For Pups With Short Attention Spans…
Despite their size, the brain of a Chihuahua packs a punch. Chihuahua’s are known to be intelligent dogs. They are highly alert and oriented to learn from and please their owners. Chihuahua’s do good with games and activities to keep them active and learning so don’t be afraid to challenge your little Chi.
Super small and sometimes feisty, chihuahuas are known to pack a lot of personality into a tiny package. This pint-sized titan originates in Mexico and is thought to be the descendant of an ancient dog known as Techichi. In the late 19th and early 20th century, Mexicans sold chihuahuas to Americans, who adored their devotion and tenacity.
Here’s a fun chihuahua fact for you: that small dog in an itty bitty package also holds a surprisingly agile brain.
Chihuahuas are highly intelligent, and their eagerness to please their owners makes them highly trainable. But don’t mistake their loving personality for an easygoing one— chihuahuas need a strong leader and good training to keep their attitude in check. So are Chihuahuas smart? Let’s find out.
How to Tell if a Dog is Smart
Before we dive in, we have to determine what exactly makes a dog breed smart. While it’s difficult to measure dog intelligence of any kind, doggy IQ is typically thought of in three categories:1
- Instinctive Intelligence – How well does the dog fulfill the tasks it was bred for? In herding dog breeds like the border Collie, for example, this would involve rounding up livestock. This quality is near-impossible to compare across breeds, because all dog breeds have had different instincts bred into them, giving them unique strengths.
- Adaptive Intelligence – Does the dog breed learn from experience? Can it problem solve? If your dog can watch you do something once (like pick up keys) and know what it means (“We might be going for a walk!”), that’s adaptive intelligence. So is figuring out new situations, like escaping from a crate or getting into the treat bag you thought was on lockdown.
- Working and Obedience Intelligence – This is what most people think of when talking about dog smarts, which refers to trainability. How well does the dog respond to instruction? This type of dog intelligence is on display in agility courses and obedience competitions, as well as in doggy occupations like guide dogs and K-9 units.
You can conduct various tests on your dog at home to see how they measure up in these categories. Keep in mind though that tests aren’t the final say on your chihuahua’s intelligence, and a dog that fails an intelligence test can still be a valuable friend with plenty of strengths.
Are Chihuahuas Smart? What Kind of Intelligence Do They Have?
Since the exact purpose behind breeding chihuahuas is fuzzy, it can be difficult to know which instincts we should look at to determine their instinctive intelligence.
What we do know is that they were valued as loyal companions, a position at which modern chihuahuas as a dog breed still excel at.
The Aztecs are thought to have believed their chihuahuas would act as guides through the afterlife.2 While your tiny dog’s spirit guide abilities aren’t exactly testable, anyone who’s formed a bond with the Chihuahua dog will tell you that they love to stay by your side at all times.3
If loyalty was the breeding goal for this companion dog, chihuahuas are a definite success.
In Stanley Coren’s popular book The Intelligence of Dogs, he scores the chihuahua high in both instinctive and adaptive intelligence, praising its alertness and problem-solving capabilities.4
While they’re too small to protect their owners, they still make excellent guard dogs because they are hypervigilant and ready to sound the alarm4.
And as for trainability, the Chihuahuas breed’s desire to please their owners comes in handy. Chihuahuas can learn quickly, and they have even competed in obedience trials and dog sports3.
Something as wishy-washy as “intelligence” can be impossible to know with certainty and will vary from dog to dog, but you can rest assured that chihuahuas are packing a lot of brain power into that apple-sized skull.
Chihuahua Training Tips & Challenges
Think a Chihuahua is right for you? Like any breed, Chihuahuas can be excellent pets, but they require proper structure and obedience training. Before setting out to adopt and train a chihuahua, read these possible challenges you and your Chi might face during the training process.
#1 Remember that your chihuahua is small and nervous
Chihuahuas can be socialized to be around children and other pets, but roughhousing and small dogs do not mix. Remember to ask yourself: how big do Chihuahuas get? If you have boisterous young kids or larger dogs, you might want to reconsider getting a chihuahua, as training will be more difficult when the chi feels threatened and unsafe.
Wether you have a teacup chihuahua, apple head chihuahua chihuahua mix, or any other type, one thing remains constantl: They’re a small dog breed. Imagine how anxious you’d be as a chihuahua owner if you lived in a house full of rambunctious giants!
Due to their anxiety, size, and initial unfriendliness, socializing chihuahuas is vital for training. You’ll need to socialize the pup in controlled ways, so they can interact with dogs and people in a calm and friendly environment where they’re not constantly nervous for their own safety5.
