Sassy, charming and bold, the Chihuahua is one of the world’s most popular lap dogs – for good reason! But whether you’re a curious owner or a potential dog parent, you may be wondering just how smart this petite Mexican dog breed is.
Chihuahuas are not intelligent dogs, according to canine psychologist Stanley Coren. In fact, they’re the 125th smartest dog breed for “obedience & working intelligence.” However, to call them “dumb dogs” is unfair. Where Chihuahuas lack in learning commands, they make up for it with their keen ability to understand human emotions. In other words, they’re smart communicators.
There are a lot of factors to consider when determining the true dog intelligence of the Chihuahua. Let’s examine this age-old question and learn the real reasons why Chihuahuas are so intelligent. Here’s the spoiler: they’re smarter than you think.
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Measuring a Chihuahua’s Intelligence
To truly gauge a Chihuahua’s IQ, we must understand how Stanley Coren measured dog intelligence. The term “obedience and working intelligence” was coined by the researcher, and it measures how quickly a dog learns a command – in addition to how well they retain their learning.
This one aspect of dog intelligence was the basis for Coren’s infamous smartest dog breeds list and how the Chihuahua ended up at the bottom of the list. While his method and criteria does have flaws, we also think it’s a good starting point.
Coren’s Dog Intelligence Criteria
The renowned canine psychologist asked 199 obedience trial judges from the Canadian and American Kennel Club to conduct his research using his criteria. At the time, this was nearly half the trial judges in North America!
The obedience trial judges evaluated and ranked how each dog breed performed in an obedience trial (following Coren’s criteria). It’s not perfect, but it’s somewhat objective. Here’s what the criteria was based on:
- The number of repetitions it took for a dog to learn a new (unknown) command. Fewer repetitions to learn a new command meant a smarter dog.
- The success rate (%) that a dog obeys a known command on the first attempt. A higher success rate means a more obedient and intelligent breed.
Only dog breeds with at least 100 responses qualified for Coren’s final dog intelligence rankings. This means that breeds with low popularity didn’t qualify. But because Chihuahuas were one of the 40 most popular breeds, they had plenty of responses.
Another thing to note is that only breeds recognized by either the AKC or CKC could participate. With that said, there were no popular hybrid dogs that took part in the intelligence trials.
The Chihuahua’s Performance in Intelligence Trials
Chihuahuas ranked in the bottom half of the dog breeds. In fact, out of the 138 qualified dog breeds, the Chihuahua ranked 125th. Clearly, not as high as most Chihuahua owners would think. But what does this mean for the breed?
Classified as part of the “fair intelligence” class, the Chihuahua was able to learn a new command with about 40 to 80 repetitions. Depending on the complexity of the command, it may take well over a few hours for these dogs to learn something new.
On the other hand, Chihuahuas could obey a known command on the first try with a 30% or better success rate. On paper, they don’t seem very obedient. However, owners argue that Chihuahuas will respond better depending on the person giving the commands.
For reference, other popular dog breeds in the same intelligence category include the Pug, Frenchie, St. Bernard, Great Pyrenees and the Maltese. They still ranked higher than the Beagle, Chow Chow, Shih Tzu and Bloodhound.
Chihuahua vs. the Average Dog
As mentioned, Chihuahuas were labeled “below average” according to Coren’s research. But how did they compare to other dog breeds? And, what was the average intelligence of dogs like?
The “average” dog needed just 25 to 40 repetitions to learn a new command. In other words, they’re almost twice as fast at learning commands than the Chihuahua.
In addition, average-intelligent dog breeds can successfully obey a known command on the first try with a 50% (or better) success rate. These numbers aren’t significantly better than the Chihuahua’s, though they are better.
Why Chihuahuas Rank Low For Intelligence
So we have owners saying Chihuahuas are smart, while Coren’s dog intelligence test says otherwise. What could possibly cause the discrepancy?
Stanley Coren’s dog intelligence rankings were primarily based on obedience trials. This means that the top performing dogs, such as the Border Collies, were more likely to obey known commands.
Border Collies are more likely to comply because they love to work (they are working dogs) and will obey commands for the sake of working. They are true workaholics with some of the best work ethics in the dogdom. Chihuahuas, on the other hand, are different.
