Posted 3 months ago
I never thought I’d end up with a Chihuahua, but until I met Carlos at The Dogs Trust, I had never really encountered one.
The last of several Chihuahuas to have been handed in by a breeder, Carlos was average sized as Chihuahuas go, with thick, short, cream-coloured hair, enormous, shining eyes, and equally large bat ears.
I found him odd and charming in equal measure. He wasn’t yappy at all, just a bit trembly, and his personality seemed much bigger than his diminutive size.
In short, I fell for him, but just as importantly, so did my children.
My husband won’t admit it but even he quite likes him now.
Once we brought him home, we started to experience what I’ve come to see as the Chihuahua effect: people asked to bring their children round to visit him, and in the park strangers stopped to say hello, or occasionally laughed (especially when my tall, broad husband took his turn with the lead). My children’s friends always ended up cuddling him and he was only too pleased to oblige. Carlos, it seems, has star quality.
Why do people respond to warmly to Chihuahuas? Kirsten Dillon, animal behaviourist at raw pet food brand Natural Instinct, thinks part of the secret is those huge, luminous eyes.
“The practicality of these is derived from being originally a desert dweller and needing excellent night vision, but latterly, the large eyes appeal to our nurturing, parental instincts as they are similar to a human baby staring at us in order to trigger our care-giving emotions,” she says. “Also, those huge proud-standing ears once served a very practical purpose but now just serve to make them look even cuter.
“Chihuahuas are also very good at soliciting care-giving in many other ways. Barking of course will get our attention and they have no problems letting us know when they need us, but licking is another behaviour, derived from asking for maternal care from their mother.”
She adds that Chihuahuas were bred as companion dogs and therefore are very human-focused, becoming particularly attached to their owners.
Caroline Spencer, natural canine behaviourist at pet wellness brand Bella & Duke, agrees that Chihuahuas have a special something.
“Chihuahuas may be small, but they have huge personalities and love to play,” she says. “Their size makes them incredibly cute and removes the element of intimidation some people may experience with larger breeds. They are also eager to please their guardian, are highly intelligent dogs and readily learn to respond to you given the right training and guidance.”
It’s true that Carlos is a smart dog, and playful too – he has the typical Chihuahua traits of spinning on the spot when he’s excited, being coy when you try to pet him and then begging for attention when you ignore him. Coquettish, funny and yes, a bit of a diva, he’s a source of great amusement, but it’s important not to let him get away with things because of his cuteness.
“Chihuahuas love attention and are known for being bossy and trying to rule the roost, so make sure you show them who the ultimate decision maker and guide,” says Caroline.
Kirsten agrees that it’s easy for the bossy behaviour to get out of control. “Sadly, because they are easy to physically control, we think it’s amusing when a Chi behaves aggressively,” she says. “There are numerous ‘funny’ videos of this misunderstood breed all over the internet. This perpetuates the myth that Chihuahuas are aggressive, when they are no more aggressive than other breeds when handled correctly.
“We simply don’t understand that they should be treated exactly the same as you treat any other dog. Feed them high quality, balanced dog food, not scraps of steak or expensive chicken breast only. Provide them with species appropriate outlets such as foraging, chewing and exploring. Walk them often, in interesting places and let them meet and communicate with larger dogs on the floor, from a young age. Just imagine your Chihuahua is a St. Bernard before you sweep him up into your arms and consider what you could be doing instead.”
I’m pleased to say that Carlos mostly exhibits the good sides of the Chihuahua nature. Now aged 11, he’s in great health, too; another plus point about Chihuahuas is they can live up to about 18. I’ve never regretted choosing to give him a home. If you’re tempted to get one, however, it is important to consider whether this breed would be a good fit for you and your family.
“If you are a hiker, marathon runner or competitive cyclist I’m sure you’ll find much a better suited breed than the Chihuahua,” says Kirsten. “If, however, you want a fun companion, that is cheap to feed, generally very healthy and has longevity in its genetics, then the Chi is for you.
Choose your breeder carefully and research the health checks specific to Chihuahuas ensuring they have been carried out. Don’t leave him for long periods of time, socialise him well from an early age and treat him with the respect he deserves, and you couldn’t ask for a better dog.”