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Clingy

When a Chihuahua is Clingy

Overview

When someone brings home a new puppy, they want the pup to be clingy and it does not at all seem like a negative behavior… at first. All of the snuggling and kisses makes an owner feel that their Chihuahua puppy is bonding quickly.

And of course, in order for you to enjoy your canine family member, you want your dog to enjoy your company and enjoy your attention. 
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 anxious and insecure, causing the Chihuahua to try and cling closely like your shadow.

The 2 most commonly asked questions are:
  • Is it normal for a Chihuahua to be clingy?
  • What can I do to stop my Chihuahua from acting so clingy?
This section will address this sort of behavior with the goal being for both dog and owner to find a good balance of time spent together and time spent apart.
Importantly, following certain guidelines will help to instill a sense of self-confidence in a Chihuahua so that he or she feels confident when away from his owners - whether a few feet away in the house or miles apart when an owner is not at home.

Clingy Behavior as a Puppy

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 2 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 (e.g. 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 Chi. 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 the puppy is - hopefully - perfectly fine on his own for short spells of time.

The problem of clingy behavior develops when the puppy has zero reason to be independent. After all, being close to his human feels great! The human pats him, plays with him, snuggles him and with just the hint of puppy dog eyes, the Chihuahua receives a yummy treat.

But, what is an owner to do, when their Chihuahua is so clingy that it becomes demanding and interferes with the owner's ability to focus on other tasks and responsibilities aside from taking care of the puppy? Keep reading for excellent tips and strategies to help your Chihuahua.
Sudden and Unexpected Clingy Behavior - Chihuahua of Any Age 

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 every element that surrounds him. It's nice to have your dog want to snuggle, but it's affecting your ability to take care of other things and you feel just terrible leaving him home alone.

There are several possible reasons why a dog may suddenly become clingy. See if any of this may relate to your Chihuahua:

1) Take a moment before you answer this one: Has your Chihuahua recently been 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 husband stepped on his tail by complete accident… There are a lot of reasons why a Chihuahua may suddenly act skittish and clingy to his owners. Trying to recover and gain sense of his surrounding 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. 

This allows 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.
2) Are you 100% sure that your Chihuahua is not injured or ill in any way? Many dogs will retreat when they are sick or in pain, however there are also some dogs that will feel very vulnerable due to diminished physical capacity. 

This vulnerability strikes a powerful canine instinct - the ability to protect themselves - and the dog may seek the unending attention of his pack leader (his human).

One possible health issue to think about is that the Chihuahua breed is prone to luxating patella (slipped kneecap) and in many cases it only causes pain at the moment that it slips out of place. With others, there will be that initial pain and then discomfort will only manifest when the dog moves a certain way.
Of course, LP is only one of many possible health concerns. 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 is 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 eye 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, medication (or surgery in the case of some eye issues) may control, if not cure, the conditions.
 
Other Reasons

There are a lot of other reasons as well - each individual dog will have his own way of interpreting his environment and as a dog ages his behavior will change. However, it is always best to rule out the 3 elements above: trauma, health issues and changes in time spent together.

Even if you cannot pinpoint the exact time that your Chihuahua became clingy or if you cannot think of a legitimate reason for the behavior, the following tips will help:

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

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 gradually teach a Chihuahua that playing independently is not such a bad thing and that no matter what, attention will be given at certain times of the day.
Let's look at some elements that will all come together in creating the right environment that will stop a Chihuahua from being clingy:
Crating VS Gates/Playpens

The use of crates should be limited to confining a puppy that is still in the process of being house trained. Other than this one brief phase of a dog's life, crating a dog no matter his age is just a terrible idea. Keeping a puppy in such a confined manner for hours during his daytime waking hours can cause the puppy to experience quite a bit of stress. 

The desire to break free and the desire for human interaction can build up so high and to such an intense degree that when finally freed from this small confinement, the Chihuahua then overcompensates by acting extra clingy.

Additionally, a dog may become hyperactive, unable to calm down and simply be running frantically when finally released.

Wired cages cause damage to a dog's paws and any crate becomes an unsanitary area when a dog is left longer than the amount of time that he can hold his bladder and bowels; dogs will go to the bathroom where they rest if they are not given any other option.

Therefore, it is strongly recommended to set up a canine playpen or create a fun, secure indoor area via gates for your Chihuahua when home alone. Once set up properly, this can also be the dog's 'time out' area in a way, if you need to keep your Chi out from under your feet (for example, when cooking, when company is over, etc.)

The location of this enclosure 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' even if he is behind the gate.

Dogs are happy when they can see, smell and hear what is happening, even if they are not able to jump on things to investigate them. While a dog may bark at visitors from his playpen, this is a far better option than a dog feeling lonely, isolated and stressed if forced to remain out of sight… dogs can become exceedingly frustrated in that sense.

Be sure to choose a pen or to obtain enough gating sections so that there is room for all your Chihuahua's needs. There should be space for a bed (a quality, comfortable one), water dispenser, non-skid food bowl, area to play with toys and as far from all of that as possible (in a corner) pee pads. Not all puppies or dogs will hit the target at all times, but having pads there will at least allow for some success with that.

