Each breed is unique, which is why my husband and I have enjoyed six breeds in our more than forty years of active participation in the dog sport. As a young child, my heart was owned by an English Springer Spaniel named “Babe.” She was a Christmas present, and though I would have been just as thrilled with a horse, my father chose wisely. The dog enabled us to share something wonderful at a time when an only child needed to know her father.
My teenage years with an English Setter ended when she was struck by a car. It seems like yesterday that I knelt in the busy street, wailing in despair. When my mother pulled her from my arms, I thought I would die. Forty years later, I held fast to a very special Akita, but even my grown-up arms were not strong enough to keep him in my world.
Why do we allow ourselves to be so emotionally destroyed again and again? I suppose it’s because we invite these dogs into our lives and because the brief time we have with them brings us much more than is taken away when the Creator calls in the loan. So if your next best friend is a little perro with a saucy expression and dancing feet, treasure each chuckle, each moment of comfort that he gives you, and know that he will be with you for a long time.
We are drawn to certain breeds because of size, personality or coat type. Much will depend on your age and lifestyle at the time. It is hoped that you are reading this book because you have decided to approach ownership thoughtfully and plan a long-term commitment. If your choice is the Chihuahua, it will be a long friendship as the breed commonly lives well past ten years.
No matter how much research you do, falling in love can still happen by chance. Owning a Chihuahua was the last thing I expected even though grooming big hairy dogs and running full-tilt around the show ring had me thinking about the practicality of a smaller breed. We continued to cast speculative glances at smaller dogs but none really excited me.
Then, while on the way to ringside, I spied an excited group of people and detoured to see what was happening. Pushing my way between a very large lady and a pogo-stick (which turned out to be a little girl bouncing up and down in constrained enthusiasm), I saw what had drawn the crowd. I too wanted to reach down and scoop them all up but, like the child, I knew better. They were incredibly cute! Fluffy elfin creatures and sleek doe-like babies in a kaleidoscope of gorgeous colors!
Entranced, I realized that they weren’t barking. In another ex-pen, there were several silent adults watching and wagging, and I wondered why I’d accepted the stereotype of “yappy ankle biters.” Just as I was readjusting my perceptions, suddenly there erupted a ferocious barking as the adults squared off with an Irish Wolfhound, whose owner had pushed through to see the pups. The males were braced side to side, stiff-legged, ruffs ridged, tails up and vibrating as they dared the giant intruder to take just one more step! This was truly the dog world’s equivalent of a Jonathan Swift battle of the Lilliputians and the Brobdingnagian.The girls bounced back and forth, barking encouragement while threatening to bite off the monster’s toe. Everyone laughed as I continued to reevaluate what I thought I knew about the littlest breed!
When the crowd had finally departed, I stayed to talk with the breeder and it became increasingly apparent that a fortuitous change of direction had afforded me a whole new perspective. She let me hold a puppy and I had found our “smaller” breed.
Living with the Chihuahua has caused many erroneous conceptions to fall away. For example, we often think of toy dogs as being weak or sickly. While they can’t be allowed to romp with large dogs and dropping a ChiChi is likely to result in serious injury, the breed is far from delicate. They are the best watchdogs on our property, which is also guarded by Akitas and Miniature Bull Terriers. Whether inside or in the ChiChi house adjoining the bedroom, the only time that they bark is when something is amiss. When the Akitas bark at night, we roll over and go back to sleep. It is only a deer or some other night creature that they see frequently. If the Chihuahuas join in, we get up to check!
On one such occasion, the flashlight illuminated huge gold eyes in the rolling expanse just before a wooded copse. Standing on the bedroom balcony, my husband Bill fired a shot skyward. The eyes blinked and the Chihuahuas barked one last “so there!” and that was that.
On another moonless night, the ChiChis alerted us although the other dogs were quietly snoozing. Puzzled, Bill checked from inside the house and, seeing and hearing nothing, was about to return to bed when he heard a metallic clink and saw tail lights in the equipment yard. Sure enough, one of our plumbers was quietly picking up a jetter machine for an emergency call. When he started the truck to pull out, the big dogs roused and barked ferociously, but by then the Chihuahuas were quiet. They had done their job and when they knew that Bill was aware of the “problem,” they returned to their sleep.
Chihuahuas are blessed with a strong immune system, overall hardiness and very few genetic defects. They are also less afflicted by the effects of bantamization than are other toy breeds. Perhaps because they have been tiny for so long? Who knows?
Small dogs have a higher metabolism and are therefore more affected by extreme heat or cold, yet the Chihuahua is remarkably unperturbed by either. For example, our dog family is comprised of three Akitas, six Mini-Bull Terriers and four Chihuahuas. This provides a unique opportunity to observe large Arctic-coated and small short-coated dogs in exactly the same environment, a situation that is often good for a laugh.
When the sun is blazing, the ChiChis are basking, the Mini-Bulls alternate between sun and shade and the Akitas are decidedly unhappy even though shaded by the roof. Invite them to play and the ChiChis fly around like little bullets, the Mini-Bulls go happily spronging after them and the Akitas refuse to move.
