Chihuahua pet parents often deal with unkind comments about their beloved breed’s temperament, even by strangers who do not have personal knowledge of their individual dog.
If you want to be better educated to discuss the breed’s temperament with others, this post will help you. If you are currently struggling with an aggressive dog, this behavior is important to address. Let’s discuss:
Why Are Chihuahuas So Aggressive?
Every dog is an individual; not all Chihuahuas are aggressive, but some are. Aggression most commonly has one of these originations:
Pain. Many dogs will show aggression as a result of pain to keep people away from touching whatever is causing them to experience the pain.
Did you try to pick up your Chihuahua and get snapped at or nipped? Perhaps she hurt her back and you tweaked it when you attempted to pick her up.
Learned behavior. Due to their small stature, many people allow their Chihuahuas to get away with a lot of things.
My best advice is to consider if your dog weighed 100 pounds, would you allow him to do whatever he is doing? No matter the size of a dog, they all need a calm and confident pack leader; they need rules, a routine, and to be trained.
Similarly to how toddlers who are displeased when things do not go their way and throw a tantrum out of frustration, many Chihuahuas behave aggressively because it is the only way they know how to effectively communicate a firm “no”. If this behavior is not dealt with, it will become the new normal, and it will negatively impact your relationship with your Chihuahua, friends and family.
“Wiring”. Some canine brains are “wired” differently and this makes them naturally aggressive from puppyhood. This varies by individual dog and is not a hard wired breed specific issue.
Sometimes this is caused by poor breeding and/or early trauma.
You know that a dog’s brain functions differently when this behavior is unable to be altered with medications and training. Sadly, this may result in behavioral euthanasia for the safety of others, most often in large breed dogs.
How do I get my Chihuahua to stop snapping at people?
First you must consider why the snapping is happening. Here are some of the most common reasons:
Circumstances. In some cases, the snapping is not the dog’s fault. Is the person being rough with them?
Dogs only have one way to say no, and they are not teddy bears who should be expected to put up with anything and everything.
Resources. Is the person they are snapping at coming near something that your Chihuahua deems to be a valuable resource? If so, there are strategies to deal with this.
History. Is your Chihuahua adopted? They may have had a bad experience that you were not aware of.
If your Chihuahua was previously in a home where children were allowed to handle him roughly, he might snap when children get near him because he has only ever associated children with abuse.
Once you figure out why it is occurring, you will be able to better address it.
Here are some strategies to initiate when you own a Chihuahua who snaps at humans:
Dealing with circumstances. If you discover someone handling your Chihuahua roughly, you must immediately intervene. As a pet parent, you are your Chihuahua’s advocate and guardian.
If a Chihuahua is consistently handled roughly, they may feel they have no choice but to respond aggressively in an effort to defend themselves.
This habit might extend to other areas of their life, so it is very important to get ahead of this. (See the paragraph below about re-writing history for tips to help your Chihuahua overcome past abuse).
Dealing with resources. If a Chihuahua is resource guarding, he must learn that if he is aggressive, his resource will be taken away unless he can be nice about possessing it.
To help him learn to be nice when possessing his resources, there are some training exercises to do.
- Start with a toy that your Chihuahua loves but does not guard.
- Pick up the toy and hand it to him and play with him for a few minutes.
- Then firmly say, “drop it” and if he lets go reward him with a treat, walk away with the toy, then come back and give him the toy again.
- If he gets upset at the concept of giving up the toy, get it away from him, leave the room, and ignore him for 5-10 minutes.
If after about 2 weeks of trying this exchange game you do not see progress, seek the assistance of a professional trainer.
Re-write history with positive reinforcement training. For example, if your Chihuahua was abused by children, you will need to help him have positive experiences to learn that children can be kind.
To do this, you will need to recruit the assistance of kind, dog savvy children, and lots of treats!
- Have the children walk by your Chihuahua and throw treats on the floor without paying attention to him.
- Leave a trail of treats to your Chihuahua’s favorite place and have the child waiting there with blankets and your Chihuahua’s favorite bed.
- The child should read a book or watch television and ignore the Chihuahua.
- If he is brave enough to approach and eat treats that is a good sign!
- Gradually work up to the child hand feeding the treats, and place treats on a blanket in the child’s lap to encourage the Chihuahua to interact with him.
- Then work up to petting the Chihuahua and feeding a treat.
Now your Chihuahua has associated a child with things that he loves; treats, cozy blankets, and attention!
How do I get my chihuahua to stop snapping at me?
