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What is a Chihuahua
“To know me is to love me.” — Chihuahua’s motto, if they could talk.
This FAQ is written for both the experienced owners and casual readers in mind. Please note that The Chihuahua FAQ is a guide only, and should NOT replace veterinarian advice and/or more authoritative published works written on this breed.
Since I only have the experience of owning one Chihuahua, I would appreciate feedback from other Chihuahua owners.
GUSH MODE ON: If you already own a Chihuahua, then I’ll be preaching to the converted when I say that they are one of the most loyal, sweet-tempered, and gentle of the toy breeds. The Chihuahua, with its apple-dome skull and large luminous eyes, can wear a remarkably human expression at times; she or he will want to be with you most, if not all, of the time. A warning to casual dog owners: Don’t buy a Chihuahua if you don’t have the emotional real estate in your heart or the time for the complete love and attention of this furry little person. GUSH MODE OFF.
Carvings found in the Monastery of Huejotzingo, on the highway from Mexico City to Puebla, give strong evidence as to the Chihuahua’s origins. This monastery was constructed by Franciscan Monks around 1530. The Monks used stones from the Toltec civilization.
Little is known of the Toltecs, but we do know that they existed as early as the 9th century A.D. in what is now Mexico. The Toltecs had a breed of dog they called the “Techichi”. And the carvings on the stones at Huejotzingo give a full head view and a picture of an entire dog that closely resembles the modern-day Chihuahua.
From this evidence, we can safely assume that the Chihuahua is a descendant of the Techichi.
Additionally, there are remains at some pyramids and other pointers to the early existence of the Techichi at Chichen Itza in Yucatan.
The Techichi was a religious necessity among the ancient Toltec tribes and later among the Aztecs. Archaeologists have found the remains of this breed in human graves in Mexico and in parts of the United States.
For more information about the religious and mythical role of the Techichi in Toltec tribes, I recommend The American Kennnel Club’s Official Breed Book (see Books).
The first Chihuahua to be officially registered by the American Kennel Club was “Midget” in 1904.
Chihuahuas go under the classification of “toy breeds.” They are the smallest breed of dog in the world. They are, in fact, the only “natural” toy breed. That is, they are naturally small and aren’t a result of “breeding-down” larger breeds, as were other toy breeds.
Chihuahua can be smoothcoats or longcoats. Interestingly, there is no breeding distinction made between the two in the United States, since in the States, both smoothcoats and longcoats can occur in a litter; however, in the United Kingdom, smoothcoats and longcoats are considered two different breeds and are never interbred.
The breed standard, approved September 11, 1990 disqualifies any dog over 6 pounds from the conformation ring; however, they can weigh up to 9 pounds or more.
Conversely, Chis can also be much smaller than the breed standard. Take a look at the Teacup Chihuahua, for instance; even full-grown, these dogs weigh less than 4 pounds.
One of the Chihuahua’s most distinctive characteristics is its head, which is well-rounded and referred to by breeders as an “apple-dome” type skull. In contrast, its muzzle is extraordinarily tiny in contrast. Pink noses are sometimes found on blonde Chihuahuas.
Some Chis have a distinctly different head shape; these dogs are known as Deer Head Chihuahuas. In contrast of ‘Apple Head’ Chihuahuas, which are the breed standard, Deer Heads have more of a sloped forehead, longer necks, and longer muzzles as well.
Another distinctive physical feature of the Chihuahua is the ears: large, held erect, and flaring to the sides at an angle of about 45 degrees, the Chihuahua uses its ears to express a variety of emotions and responses.
The eyes, usually dark and luminous, are wide-set. Again, blondes may have lighter eyes. Tears are often produced in abundance to keep the large eyes lubricated, and it is not unusual for tears to fly from a Chihuahua’s face when it shakes its head during play.
The back should be level and the rib-cage rounded. Some Chihuahuas may actually have barrel-shaped rib-cages, but professional breeders find this undesireable. The hindquarters are muscular and thin.
The Chihuahua has stick-like legs and dainty feet. The tail is longish carried either in a sickle fashion or in a loop with the tip touching the back.
Finally, coat color: there are a variety of shades, including brindle, blonde, black, brown, fawn, blue, and “splashed.” It is interesting to note that Mexico prefers the jet black with tan markings, and the black and white spotted; the United States overwhelmingly prefers the solid colors, especially fawn.
“Chis aren’t dogs, I’m convinced — they are four-legged babies.” — from CHIHUA-L
I hear from experienced Chihuahua owners that each dog of this breed has their own unique personality; this is a very individualistic breed. However, a few generalizations can be made. Chihuahuas are graceful, energetic, and swift-moving canines.
