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

ribbon-method-1
Most Recommended
10 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

ribbon-method-2
Effective
5 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.
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The Alerting Method

ribbon-method-3
Least Recommended
5 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?
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Written by Laurie Haggart

Published: 12/22/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Shuggr
Chihuahua
5 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Shuggr
Chihuahua
5 Months

Want to teach her how to sit, stay, pee on command and respond to distress but also remain playful and willing to play catch

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1005 Dog owners recommended

Hello Sit: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-german-shepherd-puppy-to-sit Down-Stay: https://www.thelabradorsite.com/train-your-labrador-to-lie-down-and-stay/ Go Potty - the section on teaching Go Potty in the Tethering method or Crate Training method in this article: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-german-shepherd-puppy-to-poop-outside Most dogs will still want to play if you just play regularly with pup during the first year. If training is done right, it can actually increase pup's bond with you. You can also use a toy in place of treats as a reward for come commands, and incorporate commands into games like fetch too. As far as pup responding to your distress, could you be more specific about what type of distress pup is needing to respond to and how you would like pup to respond to help you most. Service Dogs can be taught a variety of tasks that help with numerous needs, and how you train that depends a lot on your need and what you find helpful from pup, such as fetching help, giving pressure therapy, delivering medications, alerting to a biological change - like high heart rate, anxiety attack, low or high blood sugar, seizure, ect... The list goes on and on. Those are just a few examples. I hope that helps. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Noodle
Chihuahua
6 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Noodle
Chihuahua
6 Years

We need to reduce reactive behaviors.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1005 Dog owners recommended

Hello JJ, What type of reactive behaviors? Is pup fearful, aggressive, or simply overly excited and reactive out of habit? Check out the two youtube channels I have linked below. These two trainers are very different in their expertise and training styles, so which one is most benefificial in your case will largely depend on exactly what and why pup is behaving reactively. When in doubt I would start with Kikopup's style of training first. Kikopup: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlZmJlllP7Y&list=PLXtcKXk-QWojGYcl1NCg5UA5geEnmpx4a Canine Educator: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLORDnA5ZL0&list=PLLuwNCisD0NingvoeVE_RcQsZSE7pbMrb&index=33 Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
George
Chihuahua
2 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
George
Chihuahua
2 Years

I have Alpa-1 Antitrypsin deficiency which is a genetic lung disorder. George is able to tell when my oxygen levels are low, he jumps in my face and licks to alert me. How can I get him certified?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1005 Dog owners recommended

Hello Maryann, Where do you live? In the United States there is no official certification required for a dog to pass as a Service Dog. A qualifying medical or psychological condition, great behavior while in public for public access, and at least one task that directly helps with your condition is all that is required. Carrying a copy of ADA law regarding service dogs, pup's vet papers, a note from your doctor simply stating your need for a service dog (you don't have to disclose what condition you need help with to anyone other than your doctor though), and a vest for pup letting people know pup is a working service dog can help people allow pup into places more easily though. Being a Service dog is based on your medical need and pup's skills. For pup's skills, first, pup needs to be allowed public places - this means working on pups general obedience, socialization, and manners, so that pup can go places, get along well with everyone, and be well mannered enough not to disturb others (a dog who doesn't listen, barks at others, is aggressive, fearful, or in other ways disruptive can't qualify until those things are improved). Joining a Canine Good Citizen or Intermediate obedience class is a good way to work on those things if needed. How is pup around kids, various ages, races, and personalities of people, new objects, noises, other animals? Pup needs to be able to be calm and not distracted by those things. Pup should be able to handle a child or adult suddenly running up and hugging or petting them (although someone should never do that to a service dog - it probably will happen at some point when in public with pup so often). The socialization and manners part of Service Dog training is actually the hardest part many times. Without it a dog can be asked to leave places by restaurant and building owners for causing a disruption and they won't qualify as a service dog legally. Pup will always be a dog still, so will never be perfect at all times but should do very well! The second part of skills needed, is for pup to reliably be able to perform at least one specialized task that directly assists with the medical or psychological condition they are trained to help with, like alerting you when your oxygen levels are low very consistently. The person also has to have a doctor approved medical or psychological condition that qualifies - like your lung disorder. That note from your doctor is most important when flying with pup or renting housing. It sounds like pup would be an excellent candidate in terms of task training - I don't know much about their overall manners and socialization obviously. Social media, such as instagram and facebook is actually a good resource to connect and follow other owner-trainers who are teaching their own pups tasks too. It can be a good place to meet others in your city doing the same thing to connect for practicing things with people doing similar training with their dogs. There are trainers who offer remote and in person service dog training assistance - whose role is not to take the dog and train it entirely themselves (which is great but much pricier), but who can guide you in training your own dog as needed for a lower price. Youtube is also a resource to find service dog trainers who share some how to videos on teaching specific tasks to help you trouble shoot as you go. For now, I suggest starting with pup's public access - with socialization, manners, and obedience. While doing that, you can certainly reward pup's natural alerts right now to further encourage them. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Sid
Chihuahua
15 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Sid
Chihuahua
15 Years

My mom is a diabetic. I want to train him if possible to let me know when her sugar is dropping too low.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1005 Dog owners recommended

Hello, The average service dog takes 1-2 years to train. Given pup's age, I would consider a second dog that's a puppy or young at least so that pup will have the ability to work with her for many years and have the mental ability to alert reliably, which could be much harder for a dog well into the teen years. Half of the training that takes time is the Public Access portions of the training. You could teach her current to do some amount of alerting at home, and pup just wouldn't be allowed to go with her places other than where a dog is normally allowed, so that she could experience some of the benefits of training him, but know that that training portion of the training alone will probably still take 6-12 months for pup to be reliable, and how sensitive pup's nose is and how sharp and good their mind and memory still is will play a large roll in whether they can succeed. If you go this route, if might be worth considering adding a second puppy to start training with also, if a service dog is your end goal. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Bambi
Chihuahua
5 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Bambi
Chihuahua
5 Years

I got my Bambi when she was 6wks old and I really never tried to train her and she sleeps under the covers with me and if I move those covers or move around in bed she starts growling and tries to bite me it's like she goes crazy what can I do?

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
104 Dog owners recommended

Hello, is this a recent behavior? If so, I would take Bambi to the vet for a check-up right away. It could be that she is experiencing pain and that is why she retaliates when there is movement. The other thing you may need to do is break the habit of her sleeping under the covers. Buy her a super comfy dog bed and her own blanket that you can place either at the end of your bed or on the floor. Encourage her to seek out the new bed on her own throughout the day by hiding high-value treats in her new bed for her to find. Keep this up. You can also place new toys in the bed as another attraction. As for the biting, take a look here for tips: https://wagwalking.com/training/not-fear-bite-1. You may need a trainer to come to the home and assist you. But most importantly, a vet visit is essential. Good luck!

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