Properly Socializing your young Chihuahua

The following is an excerpt from "The Complete Guide to Chihuahuas" by David Anderson. For more information visit the books Amazon Page.

Author Credit: David Anderson

Unless properly socialized at an early age, Chihuahuas are not a particularly gregarious breed. They tend to have a great dislike for larger dogs and are incredibly wary of strangers. This is one of the reasons why they are frequently so vocal as they let the world know that they are not to be trifled with. When it comes to being around their family though, Chihuahuas can be a lot of fun, are incredibly loyal, and enjoy just lounging around. They also love to be around other Chihuahuas. If not socialized, they will be unhappy leaving their home or when people come to visit. You want your companion to be comfortable everywhere the two of you go, and that is the ultimate goal of socialization.

You will need to plan to socialize your Chihuahua because they are naturally suspicious of other people and animals. Without planning and a controlled environment, socialization can go very wrong, very quickly. If you keep things simple and under control, your Chihuahua will learn to relax and enjoy the company of other people and dogs, and not just those in the immediate family. This will mean you can take your little family member out with you when you leave home instead of always leaving your dog at home to keep down the anxiety, fear, aggression, and other negative emotions.

Benefits of Socialization

Chihuahua in snow
Photo Courtesy – Crystal Jay Herrald-Campbell

It is always important to socialize dogs, but even more so with small dogs. With a Chihuahua, socialization is absolutely essential to keep him from being a nervous wreck or an aggressive little menace. People are inclined to be overprotective and cautious when they have small dogs and puppies, and this can lead to serious problems later. Given the fact that they are the smallest of all of the dog breeds, there is an extensive history of Chihuahuas not being treated like dogs. This is part of the reason why some people have such a bad impression of them. Without proper socialization, Chihuahuas have a tendency to be either nervous or aggressive; neither of these traits is pleasant for you. Both are incredibly unhealthy for your Chihuahua.

The benefits of early socialization are that it can make things that much more enjoyable for everyone involved, no matter what the situation is. A socialized dog will approach the world from a much better place than a dog that is not socialized. A properly socialized Chihuahua can be an absolute delight to have around, something that is fantastic given that they are basically a travel-sized dog.

Problems Arising from Lack of Socialization

Socialization starts the moment your puppy arrives. Without socialization, no amount of training is going to help your Chihuahua better interact with other animals and humans. All other rules still apply during socialization, so keep that in mind while you help your dog meet new friends.

Chihuahua short hairIf you treat your dog like a doll or infant, protecting it from everything and everyone, the dog is going to develop small dog syndrome, particularly when you have a dog that is prone to nervousness or aggression like Chihuahuas. They need to be allowed to learn how to interact with others so that they aren’t always terrified or upset with you when there are other people or dogs around them. It isn’t healthy for your Chihuahua to always be anxious or nervous around others, especially when you can easily avoid it. Make time to socialize your puppy to make his life enjoyable and so that he is as happy to meet new people and dogs as you and your family are.

This is easiest to do on the short walks you take. Starting with people is the easiest path, particularly adults, because you can let them know the rules and ensure that they don’t do things that could agitate or scare your puppy. Dogs may be a little scary, and your puppy is not fully vaccinated yet, which means you really shouldn’t be letting your puppy get to know other canines quite yet. However, you are basically guaranteed to encounter people when you are taking a walk, which means you can start the socialization soon after your puppy arrives.

By giving your little one good experiences with other people early, your puppy will be more comfortable around strangers. This will be incredibly beneficial if you plan to take your dog out with you often or if you have company over regularly.

Small Dog Syndrome

All small dogs (not just Chihuahuas) can develop small dog syndrome if they are not properly socialized. When people say they don’t like small dogs, it is almost certain it’s because their experiences have been with small dogs that have not been socialized and are little terrors. It isn’t life threatening, but it does mean that people are not going to want to be around your Chihuahua any more than your Chihuahua will want to have other people and dogs around it. This degrades the quality of your dog’s life as well (and probably yours, too).

Chihuahua in pair
Photo Courtesy – Elisha Jade Swanson

The reason small dogs are prone to kind of behavior is that people tend to be overly careful with them, carrying them around instead of letting them walk, letting them get away with things because it’s “cute,” and thinking that the aggression isn’t that big a deal. A Chihuahua cannot do nearly as much damage as a medium-sized dog, so people tend to be more dismissive of bad behavior. It is worse if you encourage it by laughing or finding it amusing.

Your Chihuahua’s personality is going to be stunted if you don’t act in a way that is firm and consistent. They are not babies and they can understand far more than toddlers and small children by the time they are adults. That means they are using your lack of serious training to get away with doing what they want to do. It is incredibly difficult to retrain a Chihuahua once it develops these bad behaviors.

