Do you know the main reason that most dogs bite? Most people assume it’s just because the dog is mean, but in reality most dogs (and this includes Chihuahuas) bite is out of fear. Of course some dogs suffer abuse or just plain neglect, and this can be a cause.
Mainly though, aggression develops as a results from lack of socialization. Dogs need socialization before the age of 3 months and they need this into adulthood and for the rest of their lives. This means contact with other people and other dogs. Many dogs don’t get this type of interaction – and when they meet up with another dog or person…you have a problem.
Now take the need for socialization and transfer that to so many households who adopt or rescue young Chihuahuas out of good intent – but for many reasons the dogs don’t get socialized. And within days these dogs quickly get used to their adoptive families – and mostly ONLY their adoptive families. They develop their pack patterns and day to day routines around the people and pets they see daily. This means that anyone else who comes into the house, or onto the front porch, or who happens to be a dog park is a problem waiting to happen.
We rescued a Chihuahua while we were living in Costa Rica. Dogs are treated very differently in other countries than here in the U.S. I wasn’t sure how our Chi was treated before we got him, but I was determined to keep him safe and healthy until we brought him back home with us. Unfortunately, keeping him safe in that environment meant keeping him rather un-socialized away from other large, stray, unvaccinated and mainly unhealthy dogs left to fend for themselves -everywhere. It’s a sad sight.
Once we came back to the states, we noticed how much our Frisco barked (yapped, really) at all new sounds, people, other animals, cars, wind blowing, ….anything! This dog is afraid of anything he doesn’t recognize. His fur gets all bunched up on his back and he practically bounces on the ground cartoon-dog style as he fiercely barks to scare away the potential invader.
I’ve tried to work with him and I’ve taken him to be professionally trained and still we have ongoing issues with him. Part of this stems from his time in Costa Rica and part of it is just his temperament. All of it means that it is up to myself and my family to work with continuously – which of course we do.
No matter if the cause is fear or their being overly reactive, the treatment of aggression in chihuahuas focuses on desensitizing him from the bad, bad scary thing (cough…his imagination) and rewarding him positively for good behaviors.
This involves working with the dog to slowly associate him being around the unfamiliar. This is done in a slow, but consistent way. Basically, you expose the dog to something that frightens him, but at the same time he wants to react, you begin to keep him busy with something that he likes. You can use treats, or a favorite toy, but the goal is to increase the scary part (whether it is a loud noise, or a stranger, etc.) while continuing to entertain your pooch. Eventually, the dog will come to not just ignore the frightening stimulus, they will associate it with a positive experience forever.
It’s not easy, and many people only get this partially right. The more consistent you can be the better your ability will be to make progress in the dog faster. Most dogs will respond with consistency on our parts. They really want to please us, we just have to show them the way. So next time someone says “My chihuahua bites”, you’ll know what to do…