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Clingy

When a Chihuahua is Clingy

Overview

When someone brings home a new puppy, acting clingy doesn't seem like a negative behavior… at first. All of the snuggling, licks, and following you around like a shadow can make you feel as if your Chihuahua is bonding with you.  

And of course, in order for you to enjoy your canine family member, you want your dog to be happy with your company and vice-versa.
Then, when the thrill of having a new dog eases down and you want to get a normal routine underway, you may find that the clinginess can be quite overwhelming.

Alternatively, a Chihuahua of any age that was previously independent to a good degree may have a change in behavior that manifests as anxiousness and insecurity. A dog may suddenly seem to be afraid to leave your side.  

Common questions about this sort of behavior include if acting clingy is normal for the Chihuahua breed, and what can an owner do to help stop excessive clingy behavior. 

This section will address these questions, and more.
The goal will be to help to instill a sense of self-confidence in a Chihuahua so that he feels confident when away from his humans; whether a few feet away in the house or miles apart when home alone. 
Don't really need to know the 'why' and just want to get to the 'how'? Jump to How to Fix Things if You Have a Super Clingy Chihuahua Puppy or Dog

Clingy Behavior as a New Puppy

chihuahua-clinging-to-owners-shoulder
Bella-Baby, at 10 weeks old,
photo courtesy of Martha Parry
Think about the early life of a Chihuahua puppy. All he knew at first was the warmth of the dam and the comradery of his littermates. His breeder was most undoubtedly his first human contact, but that may have been limited for two reasons:
1) His young age prevented many types of bonding activities.

2) He was very close to the dam up until his final few weeks, as he was still nursing.

For the first 8 weeks, the world for a Chihuahua puppy is very small. He finds security and comfort with his brothers and sisters. Just about every litter of puppies - from birth to 8 weeks old - sleep together by piling on top of one another. Playmates are only a few steps away.
This all changes very rapidly. A new family is found and swoop!...That puppy is taken away from all that he knew and is brought to a very unfamiliar environment (in other words, quite scary and intimidating).

New owners - rightfully and correctly - do all that they can to make the new puppy feel at home. They cuddle, spoil, and pay tons of attention to the pup. 
Then, usually within a week or so, it is time to really focus on creating and maintaining a daily routine in which humans are busy working, doing household chores, running errands, etc. 

And this is when owners may realize that their puppy doesn't handle being alone very well. In fact, just being a few steps out of reach may cause the pup to panic. The notion that the Chihuahua would be perfectly fine on his own for short spells of time has gone out the window. 

As a young pup learns his place in the household, and gets used to a routine, and certainly with the help of the upcoming steps, things will even out. So, if your new puppy is glued to your side, this does not mean that things will be like that forever. 

Sudden and Unexpected Clingy Behavior - Chihuahua of Any Age 

black and tan Chihuahua
Frida, at 3 years old,
photo courtesy of Molly
Perhaps you thought that your Chihuahua was self-composed and held just the right amount of independence, but then you're suddenly surprised that your Chi clings to you as if he is frightened to death of everything around him. He may also be shaking and/or trying to hide (closets are common).
There are several possible reasons why a dog may suddenly act this way. See if any of this may relate to your Chihuahua:

1) Is it possible that your Chihuahua could have been recently traumatized in any way? And this may have nothing to do with you at all. Perhaps the dog walker did not report that your Chi barely escaped a dog attack…

Or maybe your friend stepped on his tail by complete accident…Or a visit to the groomer may have involved something that spooked him. 

There are a lot of reasons why a Chihuahua may suddenly act skittish and clingy; Trying to recover and gain sense of his surroundings again after a terrifying incident is one of them.
You may want to think back to when your Chihuahua started acting very clingy and see if any event happened that may have triggered the behavior. Remember that while it may not seem scary to you, it may have been to your dog no matter what his age.