They have often been described as having “terrier-like” qualities; that is, the qualities of being alert, observant, and keen on interacting with their masters. They are extremely loyal and get attached to one or two persons.
These tiny dogs are certainly unaware of their diminutive stature: they can be bold with other dogs much larger than themselves, and protective of their masters. They are fiercely loyal to their masters and wary of any strangers or new guests introduced into the household, which the Chihuahua considers to be its personal domain.
For these reasons, Chihuahuas make good watchdogs (not guard dogs, though!).
The Chihuahua needs a great deal of human contact: touching, petting, and general attention. If the Chihuahua does not get this, she or he will use various attention-getting tricks until you give her/his attention.
(My own uses her paws to lightly scratch my hand, a signal that says, “Pet me now!”) Some owners who have had other, more independent breeds may find the Chihuahua too needy.
However, Chis give a lot of love and affection in return for your care.
Keeping more than one Chihuahua can greatly ease the dog’s stress when left alone each day if the owner works. (They will compete for your attention when you get home, though!)
Because they are by nature gentle, loyal, and sweet-tempered, Chihuahuas are ideal for single people, the elderly, the handicapped, and shut-ins.
They will keep you company for hours by lying on your lap or beside your torso if in bed, and treat you like royalty. No one with a Chi in their household will ever be truly alone!
Care and Maintenance
Chihuahuas are a good breed for city-dwellers or those who just don’t have the time to walk their dogs that often. They are quite happy in apartments, as long as there is enough to play with and explore. (They love exploring like most dogs.)
Opinions from dog authorities differ on how often to bathe a Chihuahua. Some say that bathing too often removes the natural oils from the coat, and thus dandruff will result and the coat will look dull. Others say that shampooing on occasion with certain brands of shampoo can actually enhance the sheen of the coat.
It has been my experience that Chihuahuas should be bathed at least once a month, otherwise they develop an unpleasant smell. This is actually due to the skin cells that humans slough off onto the Chihuahua!
So humans are the main contributors to that smell that can develop.
When bathing, take care not to get water into their ears, as an infection can develop.
Since the Chihuahua is mainly a house pet, you will need to trim their nails at least once a month. On the smaller Chis, cat claw trimmers can be used. It’s good to start a nail-trimming routine early-on so that your dog becomes accustomed to your handling its paws (not to mention getting used to the big shiny clippers!).
You should consult your veterinarian about the nutritional needs of your Chihuahua. According to some of the dog care books I consulted: after weaning (up to six weeks), puppies should be fed four meals a day until three months old; from 3 months to 6 months they should be fed three meals a day, and from six months to a year they should be fed twice a day. After 1 year, once a day is fine.
However, it has been my experience that even into adulthood, Chihuahuas prefer several small meals as opposed to one big meal per day. I have found that regular adult dog food is just fine for this breed.
Dry food or a mixture of dry food with canned food is preferable since in some cases canned food is difficult for this breed to digest (resulting in diarrhea).
Like all dogs, Chihuahuas appreciate “treats.” Be careful, though, in your selection. The following treats, in small quantities, are useful as rewards when training or as general special snacks: cheese, Alpo snacks, raw-hides, Bonz, peanut butter.
However, do be careful not to over-indulge with snacks, as overweight is a health hazard for dogs in general.
Consult your veterinarian on the periodic cleaning of your Chihuahua’s ears and teeth, booster shots, and vaccinations.
There is an excellent web resource for general health care for dogs, called “Health Care Issues”. However, please note this document isn’t a substitute for regular veterinary check-ups and attention for health problems.
Special Medical Problems
Owners should be aware that Chihuahuas are prone to “weak knees.” This can occur as they get older. If it causes difficulty in walking, take your dog to the vet.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Aren’t Chihuahuas expensive?
If they have their American Kennel Club official certificate papers, yes — they can run up to $600.00. The papers (which the breeder provides) mean that the parents of your Chi are registered with the AKC and that the puppy is registerable.
Additionally, some breeders provide pedigree papers which trace the family history beyond the immediate parents. These papers are vital if you plan to enter your new dog into exhibitions and competitions.
These certificates and papers ensure that the dog is a purebred; however, I hasten to add that just because a dog has papers, doesn’t mean it qualifies for exhibitions and competitions. (See AKC Chihuahua Breed Standards.)
Additionally, papers do not necessarily insure that the breeding Chis were well cared for or that they are free from genetic defect.
