of your surroundings. If your Chihuahua is barking reactively at the door when guests arrive, then you start in a calm and quiet situation on the floor with your pet. Knock on the wall beside you just once and lightly, and immediately reward him! You want him to learn that the sound a precursor to getting a treat, but you want to keep him under his threshold so he does not get carried away barking. Build criteria until you can knock on the door without making him bark!
Slow is Always Fast
If you are ready for your Chihuahua to lose his aggressive behaviors, then it is time to keep an open mind and accept that you are your dog’s one and only chance to change his ways! If you feel that you are not ready to tackle his problems on your own, don’t be embarrassed to ask for help from a professional dog trainer or animal behaviorist. Making your Chihuahua feel relaxed and comfortable is the number one priority.