It may take a dog days or even weeks to fully appreciate his own 'den', but once a dog does, he often will randomly retreat there voluntarily and will learn to feel safe and secure. It helps if a clingy Chihuahua does not associate the area with being alone. Dogs should be placed there for short amounts of time when owners are home and if a pen or area has an 'entrance', it should be left open when both dog and owner are at home together.
What Type of Toys Does Your Chi Have?
  
Never underestimate the power of proper toys and consider dog toys to be a wise investment. When a dog clings to his owner, it is often because there simply is not a better option at that time. Making better options can allow your dog to willingly leave his 2 hour snuggle fest or un-glue himself from your leg.

While it may be tempting to gather up twenty toys from a dollar store in order to have quantity, a better option is to choose several quality toys that will A: last and B: hold your Chihuahua's interest.

Once a dog learns to love certain toys, there can be used to distract him when it's not a good time to have him right near you or when he is home by himself and you want him to stay happily occupied.

There are many choices for interactive toys… Some make sounds, others hold treats. For dogs that have a hard time being home alone, a Snuggle Pet can be a miracle; if you are not familiar with these and your Chi struggles to be by himself, it is well worth checking it out. These soft, safe toys emit a soothing heartbeat that makes a dog feel that he has security and companionship.  

Having these reassuring feelings when left home alone can make a dog much less clingy when his owners finally arrive back after a long day at work. As a side note, beware of copycats - since many Chi become very attached to their Snuggles, you'll want it to last and if it should wear out, you'll want to know that you can easily replace it.

Use some short spaces of time to encourage independent play while you stay close and offer words of encouragement. For example, if you want to cook dinner and that is a time when your Chihuahua normally clings to you, take out one of your Chi's special toys and place it down a few feet away from where you'll be preparing food (making sure, of course, that he is not underfoot). 

To begin, get on your Chi's level and encourage him to chew at/play with the toy. Once he seems to be interested, slowly rise offering a happy "Good job".

As you go about your work, offer praise without being so overly excited that you prompt your Chi to turn his attention back on you. In many cases, a puppy or dog will feel safe playing away from you as long as he can still hear you and see that you're right there should he really need you.

If you are not sure which toys might keep your Chi happy or if you think that your Chi will benefit from a Snuggle buddy, you may wish to look at the list of recommended toys in the Chihuahua Specialty Shoppe.
How You Interact with Your Chi Can Make a Difference

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! Thank goodness we are together again!'

Clingy dogs might do much better with a calm, relaxed atmosphere where essentially NOTHING is a big deal. Just came home? Okay, that's fine. Have to leave? No big deal. Time to go outside and play? Yeah, that sounds good.

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 remain calm as well.

Another key component to this is that you will not want to take any action or give any verbal cues that your dog may mistake as being 'reward' for this behavior. It is human instinct to either acknowledge a dog that is following you around or physically touching you, however spoken words (even if you are lightly scolding) or pats of reassurance (even if it is an automatic reaction) will only teach a dog that acting clingy = attention (verbal or physical).

It is extremely important to have interaction with your dog; to spend time together with commands, play time, walks, grooming and more. However, for dogs that have an unhealthy attachment, it is best to ignore excessive clingy behavior while using toy distraction and save purposeful interaction for scheduled times of daily walks for exercise, command training, etc. 
Does Your Chihuahua Stand Right Under You or Cling to Your Leg?
 
The Chihuahua is one of the breeds that are often referred to as an 'under the foot' dog… Meaning that he literally can be under your feet as he tries to stay close. And this can lead to unfortunate accidents. 

We know of 2 owners who have fallen down flights of stairs in last minute attempts to avoid stepping on their clingy Chihuahuas and countless Chi puppies and even older dogs that have been accidentally stepped on while they were shadowing their owners. Therefore, this not only can be frustrating, it can also be dangerous for both dog and owner.

If your Chi clings to your leg as soon as he sees you, it is best to pat him for a moment (to say hello and acknowledge him) but then to lead him to an activity or toy. Of course, there will be times that you want to cuddle up with your dog and that is encouraged… 

No dog should be ignored. However, you can actually train a dog to release your leg by using 1 specific toy (a treat releasing toy works well) and training him to fetch after it on command. Using "Play" is a good example of a command word to use for this.

In this way, you can enjoy cuddling and the occasional clinginess when you yourself want a clingy dog, but you'll be able to give the command that will have your Chihuahua chase after a toy that will normally keep him entertained once he has his paws on it.

How to Help Fearful or Scared Dogs

Some dogs will cling due to feeling very afraid of their surroundings. This behavior is often apparent when outside of the home in a new environment that is unfamiliar to a dog. Alternatively, even if in a familiar place (home, the dog park, etc.) a Chihuahua may suddenly become clingy due to seeing or hearing a person or another animal that he is unfamiliar with.

Perhaps due to his size or because of the generations of being bred to be a companion lap dog, it is not uncommon for a Chihuahua to need detailed socialization training. With proper techniques, even a shy, nervous dog can learn to love the outside world and take on new situations with confidence.
If you feel that your Chihuahua is clingy due to this reason and you are looking for a good recommendation for a training book, we highly recommend Faye Dunningham's top rated book on Amazon (available as both hard copy and kindle) which is called: The Well Socialized Dog: Step-by-Step Socialization Training for Puppies and Dogs.
Alternatively, The GIANT Book of Chihuahua Care (which includes all care and training needs) includes a helpful condensed version of Ms. Dunningham's book.
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