Training a small Chihuahua can sometimes be more difficult than you would expect. Especially considering their size and that most training is done with food.
Sure, there are options to train a Chihuahua without using food, but reinforcement of a behavior with a positive experience (like yummy treats) is one of the best ways to not only train a Chihuahua, but also for you to bond with your Chihuahua. Unfortunately, though, you cannot feed a little tiny dog a lot or they will get fat. So you may be limited on the training repetitions needed to achieve a behavior.
Chihuahuas can also be very picky on what type of food they will actually work for. Not to mention, they can be stubborn little dogs that can masterfully manipulate you to their way…or the highway.
Is training a Chihuahua hard?
As we mentioned above, a Chihuahua cannot eat much, they can be a food snob, plus they tend to be stubborn and manipulative. That does not sound like an easy dog to train does it? BUT, they absolutely can be trained because they are smart!
When you decide to tackle the challenge of training a chihuahua, you just have to remember that they are smart. If you remember that about your Chihuahua you will not succumb to his manipulative tactics or his adorable, helpless character.
The tools you need to train a Chihuahua:
While none of these items are required, we highly recommend them. Also, we have used these items in training our Chihuahuas, and they have become very successful in agility and tricks (they have even been hired as dog actors for a TV show)!
- A clicker:
- It’s commonly thought that the click of a clicker is what the dog sees as the reward, but that is a common misconception. The click is what tells the dog when they’ve done something you like and that a reward is coming. However, this concept only works if you “charge” your clicker (trainer-speak for clicking, then giving a cookie, then repeating until your Chihuahua understands that a click means a cookie is coming).
- High value treats:
- If you can find something very special your Chihuahua really loves that is what you need to use. Do not use any special treat for anything else but training. Some of our Chihuahua’s favorite treats include: boiled chicken, Ziwi Peak air-dried dog food, sardines, Stella & Chewy’s freeze dried dog food, and cheese!
- A hungry dog:
- One of the reasons we use Ziwi Peak and Stella & Chewy’s as our Chihuahua’s treats is so we can use their meal calories for training and still have complete, balanced nutrition!
- A toy:
- Don’t underestimate the power of play in training!
- A prop of some sort:
- We recommend a bell. You can find a bell on Amazon.
The first few steps to train a Chihuahua:
Your first few training sessions should simply be just “charging” the clicker. As we mentioned above, charging the clicker means you’re building the association that every time your Chihuahua hears the click, food will be delivered.
Because Chihuahuas are small and you need to limit their calories, we recommend using their meals for charging the clicker and for training. Again, that is why we recommend using a really high-quality, high-value dog-food such as Ziwi Peak air-dried dog food or Stella & Chewy’s freeze dried dog food for your training sessions where you are “charging” your clicker.
Remember, for every click you must follow-up with food right away for the association to be made. Any delay in the reward will confuse your Chihuahua as to what the reward was actually for.
Now that you’ve charged your clicker, you’re ready for your first training session! At this point it is really important to remember, you need your training session to be fun! If you make training fun, your Chihuahua will enjoy learning.
The first few sessions should be nothing more than teaching your Chihuahua to offer behaviors and reward them for it. Offering is trainer-speak for your dog coming up with a behavior on their own (no luring, or cuing with hand signals or verbals, or prompting by touching your d0g).
Keep it simple to build a desire to train. If you make the first few sessions too goal-oriented toward training the new trick for a dog that is not accustomed to training, they will most likely quit on you. Once that happens it’s very difficult to get them interested in trying to train again.
Step by step instructions for training your Chihuahua:
- Have your treats ready and cut into teeny, tiny pieces to allow for as many repetitions as possible.
- Start with a few minutes of play. If your Chihuahua likes toys that’s great, but if not most Chihuahuas will play with your hands. So get them enjoying playing with you before you start training. This will help them associate training sessions as being something they enjoy and want to do.
- With the clicker in one hand present your prop (bell) with the other hand.
- If your Chihuahua sniffs it or paws at it, click and treat. If he does not show interest, remove it and bring it right back to try again. Repeat this step a few times to see if you can generate any interest at all. You might have to begin by rewarding a simple glance.
- Hopefully you will see interaction with a paw and your Chihuahua’s nose. Dogs that learn to use all possible ways of interacting eventually become super easy to train various behaviors!
- Do two to three sessions just like this (waiting for your Chihuahua to interact with the bell) so earning the reward is easy and there are not expectations placed on the dog because you have not formed an idea for an end behavior.
- End the session with a few minutes of play.
- Now it’s time to decide on an end behavior goal for training in the next session. Keep in mind, you still want to work towards setting your Chihuahua up for success in training, so decide on an end-behavior based on your Chihuahua’s preferential offered behavior. For example, if he hit the bell more with his paw, your goal may be to work towards only rewarding for a paw hit. Whereas, if he used his nose, reward only nose interactions.
- Now it’s time to increase difficulty (but still keep your Chihuahua successful). An increase means just rewarding for one type of behavior, but still reward for any part of the bell the dog hits. Once your dog has the understanding of using just his nose or paw and he never tries the other, then start limiting your clicks to just the top of the bell and then eventually click only if the bell rings.
- A special tip if you are having trouble getting any interaction with the bell: You can rub something scented like peanut butter on the top to encourage interaction. Once your Chihuahua understands that he will be paid with food for interacting, the scent will not longer be needed.
Use a FREE QR scanner app on your phone to scan the QR code below to see a video demonstration of training a Chihuahua to ring a bell!
Remember to increase the difficulty of any training session slightly so you will still have a high rate of reward which encourages learning (too much failure is discouraging and not fun).
Teaching your Chihuahua to ring a bell is a fun trick to train and it’s a great tool to get your Chihuahua thinking and offering behaviors.
We would love to see your videos, so if you post to social media be sure to tag us! Questions? Let us know in the comments!