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Socializing Your Chihuahua

In This Chapter

You can raise a puppy only once, so if you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity, make the most of it. Socialization is a very important aspect of bringing a dog into your home. It is, simply, the responsible thing to do — for a new puppy or new adult. In this chapter, I tell you how to bond with your Chihuahua, read her body language, and help her gain confidence. You also find out how to teach your Chi to walk on lead and safely introduce her to the world. I even include a section on kindergarten puppy training, better known as KPT. Both of you will have some mighty good times as your little Manchita learns to share her Chi charm with an admiring public.

Building a Bond with Your Chi

Bonding can be relaxing for both you and your Chi. Chihuahuas love attention and body warmth, so holding your puppy in your lap is one of the better ways to bond with her. And she won’t mind if you read or watch television at the same time! While you’re holding your dog, you can condition her to be tolerant of touch. If she lets you handle every part of her body — from the tip of her nose to the pads of her toes (see Figure 9-1) — it becomes easier to groom and medicate her. Besides, all that touchy-feely stuff lowers your blood pressure (honest, petting dogs does that).


Is your Chi sensitive about having her tootsies touched? Many puppies are, but she’ll get over it if you deal with it right away. No, don’t force the issue. Instead, pet your puppy in places she enjoys until she’s nearly asleep. As she becomes limp, continue stroking her body, but include her feet as well. If she tenses up, go back to petting only her body until she’s sleepy enough that you can try her feet again. After she falls asleep (and she will), gently massage the toes of all four feet. Soon, your puppy will relax and let you touch her toes when she’s awake, too, and that makes toenail trimming much easier (see Chapter Grooming the Body Beautiful). If she resists being touched on other parts of her body, use the same method to overcome those aversions.


Be yourself around your new dog and incorporate her schedule into your routine. If your pup is napping and you want to watch TV or play the piano, do it. Your puppy can sleep through normal household noises. 

Figure 9-1: Pet your Chi from her ear tips to her toes.

Interpreting Body Language (And Preventing Anxiety)

Dogs may not talk (except on those amusing old Taco Bell commercials and in movies), but if you pay attention to your Chi’s body language, you soon find out how to read her needs and even predict her next moves. Your Chi communicates through her facial expressions, using her ears, eyes, brows, lips, nose, and mouth. She also talks through her tail, coat (hackles), and body position, and she emits a variety of sounds.


Communicating with dogs comes naturally to many youngsters, but adults need to concentrate on it because they seldom take time to sit back and use their powers of observation. In fact, the older people get, the more they rely on verbal communication and lose their nonverbal skills. To give your Chi the best care, you need to know her intimately. Sit back and study the differences in her body language and facial expressions when she’s happy, curious, anxious, proud of herself, and sleepy. Soon you’ll be able to read your dog.

To start you off, here are some descriptions of general canine body language:

A relaxed dog wags her tail in a methodical, neutral position — her tail isn’t high, tucked under, or stiff. Her mouth may be slightly open, and her ears look relaxed (rather than fully alert). Her eyes appear soft, without a trace of threat or tension, and her weight is evenly distributed on all four legs.

A dominant or aggressive dog tries to appear larger. She stands absolutely erect, holds her tail either straight out or up, and raises her hackles (the fur on top of her back). Her mouth usually is closed, and she makes eye contact with her adversary.

A submissive, shy, or frightened dog makes herself smaller by contracting her body. She tucks her tail, flattens her ears, averts her eyes, and appears to shrink slightly.

When a dog greets you with her rear end up, front end low, a wagging tail, and lively eyes, she’s play-bowing. This is dog language for “Let’s play.”

If she flicks her tongue up to lick her nose over and over, a dog is uneasy about something. Maybe she’s checking out your new friend or concentrating hard to learn a new trick. In some cases, tongue flicking precedes snapping.

Mounting has more to do with dominance than sex. Does your Chi ever mount another dog or stand on her hind legs with her paws on another dog’s back? This is her way of saying, “I’m top dog here, and don’t you forget it.”

Okay, the following sections take it from here by presenting more behaviors and giving you more advice. And remember, although the body language in the previous list is universal, your dog will have many unique mannerisms all her own. Enjoy!

