How to Train Your Chihuahua Dog to Be a Service Dog

Hard
6-12 Months
Work

Introduction

The traditional service dog you may have pictured in your mind is a Labrador or German shepherd guiding a blind person so they can navigate safely. But in reality, service dogs come in all different shapes and sizes, and perform all kinds of different tasks for people with disabilities, even Chihuahuas! 

There is occasionally some confusion regarding service dogs versus therapy dogs; a service dog is registered under federal law, after demonstrating adherence to standards and being certified. A service dog performs a certain task for a disabled person, such as services to help hearing or visually impaired people successfully function, manipulating objects for people with mobility disorders, or alerting people with diabetes, PTSD or epilepsy to dangerous or debilitating episodes specific to their condition. A therapy dog, on the other hand, provides companionship and helps alleviate symptoms of emotional or psychiatric conditions. 

Chihuahuas often fall in the category of therapy dogs but many Chihuahuas are certified service dogs, trained to perform tasks for disabled persons. Any dog can be a service dog regardless of size or breed, they just need the right temperament and ability. Chihuahuas are intelligent, tend to be loyal to one person, and can easily live in small apartments without difficulty, which makes them excellent candidates as service dogs in certain situations.

Defining Tasks

In order to be certified, a service dog must demonstrate several behaviors in addition to their tasking behavior, that is the task or tasks they perform in order to assist a disabled person. General public access behaviors necessary for service dogs to learn include not being aggressive, relieving themselves on command, not investigating or sniffing, not seeking food or affection, and being calm and not demonstrating excitement or hyper behavior. A dog that is capable of learning these behaviors will need to have a well-socialized personality, be of a calm disposition, and highly trainable. Service dogs that can demonstrate public access behaviors can then learn specific tasks to aid people such as:

  • Alerting a hearing-impaired person to sounds.
  • Alerting a visually impaired person to people and things in their environment.
  • Fetching objects for someone who is mobility impaired.
  • Alerting a diabetic person to dangerous fluctuations in blood sugar, obtaining medical supplies or getting help.
  • Alerting a person with epilepsy to an imminent seizure or obtaining help by signaling emergency services.
  • Alerting someone with anxiety or PTSD to an imminent attack, getting help, or providing deep pressure therapy during an attack. 
  • Reminding people with mental impairments to take medications.

There are many services a service dog can render, and although some, such as providing physical support, require a large dog, most can be performed by even a small dog like a Chihuahua, providing the correct training is provided.

Getting Started

Although any size or breed of dog can be a service dog, not any dog will do.  A service dog needs to be adaptable, sociable but calm, and trainable. Selecting a Chihuahua with the right temperament is important; a nervous or hyper dog will not make a good service dog. A variety of training methods, including positive reinforcement with treats and capturing behavior with the clicker method are used to train service dogs. Service dogs in training are often given vests to identify them as such, to discourage passersby from engaging with the dog and give the dog more public access during training.

The Public Access Skills Method

Most Recommended
2 Votes
Step
1
Acclimatize for calm
Expose your Chihuahua to a variety of different situations, ignore or restrain hyper or investigating behavior, reward calm behaviors with affection and praise.
Step
2
Estalish vehicle manners
Take your Chihuahua on car rides, practice loading and unloading from the vehicle and riding quietly in the car.
Step
3
Teach off-leash recall
Teach your Chihuahua off-leash recall. Use a flexi leash, or long lead to guide initially and provide reinforcement for coming to call.
Step
4
Teach 'heel'
Teach your Chihuahua to heel, and to enter and exit through doorways. Practice in a variety of places including outside, public buildings, elevators, shopping centers, physician offices, etc.
Step
5
Teach obedience
Make sure your Chihuahua has good obedience commands established such as 'sit', 'stay', and 'down'.
Recommend training method?

The Manipulate Objects Method

Effective
2 Votes
Step
1
Introduce clicker method
Due to their smaller size, many Chihuahuas are trained to press alert buttons to obtain help, get medications, or fetch dropped or required objects. To achieve this, teach your dog basic obedience commands using a clicker and treats so the dog is familiar with this training message.
Step
2
Introduce tasking item
Present the item required for tasking, such as an alert button, a set of keys or a medication bag. Place the item adjacent to the dog and wait.
Step
3
Reinforce item
When the Chihuahua investigates the item, click and treat. Repeat.
Step
4
Begin shaping interaction
Require more interaction, touching and mouthing the keys or bag, pawing the button. When it occurs, click and treat.
Step
5
Shape complete task
Increase the behavior required gradually, in order to shape the complete behavior of picking up and carrying the keys or medicine and taking to the owner or pressing the alert button. Break the behavior down into achievable steps, and click and treat at each stage until the entire behavior is shaped.
Recommend training method?