Some people incorrectly believe that dogs are not capable of retaining memory. But of course that is not true. Canines hold both spatial memory (remembering where things are located) and procedural memory (what allows a dog to learn that action = consequence, thus allowing for successful training). 
Therefore, not only can a dog be traumatized by experiencing a scary event, they can also 'know' to be afraid of any type of situation or person that may make them fear a repeat of whatever spooked them.

Time will ease things in this regard, though if a Chihuahua escaped a dog attack, that Chi may always be wary of larger dogs, etc. The main element to keep in mind is that with time, the shock of adrenaline that undoubtedly surged and the general feeling of uneasiness that followed will ebb away. More tips on distraction techniques are coming up that will help in this situation.
Chihuahua emotional service dog
Buddy, an emotional support/seizure detect service dog,  photo courtesy of Frank McKenzie
2) Could your Chihuahua be injured or ill? Many dogs will retreat when they are sick or in pain; however, dogs can act the opposite way as well. 

When not feeling good, canines feel very vulnerable due to diminished physical capacity. This vulnerability strikes a powerful canine instinct - the ability to protect themselves - and dogs may seek the unending attention of their pack leader (the human).

One possible health issue to think about with Chihuahuas is luxating patella (slipped kneecap). This breed is prone to this, and in many cases, during the first few days or weeks, it only causes pain at the moment that it slips out of place or when the dog moves a certain way.
Of course, this is not the only possible health concern. Take note if there are other changes such as fever, lack of appetite, restlessness, changes in bowel movements, resistance to exercise, shivering, etc. 

If you suspect that your Chihuahua may indeed be clingy due to feeling ill or from an injury, do not hesitate to make an appointment with the veterinarian.
3) Did you recently need to reduce the amount of time you spend with your Chihuahua? Changes in schedules and having fewer hours to spend with his owner can cause a Chihuahua to become very clingy in the moments that he does have to spend with his favorite human.

Routines are good and dogs can learn to expect when certain things will happen; however, a dog can easily panic and not able to rationalize enough to metaphorically think 'Oh, I'll see my human again tomorrow, so seeing now is no big deal'…

And dogs will cling to their owner as if it will be the last time that they will ever spend time together. Advice on how to deal with this issue is coming up ahead.

Senior Dogs

A gradual or rapid increase in clingy type behavior with senior dogs may be indicative of vision problems, which is not uncommon for aging, senior canines. When a dog cannot rely on his sense of sight as much, he may tend to become more dependent on his humans.

Another issue that may occur with senior Chihuahuas is Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome which is the canine equivalent of dementia or Alzheimer's Disease. This can cause confusion and anxiety among other issues which in turn can cause a dog to cling to his owners.

Both of the above issues should be ruled out as possible causes. With each, there are treatments that may control, if not cure, the conditions.

Natural Behavior for the Breed?

It's common for owners of clingy Chihuahuas to wonder if this is expected behavior. While each dog breed can be categorized with certain personality traits, all dogs are individuals. There are outgoing Chi and shy Chi, insecure Chi adults and bold Chi puppies. 

This said, Chihuahuas are a lapdog, bred for human companionship, and this does set a foundation. If a Chihuahua does not have enough opportunities to break out of his shell or his clingy behavior is never addressed, it can be worse than it would be otherwise.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help your Chihuahua be a bit more independent, and we'll dive into this next.  

How to Fix Things if You Have a Super Clingy Chihuahua Puppy or Dog

Chihuahua next to owner on sofa
Papi, at 2 years old,
photo courtesy of Vanessa
Ideally, you want to have a dog that enjoys the time that you spend together, but also has enough of an independent streak and self-confidence to be alone at other times. Many Chihuahuas are not born this way; it has to be taught.

The key is to:
  • Create an environment that offers a feeling of security
  • Gradually teach a Chihuahua that playing independently is not such a bad thing 
  • Take steps to help your puppy or dog gain self-confidence
Let's look at some elements that will all come together to get this accomplished. 
#1 Create a 'Den' for your Chihuahua
There are some canine instincts that are inbred and always present, no matter the dog breed. They dictate how a dog perceives his world, and how he reacts to it.  
And one of the strongest canine instincts is that a 'den' equals safety and security. Just as you would feel exposed and vulnerable if living outside and finding shelter would make you feel safe, some dogs do best with a 'den' that is within the house. 

