Chihuahuas sometimes used to be, and sometimes even today are looked down upon by the unenlightened as being silly little lapdogs of no consequence in canine terms, not real dogs at all. Nothing could be further from the truth, make no mistake, a Chihuahua is ALL dog, live with one and you'll discover that fact for yourself! They may be classified in the Toy Group, but they are certainly not toys. Chis are big dogs who happen to be wrapped in a small 'parcel', they generally pay scant regard to their lack of size and are ready to stand up for themselves even if the opposition is far bigger. Sometimes they are too feisty for their own good.
In the early days when Chis were first struggling to establish themselves as a breed in the U.K., they were not widely noted for boldness of spirit. Once the breed became more established, breeders recognising the importance of breeding for good temperament began seriously to concentrate on breeding for it alongside the other aspects of the breed which could benefit from improvement. The breed standard requires that the Chi temperament is "gay, spirited and intelligent". The task of breeding dogs with this kind of temperament has met with considerable success over the last few decades, because nowadays most Chihuahuas can hold their own for showmanship alongside the best of them. Only a few judges who still harbour prejudice about small dogs look down upon Chis and dismiss them when handing out top honours.
Chis are naturally cautious, not completely spontaneous by nature. They like to pause, size up a situation before making friends, they will do that in their own good time and on their own terms. This explains why puppies sometimes take a little while to settle down in the show ring. They take their time until they feel sure that the situation is not threatening to them. When the penny drops the Chi will relax and respond happily, unselfconsciously, which is exactly what is required by its handler. Tension passed down the lead from the handler to dog on the end of it has long been commented on by seasoned exhibitors. In these cases it is the handler who needs the training! This cautious approach explains why so many Chis hate judges who treat them like idiots by making weird noises, rattling things at them, and/or getting down on the floor to handle them. Nor do Chis appreciate or perform well for judges who lift them up off the judging table to hold them up aloft.
Chis are highly intelligent and quite nosy, they love to investigate. Their exercise area must be fenced securely. They do need a stimulating environment inside and outside, toys to play with, and company. When possible they like the companionship of another dog preferably of the same breed, as well as the company of its owner. To be shut in an empty house for hours on end with no companion is torturous for any dog including a Chihuahua. They are highly intelligent and have a high I.Q. (for a dog). With love and friendly discipline Chis are eminently trainable. Taking time and trouble to train a Chi will be very rewarding. It should easily master a vocabulary of commands like no, down, sit, quiet, out, come, bedtime and of course good dog or bad dog as appropriate. Fetch might prove more of a problem, they are not natural retrievers. They are just as likely to regard you with an expression that plainly says "you threw it, so you fetch it". Yes, Chis do have a very independent streak.
It is not surprising that Chis are intelligent, after all they have a brachycephalic skull, plenty of room for a very 'sharp' effective brain! The skull is not ball shaped, rather it is frequently likened to a cooking apple - minus dimple for stalk of course. Large eyes (never bulging), large flaring ears set at an angle of approximately 45 degrees and a moderately short, slightly pointed muzzle add up to create a perfect head with its unique cheeky Chi expression. The base of the ear, the centre of the eye and the base of the stop should be on the same plane. The head is supported by a neck of medium length which is slightly arched forward. Short necks and necks arched the wrong way are ugly and alien, but they still appear from time to time. Without the proper reach and arch of neck the whole balance of the dog is spoiled.
Chis should not be long in back, or as many prefer to say, short in leg. The effect on overall balance is the same. The length of the body is defined clearly in the breed standard as from the point of shoulder to the rear point of croup, Chis are slightly longer than the height measured from the ground to the withers. Short square Chis are not desirable. Because Chis are such active little dogs, it is very important for the shoulder to be set at an angle of 45 degrees. It is as important that the forequarters are correct as it is for the hindquarters to be well angulated. The forequarters take the first impact as the feet hit the ground and the shock is taken throughout the whole frame. The hindquarters give the drive, good angulation at pelvis and stifle are essential for a dog to be, and to remain, sound. Soundness is just as vital for a pet Chi as it is for a show specimen. Nobody likes to have to see their dogs face a life of pain and lots of visits to the vet. A high stepping hackney gait may look smart but it is not correct for the Chi. Tail set completes the picture for a good Chi, it should not be low set, this often accompanies a goose rump. The tail is a continuation of the spine and is controlled by strong muscles. The tail should be held up and over the back like a sickle when the Chi is moving, it should remain up when the dog is standing if the dog is happy and outgoing. An anxious dog will often be inclined to drop its tail, which affects the overall picture.
Chihuahuas are remarkably sturdy little characters, they have few hereditary defects. Patella luxation affects many breeds of dogs. Chi breeders have always been very aware of the condition. Conscientious breeders have worked to try to eradicate it from their lines by not breeding from afflicted lines, which has reduced its incidence. A Chi's energetic lifestyle will always put strain upon what is basically a rather complex and fragile joint. Breeders and judges who weed out dogs with patella luxation from breeding programmes and awards are doing everyone a great service whether they be two legged or four legged. The original Chi breed standard described a molera as being desirable. Our previous U.K. standard stated "with or without molera". The current U.K. standard omits all mention of it. Breeders do not breed for it and exhibitors certainly do not want judges poking at little dogs skulls. Because Chis have brachycephalic skulls and large heads, the bones of the skull need to be able to give during the birth process. Like babies they have a fontanelle (opening where the skull bones have not yet grown together and fused) but in the chi it is called a molera. Chis are not particularly good whelpers. Quite often the molera does not fully close until the pup is several months old, sometimes this is seen and misdiagnosed by some vets as hydrocephalus. These days few Chis have permanent moleras which persist into adulthood. A quite common little habit some Chis have is snorting when they are overexcited or alarmed. This too has on occasions resulted in some scary diagnosis. Quivering when keen, alert or anxious is very common. It seldom signifies the Chi is cold or frightened.
Whichever variety of Chi one likes best is purely a matter of personal preference, they share exactly the same breed standard except for the definition of the coat. Most people, however sceptical they may be at first about having a Chi, soon change their mind when they are owned by one and hooked for life.