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Listening

When a Chihuahua Won't Listen

Overview

For every well-behaved dog there are two that seem a bit defiant. And maybe this is a random issue or maybe your Chihuahua doesn't listen to you at all… however this is certainly something that can be fixed with dedicated training.

Here are just a few blurbs from some of the emails that we have received lately:

'My 3 month old Chihuahua puppy refuses to listen to me and doesn't even pay attention when I call her name. Training for just about anything seems out of the question. Any ideas why my Chihuahua ignores me?'

'I really need help for how to make my Chihuahua listen to me. He is like a stubborn, independent dog that only seems to know I exist when I put his food down. I wanted a cuddly lap dog and I think that if I disappeared, he would only notice when it was time to eat.'

'My Chihuahua is completely rebellious. If I say come, he goes. If I say sit, he gets up and walks away. I almost had a heart attack the other day when he tried to escape and refused to listen to me yelling his name to come back. Any help would be appreciated.'
So, as you can see if your Chihuahua won't listen to you, you're not alone. And there are really two basic reasons why a dog doesn't listen, which makes it relatively easy to turn things around. The key will be deduction to the process and to have all family members in agreement in regard to the training. 
When a Young Chihuahua Puppy Won't Listen

In regard to 'new' puppies that are under the age of 4 months old, often the lack of listening skills is due to age. 
Chihuahua listening
Peaches, 1 year old
Photo courtesy of James Eastcott
Puppies are not fully situationally aware until the 5 month mark or so. This is why many young puppies can be handled and groomed as if they don't have a care in the world… and then as they mature they have more awareness that can lead to letting you know exactly how they feel about being brushed or given baths, etc. 

They are easily distracted, have trouble focusing on any one element for longer than a few minutes and may have a manner about them that can be mistaken for ambivalence, impassiveness or disobedience. 

It is important to speak the puppy's name out loud and to follow the steps coming up for adult Chihuahua that don't listen; however in many cases as the puppy grows and has a better understanding of the world around him, he will pay more attention to his humans and be able to focus on tasks, training and other elements. 
Why a Chihuahua Doesn’t Listen to His Human

Once a Chihuahua reaches the 5 month mark, the main reason that the dog won't listen is because he has no idea that he is supposed to. Sound too easy? It really does all come down to this. Despite his tiny toy size, this breed has all of the same canine instincts as larger breeds and this means that his mind is held to the very strong pack rules that define just about every dog. This holds true no matter how pampered a dog is or how cushy of a life he lives. 
A Chihuahua knows one thing to be true: His pack (which is all members of the household including all humans and all pets) needs to have a leader. The leader is often referred to as the Alpha. Whether a dog lives with just one owner or is part of a huge family of humans can all sorts of other pets, there simply must be an Alpha. The Alpha must be listened to. It is the canine way. 

With dogs, the true Alpha is always obeyed. When he gives a command, it is followed. When he calls, his Betas come. He sets the rules and at the same time, he is respected and loved. When a dog has this sort of environment, with clear hierarchy, his world makes sense to him. Everything is as it should be and dogs with this understanding are well behaved, happy and listen to their owners with enthusiasm. They know that they will be cared for, protected and have a peaceful feeling of safety. 

To refuse to listen to his leader is akin to initiating an unbalanced pack and dogs will not do this. Only if an extended amount of time has gone by in which an owner shows weakness as leader, a dog may then step in to take his place…and this is the main reason why a dog that previously listened no longer does so. 

If a Chihuahua does not listen, this is due to 1 of 3 things:

1) He does not know who the leader is, so with no other choice, he has taken on that role himself. No one has challenged him to take the lead, so he remains doing what he wants, when he wants and that includes not listening.  

2) He is unsure about the hierarchy in the house, so he is held to canine instinct to engage in a power struggle. He will test his human(s) to see if his owner will step up or if he himself will need to take on the role of leader. 

3) He truly believes that he is the leader due to the owner(s) mistakenly reinforcing this idea. At one point he was not sure, however days/weeks or months of evidence has 'proven' to him that he has been declared the true Alpha. 
When a Chihuahua is in any of these positions, he/she will not listen to his owners. There may be random times that he appears to come on command or perform a task when asked…and he may even cuddle or appear to be super attentive… however this is just a matter of the dog doing these things when he wants to.  
How to Make a Chihuahua Listen

Now that you know that your Chihuahua is not listening to you because he literally does not believe that he should, this can be resolved. It is very important that all humans in the house are in agreement on the training that is to take place. If even one person is not onboard, all can be lost. This is because Chihuahuas are very clever and it often does not take a Chi very long to figure out that if he doesn't get his way with one human, he can simply go to a weaker one. 

In addition, everyone in the home should be included in the training to get a Chihuahua to listen, because a dog should see all humans as Alphas. There will actually only be one true leader and this is typically the person who gives the dog most of his meals and is the most engaged in regard to walks and play; however the goal will be for the Chihuahua to listen to everyone and not just obey one particular family member. When the entire household is involved, a dog will learn that while he may see one human in the ultimate leadership role, all others are to be obeyed as well.

These methods may appear to be rather simple, however each affects a dog quite deeply. The key will be to do these at all times; never faltering and never having an 'off day'. If so, a Chihuahua will perceive this to be a hesitation and this can set you back quite a bit. 
Chihuahua listening to owner
Cloe, 6 years old
Photo courtesy of Auriel F.
1) Proper feeding - For every single morsel of food given, which includes meals and snacks or even one single bite of a treat, the Chihuahua must listen to and obey the 'Sit' command before being allowed to eat. Dogs know that food is their life source. One of the problems with dogs that do not listen is that they have no clear understanding of where their food comes from. Someone may call their name and when they walk into the kitchen… low and behold, there's some yummy food in the bowl. Canines do not have the ability to think that through and come to the conclusion that their owner is responsible. They eat the meal and walk away, happy and satisfied.  