The great thing about creating a den is that it helps in so many other ways as well. It is the ideal set-up for when a Chihuahua needs to be home alone, is one of the best ways to limit destructive chewing, is a 'must' for containing a puppy when housebreaking, and keeps a dog safe when rooms are not puppy-proofed. 

In regard to clingy behavior, once a Chihuahua gets accustomed to his den, it will allow him an overall feeling of security that will be the foundation for more independent behavior moving forward. 
long haired Chihuahua on couch
Charley, longhaired Chi,
photo courtesy of Kayla Pet
One of the best way to create a 'den' is with a playpen, and we highly recommend one that has a door. You will want this so that when you are there to supervise, your Chihuahua can enter and exit at will. A great one for this is the IRIS 24'' Pet Playpen with a Door

Within this, you'll want to have a quality dog bed, food and water, and some toys (more ahead). If your Chi is not house trained yet, or for when you leave the house, be sure to place down pee pads as well. 

The location of this is important; you will not want it to be in the path of frequent foot traffic, but at the same time you will want your Chihuahua to feel as if he is still part of the 'action'. Often, a corner in the living room is a good spot. 
#2 Give Toys that Encourage Independent Play
It's incredibly hard to expect a clingy dog to go off and play with a toy by himself. After all, what reason does the dog have for leaving his owner's side and going to a toy instead? 

The key is to offer a few toys that will react to your Chihuahua, simulating intelligent interaction. 
These are great for when you are home but can't stay focused on your dog, or for when you have to leave the house. The more a dog plays with these, and realizes that fun can happen without his owner right nearby, the closer he will be to learning to be more independent. 

One type that works incredibly well for this are those that speak or make noises. For example, the Pet Qwerks Talking Babble Ball Toy calls out 1 of 20 funny sayings each time a dog touches it. And this is designed specifically for small dogs. 
There is also the Multipet Look Who's Talking Sheep; that lets out a 'Baaaa' sound, but also other stuffed animals as well that each make their own sounds; this includes a duck, rooster, cow, frog, chicken, monkey, parrot, fish, and turkey. 
Chihuahua in green shirt
Peanutbutter,
photo courtesy of Lisa Byrd 
Another type are treat dispensing toys; these slowly release kibble (or small treats) and can keep a dog busy for quite a while. This is a great option for Chihuahuas that are so clingy that they expect to be hand-fed or have their owner stand right near them while they eat. 

Tip: Add some 100% all-natural peanut butter or a dash of fish oil to make it super-enticing. 
One that is sized small enough for a Chihuahua is the Busy Buddy Barnacle Toy, which is comprised of 3 small babbles that each hold treats. This is designed for dogs under 10 pounds. 
#3 Give a Toy that Offers Security
When you get right down to the basics, a Chihuahua clings because of not wanting to be alone. So, a toy that offers a sense of companionship can be very helpful. 

Some dogs can take naturally to any sort of stuffed animal; they will mother it, and act like it's their best friend. But, some dogs need a bit more than that. And, this is where a companion toy can come in. 
The one that we recommend, and really the only one that offers a realistic experience is the Smart Pet Love Snuggle Puppy. This is a good-sized, durable stuffed animal dog that has a rhythmic heartbeat and (optionally) emits a comforting warmth. 
#4 Encourage Exploration 
Chihuahua on pool float
Pee Wee, 
photo courtesy of Dana Burkhead
The more that a Chihuahua sees of the world, the more experiences the dog has, the more that he interacts with various elements, the more he will gain a sense of self. And this is an important step in reducing clingy behavior. 

And as a dog becomes more aware of what exists outside his 'bubble', and when these are positive experiences, the less he will fear stepping outside his 'safe zone' (which is right by your side). 