When it’s snowing and blowing, the ChiChis are contentedly snuggled in bed, the Minis are shivering and the Akitas are smiling. No surprise! But again, invite them for a romp in the yard and the Chihuahuas and Akitas are thrilled to come out and play, while the Mini-Bulls are polite for only about ten minutes before they sneak back to bed.
The point is that despite their size and in direct contradiction to our tendency to spoil them, the Chihuahua is the most adaptable breed we have ever owned! Rain or shine, hot or cold, their thermostat works perfectly. This should come as no surprise, for the desert is fiercely hot during the day but temperatures can plummet to below freezing at night.
A note of caution: Common sense must prevail. Left to his own good judgment, the little dog won’t go sledding in a blizzard or beach-hopping in the mid-day sun. If we tempt them into foolhardy activities contrary to their instincts, then we should dry and warm the wet dog or cool down the overheated dog.
All our dogs are fed exactly alike, although proportionately. The Chihuahuas receive a bit more people food such as peas, green beans and fruit. They prefer a more varied diet and we indulge them because they are omnivorous gourmets, displaying a decided attraction to fresh foods over canned or dry. A properly reared Chihuahua will eat anything that is natural, wholesome and nutritious as opposed to some breeds that will select a scoop of ice cream over raw chicken or a cricket!
He rarely shivers from fear or cold but will tremble if nervous or excited. You will soon come to know what triggers the response. If he is uneasy in a strange situation, don’t praise him. “It’s OK, darling, mommy loves you” sounds like praise. It’s best to laugh to reassure him there is nothing to be concerned about. If his safety is actually jeopardized, pick him up but try to maintain a casual attitude, not one of “Oh dear, let mommy protect the baby,” which would only reinforce his fear.
And the Chihuahua should be fearless, i.e., terrier-like. Sometimes you wish he had a little better judgment, such as when he takes a high dive from the sofa before he’s grown enough to handle the landing or when he flies in the face of a large aggressive dog. Lend him a little of your common sense. Don’t put him on the couch and walk away when he’s a puppy. Never let him go at a large dog. It could be fatal.
When held in your arms, he can be very aggressive toward other people. OK, so it is cute — after all, he’s protecting you, the love of his life, but be careful that your “No” doesn’t sound like “OK, how cute!” when you correct such unacceptable behavior.
The Chihuahua is an incredibly loyal friend. You are his world, not because he fears being out there all alone as do some toy dogs, but because regarding you as the enter of his universe is a breed characteristic! Was it developed by centuries of human selection for the trait? I think not. There are other equally ancient breeds that will happily leave their human to chase a rabbit or explore the next horizon. The Chihuahua actually prefers your company to that of other dogs. Think about that. Most dogs will continue to play together when their owners call. Most children will continue to play when moms calls. Your Chihuahua will stop, ask if you really mean it and then fly into your arms! He would rather be snuggled next to you than chasing a butterfly. He requires touching, petting, conversation and your approval. Never too pushy, he will employ clever tricks to get your attention. If you are too busy to be amused or talked into a cuddle, he will just lie down close to you and wait.
ChiChis are very sociable with their own kind and two or more males can get along well, although you may have to forgive a bit of marking behavior when there is a female in season. Females will establish a pecking order and then show great affection for one another.
They love to sleep under a sheet or blanket and will even burrow under pillows in order to feel covered. Can this be a retained instinct from a burrowing desert dweller? Although some other breeds like to be covered, none seems so determined as the Chihuahua.
Seeking sunlight is another highly developed compulsion in this breed. It’s comical to watch your Chihuahua curl up in a tiny spot of warmth by the window and then observe his annoyance when he awakens to find that the spot has moved and left him in the shade!
Chihuahuas are ideal for single people, the elderly, the handicapped and shut-ins. They want nothing more than to be with their person and are especially perceptive of human moods. Moved to silent tears by a TV movie, I was brought back to the present by a gentle and reassuring kiss from the ChiChi that had been snoozing in my lap. If you are reading or napping, they will lie quietly, waiting, very aware of you. If you are moving from room to room, there is no need to look for your little friend. If you can’t see him, it is because he is standing right at your heel, waiting to see which way you are going next.
According to an article published in Our Dogs in 1904, well-known singer Rosina Casselli stated that her Mexican Chihuahuas never got distemper. Other records, including those of Señora Dolores Gonzalez, bear out this amazing truth. This was so firmly known that even when he disease was common throughout Europe, Chihuahua owners rarely inoculated their dogs.
This does not suggest that your dog should be deprived of today’s perfected vaccines; however, you might wish to discuss with your vet the possibility of a three-year vaccination program rather than yearly. It would be prudent to consider the long lifespan of the breed. A dog with a life expectancy of seven years will receive only half as many challenges to its immune system as compared to your little dog. More breeders and vets are rethinking the necessity of yearly vaccinations.
In all, the Chihuahua is an amazingly hardy and diseasefree pure-bred. Certain smalldog problems have been reported, including cleft palates and hypoglycemia, the former of which affects newborn puppies. Other problems include hemophilia A, secondary glaucoma, certain heart-valve problems, lung problems and hydrocephalus. Discuss these health issues with the breeder before making a final decision about buying a pup from his line.
Excerpts from Comprehensive Owners Guide: Chihuahuas