This is a huge missed opportunity to teach the chain of command and when this is done properly, it is an important step in getting a Chihuahua to listen. 

Snacks - To establish yourself as leader, with any snack or food that is given out of the bowl, only give that to your Chihuahua once he listens to the 'Sit' command for a count of 5. If your Chihuahua doesn't know how to sit on command, this will certainly teach him quickly. Use the food to train him; simply hold it above his nose and move it slowly over his head… as he follows this, say 'Sit' in an affirmative and firm voice. Once his rump touches the floor, reaffirm this by saying, 'Good, Sit' and then give the reward. 

Meals - In a dog's pack (the household), the Alpha not only provides the food, he also has the privilege of eating it first. If you've been giving your Chihuahua his bowl of food without making it extremely clear that you decide when he eats it and then sitting down to eat after he has begun devouring it, and you're wondering why he doesn't listen to you… it's because you've been teaching him that he has the authority to eat before you do. 

Here what you can do:

1. For at least one meal per day (whichever one is easiest to eat at the same time, whether that is breakfast on the weekdays and dinner on weekends or vice-versa), you will prepare both your own meal and your Chihuahua's meal at the same time.

2. Many Chi will enter the kitchen when they hear food being prepped, however if your dog does not come in on his own, call his name (or 'Dinner!') so that he can be aware of what is happening. 

3. Place his bowl on the kitchen counter where he cannot access it.

4. Sit down at the table and make sure that your Chihuahua can clearly see that you are eating. Take 3 to 4 purposeful bite in plain view. Your dog may bark, jump, whine or otherwise make a fuss, however any such behavior should be completely ignored. 

5. Once he has no doubt that you took it upon yourself to feast before he did, calmly rise and walk to the bowl. As you did with any snacks, he will now need to listen to and obey the 'Sit' command before the bowl is placed down. You may hold the bowl out of reach for motivation. Only once he has held position for a count of 5, release him with the 'Good, Sit' affirmation and allow him to eat.
Chihuahua sitting for food
Ava, 2.5 years old (4.5 lbs.)
Photo courtesy of Tina Kinney, Grimes, Iowa
Please note: These rules should be followed indefinitely. To stop doing this is essentially to release your authority back to your Chihuahua and problems with listening may return with a vengeance. All humans (both adults and children) can take turns doing this. It can help for everyone to take turns in order of age (to help keep track) and remember that it should be done at least once per day. 
2) Entering and Exiting - Aside from the element of how food is given, another massively telling event is how members of the pack (you, your Chihuahua and all other humans or pets) enter and exit the den (the house). In the eyes of a dog, whoever leads the way on this is this is at the top of the pecking order. Many owners find it much easier to let the dog out first and follow along and this is what can cause trouble that eventually leads to a dog not listening and not respecting his owner.

While you will need to stretch out your arm and find just the right way to hold the leash, be sure that your Chihuahua is the last whenever leaving through the doorway and the last when arriving back home. To do otherwise, is sending a message that basically says 'I bow to you… you are the most important and respected entity here, so you go first.'

If you couple incorrect entering and exiting with faulty feeding, you have a double disaster recipe that will create a dog that not only does not listen, but has been for all intents and purposes told that he isn't even supposed to. 
3) Teach commands - This element should come after your Chihuahua has received the message of hierarchy as taught above with the first two steps of training. While the time that it takes for this to work will vary, if you follow this each day without fail, you can expect to see some changes in how your Chihuahua listens within 2 to 3 weeks. However, once you set up the foundation that you should be listened to since you are the Alpha, you need to put this into practice. In effect, you will be taking the concept and moving it into actual life… and what better way to practice listening skills than to teach your Chihuahua all basic commands.

 Not only will this help establish your role, it will also lead to you having a well-trained, well-behaved dog.  
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Here are some tips:

1. Work on one command at a time. Your goal will be to teach: Sit, Come, Stay and Down. Once your Chihuahua is well versed with these, you may choose to go on to more complex tricks. 

2. In addition, training your Chihuahua to heel can be vital in maintaining leadership and having a dog that actually wants to listen to you. When people joke about dogs walking their owners, this is literally true... when a dog is allowed to take charge on a walk, that dog will be much less prone to listen to an owner's cries to 'Stop' or 'Don't touch'. 

3. While you want to been seen as an authoritative figure, this does not mean that you should be imposing or feared. Leaders should be loving, kind and teach with fun enthusiasm. Your attitude will go a long way; if you are having fun and have a positive outlook, your Chihuahua will be much more prone to working hard to listen and to learn. 
4. Offer praise for good efforts and give reward for each good try or accomplishment.  

5. End things on a good note before your puppy or dog gets too tired out or begins to lose focus.

Summary

When a dog acts defiant and does not listen, try to not take it personally. It isn't an accurate reflection of a dog's true personality or potential as a loyal and loving canine family member.

It really all comes down to a lack of training or what the dog was mistakenly taught and he is just following his canine instincts.  In this sense, owners must really take a step back and consider that what they have done in the past most likely led to some behavioral issues... and since we all do make mistakes, things can begin again with a clean slate.  Dogs are super adaptable and can re-learn new ways to behave. The great thing about a Chihuahua's nature is that once he learns that he should listen to you, he will do so with eagerness. Establishing yourself as the head of the household will take a huge weight off of your Chihuahua; it's not easy being leader and most dogs love being Betas…they have all the perks and none of the responsibility.
Chihuahua being good
Miss Chievious (Chievi for short), 3 and 1/2 months old
Photo courtesy of Jan Collier
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