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Why Do Chihuahuas Have a Bad Reputation? Myths Revealed

Written by: Nicole Cosgrove

Last Updated on May 21, 2024 by Dogster Team

aggressive chihuahua

Why Do Chihuahuas Have a Bad Reputation? Myths Revealed

Easily recognized as the beloved “purse dogs” belonging to celebrities, Chihuahuas are popular, but they also have a bit of a bad reputation. Seen as aggressive or mean, Chihuahuas are often abandoned in shelters. However, their reputation is mostly a stereotype due to the lack of training from many dog owners.

To clear the air about Chihuahuas and the stereotypes surrounding them, as well as reveal their true personalities, we offer this guide to properly introduce you to the breed. These tips will also teach you how to prevent your Chihuahua from living up to their reputation.

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Are Chihuahuas Aggressive?

Despite popular belief, Chihuahuas aren’t aggressive. While they do have a bad reputation, they don’t go out of their way to attack people. Chihuahuas are a friendly, intelligent breed with a fierce sense of loyalty and a protective streak for their loved ones.

Their aggression, when they show it, is most commonly intended as a way to protect their pack mates from a perceived threat. Whether this “threat” is real or not depends on the Chihuahua. How well they were trained and socialized in different situations, along with their past experiences, will change how each individual will react to various events.

This isn’t to say that Chihuahuas won’t be aggressive when the need calls for it. If they feel threatened enough, they — like any other dog — will respond with a painful bite to ward off the danger.

Aggression in dogs is shown by:
  • A hard stare or side eye
  • Growling
  • Snapping
  • Biting
  • Stiff body movements

Overall, Chihuahuas are people pleasers and excellent companion dogs due to their friendly nature. It’s part of the reason that they became so popular as “purse dogs,” along with their size.

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Why Do Chihuahuas Have a Bad Reputation?

Unfortunately, despite their overall friendly dispositions, Chihuahuas are one of the many breeds that are stereotyped as dangerous. Many pedigree and mixed-breed Chihuahuas end up in shelters and rescues due to these stereotypes.

Here are a few reasons that the breed has so much negativity surrounding them.

1. Fear

Most canine aggression stems from fear. Dogs and other animals have a fight-or-flight instinct when it comes to threats. While they might be much more likely to run away, if they feel cornered for any reason, their backup plan will always be to fight as hard as they can.

As cute as they are, Chihuahuas will fight for their lives just as ferociously as a larger dog breed. Despite their size, Chihuahuas can do a great deal of damage if they do manage to sink their teeth into your hand.


2. Lack of Training

Unfortunately, many small-breed dogs are considered to be bad tempered because their owners fail to train them properly. Many people will forego training a small dog because it’s much easier to just scoop them up and control them that way.

Sometimes the snarling and snapping from a Chihuahua is just too adorable and has to be demonstrated to everyone. Compared to being snarled at by a German Shepherd, a Chihuahua or other small breed isn’t nearly as intimidating. Many people find the behavior cute until someone inevitably ends up bitten.

When it comes to dogs — including Chihuahuas — time spent encouraging the behavior reinforces it. Instead of teaching the Chihuahua to behave nicely, the owner is inadvertently teaching them that aggression is okay.

Chihuahuas also suffer from their popularity as “purse dogs.” Many people purchase or adopt a Chihuahua because of the image depicted in movies of a cute, tiny animal that is well-behaved and can be carried around everywhere. Without the owner spending the time to properly train their Chihuahua, though, the dog ends up being the complete opposite.

Many Chihuahuas inevitably end up abandoned in a shelter because they don’t meet expectations and require more work than people realize.

chihuahua on a leash
Image Credit: IIIBlackhartIII, Pixabay

3. Protectiveness

The best traits of the Chihuahua are their loyalty toward and protectiveness of their family members. They’re well-known for finding a favorite in the family and latching onto them, but they’ll adore everyone they consider their pack mates.

