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Afraid of Dogs

When a Chihuahua is Afraid of Other Dogs

Chihuahua with larger dog
Photo courtesy of YankeeBelle Chihuahuas
Overview

The Chihuahua breed - in general - gets along well with other canines. Some owners have multiple Chi's and they travel around the house like a tiny pack. In other cases, a Chihuahua will be paired up with a much larger pet and the two couldn't be closer friends; they will even sleep together.
 
With this said, each Chihuahua has a mind of its own. Some will be wary of strangers, some will be scared of loud noise and some Chihuahuas may be afraid of other dogs. There are some Chihuahuas that will go right up to a Pit Bull and challenge him! (Not such a great idea, but it has been done!). However, there are many owners who will say that their Chihuahua is afraid of other dogs; this is not uncommon.

The fear may be fact based. In some cases this will be because of a previous experience. If a Chihuahua has been in attacked by a larger dog and lost, he may be always have a fear of a strange dog and this is justifiably so.

Other times it will be pure natural instinct that the smaller animal is afraid of the larger one. Since the Chihuahua is the smallest breed possible; the chances are good that your dog will be smaller than any other that you come across.

Chihuahuas in multi-dog households tend to be better with unknown dogs, it is usually the one-pet Chihuahua that will show nervous, anxiety and fear when a strange dog approaches.
Behavior When Seeing Another Dog

Some Chihuahuas may be a bit more secure and brave when in their own territory (house and surrounding yard) and more fearful when out in public, at a park or while taking a daily walk. Though, the sight of a neighbor's dog can cause a Chi to shake and show other signs of fear.

The most common signs that a Chihuahua is scared of other dogs include:
  • Cowering - If you are on a walk, the puppy or dog may hug your leg or motion for you to pick him up
  • Tucking of the tail - Not only can this indicate fear, it is also a sign of stress. Seeing another dog can trigger a flood of emotions, including stress, anxiety and nervous.
  • Shaking - This breed shakes and trembles for several different reasons; being afraid is certainly one of them
  • Whining - The Chihuahua may whimper and whine  
  • Avoidance - A Chihuahua may tug on the leash or take other action to move away from a dog this is coming toward him.
How This Affects Owners

When a Chihuahua is fearful of other dogs, it affects owner as well. Just bringing the dog out for a walk can be an overwhelming event. Owners may try to time the route as to not encounter other dogs; however there is always a feeling of being on guard… Is another owner about to turn the corner with his dog and set off my Chi? It can limit trips to the park and other places that help a dog become socialized to other people and situations.
 
It is not uncommon for an owner to pick up their Chihuahua when another dog approaches. It is human instinct to protect our pets and when you have a tiny Chi acting afraid of a dog that is perhaps 4 times larger or more, scooping up the Chihuahua and holding him is a common reaction. This is not the right approach, but it is certainly understandable

Tips to Help

While there is some training that you can do to help a Chihuahua feel more confident and brave there are a few things to keep in mind:

1) While there are methods of improving a dog's confidence to greet other dogs, a Chihuahua may always have a fear of certain types of dogs. Each dog has his threshold. A Chi may learn to do well with other toy breeds and even medium breeds, but his limit may be large breeds.

With other Chi, the dog may learn that if the other dog is sending friendly signals, it is okay to interact; however the Chihuahua may not even attempt to do this with dogs that are not outwardly friendly. Not only is this alright, it is the safest thing to do!

Therefore, do not expect friendly interaction each and every time; in some instances a Chihuahua's fear of another dog may be very well justified.

2) Throughout training and beyond, never push your Chihuahua to do anything. Dogs do best when training is done very slowly and gradual. The dog needs to believe that it is his idea to become a bit braver. It must be his decision to learn to meet and greet. No one (dog or human) can truly learn to have courage if forced into a situation to 'deal with it'. When the decision to do something is voluntary, there is already a much better foundation of determination and intent.

3) Never punish your Chihuahua for being scared of other dogs. Fear is an uncontrolled and powerful emotion whether or not is makes sense to you or if it is valid and justified. Until a Chihuahua has the training and skills to overcome the phobia, there is no other response that the dog will emote. If punishment is doled out, this is exceedingly counterproductive and only delays any potential success.
Training to Help a Chihuahua Overcome His Fear of Other Dogs

1) Establish Leadership - Any training you do, whether it is housebreaking, command training or this sort of socialization training - can only work well if a Chihuahua views his owner as his leader.

