Chihuahuas come in a tiny package, but have big personalities they’re not afraid to flaunt. While they are a charming breed, Chis (as owners affectionately call them) have a tendency to be a bit sassy. The Chihuahua Club of America actually refers to the breed’s expression as “saucy.”
But for all their sass, Chihuahuas are devoted companions. “Chihuahuas are very loyal, loving pets,” says Linda George, chair of the Judges Education Committee for the Chihuahua Club of America. “Chihuahuas that I have bred and raised usually remember me years after they have gone to another home.”
Chihuahuas vary in appearance, as some have a shorter, smooth coat, while others have a longer coat. They also tend to live longer than many breeds. Owners can expect to care for their Chi for up to 18 years.
They are busy dogs and like to be close to their owner, often underfoot. Chihuahuas are also good watchdogs thanks to their stranger danger tendencies. More than just a “purse dog,” Chihuahuas are a very alert breed that loves to be on the go with owners. Get ready for people to “ohhhh” and “awww” over your pooch. Rest assured your Chi will love it.
Chihuahuas are also fast learners. They can compete in agility and obedience trials with just as much enthusiasm and success as larger dogs, and remain curious and bold throughout their life.
Variety is the name of the game when it comes to how Chihuahuas look. There are two main types of coats: smooth and long. Smooth coats are shiny and fit close to the body with a ruff of thick, longer hair at the neck. Long coats have softer fur that is flat or slightly curly, with a fringe of hair at the ears and a plumed tail. Long-haired Chihuahuas also have a ruff on the neck, longer hair on their feet, longer hair on their legs (referred to as pants), and longer hair (called a frill) on their stomach.
Their coloring and markings can be very different as well. Chihuahuas can be solid-colored black, white, fawn, chocolate, gray, or silver, with a range of shades for all colors. They can also be tricolor (in chocolate, black, or blue with tan and white, for instance), brindle, spotted, and merle.
Chihuahuas can either have apple (rounder) or deer shaped (narrower with longer snout) heads. And despite their small stature—they weigh anywhere from 3 to 6 pounds—Chihuahuas have big brains, making them quick-witted and easy to train. Because of their small bladder and strong-willed personality, however, they are not particularly easy to house train.
Lapdogs through and through, Chihuahuas can’t get enough time with their people. If they aren’t snuggled up with you, they may be cuddled up under a blanket or curled up in a corner. Or they have managed to find a spot of sun to bask in.
Owners say Chihuahuas are great conversationalists, sure to tell you if something is exciting or amiss around the house. They are excellent watchdogs—thanks to their bold personalities and terrier-like attitudes—as they are suspicious of strangers. Typically, Chihuahuas bond to an individual person. They can warm up to others once properly introduced, but they do so on their own timeline.
They also seem to be in touch with their good looks and aware of the attention it gains them. So from the get-go make sure you let your Chi know you are in charge. Never let your Chihuahua puppy do something that will be considered unacceptable as they reach adulthood. Their big personalities lead them to dominate your life if you let them. So be firm in your expectations and use lots of positive reinforcement. They can be destructive if they are bored and become picky eaters if you allow them to be. Establish house rules and stick to them.
Thanks to their petite size, Chihuahuas are ideal pets for apartment dwellers, students (Elle Woods was on to something!), or those in a smaller home. Of course, having to take a dog outside when it is cold and wet—no matter where you live—is never any fun. Chihuahuas could not agree more. “If you don't like taking the dog out on cold winter days, Chihuahuas are ideal since they can be taught to use a litter box or wee wee pad,” George says. When you do take them out to do their business or to get some exercise, don’t leave them alone in the yard as they could be attacked by a bird of prey or larger dog.
Chihuahuas will definitely rule the roost, so to speak. Keep in mind Chihuahuas can be unfriendly toward other dogs if they haven’t been socialized from a young age. If they get into a scuffle with another dog, even a much larger one, they won’t back down. But if they are socialized, they will do well with other dogs in the home (especially other Chihuahuas), and even with cats. Of course, they will insist on being the boss.
As charming as Chihuahuas are with their owners, they can make strange with humans they don’t know. And they are not an ideal dog for families with young children as they are too fragile for toddler playtime. A Chihuahua may leap from a child's hands and injure himself if he's not being held correctly, and he won't hesitate to defend himself if he's being mistreated. Chihuahuas do best in families with quiet, older children who understand how to interact with them.
“Chis are easy to care for,” George says. “Even the long coats require little grooming.” For smooth-coat Chihuahuas that means occasional brushing and regular baths. Long-haired Chihuahuas should be brushed once a week to avoid tangles or matted fur. They will shed minimally once or twice a year. George also recommends brushing teeth at least every other day, as poor dental care can lead to other health problems. Nails, which grow quickly, should be trimmed regularly for all Chihuahuas. And if your pup develops tear stains beneath their eyes, you can carefully wipe the eyes to remove discharge.
Their tiny size just doesn’t do much to keep them warm, so naturally, Chihuahuas do not tolerate the cold well. You may also see them shiver when they are overly excited or stressed. Born fashionistas, your Chihuahua won’t mind being dressed up in a sweater or coat.
When it comes to dinner time, make sure you provide high-quality food in the right amount for your Chihuahua’s age, as they are prone to becoming overweight. Check with your vet for guidance.
Exercise will help as well. Even older Chihuahuas may surprise you with their energy level. Up for playing as long as you want, Chihuahuas enjoy walks, supervised romps around the yard, and retrieving toys. But they'll go until they drop, so don’t let them tire themselves out, especially on hot days. Chihuahuas need 20 to 30 minutes of exercise daily and can go for much longer than you might expect, but this need can even be met just by following you around the house all day, which happens to be a favorite pastime.
These tiny pups are generally a pretty healthy breed. Most Chihuahuas live to be at least 10 years old if not older but may develop heart issues in later years.
Another common occurrence with Chihuahuas is the presence of molera, a small, pencil-eraser-tip-size hole in the top of the skull. “Historically this was a sign of breed purity,” George says, noting the presence of molera, which is much like a soft spot on a newborn baby’s head, is not an indicator of health problems later in life. Whether a Chi keeps its soft spot depends on size, genetics, and skeletal structure. Show dogs aren’t penalized for having them.
While the Chihuahua’s origin isn’t crystal clear, two main theories exist. One says Chihuahuas descended from a Central or South American dog known as the techichi (sometimes spelled techihi), a larger version of the Chi dating back to the 9th century and the Toltec civilization. The Toltecs were conquered by the Aztecs, who then made techichi prominent in their society, as they believed the dogs had mystic powers—including the ability to see the future, heal the sick, and safely guide the souls of the dead to the underworld. Techichi lived in temples, were part of many rituals, and were buried with the dead. But when the Spanish conquered the Aztecs in the late 1500s, the techichi faded into obscurity. The dogs lived in remote villages, and when they were discovered by Americans visiting Mexico in the mid-1800s they were found mostly in the State of Chihuahua, thus gaining the name we know the tiny dogs by today.
The second theory is that small hairless dogs from China were brought to Mexico by Spanish traders and then bred with small native dogs. Some say that perhaps Christopher Columbus played a role. These are the origins of short-haired Chihuahuas. The longhaired variety was probably created through crosses with papillons or Pomeranians. Either way, we do know likenesses of Chihuahuas are painted on artifacts from ancient times.
The first American Kennel Club-registered Chihuahua, Beppie, was recorded in 1908. Chis gained popularity as pets during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s—with help from famed musician and bandleader Xavier Cugat, who famously waved his baton with one hand while he held a Chihuahua with the other.