You’re walking your Chihuahua on leash and another person approaches you with their dog, also on leash. Your Chihuahua hits the end of the leash, rears up on her hind legs, and begins lunging, snapping, barking, and snarling. What do you do?
First, count your blessings that the other dog, which outweighs your dog by about sixty pounds, is on leash. Two, be thankful that the other dog doesn’t respond to your Chihuahua’s aggressive overtures. And three, realize that there’s nothing unusual about your dog’s behavior. Dog-dog aggression is not fun, but it is a form of aggression that can be worked on and diminished or eliminated.
To work on your Chihuahua’s aggression toward other dogs, begin by making sure that your Chihuahua knows the “Down” command. This is a position of submission, indicating to the Chihuahua that he is not the decision-maker in this situation. Physically, the down also makes it difficult for a dog to bark or even growl. If your Chi is in a full down with elbows to the ground, she’ll be quiet. If those elbows come off the ground, she won’t be quiet. If she looks like she’s thinking about coming up off the down, give her the command again and make sure those elbows are on the ground.
When on walks, anticipate meeting other dogs. Know your Chihuahua’s comfort zone. In other words, will she remain quiet and just observe another dog if the other canine is fifteen feet away? Twenty feet? Try to keep your Chi at this safe distance when walking past another dog. Talk to your Chihuahua. Tell her just how good she is for being quiet, and reward her with a treat.
Then begin to breech this safety zone. This time you can anticipate that your Chihuahua will attempt to bark at the approaching dog, so put her in a down-stay. Pay attention to your Chi and not the other dog. Praise and reward your Chi for being so quiet. If she tries to bounce out of the down, move her a little farther away and put her in a down (where you know she’ll be quiet). Keep trying to move her closer, and make sure she stays in the down.
If your Chihuahua is progressing well and you’re able to keep her in a down while on the same side of the street as approaching dogs, you can begin to try to walk past other dogs. Move your Chihuahua several feet or even yards back into the new boundaries of her safety or nonreactive zone. At this distance, keep your dog close to you but on a slack leash. Ignore the other dog and talk in friendly tones to your Chihuahua, tossing her treats periodically for paying attention to you.
If she tries to bark at the other dog, put her in a down. Pause. Praise her for her down, release her, and continue walking.
Your goal will be to pass by another dog on the same sidewalk without your Chihuahua making a sound. If you’ve done your training well, she’ll have her full attention on you, anticipating your next request. Whatever you do, do not give up on your little guy. The worst thing you can do is not walk your Chihuahua. The second worst thing you can do is walk him but not address his dog-dog issues.
If you talk to enough toy-breed owners, you’re very likely to hear a tragic tale of how a favorite pet was killed by another dog and just how terrible some of these other dogs are. There are stories of loose dogs attacking and killing Chihuahuas while on a walk with their owners. These stories are horrifying and even more tragic because if the other dog had been properly restrained, there wouldn’t have been an incident.
Frequently, dogs that are afraid of other dogs will appear to be on the offensive. In actuality, these timid dogs are putting on a good show so that other dogs see them as a dog not to be messed with. The timid dog tends to wait until the dog has passed by before acting aggressively. Give this dog more distance between other dogs on walks, work on meeting friendly dogs off-leash (where she feels she can escape), and don’t tense up. The leash is a direct line to your Chihuahua. If she senses you’re afraid, she won’t realize that you’re worried she’s going to make a scene. She’ll think there really is something to fear and is more likely to appear aggressive.
However, there are also incidents in which the toy dog was the one that was off leash and that initiated the attack against the other dog, which was on leash. The Chihuahua, along with many toy breeds, is feisty enough and has a big enough self-image (that is, doesn’t realize she’s sorely outmuscled and outsized) to do something like this. Most dogs, however, whether large or small, are going to respond to being bitten and are going to bite back.
Do not ever allow your Chihuahua to run off leash. Do work on your Chi’s recall so if she slips away you can avoid a serious confrontation. Also, do work on reducing your Chihuahua’s aggressi toward other dogs.