Chihuahuas who do not have their papers are not significantly different than those with papers. Moreover, they can be bought for much less. (I bought mine for $200.00 without papers.)
Marli Medinnus, who has been breeding Chihuahuas for 16 years, emailed me:
Papers are not important, but meeting the breeder and seeing the conditions in which the dog was raised is. You should also expect to see the parents (or at least the mother) of the puppy you are thinking of buying so that you can verify that the parents are sound and of good temperament.
2. What is their life-span?
Toy breeds live the longest of any size dog. Expect a life-span of 11-18 years, although the latter is rare.
3. How much exercise do they require?
Not much. This little breed has short bursts of energy each day which quickly die down. You should provide toys for your Chi to keep it occupied. Old slippers are ideal, as well as stuffed toys with squeakers inside. You can certainly take your Chi on walks. You’ll make many an acquaintance due to the diminutive and unusual appearance of your Chihuahua!
When buying a leash for your Chihuahua, remember that its neck is rather small and delicate compared to other dog’s necks. You cannot (and, indeed, should not) yank your dog around by the leash if s/he has a neck collar on.
I recommend the body-harness for two reasons: safety and comfort. If fitted right, it will give your Chi a secure and comfortable walk, and harnesses also ensure your dog cannot escape — a real concern if you live in an urban area.
There are two kinds of body harnesses: one kind goes over the head of the dog and buckles under the torso in an H-design. This is good, but an even better harness is the Y-design, which doesn’t touch the throat at all.
4. Do they require special dog food?
No. They have the same nutritional needs as most dogs. I feed mine regular Alpo kibbles, and, although the kibbles are large, my Chihuahua seems to sort of enjoy cracking each one with her jaws.
Chihuahuas prefer several small meals per day, rather than one big meal. I leave a bowl of kibbles out for my Chi and she seems to eat about three small meals a day.
5. I’ve heard they’re nervous, high-strung dogs. Is that true?
Yes, they are high-strung dogs. I define “high-strung” as follows: barks easily, does not adapt easily to change in environment, is suspicious of strangers and will growl at them, and flips in circles and jumps around when excited (like when you come home after a five-minute absence, for instance).
However, with the person that they have bonded with (i.e., their master[s]), they do not display most of these characteristics; in fact, they display radically different personalities. Chihuahuas are truly the “Jekyll-and-Hyde” of dog breeds: your friends will see the worst side of them and never believe you when you tell them that your Chi is really a gentle, sweet-natured dog.
There is good news, though. If you socialize your Chi at an early age, they will be less stressed when new environments and people are introduced to them in adulthood. Proper socialization is critical, then, and at the earliest age possible.
6. Are they good with children?
Generally, no. Be careful when walking your Chihuahua to keep your Chi well away from toddlers and young children, who are often uninhibited and will approach your dog.
Again, this is general good advice; some Chihuahuas are friendly around children (usually as a result of de-sensitization). In this case and others, the master’s knowledge of his or her Chihuahua and good judgment should prevail.
7. I’m allergic to dogs, but I heard Chihuahuas won’t bother me; is that true?
Opinion seems to vary on this point. Some say it’s an old-wives’ tale, while others swear that, although they’re allergic to dogs, Chihuahuas did not bother them.
The best way for someone who has allergies to find out if they can own a Chihuahua is for them to simply spend some time around one. Some people are allergic to dog hair, while others are allergic to saliva.
Since Chihuahua’s are known to lick the face of their master a lot, you’d best be sure you’re not allergic to the latter before investing in this breed.
I had an email note from Ernest Lowell on this subject, who adds:
If a Chihuahua happens to “work” for some allergic individuals, great, but it’s more likely that an allergic person will need a breed with a wiry/curly coat plus no undercoat: poodles, bichons, and some terriers. Even those breeds don’t work for some allergic people, so it depends on the individual.
8. What are the differences between the smoothcoats and the longcoats?
The issue of whether or not there is a difference in personality seems to be a topic of debate within the Chihuahua community. Some claim that there is no difference in personality; others swear that longcoats have a tendency to be “soft-tempered” while smoothcoats are more prone to aggressive behaviour.
Let’s set aside the personality issue and focus on physical and maintenance differences.
Smoothcoats tend to have coats that are much coarser than longcoats — almost like bristles in some cases. Smoothcoats also shed more than longcoats.
However, longcoats can shed as well. Heavily coated longhairs require brushing about once a month, but this can be a pleasureable exercise for both Chi and master rather than a chore.
