The Chihuahua: A Guide for Owners

Updated on June 10, 2020
Larry Slawson profile image

Larry Slawson received his Master's Degree from UNC Charlotte. He has 15+ years of experience with dogs and various pets.

The lovable and affectionate Chihuahua.
The lovable and affectionate Chihuahua.

Throughout the world, there exists only a handful of dog breeds that can be consistently described as courageous, loyal, and devoted. One of these dogs is the Chihuahua. Although originally bred for ceremonial purposes, this breed is now favored for its steadfast loyalty and companionship qualities (making it an ideal choice for families and elderly individuals). This work examines the Chihuahua and provides an in-depth analysis of the animal’s behavioral patterns, temperament, and general traits. It is the author’s hope that a better understanding (and appreciation) of this remarkable breed will accompany readers following their completion of this work.

“No matter how little money and how few possessions you own, having a dog makes you feel rich.”

— Louis Sabin

Scientific Classification

  • Common Name: Chihuahua
  • Binomial Name: Canis Lupus Familiaris
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Canidae
  • Genus: Canis
  • Species: Canis Lupus
  • Subspecies: Canis Lupus Familiaris
  • Other Name(s): N/A

Adorable Chihuahua taking a break.
Adorable Chihuahua taking a break. | Source

History and Origins of the Chihuahua

  • Lifespan: 14 to 18 years
  • Group: Toy
  • Area of Origin: Mexico
  • Date of Origin: 1500s
  • Original Purpose: Companionship; Ceremonial
  • Modern Function: Companionship
  • Family: Primitive

Origins

Considered the smallest dog breed in the world, little is known about the Chihuahua’s origins. Some theories suggest that the dog may have originated in China before being brought to Mexico by Spanish traders in the 1500s. Others suggest that the breed originated (entirely) in Central and South America. The latter theory is generally accepted more than others, as evidence tends to suggest that the Chihuahua was a major part of ceremonial rituals within the Techichi, Toltec, and Aztec religions. As an unfortunate part of these rituals, however, many Chihuahuas are believed to have been sacrificed as it was believed by the Aztecs that small dogs helped guide souls to the underworld (Coile, 220).

A final theory to the Chihuahua’s origins mixes these two theories, and suggests that the Chihuahua was originally a small breed from Central America that was crossed with hairless Chinese dogs brought to the New World by Spaniards. Until greater evidence can be uncovered though, these theories will continue to remain speculative, at best.

Modern Function

Following the destruction of the Aztec culture by Cortes (in the 16th Century), historians believe that the Chihuahua was abandoned and forced to fend for themselves in the wild. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that three of these dogs were found in Chihuahua, Mexico (hence their name) and were brought back to the United States. And while the newfound Chihuahua initially garnered little attention, the world-famous Xavier Cugat (a famous Spanish musician) helped make the dog popular during the 1900s by always appearing in public with a Chihuahua in-hand. Today, the Chihuahua is one of the most popular breeds in the United States and is favored for its adorable size, personality, and steadfast devotion to owners.

Tan Chihuahua posing for the camera.
Tan Chihuahua posing for the camera. | Source

Appearance

Body

  • Weight: Less than 6 pounds (male and female)
  • Height: 6 to 9 inches (male and female)

The Chihuahua is a well-balanced dog that rarely exceeds 6-pounds in its overall weight. Their bodies are relatively long, with shoulder width being proportionate to the overall length of the back. Ribs should also be well-sprung.

Head

Chihuahuas possess well-rounded skulls that are accentuated by round and luminous eyes. Ears are typically large and erect in appearance, and generally flare at the sides following a 45-degree angle. Muzzles are, on average, quite short and follow a pointed appearance. Completing the muzzle area is a lean series of cheeks and jaws.

Forequarters

Forequarters on the Chihuahua are quite lean (due to their small size), with shoulders following a sloped appearance. Likewise, the chest should display a series of well-sprung ribs. Completing the forequarters is a pair of straight (slim) legs that are connected to small, cushioned feet with split toes. Dewclaws – if present – may be removed if desired.

Hindquarters

Similar to the forequarters, the Chihuahua’s hindquarters are muscular (but also lean) in appearance, with the hocks set well apart. Legs should be slightly angled, with the feet the same as the front (small with split toes).

Tail

Tails on the Chihuahua are relatively long and follow a sickle-like appearance. Generally speaking, tails tend to be carried outward (or upwards), and can occasionally loop over the dog’s back.

Coat and Coloration

Overall coats vary between Chihuahua breeds, and come in smooth or long varieties. Smooth coats should be soft, close, and glossy in appearance, whereas longer coats will follow a soft and wave-like texture.

