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Chihuahuas: Care and Maintenance of the Smallest and Oldest Breed of Dogs

Updated on January 14, 2017
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Darla Sue Dollman, B.A., M.F.A., is a freelance writer with 38 years combined experience as a journalist, photographer, and editor.

Chewy, the chihuahua. Photo copyright owned by D.S. Dollman.
Chewy, the chihuahua. Photo copyright owned by D.S. Dollman.

It was a stormy night in Texas and the weather service warned of hail and possible tornadoes. My stepson ran through the rain to the driver's side of my truck, unlocked the door and prepared to climb inside, then he heard a whimper at his feet. He glanced beneath the truck and found the smallest dog he had ever seen. It was a chihuahua, and he was terrified of the thunder and begging for help with his head cocked to the side and one tiny paw raised to his chest.

We dried him off, cuddled him through the storm, and the next morning began our search for his owners. We searched diligently for months, hanging fliers with photos on posts and store windows, posting newspaper advertisements, and contacting local dog clubs, kennels and veterinarian offices. A few months later, our veterinarian said he suspected the dog was abandoned and recommended that we take steps to care for him properly. We paid to have the dog neutered and vaccinated and gave him a name: Chewy, the Chewchewcabra.

The name is appropriate. Chewy is cuddly, loving...and fiercely protective. After sharing my home with large breeds most of my life, I was surprised to discover this wonderful little creature is also the most efficient guard dogs I've ever known. This is "the look" you get when you stop petting!

Photo copyright owned by D.S. Dollman. Chewy is a Bold, Confident Dog
Photo copyright owned by D.S. Dollman. Chewy is a Bold, Confident Dog

Temperament: Chihuahuas as Pets

According to the American Kennel Club, chihuahuas should have attitudes of self importance, confidence, and self-reliance. I've never seen a chihuahua lacking these personality traits. I have a 90 pound Labrador who believes he's a lap dog and a five pound chihuahua who believes he's a 90 pound guard dog.

One of the first things I learned as the pet of a chihuahua is they can be temperamental if not trained properly. Keep in mind that their bodies are exceptionally small, so they also tend to be overly cautious of fast movements and protective of their bodies.

This can be tricky if the chihuahua is a family dog. It is best to work with chihuahuas as puppies, and on a regular basis, teach them that they must stay calm. Instruct family members to remain calm around the chihuahua, and to treat the dog with patience and gentle care, and the dog will learn to behave the same way.

When it comes to love and affection, chihuahuas require a tremendous amount of both. I walked past my stepson's door one morning and noticed he was trying to brush his hair with our chihuahua in his arms. I asked why he was holding the dog and he replied, "He wouldn't let me put him down! Look at him! He needs me!" The dog tilted his head backward and looked at me lovingly upside down, then threw his head dramatically against my stepson's chest.

Loyalty can lead to jealousy with chihuahuas and this can also be overcome through training. When our dog, Chewy, was young, the older child of our neighbor would play with him each afternoon in an attempt to train him to adjust to strangers, particularly children.

Chihuahuas are wonderful family pets if the children are older, and gentle. Because of their small size, they do not do well in homes with small children as they can be aggressive--a recent study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania found that chihuahuas are the second most aggressive dog breed!

Chihuahuas are also easily injured. When you hold a chihuahua's paw in your hand, the bones feel as tiny as the bones of a bird. Imagine what would happen if a toddler picked up a chihuahua puppy and dropped it on the hard ground? It would be a traumatic and heartbreaking experience for the family and the dog.

It is a good idea to introduce chihuahua puppies in social settings as early and often as possible. If the dog will live with children and other animals, I believe it is best to have the children and other animals inside the home first, then bring the chihuahua into the home so the chihuahua does not try to establish dominance.

Chihuahuas love to burrow in blankets! Photo copyright owned by D.S. Dollman.
Chihuahuas love to burrow in blankets! Photo copyright owned by D.S. Dollman.

Habits Unique to Small Dogs

Like many small dogs, chihuahuas also like to burrow. They can jump onto tall beds and will often try to crawl beneath the covers. As cute as this may be, it is dangerous for tiny chihuahua puppies to sleep beneath the covers. Someone might roll over on them during the night, or the puppy could injure itself falling or jumping from the bed.

Chihuahuas do have a rather unique habit of raising one paw that sometimes confuses new owners who ask if their dog is injured. Not at all. The reason chihuahuas raise their paws is that it is part of their body language. It is a submissive gesture.

Look closely and the submissive behavior becomes more obvious. Chihuahuas do not simply raise one paw, they also duck their heads and stare lovingly into the eyes of their owners. The chihuahua is asking for something, such as food, affection, or to be picked up and held in your arms.

Photo by D.S. Dollman. Chewy Looking a bit Sleepy!
Photo by D.S. Dollman. Chewy Looking a bit Sleepy!

