What are Chihuahua's like?
Alert, active, and incredibly loving. Chihuahuas are loyal little lapdogs with huge characters. They’re a relatively healthy breed and are known to live incredibly long lives. The Chihuahua is paw-haps one of the most famous dogs in the world thanks to their tiny size, big personalities, and regular appearances on screen.
Spotting a Chihuahua is easy thanks to their dainty build, big head and eyes, and large ears. But despite being the world’s smallest dog, Chihuahuas are best known for having oversized personalities and for their association with the celebrity lifestyle.
Not only have these dogs been in the arms (and handbags) of many celebs over the years, they are stars in their own right. From Gidget the Taco Bell dog to Bruiser in Legally Blonde and Tuna the Chihuahua cross with millions of followers online. These pups gravitate to the spotlight and your own chi will certainly want to be the centre of attention.
So what should you expect when you own one of these pint-sized pooches, and how do you care for your Chihuahua?
The history of the Chihuahua
Chihuahuas were first recorded in the 19th century as a small dog from Chihuahua in Mexico, but the origins of the breed existed long before that. So how old are these dogs, and where did they come from?
Where do Chihuahuas come from?
The Chihuahua’s origins are unclear, but they are definitely from Mexico. Some people believed they were descended from fennec foxes because of their size and big ears, but this isn’t true. These dinky dogs are just as related to wolves as any other pooch!
It is believed that the Chihuahua is descended from the Techichi. The Techichi is an extinct breed of dog with a light frame and large ears that was bred by the Toltec civilisation. The purpose of the pooch is debated, with their role ranging from helpful hunters to companion animals, and even as a source of food.
Whatever their role in society was, the canine ancestors of the Chihuahua were scampering around Mexico long before any Europeans arrived. Although the Toltec civilisation was lost, their statues and artwork remained. These included artefacts such as dog-shaped pots and effigies that depicted the Techichi, some dating as far back as 300BCE.
Those studying the artefacts have noted a distinct similarity in the appearance of the Techichi and of the modern Chihuahua. Nowadays, it’s unanimously accepted that this little dog is the forefather of modern Chihuahuas.
Moving to America
As the state of Chihuahua is on the border with the U.S, it’s believed that many dogs were sold to American tourists. Additionally, many of these pups would simply accompany their owners as they moved across the border. Either way, the Chihuahua dog was in the U.S by the 19th century.
The first Chihuahua to be recognised by the American Kennel Club was in 1904. This dog was owned by H. Raynor and was born on his ranch in Texas on July 18th 1903. The dog became the first Chihuahua registered to the Kennel Club in 1904 and making the Chihuahua one of the oldest recognised breeds of dog.
Despite their early recognition, Chihuahuas remained relatively unknown for decades. That was until the 1960s came along, and more people moved into towns and cities. These tiny dogs and their low-maintenance lifestyle were paw-fect for urban life. They became pup-ular pets and companions for people in apartments or smaller houses, who had less space and less time to spend walking a dog. By the mid-60s, they had almost broken into the top 10 most popular dogs in America.
But are they completely Mexican?
Despite DNA studies and archaeological evidence linking the Chihuahua to the ancient Techichi, there’s still a lot of unexplained ancestry. In fact, a significant proportion of the Chihuahuas DNA originates outside of Mexico.
Some surmise this gap was created when Europeans moved to Mexico and took their dogs with them. These European pups would crossbreed with local pooches, contributing to the DNA mix-up.
The main culprit is believed to be the Maltese. Although the theory that they are ancestors to the modern Chihuahua mostly comes from the fact both breeds share the genetic development of a “molera” (a soft spot) in their skulls. It’s just as likely the breeds developed this trait independently because they are both small breeds. This theory is also used to explain how a similar-looking dog appears in a fresco painted by Botticelli. The little white dog in the painting does look like a modern Chihuahua, but given that the painting is from 1481-1482, it predates Columbus travelling to America by a decade.
Another theory suggested that the Chihuahua was the result of Chinese Crested Dogs breeding with the Techicihi. It would explain why the dog shrank in size, but there are no records of travellers from Asia to Mexico at that time. It’s not impossible, as there was supposedly a land bridge that connected Siberia to Alaska, making travel from Asia to America plausible.
Whatever other dogs are mixed into the modern Chihuahua breed, it is certain that they were descended from the native Mexican Techichi and have existed in some form for about 1000 years.
Chihuahuas are a similar size and weight regardless of their gender. They are small dogs with a light build, and they rarely exceed 25cm tall. According to the Kennel Club standards for the breed, your pooch should ideally be under 2.7kg.