The Chihuahua also comes in a variety of colors including cream, gold, fawn, red, sable, chocolate, blue, bicolor, tricolor, as well as black and tan. In more recent years, merles (a combination of irregular dark and light splotches) has also been introduced by breeders with mixed reviews.

Adorable white and tan Chihuahua.
Adorable white and tan Chihuahua. | Source

Are Chihuahuas Right For Your Home?

General Characteristics

  • Energy Level: 5/5
  • Exercise Needs: 1/5
  • Playfulness: 2/5
  • Affection Towards Owners: 5/5
  • Friendliness Towards Other Animals: 2/5
  • Training Difficulty: 3/5
  • Grooming Level: 2/5

Note: Scale of 1 to 5 (1=Lowest, 5=Highest)

Temperament (Personality)

Despite their small size, the Chihuahua is one of the most fearless dog breeds in the world. Often described by experts as confident and bold, the Chihuahua makes for an excellent companion (and even a watch dog). Overconfidence and boldness, however, can also be seen as a negative series of traits for this breed as the Chihuahua can be quite stubborn and disobedient at times. They can also be quite “hot-headed” when provoked and will not back down to a fight (due to their excitable nature). Due to their natural intelligence though, these behaviors can often be corrected through regular obedience training.

In spite of these issues, potential owners should note that this breed is quite loving and affectionate towards their family, with an eagerness to please. Individuals will be hard-pressed to find another dog capable of displaying the love and admiration shown by a Chihuahua to their owner.

Are Chihuahuas Good With Children?

Yes! However, the Chihuahua is best suited for households with older children (outside of the toddler stage) as young kids can unknowingly cause serious harm or injury to a Chihuahua through mishandling. In spite of this, Chihuahuas are known for their lovable nature towards owners, and often do well with children. It is important to note, however, that this breed has a strong tendency to form attachments with a single individual in the household. As a result, they can sometimes become “nippy” when others get too close to their preferred family member.

How Smart is the Chihuahua?

While the Chihuahua doesn’t make the “Top 10” list for smartest dog breeds, they are incredibly smart little dogs with the ability to process information and to learn quickly. While new tricks are often difficult for this breed to learn (requiring upwards of 40 to 80 repetitions of an action in order to learn), experts have regularly demonstrated that the Chihuahua possesses an “adaptive and instinctive intelligence” that is often higher than most breeds. Adaptive intelligence simply means that the Chihuahua is capable of learning from past mistakes (i.e. not making the same mistake twice). Instinctive, on the other hand, stems from the dog’s companionship qualities and refers to the Chihuahua’s natural ability to respond to (and understand) human emotions and needs. So while obedience and retrieving will be difficult for the Chihuahua to learn, owners will be hard-pressed to find another dog breed capable of responding to their emotional states like this tiny dog.

Tan Chihuahua smiling for the camera.
Tan Chihuahua smiling for the camera. | Source

Grooming and Training

Grooming Requirements

Grooming for this dog depends largely on your Chihuahua breed (smooth or long-haired varieties). Although both require minimal grooming on a weekly basis, longer haired dogs will obviously require more brushings. Nevertheless, weekly combings are usually adequate for the Chihuahua to prevent matting and tangles from setting in. Regular attention to teeth brushing and nail trimming should also be followed with this breed to prevent dental issues and injuries to their paws.

Training Needs

Generally speaking, the Chihuahua is not known for its trainability. Nevertheless, Chihuahuas often respond well to consistent (but gentle) training from their owners. Just don’t expect too much out of them, as this breed will be limited to learning only a few basic commands and tricks in their lifetime. For owners that desire a breed capable of learning a wide array of tricks, other dogs such as the Border Collie or German Shepherd will likely serve your interests better.

Nutritional Needs

As with most breeds, high-quality dog food should always be the number one priority for your pet. These meals can be prepared by a manufacturer, or at home following the guidance and supervision of your dog’s veterinarian. It is critical to note, however, that a wide array of human-based foods can cause serious harm or injury to your dog. For this reason, owners should never feed their Chihuahua table scraps as the toxins (or components) of particular foods can cause a variety of health problems or issues over time. The following list details 10 foods you should avoid giving to your dog.

Avoid giving these 10 foods to your Chihuahua.
Avoid giving these 10 foods to your Chihuahua.

How Much Food Should a Chihuahua Eat Per Day?

As with all dog breeds, feeding requirements vary significantly with every pet and depend greatly on your dog’s weight, energy level, and age. More active Chihuahuas will require additional food on a daily basis, while less-active dogs will need far less. For this reason, owners should work actively with their veterinarian to establish a feeding cycle that fits their dog’s specific needs. Generally speaking, however, most Chihuahuas require approximately 200 calories of food per day. This equates to approximately 1-cup of high-quality dog food each day, which should be divided into 2 to 3 meals.