Size and Appearance

Chihuahuas have large, round-shaped, wide-set eyes. Their eyes protrude slightly and are easily injured, which is another reason why they are not recommended for homes with small children. Their ears are tall and pointed. Their tails are long and point up or curl against their backs. They can have either short noses with round heads or long noses with elongated heads.

Five to six pounds is an average size for chihuahuas. If the dog weighs more than six pounds, it may be overeating, or require more exercise. The average height of a chihuahua is between six to 10 inches tall. They may have short or long hair, and are white, black, tan, brindle, and many other colors. Their life span is 14 to 18 years, though I have known chihuahuas who were 20.

According to The Chihuahua Club of America, the terms "Teacup, Pocket Size, Tiny Toy, Miniature or Standard" are sometimes used by disreputable breeders to inflate the price of puppies; chihuahuas simply vary in size.

Photo by D.S. Dollman. Chewy in his Pink Cadillac
Photo by D.S. Dollman. Chewy in his Pink Cadillac

Health Care for Chihuahuas

Chihuahua puppies have high metabolisms and should always have food available so they do not become hypoglycemic. The Chihuahua Club of America provides more information on puppy care. Adult dogs should be fed twice a day. Chihuahuas sometimes like to play with their food, which is fun to watch, or hide their food in furniture.

Chihuahuas tend to be very energetic, but they can exercise in small spaces and therefore make good city dogs. With a quick run around the apartment each morning, the dog can maintain her girlish figure.

However, my chihuahua also enjoys spending time with the rest of the family pets and going on long walks. Unfortunately he tires more quickly than the large dogs, so I started placing him in my granddaughter's old stroller and he enjoys this tremendously. He also likes to be held at shoulder height when walking so he can see further. He lets me know that he wants to be held by raising his paw.

When walking chihuahuas in northern states or in cold weather keep in mind that they are sensitive to cold. In fact, weather extremes are deadly for small dog breeds. Sweaters or coats and even doggy boots are recommended if the dog is taken outside for walks in the snow. Chihuahuas should not be left outside in cold weather. Like all dogs, cats, and children, chihuahuas should never be left alone in a car, hot or cold.

I do not believe in leaving pets outside at night, but it is dangerous to do so with small breeds. They are prey for owls, hawks, eagles, coyotes. It is also best not to leave them alone outside as they are a popular breed and frequently stolen and it is highly recommended that they have microchips for identification.

Short-haired chihuahuas do not need to be groomed. Long-haired chihuahuas need an occasional brushing, (but how long does that take on a five pound dog?)

Because chihuahuas are a small breed this leaves them susceptible to health issues, such as heart murmurs. It is important to monitor your dog's health closely; take your dog in for regular vet health checks; and watch closely for signs of poor health when your dog starts to age.

Mayan Chihuahua Statue. This statue, found on Easter Island, resembles the dog statues in ancient Aztec ruins. Note the raised paw.
Mayan Chihuahua Statue. This statue, found on Easter Island, resembles the dog statues in ancient Aztec ruins. Note the raised paw.

History of the Breed

In addition to being the smallest dog breed, according to the American Kennel Club, the chihuahua is also one of the oldest dog breeds. It was first registered in 1904.

The chihuahua's ancestor is believe to be the Techichi, which was a companion dog for ancient Toltec people. It is also believed the chihuahua's ancestors existed prior to the Mayans. The American Kennel Club's history of chihuahuas states that images of the dogs were found in materials at the Pyramids of Cholula, which would have been before 1530. Images of chihuahuas can also be found at Chichen Itza.

Christopher Columbus may have returned to Europe with chihuahuas on board--a letter to the King of Spain mentions the dogs. It is also believed that another dog, the Asian Chinese Crested, was bred with the chihuahua to reduce its size even more.

Photo by D.S. Dollman. Chihuahuas love to snuggle in blankets!
Photo by D.S. Dollman. Chihuahuas love to snuggle in blankets!

Hollywood Loves Chihuahuas!

Recent Hollywood films featuring chihuahuas as well as the use of the chihuahua as the promotional symbol for a Mexican food restaurant chain has increased the dog's popularity.

Unfortunately, when pet owners realize that chihuahuas are fragile, or require more attention than the pet owners can, or want to provide, they sometimes abandon the dogs, often in the way that we believe our dog was abandoned, by leaving them at the end of a cul de sac or in fields in rural areas. The frequent abandonment and abuse of chihuahuas has led to the establishment of chihuahua rescue organizations, such as the Chihuahua & Small Dog Rescue, Inc. in Colorado.

Chihuahuas, like all dogs, are loyal, compassionate animals that want to be loved by their family members. Before purchasing or acquiring a chihuahua, please make sure that you are prepared to provide a safe, suitable environment for the dog.

Sources:

"AKC Meet the Breeds: Chihuahua." American Kennel Club. Retrieved October 3, 2011.

The Chihuahua Club of America. Retrieved September 20, 2011.

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