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What Exactly IS A Chihuahua?

What Exactly IS A Chihuahua?

What exactly IS a #chihuahua? Are they becoming as common and vaguely labeled as the "#pitbull"?

“Ooh, look, cute chihuahua!” people say as me and Matilda proudly walk down the street.

I don’t bother to correct them; Matilda is a chihuahua-minpin mix, and people with a keener eye for dog breeds recognize her long legs, lean, muscular structure and slightly sharper facial features.

I’m just glad to have her everywhere I go. I love how she makes people smile, especially when she’s wearing one of her sundresses.

But this has me thinking – has the term “chihuahua” become blurred, just like the notorious “pitbull”?

Well, What Is A “Pitbull”?

Pitbull is short for “American Pitbull Terrier.” Or, at least, it was, at some point.

Now, the word “pitbull” is often used to describe any dog with a stout, muscular body, short fur, and a wide, squarish head.

A pitbull can really be a Bull Terrier, American Bulldog, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Boxer, or any mix of those breeds. Mastiff mixes sometimes get labeled as “pitbulls,” too.

There’s a lot of controversy about this word. You’ll get different definitions depending on who you ask.

Is “Chihuahua” Going The Way Of “Pitbull”?

Chihuahuas are a lot like pitbulls in some ways. While pitbull-type dogs are the #1 most commonly abandoned, surrendered and euthanized in shelters, chihuahuas take 2nd place.

There’s purebred Chihuahuas, of course, but there’s also hundreds of thousands of vague, Chihuahua-ish dogs roaming the streets and sitting in shelter cages.

Many chihuahuas are the result of backyard breeders, who somehow didn’t get the memo that there are plenty of tiny dogs in need of homes – and mistakenly believe they can make a profit selling their unhealthy, poorly bred puppies.

Others could be the result of people who wanted a cute puppy, but don’t realize that a 4-pound pup needs training, care and medical treatment just like any other dog. They get tired of dealing with annoying, yet easily manageable behavior problems, and dump their chi, who ends up roaming and breeding on the streets.

But when a mixed-breed dog like Matilda is mislabeled as a chihuahua, it’s usually harmless.

In fact, mislabeling chis can be a good thing – a dog labeled as a chihuahua at a shelter may be more appealing to an adopter than the true minpin/dachshund/JRT/chihuahua it really is.

But mislabeled pitbulls are a much more harmful problem.

When any pitbull-ish dog attacks someone, it counts towards the “pitbull” bite statistic.

This makes the American Pitbull Terrier seem like a statistically vicious dog – but it’s no more human aggressive than others; a lineage of dog fighting could increase this breeds chances of being aggressive to dogs, however.

I don’t think pitbulls deserve the awful reputation, the breed bans, or the certain death of shelters. At the same time, I don’t think people should accept the myth that they’re nanny dogs, or that they are ducklings in pitbull costumes – they’re strong dogs, and need proper training and the right owner.

But the same is true for Chihuahuas – except, well, the strong part.

How many people have stories of being attacked, chased and bitten by a Chihuahua?

The Chihuahua Problem

I’m not sure how many people get bitten by Chihuahuas each year.

But I’m sure there’s many more than are reported. Anecdotally, most people seem to have a mean chihuahua story. I’m certain that there are too many Chihuahua bites.

I’m also certain that there are way too many of these videos on the internet:

This kid is invading his chihuahua’s sense of space and safety. This dog does not like to be hugged and kissed. The kid and the mom behind the camera are completely oblivious.

While the growl sounds funny, it’s a desperate cry for help. The chihuahua feels cornered, fearful – maybe because he was treated too roughly in the past, or is simply not comfortable with this close interaction.

You can see the chi licking the boy’s nose, but don’t mistake this for affection – tongue flicking is a sign of discomfort. The dog may even be licking him as though to say,

“Okay, I’ll lick you if you won’t hurt me, I’m trying not to bite you. Don’t make me bite you! Please get away from me!”

People need to take a dog’s warning signs seriously, even if they sound cute or funny. A growl is a polite warning that should be respected.

How long will it be before this poor, disregarded dog “bites out of nowhere” and gets sent to “go live on a farm”?

Toy Is A Breed Group, Not A Descriptor

I have a strong feeling that not all Chihuahua owners are “dog people.”

They’re sometimes not as dog-savvy, and may be less likely to even train basic commands like “sit.”

They may not walk, play with, or train their dog much at all, only to be surprised when it becomes unmanageable.

They may leave their small children alone with the dog, only to be surprised when the Chi bites them, after many warning growls communicating that it did not want to be hugged and squeezed like a teddy bear.

A Chihuahua may be in the Toy group, but it’s not a toy.

I’m all for tiny outfits, purse dogs, and baby talk – but that needs to be coupled with positive reinforcement training, boundaries, and a respect for your dog’s need to be a dog.

So… What Is A Chihuahua?

To me, a chihuahua is a small, clever dog that loves to learn, responds well to lots of praise, a part-time lap tumor that will not go to sleep until it’s been tucked under the covers.

Their petite stature makes them more vulnerable to mistreatment and rough handling. It’s easy to scare, punish and intimidate them, which can seemingly stop annoying behavior but can result in aggression and debilitating fear.

Chihuahuas need kind, gentle love and training to build trust and nurture a strong relationship with you. A chi who is gently handled and lovingly trained can gain the confidence to love everyone they meet, and will be wonderfully suited to learn new games, tricks and behaviors.

Lindsay Pevny
Lindsay Pevny lives to help pet parents make the very best choices for their pets by providing actionable, science-based training and care tips and insightful pet product reviews.

She also uses her pet copywriting business to make sure the best pet products and services get found online through catchy copy and fun, informative blog posts. She also provides product description writing services for ecommerce companies.

As a dog mom to Matilda and Cow, she spends most of her days taking long walks and practicing new tricks, and most nights trying to make the best of a very modest portion of her bed.

You'll also find her baking bread and making homemade pizza, laughing, painting and shopping.

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