As far as bathing is concerned, as a general rule, the longcoats will need to be bathed more frequently, and it’ll be a longer process (both washing and drying). The bib — the furry part of the chest — can easily get dirty and matted. Longcoats can also occasionally get fecal matter stuck on their “pants.” You’ll have to either bathe your dog or cut the bit off with scissors when this happens.
Some Chihuahua owners swear by long-hairs and wouldn’t have anything else; it is as much a matter of personal taste as is coat color.
9. Is it safe to take your Chihuahua on a cold weather walk?
Owners must be very sensitive to the fact that short-haired Chihuahuas, and even long-haired ones, are vulnerable to the cold. In temperatures of 35-40 degrees Farenheit, I would recommend dressing your Chihuahua in a special dog sweater for brief walks.
Walking your Chihuahua in temperatures below 35 degrees Farenheit is strongly discouraged, especially when there is a wind-chill factor. In this, as in other aspects of dog maintenance, keep your dogs’ health top priority, not your own desire.
In some cold regions, an indoor heater will be necessary to keep your Chi comfortable.
10. Are they sociable with other dogs?
Generally speaking, no. However, there are many exceptions and many people have written me telling me of just how sociable their Chihuahua is with other breeds. So I’m inclined to say that Chihuahuas can be very curious and friendly towards other dogs.
Chis are very sociable with their own kind. So several Chihuahuas can be quite happy living in the same household. That includes two or more males sharing the same house.
11. Aren’t Chihuahuas kind of dim?
It is understandable how this breed has developed this reputation. In public, some bark at the slightest provocation, and will not stop sometimes even when the “threat” is gone.
Chihuahuas are actually a very intelligent and alert breed.
12. Can Chihuahuas be trained?
As you might suspect from the answer to number nine above, yes, they can be trained. The purpose of this FAQ is not to outline or advocate any training method, especially since there are other resources on the internet that deal with this topic extensively.
One such document, “Training Your Dog,” can be found on the World Wide Web at https://k9web.com/dog-faqs/training.html.
13. Is my Chihuahua a dog or a mole?
It is a characteristic of the Chihuahua to prefer to sleep under a cloth or blanket. They will even get under pillows in order to feel snug.
If you are raising a pup, be sure to provide them with a soft towel or blanket in their sleeping area so they can burrow underneath it.
So don’t be surprised if your Chihuahua scrambles under your blankets at night, even though your house or apartment may not be particularly cold. This is known as the “moley-effect.” (1).
14. Does my Chihuahua expect a suntan?
Chihuahuas are quite the sun-worshipers. They prefer to bask in the sun for hours and have been known to lie in a spot of sun no larger than the size of a half-dollar (2).
Unfortunately, they are not sensible in this regard and will stay in the sun even when panting begins. Watch your Chihuahua in hot weather to be sure that they don’t suffer from heat stroke.
15. My Chihuahua’s shivering. Is this because s/he’s cold?
Chihuahuas do shiver when they’re cold, but they also shiver when they are wary, excited, unhappy, or frightened. This is a result of having a high metabolism, and is a normal characteristic of this breed.
16. Is there a Chihuahua mailing list?
Yes. CHIHUA-L is for discussion of all aspects of owning and caring for Chihuahuas. If you are thinking of buying one, this is a friendly, well-informed group that can field your questions.
17. Is there a Chihuahua Home Page? Other online information?
Yes. It’s maintained by Josh Peck (email@example.com). The URL is:
Be forewarned: most of it is fiction, but it’s all in the name of good fun.
Also, consider the following:
The Chihuahua Web Ring
18. Is there a Chihuahua Rescue center?
Yes. The name and address of The National Chihuahua Breed Rescue Chairperson is:
1004 Willow Street
San Jose, CA 95125
The phone number is: 408-251-6470.
To find out how to retrieve a document that lists Chihuahua rescue organizations, see Internet Resources (below). Readers are also directed to the newsgroup rec.pets.dogs.rescue for information.
19. Are there many Chihuahua crossbreeds out there?
Because of their small size and friendly nature, Chihuahuas are often used in creating designer dogs. Here are some popular Chihuahua mixes you can get today:
- Chiweenie: Chihuahua and Dachshund Mix
- Chipit: Chihuahua and Pitbull Mix
- Chorkie: Chihuahua and Yorkshire Terrier Mix
- Shichi: Shih Tzu Chihuahua Mix
- Pomchi: Pomeranian Chihuahua Mix
For more Chihuahua Terrier mixes, we have an article for that, too.