As well as being the world’s smallest dog, Chihuahuas are also one longest living breeds. They frequently live into their teens and provided a healthy lifestyle and good diet, they can even break into their twenties.
The following stats are based on breed standards, and it is worth noting that some breeders now seek to breed Chihuahuas that are even smaller, some weighing less than a kilo.
Here are some key stats about the Chihuahua:
|Average Height||15-25 cm||15-25 cm|
|Average Weight||1.8-2.7 kg||1.8-2.7 kg|
|Lifespan||14-20 years||14-20 years|
|Coat||Short or long||Short or long|
Loving and loyal little dogs
Chis are well-known for having sassy personalities much larger than their tiny size. The Chihuahua temperament is loving, loyal, lively, and switched-on.
As expected from a companion pup, they enjoy plenty of time cuddling their owners. In fact, they adore being the centre of their human's attention and living an easy-going lifestyle. Their devotion and quirky characters have charmed plenty of owners into being devout chi fans.
Given the Chihuahua’s love for the spotlight, these dogs are easy to spoil which can make them stubborn. They are a one-person dog, bonding closely with their favourite human so they make amazing fur-iends. Chihuahuas will put up with other people being around but tend to dislike and distrust strangers. Given they’re also very alert dogs, they make surprisingly good watchdogs.
Like all breeds, the range in Chihuahua temperaments is broad and every dog is individual. Your pooch might be lively and playful, or aloof and independent. They might even be anxious and tremble with fright at anything new. The most im-paw-tent thing is to ensure your dog is safe and happy and to provide training and socialisation as soon as you can to help minimise any unwanted behaviour.
Are Chihuahuas aggressive?
Sadly, the Chihuahua has fallen foul of a lot of people for being “aggressive”. That’s because Chihuahuas are highly protective of themselves and their owners, which will lead to guarding behaviour. They are prone to barking and snapping at what they think is a threat, be that another dog or a person.
This can lead to problems at the park when combined with the Chihuahua’s brave nature. They won’t think twice about trying to fend off a much larger dog. Even in play, Chihuahuas are likely to be injured simply because they don't know their own size, and a bigger dog might not realise how fragile they are.
A lot of unwanted behaviour can be prevented by early training and socialisation. It teaches a pup to be confident and behave appropriately around others and should help them feel more safe and secure. Similarly, breeders should examine temperament as much as physical traits to ensure that future generations are confident and friendly dogs.
Chihuahuas can seem snooty, shunning other dogs to hang out with other Chihuahuas. Plus, they are devoted to their owners and don’t feel the need to offer their love to other people. That means if you have a big household or regular guests, even the most well-socialised Chihuahua might seem uneasy about all the comings and goings.
The conception that Chihuahuas are aggressive can also come from a place of anxiety. Many nervous dogs are reactive, and the same is true for Chihuahuas. Despite the fact many Chis are confident, it’s not uncommon to find anxious individuals. This is another reason why you should work on training and socialising your dog, so they become more confident.
However, even with socialisation and training, many Chihuahuas aren’t overly friendly. They will tolerate other humans and hounds, but won’t be thrilled to meet them. These dogs love their families and don’t feel the need to extend their friendship outside that small circle.
Are Chihuahuas good with children?
Chihuahuas are not recommended for families with young children. This is because there is a risk of the dog or child getting hurt.
Given the Chihuahua’s fragile frame, an enthusiastic youngster picking this tiny dog up could end disastrously if the pup is dropped or hugged too hard. Meanwhile, a dog can easily feel threatened by a boisterous child and might growl or bite. This is especially difficult if the kids are too young to understand a dog’s body language. Both the dog and child will need to be taught boundaries to ensure they know how to behave with one another, and so they can feel safe and happy around each other. Many Chihuahuas are extremely loving to their younger family members, but supervision is still required.
For families with older children that know how to safely handle the tiny dog, they can make great additions to the household.
Can Chihuahuas be left alone?
It’s a divided opinion on whether Chihuahuas can be left alone or not. Some claim they are one of the best indoor breeds and can tolerate being left home alone all day. Others mention they are prone to separation-anxiety given how well-bonded and loving these little dogs are. That usually means it will depend on your Chihuahua as an individual, and how confident they are at being on their own.
Generally, many believe you can leave your dog alone during the workday, so around 8 hours, paw-ticularly if they have another Chihuahua for company. To be safe though, you should always avoid leaving your dog alone for extended periods of time.
You can book a dog walker to visit your pup in the middle of the day and make sure they get some human interaction and a toilet break. Alternatively, you can look into taking them to a doggy daycare facility.