So, take your Chi to different places. Head to a new dog park. Visit your local pet supply store. Drive to the beach. Take a new route for daily exercise. See at what's at the end of that forest path. Treat the two of you to the offerings at the nearest dog-friendly restaurant. 

And have your Chi do some new things. If it's summertime, see if your Chihuahua likes a pool, or a sprinkler, or chasing after bubbles. If it's wintertime, get your Chihuahua dressed up warm and play in the snow for a little while (keep it under 20 minutes). 

Play new games, hide a toy in the yard that's scented with fish oil or bacon drippings and teach your Chi to 'hunt'. Stop and say hello to neighborhood pets.
#5 Teach Your Chihuahua a Command
One of the best ways to give a clingy dog a boost of self-confidence is to teach a basic command. When done correctly, every session will make a difference, since 'good tries' are rewarded. And once your Chihuahua has fully learned a certain command, every time that he obeys it, this also brings about praise (and sometimes a treat), making a dog feel great about himself. 

Dogs that are well-versed in all basics commands of sit, stay, come, fetch, and down, are often confident, poised, and well-behaved. 

This has the added benefit of establishing you as leader, which often prevents other behavioral issues such as aggression or stubbornness. 
If you are not sure where to start, know that commands all basically follow the same rules, and are pretty easy; the AKC offers steps on the 5 basic commands
And if you feel that you need more than that, such as how to be a good trainer, choosing the right training treats, and more detailed steps and tips, there some great books like Faye Dunningham's The Well Trained Puppy
And of course, our book The GIANT Book of Chihuahua Care has full chapters on training. 
Chihuahua in life jacket with boat
You, at 5 months old,
photo courtesy of Candy Delaney
# 6 Take Note of your Verbal and Non-verbal Cues
You may be inadvertently encouraging clingy behavior. 

Your Chihuahua is highly aware of all your emotions, the tone in which you speak to him, and even your body language. You can't really hide anything from a dog, and how you act sends out a vibe.

If your overall vibes says 'Oh, you poor little thing, let me cuddle you right up and take care of my little baby!', you can guess that this won't help a Chihuahua be more independent.

But, maybe your actions and words are not quite so literal. Even so, it can have the same effect. 

When you get home, do you rush over to your Chihuahua? While it is human instinct to do so, it can actually send the wrong message to a dog and cause him to become clingier than ever. When dogs are home without their owners, they are metaphorically thinking, "Will she ever come back?' and 'What if I never see him again?'. 
Then, when an owner finally arrives, flings the door open, runs over to the dog, picks him up, and hugs the breath out of him, it is akin to saying, 'Oh, my Gosh! I didn't think I'd EVER be back! It's a miracle!'

Clingy dogs do much better with a calm, relaxed atmosphere where essentially nothing is a huge deal.
chihuahua-at-resturant
Oliver, at 8 months old, photo courtesy of Suzy and Wesley Linder
Keeping things on an even keel and not getting excessively excited yourself (though you should still have enthusiasm to do things with your Chi with an upbeat manner) can gradually teach a dog to accept things and 'go with the flow'. 
#7 React the Right Way To Excessively Clingy Behavior
It is extremely important to have interaction with your dog; to spend time together with commands, play time, walks, grooming, and more. And of course, what is nicer than snuggling up on the sofa together? The best thing about having a dog is that you have a lifelong companion. 

However, for dogs that have an unhealthy attachment, it is best to ignore excessive clingy behavior either when it's non-stop, or when it occurs at a time that you need to focus elsewhere (for example, when you are cooking, doing your hair, etc.). 

If you always pick up your Chihuahua and hug him when he's clinging to your leg, you are teaching him that clinging brings about hugs. 

It's better instead to direct your dog's attention elsewhere. 
You can do this by giving a quick, friendly pat (to say hello and give acknowledgement), but then lead your Chi to a toy or activity. You can call him over to snuggle up later when you have time to do so. 
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