The Alerting Method

Least Recommended
2 Votes
Step
1
Identify trigger and task
Chihuahuas are often trained to alert their human partners to situations or conditions, such as sounds for hearing impaired people or medical conditions for those with diabetes, epilepsy, or PTSD. Identify the specific trigger you will want the Chihuahua to respond to, and the specific behavior you will want him to perform to alert his handler, such as licking the hand or nudging a leg.
Step
2
Reinforce trigger
Provide a simulation of the trigger, such as a phone ring, the smell of low blood sugar, or simulate symptoms of PTSD attack. When the dog takes notice, click and treat.
Step
3
Command task
Teach the dog a response to the trigger such as licking your hand. Initially you can attach a command to this behavior.
Step
4
Relate trigger and task
When the simulated trigger occurs, provide the command to 'lick hand'. When the dog performs the behavior, provide praise and affection. Treating may also be appraised at first.
Step
5
Establish task to trigger
Gradually remove threats and verbal command. Break the behavior down and use the clicker method when required, so that the dog learns to perform the alert behavior in response to the trigger.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Sonny
Dashound
4 Years
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Sonny
Dashound
4 Years

my Dog is 4 years old is it still possible fore him to become a therapy dog fore my autistic daughter

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
115 Dog owners recommended

Hello Mya, That will depend on Sonny's temperament and level of socialization more than on his age actually. If he gets along well with other people and dogs and is not aggressive or timid at all then he likely can still learn how to be a Service Dog. Temperament and social skills are often genetic or learned while a dog is still a puppy, so those things cannot be completely changed in an older dog. They can often be improved but not always changed completely. Most obedience training, such as "Sit" and the specialized tasks involved in Therapy or Service Dog work can be taught at any age. A great place to start is a Canine Good Citizen Class. This class will work on the skills that he will need to be out in public and be well behaved. Once he learns those skills then you can teach him any specific skills that you would like for him to learn to help your daughter, such as sitting in her lap when she is anxious, interrupting self-destructive behavior, sitting by her chair in crowded places, greeting other people first, and so forth. You can choose what to teach depending on what your dog needs. You can either teach him those specialized skills on your own, hire a private trainer with experience to help you, or find a class at a local dog club or training facility that teaches those things. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Than you this really Helped

He is really loving and loves other people he does not bark at all and is very tolerant

Add a comment to Sonny's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Sonny
Dashound
4 Years
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Sonny
Dashound
4 Years

How long would it take to train an autism service dog to qualify , what tascs would a Dachshund be Abel to do ,and is it better to train privertly or normally ,many thanks😊

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
115 Dog owners recommended

Hello Mya, For basic task training expect it to take between two and six months to train, depending on how quickly your dog learns, how often the training is practiced, and what all tasks he is taught to perform. Board and Train generally takes the least amount of time for most dogs. A Dachshund could be taught to interrupt self-destructive, anxious, or repetitive behaviors by nudging, tugging, barking, getting in front of the person, or climbing into the persons lap whenever he does the behavior. He could also be taught to perform a milder form of pressure therapy, by teaching him to lay on a person's lap, lean against him, touch his or her hand, or stand in front of him for petting. You can also teach him to help with social interactions by going to other people first, staying close to the person with Autism for emotional support, and encouraging the person to interact with others by nudging, tugging, or leading the person over to the other people. By normally I am not sure if you mean through a class, through Board and Train, or on your own at home, but each form of training has it's own advantages. The advantage of Private Training is the individual attention that you receive, the fact that training can be tailor specifically to you, the fact that the training can address other random training random needs also, that members of your family, and specifically the person with autism, can be involved more, the fact that the training takes place at your home or at the specific locations that you will need the dog to go to in the future, and that the price is in between the other options. It is generally cheaper than board and train but more expensive than doing it all on your own or attending a class, making it a good middle ground. The benefits of Board and Train are mainly that it requires less time and work on your part, that it is often accomplished more quickly do to the intensive training situation, and that the environment is more controlled to avoid possible set backs. The drawbacks are that it typically costs more, that it involves you, the person with autism, and other family members less until the end of the training, and that some work will still be needed to ensure that your dog performs his new training with your family at your home as well. I recommend working with a place that has follow up home sessions with you, the person your dog will be helping, and your dog after the boarding part of the training ends, to help the training transfer over successfully. The main benefit of doing it all yourself is the huge cost savings. The drawbacks are the amount of time, effort, and research that is required to do it yourself. For some people this can be fun and is a welcomed challenge with great results, and for others it is hard and stressful to not have help. Whether or not this is for you depends a lot on you and the amount of time and effort you can put into it. For many people it can be done though. The benefit of a class are the lower price compared to Private and Board and Train training, the supervision and instruction from the class instructor even though much of the work will still be done yourself, the public location with distractions for practicing the commands, and the company of other people doing the same thing as yourself. The drawbacks are the time and work still involved in practicing the training yourself during the week, that the training is more general and less tailored to your specific needs unlike private training, and the inconvenience of going to a class every week. Because the training is less tailored to your specific needs I recommend finding a class that lists the specific tasks that you would like to train under their curriculum. If your dog is ready in the areas of general obedience, manners, social skills, and behavior, and only needs the specific task training, then classes can provide what you need and be fun. You can also go through a Canine Good Citizenship class first, to teach manners in public, and then go through a Service Dog task training class afterwards. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Sonny's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Luna
Chihuahua
7 Weeks
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Luna
Chihuahua
7 Weeks

