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We live in a culture that reveres dogs. Perhaps we always have. We've admired them on the silver screen with classic household names like Toto, Old Yeller, Rin Tin Tin, and Lassie. And then there are the dogs that became famous based on their actual pursuits, rather than portrayals, such as Balto, Barry the St. Bernard, and Appollo, the German Sheperd whose keen nose sniffed out and rescued those caught under rubble after the 9-11 attacks.
It's no wonder we're in love with dogs. But it's not too often we hear about Chihuahuas. In fact, the most famous Chihuahuas in recent years are well-known simply for who carries them around in an oversized Prada bag (that or for really, really loving Taco Bell).
However, despite their small stature and the disservice done to them by Hollywood, Chihuahuas are one of the most loved breeds and are especially exalted as emotional support animals. And just like their larger counterparts, they're known to save lives. Back in 2016, a 9-year-old Chihuahua named Sassy made headlines when she loyally stayed by her elderly owner for hours, barking non-stop until help came to the rescue.
It's examples like this that often make us wonder: Did we rescue our rescue dogs or did they rescue us?
Rescuing animals is an honorable venture for potential pet owners. If you've recently brought home a rescued Chihuahua, no matter their age, it's likely they're going to feel a little out-of-place for at least the first few days in their new home. It may even take them awhile to warm up to you. Don't be discouraged by this as you may not be familiar with their past life and the best thing you can give them is love and patience.
A great way to strengthen your bond, however, is to begin teaching them a few simple tricks. Studies show that the student-teacher relationship between an owner and their pet helps strengthen communication and trust, both of which are very important to a re-homed dog.
The fundamentals of dog training are typically 'sit', 'down', and 'stay'. These are important to teach especially if you plan to teach your new friend other tricks. If you build a strong foundation, any dog can become a well-trained, well-behaved canine companion.
Chihuahuas have one of the leading brains of most small dog breeds, taking up nearly the full volume of their small skulls. This can make them easy to train, especially if you're starting them at a young age. Of course, training older dogs can always be a little more difficult than molding a puppy, but never impossible. Their superior brain power can also make them more independent or more likely to become bored during training sessions, for this reason, keep sessions relatively short and as exciting as possible by following some key tactics.
- Use an excited, happy tone
- Move around a lot
- Switch things up when you feel them losing interest, especially by rotating different treats
- Facilitate training sessions before they've eaten breakfast or dinner; a hungrier pup is a more motivated one
- Keep training sessions short so as not to bore or frustrate them
Sit is typically the number one trick dogs will learn, but since you've adopted, it's possible your new pet was never taught. It's an easy trick because you can make it clear what you want from them by gently physically guiding them into the 'sit' position. Getting your furry friend to obediently sit for you will make so many other aspects of your relationship easier. Trips to the vet, leashed walks, visits to the dog park, or when guests are over are all scenarios in which "Sit!" will help control of an unruly or uncomfortable pooch.Down
While not so much an issue for Chihuahuas, the 'down' command is ideal for many owners of large breeds who get into the habit of jumping on people. For smaller breeds, this task will act a lot like the sit command, simply teaching them obedience or ordering them to calm down. A nice, stern "Down!" to a Chihuahua may help them avoid jumping and barking wildly at another dog, as this breed is known for its lack of self-awareness, exuding machismo.Stay
'Stay' can be a little more difficult to teach, but it may be the most useful to you out of all these easy tricks. A dog that will 'stay' will act more appropriately while outside the home and surrounded by any number of stimuli that could cause them to bolt. It will also help you more easily fasten their collar, apply topical medicine, and prepare them for a bath.
The Teaching 'Sit' Method
Properly re-home your new pet
An adopted dog may not know they're in a better situation than they were right off the bat. To help them relax and assimilate faster, make your home feel welcoming to them. This may mean taking the right steps to introduce them to other family members or pets, slowly and with patience. Have a crate, dog bed, and feeding area all set up for them before they come home with you. Let them interact with their environment by sniffing and exploring and reward them for being brave. Give them space if it's needed, but every time they seek you out, always set down your book or phone or laptop, and reward them with attention.
Find or create a training space
A training space is a distraction-free environment that you can easily create in your own home or backyard. It should be nice and open, allowing for movement. Try scooting furniture to the side if needed. Make it a fun place to be so that your Chihuahua enjoys their time spent learning. Litter it with their favorite toys or even practice feeding or playing with them there exclusively.
Arm yourself with treats
Chihuahuas are more food-motivated than praise-motivated, so having a nice bagful of enticing, small treats is essential. Although you eventually want them to follow your commands without the promise of treats, giving these scrumptious bites is the only foundation to helping your dog learn a trick. Slowly, after weeks of training, you'll wean treats out, while still giving petting and excited praise as a reward.
There are two ways to teach the root of 'sit' to your tiny friend: You may practice physically manipulating their stance to see the behavior you want, or waiting to see the behavior you want and then rewarding it. In your training space, give your dog one treat in order to gain their attention. Once their inquisitive, little bug eyes are on you, say the command, "Sit!" If they've never been taught this trick, it's likely they'll stand and stare at you. Say their name and once again repeat the command, but this time, very gently place your hand on their lower back to make your suggestion clearer to them. Most dogs, when feeling light pressure here, will sit. As soon as this occurs - even if they only remain in the stance for a fraction of a second - reward them.