Many owners want to be best friends with their dog; why be a leader if you can be a comrade? However in the canine world, every pack (all humans and all pets) must have a leader (the Alpha) of the den (the house).

The leader plays a huge role. He protects, he offers shelter and food, and he sets the rules and expectations. There is also one other important thing that he does: He sends signals. He will let a dog know what type of response is expected. 

Through verbal and non-verbal cues, an owner can let a Chihuahua know that there is no reason to be on guard; and an Chihuahua will listen and take that message very seriously IF he sees his owner as the one in charge.
 
You can do this by always: Commanding your dog to sit before any feeding any meal or snack. Always being the one to exit and enter the house first. Teaching all basic commands. Being the one to signal when time play is over (do not wait until your dog tires out. End things with him always wanting just a bit more).

These are things that should be done not just to establish hierarchy, but indefinitely, as you do not want a dog to ever question the strength and resolve of the chain of command.

2) A slow and gradual introduction to other dogs is best. In other words, you'll want your Chihuahua to dip his paw into the water, not throw his whole body in. This is best done if you have a friend or family member who owns another dog. 
And of course, you will want that dog to have a history of being friendly with others. During this time, try to avoid walking your Chi down routes and paths that a lot of other dogs may be on; you'll want to concentrate on planned, supervised interactions at first.

Since most Chihuahuas feel safe and secure at home, this should be done outside your home. Inside the home can work, however a Chi may feel that the other dog is invading his territory. It can create a feeling of invasion and the need to protect. When having the canine instinct to protect, but feeling afraid at the same time, it can be very overwhelming.

Therefore, it is best to plan for a friend, neighbor or family member to visit with his dog outside your home in the front or back yard.

If you do not know anyone with another dog that is known to get along well with other dogs, your other option is to choose a quiet dog park. When you visit a park in which there are just a handful of other pets, you can initiate a meet and greet with the dog of your choosing. Let another owner know that you are working with your Chihuahua on tolerance and bravery and most will be happy to oblige.

3) The Meet - Once you have established that you are the leader, when the dog is brought over (or you bring your Chihuahua to the park to meet another dog), act and speak in a matter-of-fact manner. You will want to send a signal to your Chihuahua that you do not view the approach of others as a fearful event.

Have your Chi on a 6 foot leash (and harness- not collar). You will want to keep the leash short; otherwise, your dog may just decide to run its length and cower down as far away as he can.

After greeting the other person, crouch down for a moment to the other dog's level to pat him and say hello. This will show your Chihuahua that you are accepting the other dog and that you do not see him as a threat.
 
Do not put all of your focus on your dog. Your goal will be to interact with the other person. You will be ignoring your Chihuahua while secretly keeping an eye on him. Chat away in a friendly manner, ignoring any whining, cowering, shaking or tail tucking. If a few minutes pass and your Chi shows no signs of calming down, it is best to remove him from the area (lead him away, do not carry him). He may need quite a few quick meets like this before he is ready to engage with the other dog.

However, just allowing the approach and as leader, ignoring his signs of fear, you are working towards establishing a 'rule' that if you say it is okay, it is okay.

At some point - whether after 2 tries or 20, a Chihuahua will find a touch of courage to interact. In order for there to be an interaction between 2 dogs, both must agree on the exchange. If they do, the dogs will sniff each other. It is important to allow this to happen.
When they do this, they are smelling each other's anal glands (those two tiny glands on your Chi that need to be expressed sometimes at the groomer's). The scent released by each dog tells the other: Their gender, their basic health, their age and also if they are receptive to interacting.

Note that it is normal for a dog to be hesitant and shows some signs of fear as this exchange is done; until a Chihuahua has a full sense of the friendliness of the other dogs, he will be wary.

If the other dog does not seem interested in playing, do not try and force an interaction and do not take it personally. Some dogs will not be interested in romping around with another dog that is much younger, older, etc.

In time, greeting other dogs like this may lead to the two romping around a bit. Always keep a close eye on things; if another dog nips or behaves in a threatening manner, separate them at once.

When you do find a good play mate for your Chihuahua, try to arrange time each week for the dogs to get to know each other. Don't fall in the trap of thinking that a successful friendship with one dog has cured your Chihuahua of his fear of all others. This is a gradual process. In time, with enough positive interactions, a Chihuahua can come out of his shell and no longer be afraid of other dogs.
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