Small dog syndrome is alive and well in smaller breeds such as Chihuahuas, but what’s really behind this behavior? Why are Chihuahuas aggressive? The truth is, we’re more than likely making the problem far worse than we might realize.
Chihuahuas display aggressive behavior due to their small size, feeling the need to protect their food and possessions from larger, more threatening dogs, and even their owners. We contribute to this more than we realise by tolerating aggressive behavior due to their small size.
Small Dog Syndrome, Myth or Reality?
Short man syndrome, or Napoleon Complex has largely been debunked when it comes to people, but in the animal world it’s a larger problem than many may realize. And, as a result smaller dogs often display higher levels of aggression toward other animals and people than their larger counterparts.
As an example. While my larger dogs tend to tolerate my neighbours, our Chihuahuas up until recently wouldn’t give them an inch, barking aggressively at even the slightest noise coming from over the fence, indignent that they might dare trim their hedges or splash around in their swimming pool.
So why is this case?
It’s generally accepted that smaller dogs are more fearful, hence they feel the need to display greater levels of aggression as a way of warding off potential threats. And let’s face it, when you are the smallest dog breed in the world, everything can feel threatening.
The problem is however, if this behavior is not addressed they are likely to become even more confident in their aggression, potentially leading to biting, a far more serious problem especially if you have small children in the home.
Small dog syndrome doesn’t just lead to aggressive behavior though, it can also be observed in the following:
- Begging for food, including jumping up when you may be preparing a meal
- Stealing food from other pets
- Unwillingness to move off furniture or beds, even when gestured to move
- Marking territory within the home
- Ignoring commands, even when heard and understood by the dog
Hw Much Are We To Blame?
So is small dog syndrome due to nature or nurture?
It’s often been said that dogs understand us better than we understand them. And, when it comes to aggressive tendencies in Chihuahuas we must accept some responsibility for the problem.
While there’s an obvious genetic element at play concerning size and a need to puff one’s chest out so to speak, owners of small dogs certainly play a large role in amplifying this kind of behavior.
This is understandable. It’s only natural that we treat smaller dogs differently.
They are more fragile, easier to pick up and handle, and generally seen as less of a threat when acting aggressively. As a result they are taken far less seriously when growling or showing general aggressiveness. We tend to think of their aggressiveness as cute, due to the small package it comes in, rather then seeing it for what it is.
Chihuahuas are also headstrong, as any Chihuahua owner is no doubt aware.
So, when a smaller breed such as a Chihuahua gets their hackles up and growls at their owner or displays aggression toward another family pet, often our first instinct is to try to calm them rather than disciplining this type of behavior. Many Chihuahua owners may unknowingly be amplifying the problem by picking up their dog and offering it affection when it acts aggressively. This creates a feedback loop that essentially rewards aggressive behavior.
To put it simply, we don’t treat aggression in smaller dogs with any degree of seriousness.
There’s also a reluctance to upset our cute little friends, so naturally they tend to walk all over us, and dogs are smart, if they think they have the wood on their owners they will continue to take advantage of the situation.
I’ve witnessed this first-hand with our eldest male Chihuahua. At around the 6-month mark his demeanor began to change. There was a new-found confidence that was starting to manifest itself in snarling and growling when I tried to pick him up or move him when trying to make a bed or simply sit on the couch.
At first I found it amusing and made jokes about our ‘savage Chihuahua’ but over the following months this behavior only increased, and once capable he also began lifting his leg on carpets and furniture, even bedspreads in an attempt to mark his territory.
I’d let things get out of hand and now had to address the situation.
How to Address Aggression in Chihuahuas
Treat them like a larger dog (don’t coddle)
Dogs that are coddled, and in the case of Chihuahuas are carried around and handled excessively do not develop adequate social skills, preventing them from interacting well with other animals and people.
The first thing you need to do to minimize aggression in Chihuahuas is stop carrying them around excessively and start treating them like you would a larger dog. e.g. ask yourself, would you tolerate the same behavior in a larger dog? It’s more than likely you wouldn’t.