You should always consistently apply the rules, no matter the size of your puppy and dog. As an intelligent canine, the Chihuahua learns that bad behavior will be all right from those early days if you don’t apply the rules consistently. If you are protective of your puppy, that smart little dog is going to learn to fear those things. Instead of keeping your puppy isolated, let the little guy explore as much as you would a larger breed of dog. Obviously, if you are walking around your neighborhood and encounter an aggressive dog, keep your puppy away so that he doesn’t correlate dogs that he meets outside his home as being a threat. Also, keep in mind that you need to walk a distance that your puppy can handle so that you aren’t tempted to pick your puppy up off the ground. You can let your puppy greet friendly dogs, which you can determine by asking the people walking the strange dog. If they say it is all right, your wee friend will get a chance to sniff noses and see that other dogs are great to meet. Be prepared for your puppy to be a bit less than pleased with large dogs. If you dedicate a lot of time to socialization, it is likely that you will have a Chihuahua that views both little and big dogs about the same instead of discriminating against larger breeds.

Why Genetics Matter

Genetics are important in terms of not only the dog’s health but their personality. Given the wide range of potential personalities, you want to get a dog that has parents with a similar temperament to what you want in your dog. Early socialization can help bring out a love for new people, dogs, and experiences. You will want to learn whether or not your puppy’s parents are skittish or standoffish so you will know what to expect and can watch for those traits and correct them as early as possible.

Knowing the parents’ personalities will help you plan for training too. If one parent tends to be shy or active, you can plan to play to the strengths and weaknesses noted by the breeder.

Common Problems

This is a breed that is notorious for being either very outspoken or terrified. These are definitely the extremes, but it is possible that without socialization, you could have these problems with your dog.

One of the biggest problems reported with Chihuahuas is aggressiveness toward other dogs, particularly large ones. They may also be aggressive toward people, which can be a serious problem if they start nipping and biting. Most of these symptoms are of small dog syndrome, but Chihuahuas naturally do not like larger dogs. Since there aren’t any dogs smaller than this breed, you can expect that without proper socialization your Chihuahua will develop an aggressive posture to most dogs he meets.

On a much smaller scale, Chihuahuas are notorious barkers. Even if they aren’t aggressive or unfriendly, you may find that your Chihuahua just doesn’t know when to shut up. The smallest noise can set your dog off, but a knock at the door will send him into fits. Training your Chihuahua to be less obnoxious will help make your 15 to 20 years together a lot more enjoyable.

Properly Greeting New People

There are typically two reactions by people encountering Chihuahuas – either they will be excited and want to play or they will be annoyed and pass by without looking at your dog. If your dog is very vocal, you will get a lot more of the latter reaction.

It is the stranger who comes up wanting to play with your puppy that is going to be the bigger problem. It is possible that some people will not understand proper etiquette and will try to pick up your Chihuahua. People who act without getting approval first should be avoided if they don’t listen when you explain that your puppy should not be held.

The same rules apply out of the house as inside – let your puppy initiate the interaction. Strangers can get low and hold out a hand, but the little dog should approach them, not the other way around. You want the experience to be fun and exciting for your young four-legged friend. This means things should be on the puppy’s terms so that he doesn’t feel like he is being overwhelmed or that what he wants doesn’t matter. By initiating contact, the puppy will develop a sense of comfort when he is outside of the home.

Behavior Around Other Dogs

There are plenty of Chihuahuas that live in homes with other dogs, both large and small. With proper socialization, your Chihuahua can learn that large dogs are fun to have around, and it is even easier if you have big friendly dogs at home.

Chihuahua runningIf you don’t have other dogs, you will find it more challenging. In the beginning, your chihuahua should not be exposed to other dogs until it has completed its shots. This means actively avoiding dogs outside your home. You will want to do this in a way that does not give your puppy the impression that it is because the other dog is dangerous. As soon are your puppy has received all of the shots, ask friends to have play dates with their dogs (if their dogs are friendly). There may be a delay in socialization with other dogs, so that makes it all the more important to get started as soon as possible. You want your Chihuahua to be comfortable leaving the home, and that will be nearly impossible if the little guy doesn’t have positive experiences with other dogs.

Some breeders also recommend that you have at least two Chihuahuas at a time. Chihuahuas don’t have the same aversion to their own breed as some other breeds, and having a second Chihuahua means that you won’t feel guilty about leaving your dog at home alone. This can reduce his anxiety and give him someone to play with when there aren’t any people around.

To read more from "The Complete Guide to Chihuahuas" by David Anderson, or purchase on Amazon, visit the link below:

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