Understanding the “jitters”

A jittery dog acts frightened. You can recognize this behavior by her tightly tucked tail, contracted body (to appear smaller), and flattened ears. However, sometimes you won’t see her body because she’ll be hiding behind your legs or the sofa. Chihuahuas often shake all over when they’re scared, but shaking alone isn’t a good indicator of fear. Chis also may shake from cold or even from extreme happiness or excitement.
Some dogs are born nervous because of poor breeding, but most scaredy-pups act jittery because they weren’t socialized at the right time. If a dog isn’t socialized during its puppyhood, it never becomes as confident a companion as it can be (see the following section). You can understand an unsocialized dog’s jitters by looking at the following scenario with a human child.
Imagine how a child (I’ll call him Bobby) would react on his first day of school if he had been so overprotected by his parents that it was also his first experience away from home. Bobby’s anxiety increases during the walk or drive to school. Traffic sounds startle him, and the sight of so many strange buildings, vehicles, and people confuses him. When he arrives, the big school building intimidates him — especially if he doesn’t know how to navigate stairs. In the classroom, Bobby’s fear of the strange adult called Teacher keeps him from focusing on the lesson. On the playground, he doesn’t know how to respond to his high-spirited classmates. Feeling vulnerable and uncertain, he may back into a corner or become defensive and try to fight off the first child who approaches.

Here’s another bad scenario: What if Bobby went on two outings before starting school? Both times, he visited his pediatrician for vaccinations. In his mind, leaving home, entering a strange building, and meeting a stranger all correlate to pain. Now Bobby can’t relax or trust his teacher and consequently doesn’t learn. A classroom observer who doesn’t know Bobby’s history probably labels him as shy or stupid — perhaps even stubborn.

Luckily for children, scenarios like that seldom occur because most parents take their kids out often. But puppies — especially Toy breed puppies — don’t always have it so good. Some are raised like poor Bobby.


Good breeders socialize their puppies before selling them; the best refuse to sell a puppy before it’s 3 months old. And don’t worry. Even though the puppy loves its breeder, it transfers that love to you in no time. Besides, socialization is ongoing, and plenty of fun stuff is left for you and your puppy to do. Chapters Perusing the Particulars of Chihuahua Charm and Choosing Your Ideal Chihuahua discuss socialization and buying from a good breeder. The rest of the sections in this chapter also dive deeper into dog socialization.

Using the first 16 weeks wisely

The first 16 weeks of your dog’s life are critical to her social development. What a puppy discovers during that short time shapes her personality — making her outgoing or shy, happy-go-lucky or cautious. The brief time correlates to when wild animals explore outside the den for the first time, quickly learning lessons in survival. Absorbing everything in a hurry is a necessity, because a cub that makes a mistake in the wild rarely gets a second chance.
Although domesticated for centuries, dogs still arrive in the world programmed to relate to their surroundings during their first four months. In an ideal situation, a pup finds out how to behave around dogs during her first two months, which is why a good Chihuahua breeder keeps a litter together until the puppies are at least 8 weeks old. Between 8 weeks and 12 weeks, the youngsters become mentally mature enough to leave their canine family; this is the ideal age to settle into human families. From then on, their people shape their personalities.
If you’re lucky enough to acquire a Chi when she’s still a young puppy (under 4 months old), you can help her establish (or keep) an outgoing attitude. Introduce her to a friendly world and she’ll grow up confident — a canine clown that shows off for your friends and likes finding out new things. But if you keep her secluded, she’ll begin to fear anything unusual.

It’s Party Time! Introducing Your Chi to Guests

Socializing has one big dilemma: Your Chi needs to meet plenty of people before she’s 12 weeks old, but she’s prohibited from going out in public places where she could encounter unvaccinated dogs until her series of shots is complete (see Chapter Visiting the Vet), which usually takes between 12 and 16 weeks. Breeders who keep their puppies for three months or more have their own socializing programs, but you may bring home a younger pup than that. No problem. The solution is simple — and fun. Let your dog meet new people right in your home by throwing a few puppy parties.
Introduce your Chi to men, women, and well-supervised children by inviting a small group of friends over for dessert or a video. Place a bowl of your pup’s dry food on the goodie table so your friends can hand-feed her. Show your helpers how to hold a puppy (see Chapter Welcome Home, Little Amigo) and ask them to take turns holding, feeding, and petting your pup.


Try to have several of informal get-togethers before your girl turns 12 weeks old, making sure you include men, women, and children of various ages (supervised, of course).


Going for a short drive every so often keeps your dog from associating riding in the car with receiving a shot. Ask your dogless friends or friends with well-behaved, healthy dogs if you and your puppy can stop by for a few minutes. Investigating new places and meeting new people is wonderful for your Chi, provided that there’s no chance of contacting a doggie disease. By the time she’s vaccinated and ready for real outings, she’ll feel secure around strangers and comfortable in the car. In other words, she’ll be ready to experience the world!

Leaving Home: Hello, World!

Every time your Chi meets someone new or leaves the house, she’Technical Stuff socializing. Taking her with you when you visit a friend socializes her. So does meeting someone while out for a walk, playing with another puppy, or examining a beach ball.
The world is your Chi’s playground, so she needs to get out and enjoy it as soon as she’s safely vaccinated (see Chapter Visiting the Vet). Few people can pass up an adorable Chihuahua, and your pup benefits from these admiring people. She needs to meet senior citizens and gentle kids, bearded men and ladies in sun hats, teenagers carrying skateboards, and people pushing strollers.