This can be very difficult and stressful to deal with, but if you can be consistent, the circumstances can improve. If your Chihuahua snaps at you, here are tips to deal with this behavior:
- Praise your Chihuahua like crazy every time they do something that you want them to do, and ignore them if they do something that you do not want them to do. With how much these little dogs love attention, being ignored is an effective way to communicate with them; no physical punishment is required to send the message.
- Enroll your Chihuahua in obedience class and work on training for a bit everyday at home. If your Chihuahua learns to listen to you and you command him confidently, calmly, and assertively, he will have a job to keep his brain busy, and he will learn the pack order and your expectations, which results in a better behaved Chihuahua.
- If your Chihuahua cannot handle having a certain high value item without being nasty, they should permanently lose the privilege of having said item. For example, if you give your Chihuahua a bully stick and you are unable to get it away from him every single time he has it without snarling and gnashing of teeth, he should no longer be given bully sticks. If your Chihuahua snarls at you for moving when you are snuggling on the couch, he should lose his snuggle privileges when he is mean by being set down and not allowed back up.
- Provide your Chihuahua with exercise and mental stimulation daily. If they are bored, ugly behaviors and habits are sure to surface. Daily play time and a daily walk are very beneficial. Just keep in mind that this breed was bred to snuggle, and their tiny little legs have fewer miles in them than a larger dog’s long legs do!
- Schedule a thorough physical examination for your Chihuahua with a trusted veterinarian to see if there are any underlying medical issues which could be causing aggression; your Chihuahua could be reacting because of physical pain.
My chihuahua attacks anyone who gets close to me. How do I stop that?
If your Chihuahua does not like letting people near you or any item that he deems to be of high value, know that it is quite common and there is a term for this behavior: resource guarding.
This behavior will not always make sense to you. Sometimes a dog will guard an obvious high value item, like a cheeseburger that was dropped on the floor that he does not want taken away from him.
Other times, these high value items only make sense if you are a dog. Some of my readers have told me that their Chihuahuas resource guarded items such as a dried worm on the sidewalk, an old sock, bully sticks, a favorite toy, and their food bowl (regardless if there was food in it or not). Many Chihuahuas are resource guarders.
Chihuahuas are one of the breeds of dog who most frequently resource guard their humans. Dogs view us as resources; we provide food, shelter and love.
If your Chihuahua becomes aggressive when other people approach you, they view you as a resource worthy of guarding. While that is flattering in a way, it creates a liability for owners and causes stress on their relationships with friends and family.
If your Chihuahua is cozy in your lap and someone walks up to you, they may react aggressively because they want the snuggle session to continue or they do not want to share you.
With a little positive reinforcement, strength and consistency, this may be dealt with. Here is a strategy to start with if your Chihuahua does not like people approaching you:
- Snuggle your Chihuahua as you normally would.
- Have a volunteer walk up to you, offer a treat, and walk away. If the Chihuahua accepts the treat without snarling they may have it, but if they become nasty even when a treat is offered they should be removed from the lap they are guarding. If your Chihuahua becomes nasty, wait for about a half hour and try again. If your Chihuahua did well, repeat this exercise 2 more times.
- 5-10 minutes later, your volunteer will return with another treat and sit next to you. If your Chihuahua accepts the treat and does not react aggressively to them sitting beside you, “feed the meter” by offering multiple treats to help them learn this was what you wanted them to do. Have your volunteer sit and chat while “feeding the meter” for about 5 minutes, then end the exercise. If your Chihuahua behaves aggressively, they must be removed from your lap and you should try the previous step again later once everyone has calmed down.
- Repeat daily if possible, and continue these sessions for about a month. Keep these sessions short and sweet, always ending on a positive note. If you do not see any progress within approximately two weeks, seek the assistance of a professional dog trainer.
I am at the end of my rope with my aggressive Chihuahua, what do I do?
If after utilizing some of the advice listed in this article your Chihuahua continues to be aggressive, do not be afraid to seek the assistance of a professional dog trainer and your veterinarian who may be able to prescribe medications to your Chihuahua that may be beneficial.
Ask your veterinarian for a dog trainer referral to ensure that you are utilizing a reputable trainer.
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Even though Chihuahuas are tiny, they should not be allowed to be aggressive. Aggressive dogs create liabilities for their owners, risks their safety and the safety of others, and makes them less adoptable in the event something happened to their owner.
These little dogs live a long time, and a well behaved dog is easier to live with than a naughty one!
I’d love to know (and I’m sure readers will appreciate it too) if you have any tips that worked for your aggressive chihuahua.