Water Requirements

Maintaining proper hydration is also extremely important for the Chihuahua. Nearly 70-percent of your dog’s body is comprised of water. Therefore, owners should pay active attention to their pet’s water needs throughout the day as their requirements can change in response to both outside temperatures and their daily activity levels (owlcation.com). For example, dogs typically require more water on hot (or humid) days, whereas colder days will produce the opposite effect.

As with most breeds, standard water requirements for the Chihuahua are usually determined by your dog’s weight. For every seven pounds of weight, a Chihuahua should consume approximately 6 ounces of water per day. For example, a 6-pound dog would require less than 6 ounces of water in a day’s time (or a little more if they have been active throughout the day).

Signs and symptoms of dehydration in the Chihuahua.
Signs and symptoms of dehydration in the Chihuahua.

What Type of Home is Good For a Chihuahua?

The Chihuahua is best suited for owners that desire companionship, as the dog requires significant attention to thrive. Potential owners should be prepared to show their Chihuahua significant amounts of affection on a daily basis. For these reasons, the Chihuahua is well-suited for elderly individuals, those who are house-bound, as well as households with children. As a result of their small size, the Chihuahua is also capable of living in both rural and urban-based settings as they are able to get plenty of exercise indoors. They are not suitable pets for “part-time” owners, however, as this breed is incapable of remaining alone for long periods of time.

Are Chihuahuas Good With Other Pets?

Yes! However, early socialization is required for the Chihuahua to do well with other pets (particularly larger dogs). As natural hunters, early socialization can also dissuade bad behaviors from forming with other small pets in your household as the Chihuahua is prone to nip at smaller animals (such as gerbils, guinea pigs, hamsters, etc.). And although this breed usually does well with cats, owners should always monitor their Chihuahua around felines as cats can cause serious injury to their larger eyes (through scratching).

Is the Chihuahua a Good Guard Dog?

Yes! Due to their vocal nature, Chihuahuas make great guard dogs and will actively alert their owner to intruders or strangers. Chihuahuas are extremely reserved around strangers, making them an ideal choice for guarding and watching. They also possess a tremendous sense of loyalty toward their owners, and will stand their ground against would-be burglars. Although incredibly small in stature, the Chihuahua is extremely courageous and will defend their family no matter what the cost. Nevertheless, for owners that need a dog capable of protecting them from larger threats, you will likely be better served by a breed that is built for home-defense such as the Doberman or Rottweiler. While incredibly brave, the Chihuahua’s small size makes it an impractical choice for protection.

Health Concerns

Recommended Medical Tests and Evaluations for the Chihuahua:

  • Cardiovascular Exam
  • Hip and Elbow Evaluation
  • Patella Evaluation

Owners should actively work with a qualified veterinarian in their area to develop a nutritional and preventive-care plan for their Chihuahua. Proper diet, nutrition, and early detection of health issues can go a long way in helping your dog achieve a happy and healthy life. While generally described as a healthy (long-living) breed, owners should note that the Chihuahua is prone to a variety of health conditions. Heart problems are a major concern with this breed, with patent ductus arteriosus, as well as mitral valve disease being the primary issues seen by veterinarians. Eye issues are also common, along with patellar luxation (loosened kneecaps). Epilepsy and spinal issues have also been reported with the Chihuahua and should be screened for regularly. Nevertheless, with proper care, owners can expect their Chihuahua to live between 14 to 18 years, with many of these dogs living several years beyond this (upwards of 20-years in some cases).

Famous Chihuahuas

• Beverly Hills Chihuahua

• Ren (From the show “Ren and Stimpy”)

• Madness (From the show “Invader Zim”)

• Gidget (Former Taco Bell mascot)

Pros and Cons of the Chihuahua

Pros:

  • Extremely loyal and devoted to their owner.
  • Low-maintenance pet in regard to grooming and exercise requirements.
  • Non-aggressive and playful breed suitable for families.
  • Intelligent and adaptive breed.
  • Great choice for smaller homes (such as apartments or townhouses).
  • Great watch dogs.
  • Long lifespan (upwards of 20-years in some cases)

Cons:

  • Difficult to housebreak.
  • Tendency to bark (yap) excessively.
  • Fragile breed that can be injured easily.
  • Tend to become cold easily due to their small size.
  • Tends to bond with only one person in the family.
  • Prone to a variety of health issues.

World's Greatest Dog?

In closing, the Chihuahua is a remarkable breed of dog renowned for their loyalty, courage, and devotion towards owners. Although this breed can occasionally be temperamental and yappy, few dogs are as loyal and attached to their owner as the lovable Chihuahua. And while these dogs require a great deal of attention and care, owners will be hard-pressed to find another breed capable of matching the love and affection returned by this breed. For these reasons, the Chihuahua will continue to be a popular choice with dog-lovers for the foreseeable future.

