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Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography
This sassy little dog has a super-size personality. He knows what he wants and goes after it with single-minded determination. For his size, he’s an excellent watchdog, but he can be yappy if he’s not taught to moderate his barking.
The Chihuahua is the most famous of the “purse puppies,” toy dogs toted around in chic upscale doggie bags by high-profile celebrities and socialites. The most famous celebrity Chihuahua is Tinker Bell, who spends her days nestled in socialite Paris Hilton’s handbag.
The Chihuahua burst onto the national stage as a “must have” dog for two reasons: The “Yo Quiero Taco Bell?” ad campaign and, more recently, the tendency of rich, attractive and famous young women to haul these small dogs with big attitudes around in stylish and expensive oversized purses. The appeal? The tiny (as small as two pounds) Chihuahua offers feistiness coupled with enduring loyalty to the person he chooses as his own, along with an expressive face, including large, round eyes that show everything the dog is thinking.
Despite the many endearing qualities of the Chihuahua, if you’re thinking his tiny size makes him a great choice for children, you’d better think again. The Chihuahua may be just right for traveling around in a puppy purse, but he’s far too small and fragile for even the gentlest of children's games. Chihuahuas also tend to be high-strung and prone to nipping, snapping and even biting when frightened or threatened, or when defending his people or territory.
Some of these tendencies can be helped through early training and socialization. Unfortunately, too many people with Chihuahuas allow them to become little tyrants, displaying manners that would not be acceptable in a larger dog. This dog needs gentle and consistent training from puppyhood on to control his nipping as well as any tendency he has to fight with other dogs. Like many small dogs, Chihuahuas aren't aware of their own size and won't hesitate to challenge a dog many times larger than themselves. Also, like many small dogs, Chihuahuas are difficult to house-train without a lot of consistency and patience.
The Chihuahua is also very yappy and will be noisily vigilant about any intrusion into his territory, real or imagined. He's not particularly fond of strangers of any species, reserving his affection for his chosen person and, sometimes, the rest of the family.
Chihuahuas come in two coat types, short and long. The short coat sheds more than the long, but the long does require daily brushing to keep it from tangling and to remove dead hairs. But since there’s not much dog, there’s not much coat, even in the long-haired version.
The Chihuahua is a native of Mexico, and his ancestors were surrounded by many myths. They were believed to be spirit guides that protected souls as they traveled through the underworld. While the stories about the dog’s origins are interesting, there’s no real evidence about how long they’ve existed or that they were known to the Aztecs or other peoples who inhabited Mexico before the Spaniards came.
Some dog experts say they were among the first native dogs of the Americas, others that they were brought to the New World after the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Still others believe the little dogs may have originated as miniaturized versions of pariah dogs, the nondescript brown dogs with prick ears that result when dogs are left to breed on their own with no selection for color or other specific characteristics. Whatever the case, the breed takes its name from the state of Chihuahua, where late-19th-century American tourists first encountered the tiny canines.
The Chihuahua we know today was developed by North American breeders. The first Chihuahua registered by the American Kennel Club, in 1904, was named Midget. The Chihuahua Club of America was formed in 1923. Today, the Chihuahua ranks 13th among the breeds registered by the AKC.
Chihuahuas are saucy and alert, with a mind of their own. They might not be able to talk, but that doesn’t prevent them from letting you know exactly what they want: usually plenty of quality time with their favorite person. Chihuahuas are often devoted to a particular person in the family and can even become obsessive about their desire to be with them and protect them. There’s a name for those dogs: “armpit piranhas.” If they’re being held and someone approaches the person holding them, the Chihuahua will make every effort to protect his person, whether it’s necessary or not.
Despite his tiny size, the Chihuahua is fearless, never timid or frightened. If you see him shivering, it’s usually because he’s cold. That’s why you see so many Chihuahuas wearing sweaters.
Chihuahuas have a reputation for being spoiled and untrainable, but that’s often because people don’t make an effort to train them. Chihuahuas are just like any other dog: they need consistent rules and structure if they are to learn effectively. They are highly intelligent.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines. Here’s a brief rundown on what you should know about the Chihuahua’s health.
Tiny dogs often come with big health problems, and the Chihuahua is no exception. Many Chihuahuas live long, healthy lives, but conditions seen in the breed include breathing difficulties caused by a windpipe that collapses in on itself; luxating patellas; eye disorders; congestive heart disease; certain neurological conditions including hydrocephalus (fluid buildup in and around the brain), neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis, a condition in which fatty pigments in the brain cause the progressive loss of brain function, and atlantoaxial subluxation, a neck deformity that may require surgical correction; obesity; and dental problems caused by the small size of their mouths.
Luxating patellas are an orthopedic problem. The patella, or kneecap, of most very small dogs, including the Chihuahua, can very easily become displaced, causing pain and lameness. In mild cases the knee quickly slips back into place on its own, but severe cases must be corrected surgically. Ask your veterinarian to examine your dog's knees regularly, especially if you notice him limping or "bunny hopping" while running.
The Chihuahua's round, protruding eyes are one of his most distinctive characteristics, but they are prone to a number of genetic eye disorders as well as to frequent injuries.