Chihuahuas are easy to identify thanks to their prominence in pop culture and their unmistakable appearance. For a start, this toy-sized pooch is the smallest dog breed in the world. They have large, domed heads, although some deer-shaped Chihuahuas do exist. Chihuahuas have big, round eyes and characteristic large, upright ears. These dogs should be petite, and their bodies are usually longer than they are tall. Finally, their tail should be carried above them in a slight curve.
Officially, the Chihuahua can have two subcategories, long hair and short hair. Most Chihuahuas, regardless of if they are short or long-haired, will only have a single coat of fur. However, it is not uncommon to find a dog with a double coat.
Long hair Chihuahuas
The obvious difference between a long hair Chihuahua and a short hair Chihuahua is their fur. Long-haired Chihuahuas should have long, soft fur that is either straight or slightly wavy. It gives their tail a pretty plume appearance, and they have fringes on their ears. It’s believed that papillons were bred with Chis to create the silky tresses.
Despite their luxurious coat, long hair Chihuahuas actually shed less than smooth coat Chihuahuas. However, they will shed a lot during the seasonal moulting period twice a year.
Short hair Chihuahuas (smooth coat Chihuahuas)
The more common class is the short hair Chihuahua, or smooth coat Chihuahua. Their fur should be very short, dense, and shiny. Although their fur is shorter and more manageable, smooth coat Chihuahuas shed more and shed their fur all year.
Believe it or not, two short hair Chihuahuas can have a litter of long-haired pups. That’s because the gene for long fur is recessive, so dogs can carry the gene without displaying it. So if two carriers mate, their puppies could inherit the recessive genes and have long fur.
What’s the difference between an “apple head” and a “deer head” Chihuahua?
As the name implies, the main difference between an apple head Chihuahua and a deer head Chihuahua is the shape of their head. An apple head Chihuahua is the breed standard, with a round, domed head that looks like an apple. Their snouts and jaws are short and meet the head at a 90° angle.
Meanwhile, the deer head Chihuahua has a narrower head that resembles a deer. Their muzzles and jaws are longer and are sloped, which also makes their eyes less prominent. Overall, the deer head Chihuahua looks a little more terrier-esque.
The difference isn’t just in the heads though. Deer head Chihuahuas are larger and have longer legs. In fact, deer head Chihuahuas are often twice the size of standard Chis, reaching 30cm tall and weighing about 4.5kg.
Although a pup-ular look, deer-head Chihuahuas can’t compete at dog shows because their head shape is seen as a fault and outside the breed standard. (Which is a shame!)
What colours can Chihuahuas be?
Chihuahuas can come in every coat colour and pattern imaginable for a dog. In fact, the breed standard lists the accepted colours of Chihuahua as, “Any colour or mixture of colours but never merle (dapple).”
There are 36 colours of long-hair Chihuahua defined by the Kennel Club. (Although there are more colours and combinations of Chihuahua that sit outside the breed standard.)
Chihuahua also come in different patterns including brindle and sable coat patterns. Brindle fur is when a dog has two coat colours mixed together like tiger stripes. Meanwhile, sable is a pattern where a dog’s fur has two colours which change along the length of their hair. Sable hair grows with one colour at the root and another colour at the tip of the hair.
The 36 standard colours of Chihuahua are:
- Black & tan
- Black & white
- Black particolour
- Blue & tan
- Blue & white
- Blue fawn
- Blue fawn & white
- Blue fawn sable
- Blue sable
- Blue sable & white
- Chocolate & gold
- Chocolate & tan
- Chocolate, tan & white
- Cream & white
- Cream sable
- Dark sable
- Fawn & white
- Fawn sable
- Gold & white
- Gold sable
- Red & white
- Red sable
- Red sable & white
- Sable & white
- White & chocolate
- Wolf sable
As mentioned, “merle” is not recognised by the Kennel Club as a standard coast pattern of the breed. However, there are definitely merle Chihuahuas out there, so your chi could be any colour or pattern possible, it just might not be eligible for Kennel Club registration.
As well as being one of the oldest recognised breeds of dog in the world, Chihuahuas are also one of the longest-living dog breeds. But how many years do Chihuahuas live for?
How long do Chihuahuas live?
Predicting a Chihuahua lifespan can be tough because there is a broad range in their life expectancy. Your Chi could live anywhere between 10 to 20 years. On average, your Chihuahua will live somewhere between 14-20 years of age. They’re more likely to reach their late teens if they are exercised regularly and fed a healthy diet.