It’s extremely difficult to standardize an IQ test for dogs because different dog breeds and individual dogs have different motivators. Some dogs react much better to treats. Others, may react better to their favorite toy. And there are some that only obey their loved ones.
Chihuahuas are stubborn, but not dumb
Chihuahuas are notoriously stubborn dogs. Plus, it certainly doesn’t help that they’re strong-willed too. Despite being affectionate and loyal toy dogs, they won’t necessarily obey your commands for the sake of obeying.
In other words, Chihuahuas are motivated by other things. One owner gives an example of what her stubborn Chihuahua often does:
They can be sooo stubborn!! My Chi will protest during his walks and not budge no matter what I say. In the end, I always end up just carrying him home..– Nikki L.
If you’re having difficulties with obedience training, it’s likely your approach and not the Chihuahua. With the right approach and understanding of these dogs, training can be as easy as with any other breed. It will require more patience, however.
Never try to force your Chihuahua into doing something they don’t want to do. Coercion is probably the quickest way to bring out the stubborn nature of a Chihuahua.
And like many other dog breeds, they don’t respond well to scolding or punishment. Rather, try to use a bit of positive reinforcement. It works best with most dog breeds (especially the stubborn ones) and the Chihuahua is no exception.
One Reddit user gives some advice for training Chihuahuas:
Be patient with them. I find the breed to be highly intelligent, but stubborn. I was firm with my Chi. Never use physical aggression to train them. A firm yes or no works with positive reinforcement.– Reeniedream (Reddit)
Remember, you’re not a drill sergeant (and you don’t want to be!). Rather, you’re a friendly and helpful guide when it comes to obedience training. This mindset will make the process a lot more enjoyable for both parties!
Chihuahuas have different motivators
It’s not that Chihuahuas don’t love their owners enough to obey them. As a matter of fact, they’re some of the most affectionate and loyal dog breeds. Do you know why they bark so much? They’re just trying to protect you.
Chihuahuas will often develop strong bonds and attachments with just one member of the family. They treat their relationships with humans very seriously. As such, they want nothing more than to protect and defend their pack.
Chihuahuas do what a lot of small dogs do, resource protecting! My girlfriend is his source of love, affection and food. But for some reason he doesn’t want to share her for whatever reason.– Lucysnewmum (Chi Owner)
So, these dogs are really just motivated by their loyalty and devotion to the pack. They really don’t care about commands, as long as the owners are safe! In my opinion, this is a much better trait than being able to learn and perform tricks on command.
But just think about this. The intelligence test was conducted by obedience trial judges. Why would a Chihuahua be responsive to a stranger giving them commands? Because of their loyalty, they may only listen to their loved ones.
2 Reasons Why Chihuahuas Are Actually Smart
What we’ve discussed so far only focused on “obedience & working intelligence.” It was the basis of the current list of smartest breeds. However, even Stanley Coren admits that this isn’t the only component of dog intelligence.
According to the renowned researcher, there are 2 other dimensions that are arguably more important: instinctive and adaptive intelligence. Both of which, are areas of dog intelligence that Chihuahuas excel at.
What really makes the Chihuahua intelligent is their ability to read human emotions and to follow up with the appropriate reaction. Chihuahuas are also great at learning from past experiences, which is a clear indicator of high adaptive intelligence.
1. Companionship a special type of intelligence in Chihuahuas
Instinctive intelligence is the “special ability” or skill that the dog breed was developed for. Almost all modern dogs were purpose-bred. For example, some dogs were bred to be expert herders while others for retrieving.
If you consider the Blue Heeler, you probably know they’re one of the best herding dogs in the world. But their ability to push and drive livestock in a direction wasn’t taught by humans. That is their instinctive intelligence.
My Chihuahua is the best comfort dog in the world. He’s keeping me safe and calm after surgery on both of my feet.– Laughinatthestars (Reddit User)
In the Chihuahua’s case, they were bred for companionship. These dogs are amazing at understanding human emotions and needs because that’s what they were bred to do. But how exactly is this a type of dog intelligence?
The relationship between human and dog can be a complex one, considering that both species do not understand the native language of the other.
But because most Chihuahuas are able to pick up cues and learn from our facial expressions, body language and tone-of-voice, they are highly intelligent. All this requires intelligence. Not all dogs are able to read and comprehend human emotions.