For example, when I used to feel tiny paws scratching at my leg when preparing food at the bench I wouldn’t give it a lot of thought. I’d sometimes even lean down and give him a little pat on the head.
However, if my 45kg American Bulldog tried the same thing he’d go close to knocking me over and would be put in his place in an instant, as I couldn’t afford to let him think that behavior is acceptable. (Thankfully, for the most part, he’s a well-behaved dog and never does this kind of thing).
On other occasions, when a visitor dropped by, I’d just laugh it off when either of my two would bark aggressively. But, there’s no way I’d let either of my larger more visually threatening dogs get away with the same behavior, it would concern me that they would be intimidating our guests.
If you are part of a family, you need all family members on board when it comes to disciplining aggressiveness in your Chihuahua.
It’s no good if you are trying to maintain discipline and another family member lets the dog get away with snarling and growling. That only makes you look like the mean spirited one and ultimately all they really learn is to be wary of you, rather than adjust their behavior.
Ensure everyone understands what’s expected and then ensure consistency when it comes to behavioral problems.
Give them exercise
While I’m not a hige fan of the idea that a tired dog is a good dog, there’s little doubt an under-stimulated dog is more likely to misbehave. This typically results in destructive and/or aggressive behavior.
It’s more a question of getting the balance right.
Exercise is something you should be undertaking with your dog regardless, as there are numerous benefits including increased flexibility, leading to less injuries as a result of vigorous play and weight management which can exacerbate conditions such as arthritis as your dog ages.
Chihuahuas generally need 30 minutes per day of exercise.
You might be surprised how capable they are of keeping up with you when taking them for a walk. But if they do get tired, picking up what equates to approx. 2 – 3kg and carrying them for the duration of your walk is hardly going to present much of a problem.
Is your Chihuahua stressed?
Anxiety and stress are often the cause of poor behavior in dogs. Chihuahuas being much smaller than other breeds have far more reason to feel anxious.
For example, do you have young children in the house? Is it possible they are loving the dog to death with excessive, and perhaps unwittingly rough handling? Is there excessive noise contributing to the problem, making the dog continually edgy.
Look for body language indicators, a tucked up tail or hunched back suggest your Chihuahua is feeling anxious.
Is your Chihuahua nursing an injury?
Dogs may also display aggressiveness if they are carrying an injury, and may display aggression if you come near, fearing you might try to handle them, causing pain.
This would normally be associated with short-term behavioral problems but nonetheless it’s important to identify potential injuries and have them seen by your vet if it becomes a more persistent issue.
Visual indicators are often the best way to spot injury in animals, so look for signs of injury in the way your dog walks, and sits or lies down.
Are you disciplining your Chihuahua Correctly?
Are you disciplining your dog correctly?
While discipline is an essential part of minimizing poor behavior and aggression in dogs, it’s also important not to take things too far.
I would recommend against physical discipline for example, and instead focus on rewarding good behavior where possible.
Should You Establish A Hierarchy?
It is said that dogs appreciate a pecking order, and may become confused and show signs of aggression if they don’t understand where they fit into the hierarchy at home. This is based on observations from wild dogs, including wolves.
But this has also been debunked to some extent.
While wolves do form packs and there is a pack leader, it’s far less organized than originally believed and in truth it’s often the kindest animal that assumes dominance.
The same has been observed in monkeys, where the more aggressive animal generally does not assume the leadership mantle and can be controlled by two slightly less aggressive animals.
It’s also true that we tend to associate domesticated dogs with wild dogs too often. The connection is far more tenuous that many perhaps believe, domestication does change the nature of animals considerably.
There’s little doubt Chihuahuas are more prone to aggressive behavior due to fear as a result of their small size, but as Chihuahua owners we tend to magnify these issues through poor discipline, excessive handling leading to the dogs not learning adequate social skills, and not taking aggression in our smaller dogs more seriously.
As a general rule, the most effective thing you can do is treat them more like their larger counterparts and ensure consistency by having your entire family do the same. Chihuahua’s, while not as keen to please as many breeds will get the message, and success tends to breed success e.g. rewarding good behavior is more beneficial than punishing bad behavior.