Chihuahuas are the new pit bulls. That doesn't make any sense, does it? Here's the truth.
I am a dog owner, professional trainer and rescuer of pit bull type dogs. I've witnessed and dealt firsthand with the devastating effects of breed discrimination on both dogs and their owners. My family owned German Shepherds and Doberman Pinschers in the 1960s and 1970s back when those breeds suffered from discrimination due to myths and false phrases surrounding them.
In the 2000s, after owning and rescuing pit bull type dogs, I saw a very similar discrimination only with different phrases connected to the newly profiled breed of dog, "oh, it's a pit bull, they're always..." These profiling type phrases tend to place a stigma to a breed that is almost always harmful.
Now a new breed of dog is facing similar challenges in our community: the Chihuahua and their mixes. They may not be not connected to myths that make them sound like they are so dangerous, but phrases like, "Yappy little ankle biter," "Small dogs are always more aggressive than big dogs" or "It's always the small dogs that bite," are contributing to the misconceptions and negative assumptions about Chihuahuas. This in turn can create a general negativity around dogs that have the "Chihuahua" look, causing people to potentially pass them up in shelters.
After seeing other breeds hurt by discrimination over many years, I don't want to see this happen again. As I look through our south bay shelters, I see many Chihuahuas and their mixes, and in some areas they have increased in numbers beyond pit-bull-type dogs.
It is unacceptable to see another breed harmed by lack of or false information. I feel that to be an advocate for one breed, we must advocate for all breeds who suffer from discrimination. If pit bulls are "just dogs," so are Chihuahuas and their mixes.
To help dispel some of these myths, here are some true facts about Chihuahuas and their mixes:
Chihuahuas bark like any other dog. Barking is part of being a dog. Chihuahuas are dogs. Many different types of dogs will bark. The amount and type of barking has much to do with the individual dog, his environment, management and training, especially early on in life. Some owners feel that while they would fully train a larger dog to not bark or act out on leash, they may not do this with a smaller dog, which may potentially contribute to excessive barking behavior. While excessive barking can occur with any dog, curbing this behavior through management and training is key, with any dog, including Chihuahuas.
Chihuahuas are not predisposed to be aggressive toward people. Human aggression is not a breed trait attributed to Chihuahuas based on the description by the American Kennel Club. While human aggression does occur in all kinds of dogs, it should never be considered to be expected in this breed. The practice of carrying small dogs often may contribute to a dog becoming anti-social. When dogs don't get the chance to interact with people and other dogs on their own, it can cause trouble later in life. All cases of human aggression should be evaluated on an individual case by case basis and not judged by breed.
Chihuahuas are not inherently shivery, shaky or scared. The American Kennel Club states that Chihuahuas are: "Alert, projecting the 'terrier-like' attitudes of self importance, confidence and self-reliance." Shivering can be a sign of a possible medical condition and should be checked by a vet. I see many confident Chihuahuas and their mixes in shelters. I also see fearful dogs, too, of all breeds. Fearful behavior in dogs can be caused by many things. It's often due to lack of socialization.
Chihuahuas are just as likely to be good with children as any other kind of dog. Well socialized dogs of all kinds do well around children generally. Supervision between dogs and children is always a must in any setting. Sometimes children may not know how to interact with dogs. It's also key to teach children how to treat animals appropriately.
Chihuahuas get along with other dogs. A well socialized dog will generally get along with other dogs. This can vary too. Some may be picky about dog friends, while others want to be the only dog, regardless of breed or history. But, generally a dog well socialized with other dogs will do fine.
Chihuahuas are individuals. Just because some individuals behave a certain way does not mean we should stereotype an entire breed. Not all dogs within a breed behave exactly the same. I'm not saying that breeds don't have traits, they do. But, this can vary within breeds and stereotyping dogs has proven to actually be deadly and dangerous to breeds of dogs.
Judging dogs by how they look can be deceiving. Many mixes are in shelters these days and it can be difficult, even for the experts, to identify which breeds are in a particular dog's makeup. We owe it to all dogs to treat them as individuals, and to assess each dog based on his or her own behavior, environment and other factors. Dog's personalities can vary as much, if not more, within a breed as they can outside of a breed.
Great strides have been made in changing the reputation of pit bulls through the efforts of loving owners, rescuers and adopters who proved the prevailing "wisdom" about this maligned breed to be wrong. Now, another breed needs those same myth-busting efforts. That's why we tell the truth about chihuahuas, and save lives.
Marthina McClay, CPDT-KA
Marthina McClay is a professional dog trainer, behavior specialist for all breeds of dogs and the director of Our Pack, Inc. a non-profit education and rescue organization for pit bulls and Chihuahuas. Some of their work includes the Michael Vick case and other high profile dog fighting cases.