Works Cited

  • American Kennel Club. The New Complete Dog Book 22nd Edition. Mount Joy, Pennsylvania: Fox Chapel Publishing, 2017.
  • “Chihuahua Dog Breed Information.” American Kennel Club, November 6, 2017.
  • Coile, Caroline. The Dog Breed Bible: Descriptions and Photos of Every Breed Recognized by the AKC. Hauppauge, New York: Barron’s Educational Series, 2007.
  • Dennis-Bryan, Kim. The Complete Dog Breed Book. New York, New York: Dorling Kindersley, 2014.
  • Larkin, Peter and Mike Stockman. The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Dogs, Dog Breeds, & Dog Care. London, England: Hermes House, 2006.
  • Mehus-Roe, Kristin. Dog Bible: The Definitive Source for All Things Dog. Irvine, California: I-5 Press, 2009.
  • O’Neill, Amanda. What Dog? A Guide to Help New Owners Select the Right Breed for their Lifestyle. Hauppauge, New York: Interpret Publishing Ltd., 2006.
  • Schuler, Elizabeth Meriwether. Simon and Schuster’s Guide to Dogs. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster, Incorporated, 1980.
  • Slawson, Larry. “The Top 10 Smartest Dog Breeds.” (PetHelpful). 2019.
  • Slawson, Larry. “The 10 Best Dogs for Children.” (PetHelpful). 2019.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Larry Slawson

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    • profile image

      melaNIE BONNETT 

      8 weeks ago

      I dont know if this is apropiate place to ask but my 7 year old chihuahua goes through an episode where she spins... for like 7 to 8 hours. And her head jerks if i try to hold her. Its been going on for over a year. She will dig through carpet and suddenly do this..'

      help

    • Larry Slawson profile imageAUTHOR

      Larry Slawson 

      8 weeks ago from North Carolina

      @Brenda Thank you! So glad you enjoyed! I know what you mean. I had a Chihuahua when I was younger, and he wasn't afraid of anything haha. There was a Rottweiler that came into our yard one day, and our Chihuahua had no qualms about standing toe-to-toe with that dog. Haha. I think they feel as though they're bigger than they actually are.

    • Larry Slawson profile imageAUTHOR

      Larry Slawson 

      8 weeks ago from North Carolina

      @Lorna Thank you, my friend! Yeah, my wife wants a Chihuahua but I'm not sure how it would adapt to a larger dog in the home haha. I guess it depends on what type of dogs you already have (whether they are more aggressive or not).

    • Larry Slawson profile imageAUTHOR

      Larry Slawson 

      8 weeks ago from North Carolina

      @Pamela I'm so glad you enjoyed! Sorry for the delayed reply. I've been crazy busy the last few weeks haha. You read my mind, I actually have an article on Pit Bulls in the works! Hoping to have it finished by next week sometime :)

    • Larry Slawson profile imageAUTHOR

      Larry Slawson 

      8 weeks ago from North Carolina

      @Diana I totally agree. And I'm sorry about your loss. That's sad. I'm glad you were able to spend a good amount of time with him though. It sounds like he lived a good, long life.

    • Brenda Arledge profile image

      BRENDA ARLEDGE 

      2 months ago from Washington Court House

      Great job on this one.

      My mother had a chihuahua.

      It amazes me how they bark..even at dogs much bigger than them.

      It's like they believe they are the toughest doggie.

      Thanks for sharing and reminding me of this doggie.

    • Lorna Lamon profile image

      Lorna Lamon 

      2 months ago

      Such an adorable little dog and even though I have always had larger dog breeds, I would consider having a small dog. However, I'm not sure how well they would mix with other dogs already in the home. Another wonderful and interesting article Larry, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      2 months ago from Sunny Florida

      I have never had a Chihuahua, but I think they are adorable. It sounds like they would be a perfect, loving dog according to what you wrote.I didn't know where they originated. Your article is very thorough and I know more about these dogs now. Thanks, Larry. This is another very good article.

      Maybe you could write about pitbulls sometime as I have one son that has one and it seems to be so loving and gentle.

    • Diana Lee profile image

      Diana L Pierce 

      2 months ago from Potter County, Pa.

      Ounce per ounce a Chihuahua has plenty of love in that pint size body, no matter their unpredictable nature. I have known a few in my day and have had a mixed breed or two. The breed does dominate. Last love of my life was half Chihuahua, half Jack Russell named Whimpy. He carried the worse of both breeds, but he was the best friend anyone could ask for. I lost him a couple years ago, he lived to be 13.

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