If your Chihuahua is nipping or biting, it is normal to feel frustrated; after all, the goal when obtaining a canine family member is to have a friendly companion that fits in well with the household.
In many cases, biting issues can be resolved from home. This involves a combination of identifying the trigger and then strict training to set up a good foundation of command and enforce rules regarding unacceptable behavior.
Reasons for biting range from a simple and easy to fix such as a puppy nipping due to teething to more complicated issues such as trouble understanding authority.
This section will cover the top 5 reasons for biting along with detailed training steps.
Nipping Vs Biting
It is important to differentiate between nipping and biting.
Nipping is a quick snap of the jaws. There may or may not be skin contact. Very rarely does a nip break the skin of an owner; though it can cause a quick sting. When a puppy nips, the head juts out, the jaws snap and then in an instant the puppy goes back to what he was doing.
On the other hand, a bite is an aggressive, physical attack. A dog often moves into a defensive position, there is usually a warning growl and the jaws will clamp down on the intended target, making skin contact. A dog may bite once or numerous times; though with full force being exerted, the receiver of a bite will be injured. In these situations, a dog may back down but will often not immediately resume normal behavior.
Therefore, when owners are concerned about their Chihuahua biting, in most cases it will be nipping that is occurring. This is not to downplay nipping as it can be extremely difficult to deal with and in some cases disturb the entire household. While it may not cause serious harm, it interferes with normal interaction between owner and dog.
Without training to stop this, it may continue indefinitely. The majority of Chihuahuas that nip are puppies; though adults may show this behavior as well.
Top 5 Reasons for Nipping or Biting
Teething, the phase in which a puppy’s 28 deciduous (milk) teeth fall out and 42 adult teeth grow in, can cause quite a bit of discomfort and itching. This can cause a pup to mouth and chomp down on anything that they can. In some cases, this will be their owner’s hand, which can be mistaken for aggressive biting. This phase typically starts at the 4-month mark and ends around the 9-month mark.
Ways to help a teething pup include offering ice cubes and having a good collection of teething toys. In addition to this, properly reacting to the nipping is important.
2. Past Neglect
Most often seen with adult dogs, past abuse and neglect can shape a dog’s personality into one of fear, nervousness and/or anxiety. If a Chihuahua is fearful, he may bite or nip as a defense mechanism toward a perceived threat. A great deal of socialization training will need to be incorporated.
Shelters and rescue groups – if operating properly – will have a bite history of a dog and will have taken official notes of a dog’s behavior and interaction with people and other animals. Anyone looking to adopt a Chihuahua should not pass this information off as inconsequential.
A dog that has been labeled as a biter may not be able to be integrated into a household. This is of particular importance in homes where children reside.
3. Unclear Hierarchy
Normally, as a Chihuahua matures, he learns a bit each day about leadership in the house. Just the act of feeding a dog and teaching him commands instills the notion that it is the human who is the leader of the house (the Alpha).
Issues such as nipping and biting can begin to develop either when a Chihuahua mistakenly believes that he himself is the leader or if the dog is confused about who is in charge.
A dog that does not know his place in the hierarchy of the household may begin to test the chain of command. This often manifests as becoming defiant (a refusal to listen to commands, refusing to be touched or handled, etc.) and may include nipping at his humans.
4. Defense Mechanism
Some dogs see threats and challenges all around them and act aggressively by growling and snapping their jaws at a wide range of triggers such as visitors to the home and other dogs. In some cases, training from home may work but if the biting is severe, a professional trainer may need to be called in.
5. Injury or Health Issues
Dogs in the vulnerable state of being ill or injured may snap at their owners, something that would never occur otherwise. If any sort of health issue or illness is suspected, this should be ruled out by the veterinarian before training for biting begins.
How to Stop a Chihuahua From Biting
Note: You should not try any of these training methods if you believe that your dog may bite or cause injury to yourself or any other person or has proven to be a biter (clamping the jaws onto the skin and penetrating the skin with teeth); that type of severe aggression will require oversight and intervention by a professional canine trainer.
Step #1: Consider Having Your Chihuahua Spayed or Neutered
Intact dogs are more prone to acting aggressive including growling and nipping at their humans. While it is recommended to have this done during the first year of life, there are benefits no matter a Chihuahua’s age.
Step #2: Instill Proper Hierarchy
Canines follow the rules of hierarchy. Within the den (house) is the Alpha (leader) who is in charge of the rest of the pack (all others in the household). The Alpha is respected and deferred to; a dog does not growl at, snap at, or bite the Alpha.
Issues such as nipping and biting can develop either when a Chihuahua mistakenly believes that he himself is the leader or if the dog is confused about who is in charge. These tips will help you take your place as Alpha.
In all instances, tips #1 thru #5 are recommended and if a Chihuahua nips at his owner’s tips #5 through #7 should be added on.