Never, ever let your Chihuahua run free outside — not even for a second. Always put a leash on her when she’s outside the safety of your home and fenced yard (see the later section “Walking on a Lead”). And no matter how outgoing your Chi is or how well she walks on a leash, always keep her in your arms when riding an elevator. If it gives a sudden lurch or people rush on without watching where they’re going, she can get stepped on.

While safely outside (in your arms or on a leash), your Chi gets used to hearing motors, sirens, and the rumble of the garbage truck. Whatever you do, though, don’t hold her all the time. She needs to walk on grass and pavement and find out how to navigate stairs.


If your house doesn’t have steps, find some elsewhere and show your dog how to manage them. Start by putting her on the third step and encouraging her to come down to you. When she gets good at that, place her at the bottom of the stairs, sit on the third or fourth step, and encourage her to climb up to you.

The more people your Chi meets, the more she experiences, and the more sights she sees before she’s 4 months old, the braver she becomes. And confident Chihuahuas are the most fun of all. The following sections explain how you can help your pup overcome fear of the world and how you can take her to class to help with your socialization efforts.

Helping your pup overcome fear

Think of socialization as a game with two rules: 
  1. Never pet your puppy when she’s afraid.
  2. Always praise your puppy for being brave.


When your Chi appears scared you’ll want to comfort her, but that’s a major mistake. Why? Because she interprets your pats and soothing words as praise. Anything a puppy is praised for she’ll repeat again and again, so cringing behind your legs can become her learned reaction to anything new. On the other hand, never jerk her toward an object she fears. Treatment like that can turn a little trepidation into total terror.

Your Chi may be afraid of things in many different places. The following list gives you some tips for curbing your Chi’s fear in different areas:

Objects in your home: What do you do if your pup is afraid to investigate a new object in your house? Leave her where she is and go yourself. Handle the object like it’s a winning lottery ticket and invite her to join you. Sitting down beside the feared object works especially well. Your puppy may start creeping toward you (and it), but hold your praise until she touches the thing with her nose. If the object isn’t breakable or too large, roll it away from your puppy (never toward her). That may awaken her chasing instinct and entice her to play with the object.

A friendly person: When your Chi fears a friendly person, follow these steps to make an intro:

1. Give the person a dog treat and ask him or her to toss it near your dog and then ignore her and chat with you.
2. If your pup approaches, tell the person to kneel down but not to reach for her.
3. When the dog gets close, the person holds his or her hand low, reaching under the puppy’s chin to tickle her chest.
Reaching over your Chi’s head may make her back away in fright.
4. If she doesn’t approach the person, don’t force her, but give her much more socialization.
Get many friends in on the act, and set up situations that entice your Chi to approach people on her own.

– Loud noises: If loud noises send your Chi behind the sofa, start announcing her favorite things with sound. For example, if she’s an eager eater, mix her meal in a metal pan with a metal spoon. Just keep the noise within the realm of everyday life. The purpose is to help your pup handle her sound sensitivity, not startle or terrify her.

Sudden Fear Syndrome


Between the age of 8 and 11 weeks, suddenly becoming afraid of anything new isn’t unusual for happy-go-lucky puppies. In fact, that behavior has a name — Sudden Fear Syndrome. If your Chi suddenly starts spooking, remember the rules of socialization: Don’t try to cuddle her out of it, and praise her profusely when (and if) she does something brave. 

Don’t be surprised if your pup shies away from something as silly as a fire hydrant. During her fear phase, she may see the bogeyman everywhere. Although this isn’t the time to take her to a Fourth of July celebration, it’s best to keep taking her on regular outings. If you don’t force her toward something she fears or soothe her silliness, the fear phase passes.

Attending kindergarten for puppies

What’s more fun than watching a puppy play? Watching several puppies frolic together and then your Chi being invited to join in. This treat awaits you after your dog has been immunized and can safely attend puppy kindergarten.
When your puppy is between 4 and 6 months old, she’s fully developed mentally but not physically or emotionally, and she hasn’t yet achieved an adult attention span. Often called KPT (Kindergarten Puppy Training) and geared to puppies between 12 and 16 weeks of age (some rules may vary), kindergarten classes usually run once a week for eight weeks. KPT classes provide excellent socialization by helping owners introduce their pups to people, places, things, and each other.
In addition to socialization, KPT prepares dogs for further education. Gentle training techniques encourage them to earn praise for a job well done and to learn respect for the word “No.” Depending on the instructors, pups may also be introduced to basic commands such as Come, Sit, and Down (see Chapter Establishing Good Behavior and Manners), and may be taught how to walk on a leash.