Famous dog trainer Cesar Milan suggests these tips for socializing adult dogs:6
- Take them for daily walks and allow them to meet other dogs. This will enable them to get some socialization while also burning off some pent-up energy.
- Don’t yell or yank on the leash if they react poorly, as this only increases excitement. Instead, calmly guide them away.
- Socialize them by introducing new activities about once a week.
- Do it gradually. For example, walk them around the perimeter of the dog park a few times before going in.
- Use a muzzle if necessary. If your dog is snapping at visitors, a muzzle prevents risk of harm coming to your guests. It can also help calm your dog.
Additionally, chihuahuas’ small statures require the smallest training equipment like leashes and harnesses, or else they could slip out of it5.
#2 Be firm, but patient.
The Chihuahua is an intelligent dog breed, but they don’t naturally take kindly to instruction. Their strong independent nature means that you may have to repeat training steps several times before the Chi recognizes you as a leader5.
Once you’ve established yourself as Top Dog, the Chihuahua’s natural desire to please will guide them in the right direction. Just try not to get frustrated—reward your dog’s good behavior with positive reinforcement such as treats and toys, and in time they’ll reward you with unmatched devotion5.
#2 Chihuahuas need a lot of attention.
That nervousness often translates into clinginess. If you’re used to more independent breeds, the possessive nature of a Chi might be an obstacle for you.
This is not a dog that likes to be left alone to its own devices for too long5.
They can often be high-energy, sometimes chewing apart anything they can reach due to separation anxiety or simple boredom5. Trainers recommend keeping them stimulated with adequate toys and exercise so they can burn up some of that nervous energy5.
Lastly, Chihuahuas can also be prone to barking. This makes them good watchdogs4, but it can be bothersome when your dog is constantly barking at anything moving or to get your attention.
Fortunately, all these behaviors can be curbed with early and persistent training3,5 .
Games to Test Your Dog’s Intelligence
Want to put your dog to the test? Here are a few fun challenges to give them.
Remember that these games are just for fun and enrichment (something Chihuahuas need in spades), and while they might give you better insight into your dog’s mind, they’re not conclusive in any way.
Find the Treat7
Place three cups on the ground in front of your dog and place a treat like BARK food for Chihuahuas under one cup. Walk around for a few seconds to distract them, and then return to the cups. Does your dog remember where the treat is?
If they do, they might be good at observation and memory.
Escape the Towel8
This one is a simple problem-solving game. Gently place a hand towel over your chi’s head and see how long it takes them to escape.
Reach the Snack 8
Place a treat under a chair where the dog can see it, but can’t reach it with their mouth. Some dogs will keep trying to fit their heads under the chair, and others will realize they can use their paws.
What Your Chi Needs: BARK
Like all dogs, Chihuahuas need mental stimulation, proper nutrition, and plenty of love. That’s why we started the BARK family—because we want your dog to feel as happy as they make you feel. From monthly deliveries and one-time fun packs to exclusive retail options at your favorite stores, you can BARK your way (just not at the mail carrier).
Our subscription boxes are tailor-made for different needs and play styles, so there’s something for every pooch. Chi chewing up your table legs? Try our Super Chewer box, and furniture flavor just might seem less appetizing. Is dental health a concern? We’ve got you covered there, too.
Our dental pack comes with chews and toothpaste so your canines can have healthy canines.
And if all you need is answers, check out more of our BARK Post library. We’ve got hundreds of articles going back nearly a decade, so every dog question has an answer.
So if you need anything, just BARK.
- Psychology Today. Canine Intelligence— Breed Does Matter. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/canine-corner/200907/canine-intelligence-breed-does-matter
- AKC. Chihuahua History: From Aztec Treasure to Popular Companion. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/dog-breeds/chihuahua-history-aztec-companion/
- AKC. 9 Fun Facts About the Chihuahua: Tiny Dog, Big Personality. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/9-chihuahua-fun-facts/
- Stanley Coren. The Intelligence of Dogs: A Guide to the Thoughts, Emotions, and Inner Lives of Our Canine Companions. https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Intelligence_of_Dogs/nBzuXFdFECEC?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=chihuahua
- MasterClass. How to Train a Chihuahua Puppy in 6 Steps. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-to-train-a-chihuahua
- Cesar’s Way. How to Socialize an Adult Dog. https://www.cesarsway.com/how-to-socialize-an-adult-dog/
- PetMD. 7 Signs of Dog Intelligence. https://www.petmd.com/dog/slideshows/7-signs-dog-intelligence
- Today. How Smart is Your Dog? Give Him an IQ Test. https://www.today.com/style/how-smart-your-dog-give-him-iq-test-2d80555204