Great care should be taken around Chihuahua puppies as they are not only incredibly small and fragile, but they are also born with a soft spot on their skull. In fact, more than 80% of Chihuahuas have one.
Just like human babies, when Chihuahua puppies are born the bones in their skull are not fused together. Puppies are born with an incomplete skull and as they age, cartilage will grow to fill the gap and fuse the pieces of their skull together.
Chances are if you rub the front of your adult Chihuahua's head you might feel a gap or dent in their skull. This is called a “molera”, and it’s caused when the bones of the skull don’t meet and fuse. If you want to see if your chi has a soft spot, just put your thumb gently in the middle of their forehead between their eyes and run it up over their head. If your dog has a molera, you should feel a small indentation in their skull.
Chihuahua puppy training
Because of their willful nature and their tendency to seem anti-social, it’s im-paw-tent to start training and socialising your puppy early.
This is as much of a benefit for your dog as it is for you because proper training and socialisation improves your dog’s confidence. A confident, happy dog is less likely to show unwanted behaviour like reactivity because they know it is safe, they trust their owner will keep them safe, and because they’ve learned how to interact with other people and pets.
Although they aren’t ranked highly in terms of dog intelligence, Chihuahuas are known to have great adaptive intelligence and are easy to train if you start early. If you leave your dog and don’t try to train them until they are an adult, they will be pretty stubborn and set in their ways, making change difficult. But as long as you start young with plenty of paw-sitive reinforcement, your Chihuahua should be quick to learn.
One hurdle in training will be housetraining. Chihuahua puppies are very small with equally tiny bladders. That makes holding things in quite difficult, and they will need to be let out regularly to avoid accidents. Not to mention, Chihuahuas are very susceptible to the cold which can trigger the need for them to go to the toilet.
When do Chihuahuas stop growing?
Chihuahuas will reach their adult height and length by the time they are 6 to 12 months old. That means you can expect your chi to be as big as they’ll ever be by the time they reach their first birthday. However, they may put a little more weight on in the months afterwards, so don’t be surprised if they don’t quite reach their adult weight by the time they are one.
However, Chihuahuas can be prone to obesity. This is usually caused by overfeeding, as owners misjudge just how small a meal their tiny dog needs. The best way to prevent obesity is to provide your dog with a balanced diet in proportioned meals and exercise them every day.
When do Chihuahuas ears stand up?
Just like the French Bulldog, the Chihuahua has to lean to hold up their ears. Chihuahua puppies are born with flat ears and they learn to hold them up at 1 to 4 months old. Usually, their ears will stand up sometime after they have finished teething. However, some pups ears won’t pop up until they are almost a year old. In a few cases, some never learn to stand their ears up. Don’t be surprised if your dog’s ears aren’t in sync either, there might be a few days difference between one ear standing up and the other.
You might want to pick a name inspired by their Mexican heritage, or in honour of some of the famous Chihuahua characters on screen. One thing is for sure, you’ll want to find a name that’s paw-fect for their big personality. Try browsing these paw-some names for your pooch, starting with 1000 girl dog names and 1000 boy dog names.
A few Chihuahua facts
They’re big-brained for small dogs
Obviously, they don’t have the biggest brain, of all. But Chihuahuas have the largest brain of any dog in comparison to the size of their body. No wonder they’re so quick-witted and willful!
The smallest dog in the world
Chihuahuas are undisputedly the smallest dog in the world. The Guinness world-record holder for the smallest dog and shortest dog in the world are both held by Milly the Chihuahua. This pint-sized pup from Puerto Rico is less than 10cm tall and weighs less than half a kilo.
Sacred spirit guardians
The ancestors to the Chihuahua were regarded by the Toltec and Aztec people as sacred, with many beliefs tied to them. One belief was that the dog would guide his master’s spirit to the afterlife. Sadly, this meant that when their owner died, the dog was sacrificed to accompany them into the afterlife.
We’ve talked already about Chihuahuas' brave and willful personalities, but did you know a pack of feral Chihuahuas once took over a town in Arizona? They spent their days causing a nuisance and fending off the townsfolk. Over 600 complaints were made about these tiny thugs, and the town had 3x more calls to animal control officers than the area average.
How much exercise do Chihuahuas need?
Chihuahuas don’t need a lot of exercise. In fact, your pooch only needs about 30 minutes of exercise a day. These dog’s often like to be active and stimulated though, so make sure to dedicate some time at home to play with your pooch.
What health problems do Chihuahuas have?
