In a phenomenon sometimes known as "small dog syndrome," smaller breeds, such as Chihuahuas, are sometimes yappy, growling and even aggressive enough to snap and bite. It's true that Chihuahuas have a bold and stubborn personality. Despite their size, they won't willingly back down from a fight. But small breeds aren't doomed to be aggressive. Aggressive behavior may not be as much in your Chihuahua's nature as it is a result of the way you respond to him. Owners treat large dogs very differently, with different rules and expectations, than they do small dogs. Help your Chihuahua's aggression by treating it as you would a larger breed.
Give Your Chihuahua Rules
One of the causes of aggression in dogs is dominant behavior. If your Chihuahua is behaving aggressively, she may believe that she is in charge. Establish rules for your Chihuahua to assert your position as pack leader. (Remember that you don't need to be mean or harsh to be the alpha.) Think of rules that fit your needs. Don't allow your Chihuahua to sleep on your bed, for example. Require her to stay out of the kitchen while you cook. Make certain areas of your home off limits, or ask your Chihuahua to sit and wait while you prepare her food or open the back door.
Don't Reinforce Aggressive Behavior
You may do this inadvertently. If your Chihuahua snarls and snaps at strangers who enter your home, don't pick him up and pet him. Don't allow him to sit on your lap while he's growling at your visitors. He should have special privileges only if he is calm and friendly. When your Chihuahua is aggressive, remove him from the room. Put him in his crate until your visitors leave or until he has calmed down. Remove him from your lap and set him on the floor if he insists on growling. Ignore the behavior otherwise. Don't scold or punish your Chihuahua for behaving aggressively, or you will teach him that this is an appropriate response to the situation.
Reward Appropriate Behavior
Each time you have visitors or your Chihuahua is exposed to other situations that trigger her aggression, reward her if she stays calm and friendly instead. Try interrupting her aggression with the words "no" or "leave it." If she stops growling long enough to turn to you, reward her with a treat. Require her to stay calm for longer and longer periods of time before earning a reward. Allow her to be in the room or in your lap as long as she is calm. When you reward your Chihuahua for being friendly and un-aggressive, you reinforce the behavior you do want her to display.
Don't Forget Basic Obedience
Because of a Chihuahua's small size, you might think that obedience training isn't necessary. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Teaching your Chihuahua basic obedience commands will help you maintain your position as pack leader, and gives you a way to control your Chihuahua's behavior. Imagine this: your Chihuahua growls and snaps at a visitor. Because your Chihuahua is trained, you have the option of asking him to sit or lie down instead. These tasks can interrupt his aggression and help him calm down. You should teach your Chihuahua the sit, down, come and stay commands at the very minimum. Use positive reinforcement to train your Chihuahua, rewarding him for obeying each command correctly. Chihuahuas are intelligent and learn quickly. Don't punish your Chihuahua, or you can make his aggression worse.
Because Chihuahuas may become aggressive if they are nervous or feel threatened, you should take the time to socialize your dog. Take her to as many different places as possible so that she can meet people, animals and dogs. She should encounter as many sights, sounds and smells as possible. Always reward your Chihuahua for being brave, calm and friendly.
By KaLyn Villaneda
About the Author
KaLyn Villaneda began freelance writing in 2008. Her areas of expertise include pets, dog training, self-defense, martial arts, wedding planning, and politics. Villaneda has had political papers published in the Hinckley Journal of Politics and the DoDDS Europe Literary Magazine. She has a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of Utah.