Chihuahuas frequently have what's called a "molera," or an open fontanelle, which is a soft area under the skin of the forehead where the bony plates of the skull have not fused together. It may eventually close up and become hard, but in some dogs, the molera never fully closes. While many dogs can live a normal lifespan with a molera, some may have a condition called hydrocephalus (fluid buildup in and around the brain), which can cause seizures and even death if not treated. A Chihuahua with a molera can live a perfectly normal life, but he is more prone to head injuries so he’s not the best candidate for a home with rambunctious children or bigger, rougher dogs.
Chihuahuas can also be born with a liver defect known as a portosystemic shunt, in which blood is diverted away from the liver. This may cause a buildup of toxins in the dog's body, stunted growth, and can be fatal if not corrected with surgery.
Teeny-tiny Chihuahuas? They’re cute, but they are also fragile and more prone to medical problems like hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Reputable breeders discourage people from buying the little two- and three-pounders because they usually lead to heartbreak.
Although Chihuahuas are prized for their small size, they're often fed to obesity. A Chihuahua's skeleton is not designed to carry much weight, and even a few extra ounces can be a significant burden to a dog this size. As with all dogs, leanness is far healthier – and cheaper, when it comes to veterinary costs. Keeping a Chihuahua lean is particularly important if he has luxating patellas.
Tiny mouths frequently mean there's no room for proper development of teeth. It's essential to get regular veterinary dental care for a Chihuahua, and he may need to have some teeth pulled to make room in his mouth for proper development of the rest of the teeth.
Be sure to follow the advice of the Chihuahua Club of America and seek out a responsible breeder who has done all required health testing for the breed. Those tests include Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) clearance on the parents' knees and heart, as well as Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) vision testing. The CCA participates in the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) database and requires all of those tests before an individual Chihuahua can be listed on the CHIC website. You can search the OFA and CHIC websites yourself to see if a pup’s parents are listed.
Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents. If the breeder tells you she doesn't need to do those tests because she's never had problems in her lines and her dogs have been "vet checked," then you should go find a breeder who is more rigorous about genetic testing.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Chihuahuas come in two coat types: smooth and long. Smooth Chihuahuas wear a velvety, shiny, close-fitting coat and have a ruff — an area of thicker, longer hair — around the neck. They have a scant covering of hair on the head and ears. The tail should be furry, not bare.
Smooth Chihuahuas shed, but they are so small that the amount is manageable for all but the most house proud. Brush them weekly with a rubber grooming glove or soft bristle brush to remove dead hair and keep the skin and coat healthy.
The longcoated Chihuahua is the product of a recessive gene, meaning a puppy must have the gene from both parents for the long coat to express itself, so he isn’t seen in litters as frequently as the smooth. The long, soft coat is flat or slightly curly, and the dog has a ruff around the neck, fringed ears, feathering on the legs and a plumed tail. The hair on the rest of the body is almost as smooth as that on the smooth Chihuahua. Longcoated Chihuahuas are beautiful, and they’re easy to groom, but they do shed seasonally.
Brush the longcoat with a soft bristle brush once or twice a week. Use a stainless steel comb to remove tangles from the hair on the ears, legs and tail.
If you brush the Chihuahua faithfully, he shouldn’t need frequent baths. If he spends a lot of time on your furniture or in your bed, though, there’s nothing wrong with bathing him as often as a couple of times a week. Use a gentle shampoo made for dogs and dry him thoroughly so he doesn’t get chilled. Never let him sit around and air dry.
Keep your Chihuahua’s big ears clean with a solution recommended by your veterinarian. Don’t use cotton swabs inside the ear; they can push gunk further down into it. Wipe out the ear with a cotton ball, never going deeper than the first knuckle of your finger.
Trim his nails regularly, usually every couple of weeks. They should never be so long that you hear them clicking on the floor.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks. Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. Most breeders like to keep the pups until they are 12 to 14 weeks old to ensure that they are mature enough to go to their new homes.
Look for a breeder who is a member in good standing of the Chihuahua Club of America and who has agreed to abide by the club's code of ethics. It specifies that its members should evaluate all breeding stock for hereditary faults, never sell dogs to pet stores, and take back Chihuahuas they have bred in the event that the buyer cannot keep them. The CCA lists member breeders on its website, but it’s still important to interview them before buying.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. And don’t believe a seller who tells you a "teacup” or “toy” Chihuahua is more valuable or desirable than a properly-sized dog of four to six pounds. Extreme miniaturization brings with it nothing but health problems and a shortened lifespan. Language like that is a huge red flag that you're dealing with a seller more interested in money than the good of the dogs or the broken hearts of the people who buy them.
You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Chihuahua puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether he is male or female, whether he’s longhaired or smooth, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. Prices can range from $400 to $1,600, sometimes higher for puppies with show potential. The cheapest puppy is not always the best, nor is the most expensive. What matters is that the puppy you buy has been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and show titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Often, breeders will have puppies spayed or neutered before placing them. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
And before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Chihuahua might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult Chihuahua may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Chihuahua in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Chihuahuas available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter.org can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Chihuahua. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Networking can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. Most people who love Chihuahuas love all Chihuahuas. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Chihuahua Club of America’s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Chihuahua rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Chihuahua home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Chihuahua, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Chihuahua to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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