Generally speaking, Chihuahuas are a pretty healthy breed. They are predisposed to a few congenital conditions, which largely affect puppies. Their small size and fragility also mean they can be injured easily, and it’s im-paw-tent to keep your Chihuahua at a healthy weight to prevent damage to their joints. It is quite common for Chihuahuas to be overweight, simply because owners overestimate how much food their dog needs.
Some of the common Chihuahua health problems include:
- Breathing difficulties
- Tracheal collapse
- Cardiovascular disease
- Dental problems
- Luxating patella
- Legg-Perthes disease
Brain & nerve problems
Due to the size and weight of their large head and brain compared to their body, it’s not a surprise that it can cause issues, particularly in puppies. Chihuahuas are prone to a few disorders that affect their brain and nerves, including epilepsy. Puppies can potentially develop hydrocephalus, which is water on their brain.
Breathing problems & tracheal collapse
The trachea, or windpipe, is particularly vulnerable in Chihuahuas because of their small size, and the pressure on their neck as it holds up their head. Tracheal collapse is common and treatable, but severe cases can endanger your dog’s life. Further pressure on their necks can cause tracheal collapse and damage to their spines, which is why you should use a harness to walk your dog and not a collar.
In addition, Chihuahuas are counted as a brachycephalic breed because of their short, snub snouts. Brachycephalic dogs are predisposed to breathing problems, which are often exacerbated if the dog is overweight as the additional weight puts extra pressure on their lungs and windpipe.
Since Chihuahuas are so small, it’s no wonder they have fragile joints. The breed is predisposed to luxating patella (dislocating kneecaps). Their hips are also vulnerable, and the breed can be affected by Leggs-Perthes disease. This is when the ball joint of their hip breaks down, and surgery might be needed to remove the damaged part of the joint.
Their spines are fragile too and they can suffer from slipped discs. Because of their small size, Chihuahuas are not as resilient to trauma as other dogs, and even a short fall can damage their back.
Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can affect many Chihuahuas but is more common in puppies. Due to their small size and high metabolism, it’s vital your little dog has plenty of healthy food that helps to maintain stable blood sugar levels.
Simply because the Chihuahua has such small jaws and teeth, they are predisposed to dental problems. Their teeth can be easily broken due to their size, while many pooches suffer from overcrowded jaws as the mouths are simply too small to fit all their teeth. Crowded teeth also make them more prone to issues like plaque and gum disease because food is more likely to get stuck between their teeth.
Just like humans, the biggest cause of death for Chihuahuas is heart disease and many pups develop cardiovascular problems simply out of old age. Maintaining a healthy diet and weight is an im-paw-tent part of preventing heart disease in dogs.
If you ever decide to breed your Chihuahua, you may find your pooch suffers issues birthing, like dystocia. Chihuahuas are the breed most often requiring cesarean sections and run into trouble giving birth because the mother’s hips are so small, and the puppies’ heads are so big.
How often should you groom a Chihuahua?
How often you groom your Chihuahua depends on whether they are a smooth coat Chihuahua or a long hair. They have moderate but easy grooming needs, and long hair Chihuahuas require a little more time dedicated to maintaining their tresses.
Smooth coat Chihuahuas should be brushed once a week, and bathed whenever they get dirty. It is recommended that you wash your pup at least every 3 months.
Long hair Chihuahuas should be brushed at least 3 times a week, if not every day, to prevent matting and tangles in their fur. As long as they are not visibly dirty or smelly, you can bathe your chi regularly every few weeks when needed.
Whenever you bathe your Chihuahua, remember to put some cotton wool in their ears. This will help to stop water from going into their ear canals and causing irritation and infection.
Speaking of ears, you will need to regularly clean your pup’s ears to prevent the buildup of dirt and infections. Every week, get a damp cloth and wipe out their ears, then dry it with some cotton wool.
You will also need to clean your dog’s ear with a cleaning solution once a month to remove any wax and dirt. Put a few drops of the solution into your dog’s ear and massage it gently, then wipe their ears clean with cotton wool.
Are Chihuahuas hypoallergenic?
No, Chihuahuas are not hypoallergenic, but many people with allergies are fine around Chihuahuas and can live with them. As with most breeds, you will need to spend some time with the dog to see if they affect your allergies or not.
Long hair Chihuahuas shed less than smooth coat Chihuahuas but moult heavily twice a year. Meanwhile, smooth coats shed a moderate amount all year round.
If you own an unspayed female Chihuahua, she will shed more due to hormone-related shedding. Anytime your dog undergoes hormonal changes due to being in season, pregnant, or have given birth, you will notice more hair around the house.