Sassy, charming and bold, the Chihuahua is one of the world’s most popular lap dogs – and for good reasons. But whether you’re a curious owner or a potential Chihuahua parent, you may be questioning the intelligence of these iconic Mexican dog breeds.
So, are Chihuahuas smart? According to canine psychologist Stanley Coren, Chihuahuas are below average for working & obedience intelligence. In fact, they’re the 125th smartest dog breed (out of 138) as shown in Coren’s trials. But where Chihuahuas lack in obedience, they make up for it with exceptionally high adaptive intelligence.
There are a lot of factors to consider when determining the true dog intelligence of the Chi. Let’s examine this age-old question and discover the real reasons why Chihuahuas are so intelligent. Here’s the spoiler: they’re a lot more intelligent than you think.
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Table of Contents
- Measuring the Chihuahua’s Intelligence
- Why Chihuahuas Rank Low For Intelligence
- Reasons Why Chihuahuas Are Smart
- Is Your Chihuahua Smart?
- Is a Chihuahua For Me?
Measuring the Chihuahua’s Intelligence
To truly gauge how smart Chihuahuas are, we must first understand how Stanley Coren measured canine intelligence. And while his methods do have flaws, we think it’s a great starting point.
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!
Coren’s Dog Intelligence Criteria
The obedience trial judges measured and ultimately 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. And because Chihuahuas were one of the 40 most popular breeds, they had plenty of responses.
The criteria in which Coren used to measure dog intelligence was met with a lot of criticism and skepticism at first – and rightfully so. We believe there’s much more to dog IQ than just obedience and work ethic.
How the Chihuahua Performed
Chihuahuas ranked in the bottom half of the dog breeds. Out of 138 qualified dog breeds, the Chihuahua ranked 125th. Clearly, not as high as most Chihuahua owners would think.
Classified in the “fair intelligence” category, the Chihuahua was able to learn a new command with just 40 to 80 repetitions. It may take well over a few hours for these dogs to learn a new command.
On the other hand, Chihuahuas would obey a known command on the first attempt with a 30% or better success rate. On paper, they don’t seem very obedient. However, owners argue that Chihuahuas respond better depending on the person giving the commands.
For reference, other popular dog breeds in the same intelligence category include: the Pug, French Bulldog, Saint Bernard, Great Pyrenees and the Maltese. They still ranked higher than the Beagle, Chow Chow, Shih Tzu or Bloodhound.
Chihuahua vs. Average Dogs
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 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. However, 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.
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.
Border Collies are more likely to comply because they love to work and will often 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.
Stubborn Little Dogs
Chihuahuas are known to be notoriously stubborn dogs. Plus, it certainly doesn’t help that they’re strong-willed too. Despite being affectionate and loyal, 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 dog breed.
Never try to force your Chihuahua into doing something. Coercion is 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 using positive reinforcement. It works best with most dog breeds 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!
It will take some patience and consistency when dealing with a Chihuahua. However, this positive approach will make learning much faster and instill more confidence in your dog.
Small Protective Dogs
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.
However, these dogs have different motivators. They aren’t serious working dogs so they don’t have that work mentality, such with a German Shepherd. Instead, they were bred to be lap dogs and companions.
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 don’t write them off so quickly. Though small, Chihuahuas show no fear when they sense danger to the pack and owner. It’s a big reason why they’re serious barkers. And if you’re looking for dogs that don’t bark, check this article out. They may not be a good fit if you can’t stand it.
Reasons Why Chihuahuas Are 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 two other dimensions that are arguably more important: instinctive and adaptive intelligence. Both of which, are areas of dog IQ that Chihuahuas excel at.
To summarize, 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.
Companionship is 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 take a look at 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.
The relationship between human and dog can be a complex one, considering that both species do not understand the 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, that makes them super smart.
Have you ever noticed your dog being extra nice and cuddly when you’re feeling down or dealing with a fever? This is no coincidence. The Chihuahua’s ability to read your emotions is their instinctive intelligence. And the fact that they know how to cheer you up, requires this special type of intelligence.
The Chihuahua’s Adaptive Intelligence
The final component of canine intelligence is adaptive intelligence. It 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 IQ, in my opinion.
Most companion dogs also have high adaptive intelligence. That’s because in order to be an excellent companion, Chihuahuas need to be able to learn about the owners and adapt to their current situation.
And while it’s not guaranteed all Chihuahuas will have high adaptive intelligence, there are plenty of stories that prove many 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 “pets” and “cuddles,” she’ll run to Kathy’s next step. 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 probably 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 bring home a dog based on how “smart” they are.
All dogs are capable of providing most owners with what they need. Instead, you 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 chance to become a best friend for life, the Chihuahua is perfect for you.
Let us know if you own a Chihuahua. Is your Chihuahua smart? Leave a comment and let us know in the comments section below!
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