Have you ever noticed your Chihuahua being extra nice and cuddly when you’re feeling down or dealing with a fever? This is no coincidence. The fact that they know how and when to cheer you up, requires this special type of intelligence.
2. Chihuahuas are excellent at learning for themselves
The final component of canine intelligence is adaptive intelligence. This refers to the dog’s own ability to learn from past experiences and solve problems on their own. This is the most important aspect of dog intelligence, in my opinion.
Most companion dogs tend to have high adaptive intelligence, and the Chihuahua is no exception. That’s because in order to be an excellent canine companion, Chihuahuas need to be able to learn about their owners and adapt to different situations.
And while it’s not guaranteed all Chihuahuas will have high adaptive intelligence, there are plenty of real stories that prove most do. For example, one Chihuahua owner tells us her story:
Every time I go home, I put away my bag in the office, then go to the bedroom to put away keys, and finally use the restroom. My Chi gets to excited she runs to each door before me to greet me.– Kathy L. (Chihuahua owner)
Kathy’s Chihuahua knows exactly what she does after work. And in order to get more pats, belly rubs or cuddles, she’ll run to Kathy’s next destination. Learning from previous experiences is a clear sign of high adaptive intelligence.
If we wanted to, we could have continued the list with examples just like Kathy’s. But the list would likely never end. And if you asked any Chihuahua owner, they would likely tell you many stories just like this.
Is Your Chihuahua Smart?
Now that we know Chihuahuas may not be the most obedient dogs or the quickest learners, we can’t rule them out just yet.
To really gauge how smart a Chihuahua can be, we decided to ask real owners. So, we surveyed the popular Chihuahua sub Reddit and other dog forums for responses. Here’s what the Chihuahua owners had to say.
Real Owner Answers:
1. Bathori says No: “This is Rocket. 2 weeks ago he ate a rock. This week he ate a plastic bottle cap. Handsome. Not smart. (Pet insurance saves the day)“
2. Anonymous says Yes: “My guy knows upwards of 15 tricks and recognizes tons of different words. If you want to keep it in your purse like a toy, i’m sure any dogs’ cognitive abilities would suffer. But they are very intelligent, learn quickly, and adapt fast.”
3. Viktorka14 says Yes: “My little [Chihuahua] dog is the most intelligent, but sometimes he does not recognize his own tail.”
4. Lunchtime1 says Yes: “My Chihuahuas are smart and listen extremely well! She has since birth. The thing with Chihuahuas is they only like one or two people, but the people they love they are soooo protective of.“
5. Rainbowlu14 says Yes: “My husband and I have 2 chi’s. I’ll admit we’ve spoiled them. But they are great dogs. Loyal, smart and obedient when taught. Socializing is key. Bring the dog around kids and other dogs.”
6. Cawkatiel says Yes: “So far, he is the smartest little thing I’ve ever met. First thing I taught him was to come with called and he nailed it as well as walking on a leash, my husband and I are currently house breaking him and crate training.”
7. Anonymous says Yes: “Truth is, chihuahuas are SUPER smart and will listen to you if discipline them. They’re wonderful, healthy, loyal, playful, adorable little dogs.”
8. Scotty5x5 says No: “They are not the smartest dogs but are completely trainable with some repetition. Try to avoid buying a dog from a bad breeder.“
9. Cuuun says Yes: “I wouldn’t say that they aren’t smart! My Chihuahua outwits me and other dogs on a regular basis.”
Is a Chihuahua For Me?
All dog breeds, including the Chihuahua, are more than capable of providing everything you need (and so much more!). Never pick a dog breed based on how “intelligent” they are. And don’t let these “experts” tell you how smart your dog is!
The truth is, all dogs are capable of providing most owners with what they need. Every dog can be potty trained and learn the basic commands. Instead, you’ll want to pick a dog breed based on their temperament and personality.
Chihuahuas are unfalteringly loyal dogs. They take their role as a true companion very seriously. And if you’re looking for a great lap dog with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become a best friend for life, the Chihuahua is perfect for you.
Do you own a Chihuahua? Let us know what smart things your Chihuahua does? Leave a comment and let us know in the comments section below!
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