You may also wait to see the behavior you want. It's likely that eventually your Chihuahua will become bored of just standing there, looking at the treats in your hand. This may cause them to rest their at-attention pose a little bit and slide into a sit position. As soon as it occurs, repeat the command, then reward them, giving excited praise. If you catch them already in the 'sit' stance, reward them with praise and a treat, as well. Even just 10 to 15 minutes of practicing either of these techniques should begin to give your Chihuahua an idea of what "sit" means.
Use a hand signal
In many ways, it's our body language rather than our spoken language that dogs respond more to. Even words they do eventually learn, such as "bath", "park", "treat", or "toy" are often more associated with our tone and expressive movements that accompany the word. Every command you teach your pet should be a package deal: Verbal cue (saying the command) and non-verbal cue (showing the command with a hand motion). A common hand signal for 'sit' may be to point down or hold your hand, palm-out and motion it downward, but anything will work as long as its attention-getting, easy to remember, and consistently utilized.
Move as slowly as is needed for your adopted pup. Practice the command at least once a day for 10-15 minutes for a week or two. If you're able to get a consistent 'sit' out them, you're both ready to practice the trick in more distracting environments, such as in front of an audience or while on walks. If you have an issue getting them to sit outside of your home, have patience and keep at it.
The Teaching 'Down' Method
Master the 'sit' command
'Down' is so much easier to get to if your Chihuahua has a great 'sit' to show. Even if they knew the command before you adopted them, still practice it with them for at least a couple of days. This will strengthen your bond and show your dog that following orders leads to being fed yummy treats. This foundation of trust is essential for future training you may take on together.
We know, we know, it's usually your little Chihuahua that's the master of this step, but now it's your turn. Before beginning a session in which they're learning something new, ensure there are little to no distractions. Close curtains that may show cars, squirrels, or pedestrians, momentarily pen up any other pets you may have, and ask your housemates or family members to keep their activities to a low volume. Finally, give your furry student a nibble of what's in store, just to show there's something in it for them.
Say the command
Have your seasoned-sitter on their bottom and their eyes on you. Once this is achieved, say, very clearly but in a happy tone, "Down".
With a treat pinched between your fingers so its scent is appetizing, trail your hand slowly, starting and lingering at your pet's nose then move it down to the ground. If they don't follow your lead, then you may have moved too quickly. In order to teach this trick, you'll need to trick them into thinking that treat is just a lick away. When they successfully follow your hand and lie down, simply let go of the treat, allowing them to eat off the ground and exclaim praising phrases such as "Good job!" or "Yes!" This lead can easily become the down commands hand signal. After some time of successful practice, try the lead technique without a treat in hand (yet still reward) so they understand it's your motion they're following.
Mark the behavior
Marking behavior is important in dog training, because it helps your dog better understand what you want and when they're doing what you want in its exact moment of occurring. A marker is just a sound that your pup will come to associate with reward. So, for instance, if they end up on their belly after you lead and say "Down," then excitedly say "Yes!" then give a treat, with the word acting as a marker. You may also use a clicker for this, but is not necessary.
Practice this trick often, in short bursts. You can even help make it a routine by requesting it of them each day before you feed them or before you take them on a walk or let them run around outside. Eventually you'll be able to use this obedience-building trick to help gain control of an overly excited or overwhelmed Chihuahua.
The Teaching 'Stay' Method
Master 'sit' and/or 'down'
We recommend teaching the 'sit' command first as it's the easiest and you're least likely to become frustrated or discouraged, but if your pet has more of an affinity for 'down' than 'sit' that is perfectly fine. As long as you've begun the initial growth of your student-teacher relationship, teaching 'stay' is the natural next step. Once the dog is in the 'sit' or 'down' position, you can move onto step two.
Say the command
Your dog is either sitting or lying down at your feet and looking up at you for direction. If their posture isn't there yet, get it there before continuing. Reward them for successfully going into the 'sit' or 'down' position, then say very clearly, "Stay!"
Create a hand signal
As you say the command, hold your hand up and out, firmly in front of your dog, but not too close to their face as to overwhelm them or block their view. This palm-faced-out hand signal should be shown to your dog every time you say "Sit!"
Set them up for success
Do not try to rush your dog's progress by giving the command and then stepping back. This is moving too quickly and it's likely they'll just get up and follow you, especially since you have treats. Even if you are rewarding them for a half-second of staying still, you are still on your way to efficiently teaching the 'stay' command. You want to give your pet every opportunity to do what you're asking of them, this will help them learn quickly as well as keep the training sessions light, simple and fun.
Reward your Chihuahua for obeying every time they do so, even if they break their eye contact with you, even if they turn their heads. You want to express to them that "Stay!" means to not close distance, not necessarily to stay completely still. Once you reward them for staying for a short period of time, slowly see if you can increase the time that they stay, each time rewarding.
Eventually you may practice taking just one step back, then two or three. But each time they successfully stay rooted despite you're walking away from them, you must be the one to bridge the gap, walk back to them and give them the treat.
The ultimate goal with this simple yet effective skill is to help you keep you dog safe while on walks, help them eventually master being off-leash, and help yourself be the best dog parent you can be. After a few weeks of practicing, you may introduce stimuli while asking them to stay put. Start off with something small, like waving your hand slowly just outside their vision, then gently throw something near them, like a pillow or crumbled piece of paper. Your goal is work up to throwing their favorite toy or putting treats a few feet ahead of them without them breaking their stay posture. Keep practicing this method and watch as your Chihuahua grows to be an even more obedient, manageable, intelligent pet.
By Candice Littleton
Published: 03/23/2018, edited: 01/08/2021