This protectiveness has a downside, though. If your Chihuahua isn’t taught how to properly channel their protective streak, it can lead to unwanted behavior. For example, if they don’t realize that your best friend isn’t a threat, your Chihuahua will snap and snarl to fend off the intruder.


4. Territorial Behavior

They might be small but Chihuahuas can be incredibly territorial. This behavior often goes hand in hand with protectiveness. If your Chihuahua deems something is theirs, they will protect it. This can be their favorite spot on the couch, their favorite family member, or their food bowl.

man holding back a snarling chihuahua dog
Image Credit: MART PRODUCTION, Pexels

5. Trauma

Due to their bad reputation and behavioral problems due to lack of training, many Chihuahuas end up in shelters and rescues. While they’re often left forgotten, many dog owners do adopt Chihuahuas instead of purchasing them from a breeder.

Adoption is usually the best way to go when it comes to introducing a pet to your home, but there is a downside. There’s no way of knowing what your newest pet has been through in the past. Your Chihuahua might have had bad experiences with certain situations or learned to be fearful of humans.

Their history can change the way that they interact with the world around them. If your Chihuahua was newly adopted and shows signs of stress in seemingly random situations, such as shaking, they might be reacting to an action that you’ve done or something in the room that they associate as scary or harmful for them. Their fear can make them react defensively in an attempt to protect themselves.

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How to Stop Your Chihuahua From Being Mean

Fortunately for dog lovers, Chihuahuas aren’t usually mean. Their personality is normally the opposite of aggressive. However, like all dogs, they can develop bad habits. These can be corrected, though, and your Chihuahua can be an excellent canine citizen despite their bad reputation.

1. Reinforcing Good Behavior

Many dog owners accidentally teach their Chihuahuas that aggression is okay. No matter how cute you find your Chihuahua’s snarling, you must show them that such behavior won’t be tolerated. A firm “no” and removing your Chihuahua from the situation will help you teach them that growling isn’t the answer.

Focus on praising good behavior. If your Chihuahua shows polite interest in your guests, praise them. Chihuahuas are highly intelligent and eager to please, both traits that make them easy to train. Over time and with consistency, your Chihuahua will learn what behavior is expected of them.

brown and white chihuahua dog in blue vest given treats
Image Credit: Tamara Bellis, Unsplash

2. Training

Chihuahuas need training just as much as any other dog breed. Without obedience training, they can develop habits like jumping up at guests or other misbehavior, like ignoring you when you call them. Their tiny size doesn’t make them untrainable or any more difficult to train than larger dogs, but they still require time and dedication to teach properly.

No matter what dog breed is your favorite, you should only introduce a dog to your home if you’re prepared for the responsibility. Part of your role as a dog owner is teaching your pet how they should behave and keeping them under control. A proper training schedule will ensure that your Chihuahua doesn’t live up to the breed’s reputation.


3. Socialization

Unfamiliarity with a situation — whether it’s a person, place, or another dog — can make any Chihuahua fearful. This is why socialization is such an important part of their training. The more people, places, and animals your Chihuahua is introduced to when they’re young, the better adjusted they’ll be.

Through these experiences, your Chihuahua will learn how they’re supposed to react when in different situations. This means they’ll be less likely to react defensively when they are around other dogs or strangers or in new places. The younger your dog is, the more effective socialization training will be.

chihuahua dogs socializing outdoors
Image Credit: Valeria Nikitina, Pexels

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Wrapping Up

Chihuahuas might have a bad reputation but they’re not an aggressive breed. Most of their mean behavior is a result of unfamiliarity with different situations and limited training. Too many Chihuahua owners also consider their aggressive snarling to be “cute” and reinforce the behavior by encouraging their dogs to growl and snap at their guests.

With proper obedience training and socialization, Chihuahuas can be perfect companions for any dog owner. They’re intelligent, loyal, and protective of their family while being eager to please their favorite people.


Featured Image Credit: Piotr Wawrzyniuk, Shutterstock

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