Is it possible to train my Teacup Chihuahua as a Service Dog? Not a Therapy dog. I was planning on signing her up for Service Dog Training or however that works when she turns 6 months old and is potty trained. She knows how to give high fives. I have Depression, Anxiety, and Autism. She’s a little hyper though.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
115 Dog owners recommended

Hello Nicole, That depends largely on which specific tasks you need for her to perform in order to help you. A dog does not have to be a certain breed in order to qualify. In order to qualify as a Service Dog, your dog must be able to reliably perform at least one task that directly helps a medically diagnosed condition that you have been diagnosed with by a professional, including certain psychiatric conditions like PTSD. Many PTSD, Autism assistant, or anxiety Service Dogs perform pressure therapy to help with anxiety, interrupt their owner's self-destructive, repetitive, or anxious behaviors, help their owners find exits and quickly leave places during anxiety attacks, or alert their owners to anxiety tasks. There are just a few of the potential actions that a dog can perform to qualify. The action must be something that directly helps. The dog must also be well trained enough in general to not be disruptive, destructive, aggressive, or timid in public. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Luna's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Corona
Chihuahua
4 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Corona
Chihuahua
4 Months

I just got a new Chihuahua and she very be calm and does very well traveling on train I have ptsd with anxiety and panic attacks how can i start my puppy training to be a service dog And perform pressure therapy? Also where is a legitimate place to get paper work for service dogs?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
115 Dog owners recommended

Hello Karyln, In the United States according to ADA Law a Service Dog must be under the handler's control at all times, non-disruptive, meaning no repeated barking, aggression, rowdiness, and so forth, and must perform at least one specialized task that directly helps the owner's disability. With that said, a Service Dog does not have to be licensed, apart from a typical rabies license, or certified. The dog can be owner trained or trained by a professional trainer. This means that you do not have to have any specific paper work certifying the dog. However, what you will need is paperwork from your doctor stating that you do have a medical psychiatric condition, which PTSD should qualify for, that warrants the use of a Service Dog. Any medical or psychiatric doctor that is treating you for that condition can write you that for you. You are only required to present that to certain airlines and landlords though. Not to most store owners. Here below is the ADA website which will cover your rights and answer a lot of questions. https://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/service_animal_qa.html As far as training, work on general manners like a long-down-stay, heel, and other commands that will help your dog be well-behaved in public. It sounds like you are off to a great start already. If you need help with those types of things a good Canine Good Citizen Class will actually cover most of the general training that is needed. For the task training, you can either follow other owner-trainers online, watch trainer videos, or read about the individual tasks that you want to train and teach those commands yourself. Or, google: "Service Dog Training (your city and state)" OR "Service Dog Trainer (Your city and state)" OR "Service Dog Training private owner (your city and state)" When you look at the websites that come up, look for someone who offers private training, opposed to board and train or placing pre-trained dogs with owners. There are trainers that you can hire to come to your home and teach you how to train your dog the specialized tasks, then you can practice that training with your dog between appointments. This is the most cost effective option that involves a trainer typically. You can also Board and Train your dog with a trainer, and have all of the training done for you. Look for a trainer in your city who offers that by googling: "Service Dog Training (your city and state)" OR "Service Dog Training Board and Train (your city and state)" OR Service Dog Training (your state)" Or Service Dog Training Board and Train (your state)" A Board and Train location does not have to be in your city. It simply needs to be within driving distance. If you do owner training and train your dog yourself, social media places like Instagram and Facebook have a surprisingly good Service Dog community to meet and get advice from other owners doing the same thing with their own dogs. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Corona's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Book me a walkiee?
Pweeeze!
Sketch of smiling australian shepherd