1. Make it clear that you provide the food. Your Chihuahua must obey a ‘Sit’ for a count of 5 before any meal is placed down or any snack is given.
2. The leader eats first. Done whenever there are the time and opportunity, this is an extended way of offering food as mentioned in the previous tip #1, making it clear that you are allowed to begin eating first because as the leader, that is your privilege.
Prepare both your Chi’s meal and your own, leaving the bowl on the counter and your plate on the table. Sit down and then make sure that your Chihuahua sees that you take several bites. Any jumping, barking, whining, or circling should be ignored. During a quiet moment (when your dog takes a breath in between barks or is landing down from a jump), rise and take his bowl into your hand, order a ‘Sit’ and then place the bowl down after a count of 5.
3. The leader enters and exits the house first. It is a leader’s right to be the first to enter and exit the house, which canines see as the ‘den’. Order a ‘Sit’ to keep your Chihuahua in place as you cross the threshold.
4. Some things must be earned. When giving a new toy or any item that your dog may consider to be something of value, the ‘Sit’ command must be obeyed before it is given.
5. Do not allow your Chihuahua to walk ahead of you when on leash. When dogs are allowed to lead the way, they often takes this literally. Keep your dog in a heeling position, which means to your immediate left, not ahead or behind. To accomplish this, use a retractable leash and a harness like the Puppia Soft B Harness Vest.
6. Do not allow your Chihuahua to rest or sleep on any human’s bed. Even if your Chihuahua bites at one person and not another, he must not sleep on anyone’s bed and should instead have his own quality canine bed.
7. Always stay at a higher physical level than your Chihuahua. Do not sit on the floor with your dog and do not allow your dog to sit upon the furniture with you. This rule can be relaxed once a Chihuahua has proven their ability to behave by not having nipped for at least two weeks.
Step #3: Preparing for Training
One problem that occurs in dealing with a Chihuahua that bites and nips is that this can be so exasperating that owners fall into the mistake of yelling at or slapping the dog. This rarely works and in most cases will only make things worse.
If a dog is intimidated, this may stop him from nipping temporarily as he retreats in fear but rarely resolves the core problem and will be detrimental to what can be a wonderful friendship and rewarding relationship.
The principles of effective training are time-outs for biting and praise and treats for good behavior. When a dog is given a time-out, this is perceived as a sort of ‘banishment’ from the pack’, which sends a strong message regarding which sort of behavior will not be tolerated. And, treats are one of the fastest methods of rewarding appropriate behavior and encouraging repeats of it.
To prepare, you will want to have:
1) A defined ‘time out’ area. This can be a canine playpen or gated off the area and should be a spot where a Chihuahua can see his humans but cannot physically interact with them.
2) Appropriate training treats. These should be extra delicious, moist, small, and something that is reserved just for training. A good example of this is Wellness Soft Bites Training Treats.
Step #4: Training
- As soon as your Chihuahua nips or bites, give a firm and clear ‘No’, stand up to assume a physically superior stance, and place your dog in the time-out area. During this time, the dog is 100% completely and utterly ignored. This means no speaking and no eye contact.
- The time-out will last 5 minutes past the point that your dog notices that he is being ‘banished’. Depending on how focused or distracted your Chihuahua is, it can take anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes a dog notice and be bothered by the time-out. Pacing or whining is a good indication that a dog is indeed aware; wait 5 minutes past this point. If your Chihuahua growls when you go to release him, leave him there. An additional 5 to 15 minutes may need to be added on.
- At the moment of release, interaction is limited; this is a sort of probationary period when a dog must prove himself. There is not very much speaking, just a short “Okay, let’s try again” is sufficient. There is no physical contact such as petting.
- Place your Chihuahua in the same position that he was in when the bite occurred. For example, if your dog was relaxing near the fireplace and nipped as you walked by, move him back there and walk by again.
- Behaving nicely is not rewarded with a treat (yet), but with more interaction. You can now speak freely and pet him. Any aggressive behavior results in another time-out, in the same manner.
- After another 10 minutes, if your Chihuahua continues behaving, the probationary period officially ends by offering praise, (“Good dog”) and a training treat.
- Continue with this training indefinitely. Biting or nips are always responded to with a time-out with zero interaction. There is a probationary period. Further nipping or biting results in another time-out and good behavior is rewarded.
- While following the above guidelines to stop nipping, be sure to also give praise when your Chihuahua is playing or interacting with you and does not nip.
- Your Chihuahua should have a clear understanding of the command word ‘No’. When this is said too many times, the word loses its important meaning.
Try to keep track for a day and see how often it is said when it could have been replaced with something else that was more appropriate. For example, if your Chihuahua watches you cook your dinner, you may say “No’ without thinking about it. But, how can watching you prepare a meal and biting you have the same value of bad behavior?
Instead, you can say something else such as “Silly dog, you’re not getting any of this”. Save the use of your command word for when you really need it and have its meaning be solid and strong.