KPT isn’t just for puppies; it’s for people, too. Instructors give advice on housetraining and answer questions about dog behavior. By the end of the course, you’ll know how to solve minor problems before they become major issues.

To find a puppy kindergarten near you, check your local newspaper or yellow pages for kennel clubs or dog obedience schools. Some of these places offer puppy programs. You also can check with your veterinarian for recommendations.


Before enrolling your Chi in any class, talk to the teacher. Find out if he or she is experienced with Toy dogs, and inquire about safety protocol. For example, if the instructor turns puppies loose to play together, you want to make sure your Chi’s group is composed only of other small pups.


Also, use your head when choosing playmates and play groups. Puppies don’t know their own strength (although playing with other puppies helps them learn it). Don’t overwhelm your 10-week-old Chihuahua by putting her with an 8-week-old Rottweiler. Instead, try to find other small puppies for her to play with. Sure, most puppies will probably be bigger than your Chi, but Chihuahua puppies can hold their own with other small-breed puppies of similar ages.

Walking on a Lead

If I were asked to list the mistakes Toy-breed owners make most often, teaching their dogs how to walk on a lead too late would definitely be near the top. It’s so easy to carry a tiny dog that some people just don’t get around to lead training. That never happens with a Great Dane!
Some breeders teach their puppies to walk on a leash before selling them. If your Chi willingly walks with you, you don’t have to read the rest of this section. Instead, snap on her leash, step outside, and enjoy!
If your Chi doesn’t know how to walk on lead, though, and isn’Tip used to her collar or harness (see Chapter Welcome Home, Little Amigo), follow these steps:
1. Put the collar on her and play with her. Is she a chowhound? Put the collar on her just before meals and let her wear it a little longer each time. After a few days, she’ll ignore it.
2. When your Chi is accustomed to her collar, attach the lead and let her drag it around. Keep an eye on her so she doesn’t catch it on something and start struggling.
3. When she’s nonchalant about dragging the leash (or if she’s too busy playing with it to drag it), pick up your end and follow your pup wherever she takes you.
When leash-breaking a Chihuahua puppy, five minutes a day is enough, and more than ten minutes is too much.

4. When she’s comfortable with her collar and leash in the house (this may take a few days), put a few of her favorite treats in your pocket and carry her outside wearing her leash. If you live in a crowded city, save leash-breaking for early on a weekend morning or for whenever the fewest people are out rushing around.

5. Carry her about a quarter-block away from the house, put her down, and walk her home (it’ll probably take plenty of verbal encouragement and a few treats). If she pulls and rears like a baby bucking horse, wait until her tantrum subsides and try again.
Keeping the experience a positive one is important, so ignore the rebellion and praise her when she walks with you (out in front, following behind, or beside you are all okay). Just watch your timing. Be sure to give her a treat when she’s moving with you, not when she’s balking like a belligerent mule.


Does your Chi scream and turn herself inside out in a ploy to make you remove her leash? Just stay calm and keep trying. Whatever you do, don’t give in and decide to put off training until she’s older. When she’s older, she’ll be more set in her ways and will throw bigger tantrums. 

6. After she begins to walk home with you rather well, put gentle pressure on the leash to decide the direction both of you will go. Instead of stopping in front of your house, continue past it for a few steps, encouraging her all the way. Gradually show her how to walk both toward and away from home. More important, keep your sessions short and upbeat.


Does your Chi cough when you put the slightest pressure on the lead? She may have a collapsing trachea (see Chapter Dealing with Sickness, Injury, and Other Considerations). Consult your vet. You can relieve that problem by having her wear a harness rather than a collar.

Socializing an Adult Dog

Oh no! People, including me in the previous sections, keep telling you how important it is to socialize a dog early, and you didn’Tip even acquire your Chi until she was an adult. Worse yet, you think terrible things may have happened to her before you got her. Is it too late to socialize? Is your Chihuahua doomed to be insecure for the rest of her life?

No way. Dogs don’t have to have ideal puppyhoods to become contented companions. Life may have been unkind to your Chi, but just look how her luck has changed! She has you now, and the rest of her life is ahead of her. Help her make the most of it by giving her training, not pity. Pity prevents progress.
To become a well-adjusted family member, your adult Chi needs self-confidence. You can help her find it. How? Show her how to please you. Begin with the basics (see Chapter Establishing Good Behavior and Manners) and then join a novice obedience class (see Chapter Keeping Your Place as Head of Household). You can use the commands during daily life and praise your Chi for every correct response — not by rote, but with feeling. Gradually, she’ll gain enough confidence to stop avoiding life and start enjoying it.
by Jacqueline O’Neil
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