Dog Training Smartest Dogs

Are Chihuahuas Smart? – Here’s Why They Ranked Low For Dog Intelligence

Chiahuahuas rank low in dog intelligence, but they're actually very smart dogs.
Written by Richard Jeng

Sassy, charming and bold, the Chihuahua is one of the world’s most popular lap dogs. 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 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. They’re smarter than you think. 

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

And for reference, some of the most popular dog breeds are “average.” These dogs are the Australian Shepherd, Siberian Husky, Havanese, Great Dane and the Bichon Frise (plus so many more!).

Is Your Chihuahua Smart?

We asked real Chihuahua owners if their dogs were intelligent.

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.”

Why Chihuahuas Rank Low For Intelligence

There are real and explainable reasons for why Chihuahuas ranked so low in dog 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.

Why Chihuahuas Are Smart

Chihuahuas were bred from the Techichi dog from ancient Mexican civilizations.

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.

True, Understanding Companions

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.

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.

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 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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About the author

Richard Jeng

Richard has been raising dogs his whole life, including a Poodle, Pomeranian, Corgi and Australian Shepherd. He's always working with animal shelters and dog rescues because of his passion for all dogs. Fun fact: his all time favorite breed is the German Shepherd. Read More.

19 Comments

  • Never liked Chihuahuas but ended up rescuing a 6 week old one. I fell in love! By 4 months he was trained to go on a pad in the rr, leash trained, store trained, sit and come here. He is now 10 months old and is left out with the cats while no one is home, has 0 potty accidents, can sit, give paw, shake, lay down, stay, fetch, will not enter the kitchen, does not beg for food(gets a special meal when we all finish eating), can walk beside off leash and does not bark for every little thing only when strangers come to the door. He is also my lap dog. Sleeps with me at night at the foot of my bed and next to me on the sofa. When we go to stores he sits in my arm with chest against my hand and does not try to jump, get away or touch anything in stores. Great pup and definitely not dumb.

  • We rescued a Chihuahua puppy about 6 weeks old, took only about 2 weeks to potty train and is a absolute joy to have. He is our new baby. .he seems to be more clever than smart.. pulling little stunts and tricks of his own choosing.. can be a little food aggressive and owner protective but we are working through these with good progress… Very cute breed with a ton of mischief to keep any owner laughing … we just love him..

    • Thanks for sharing, John. Congratulations on your Chihuahua and THANK YOU for rescuing him. You just described all the key characteristics of these wonderful little dogs 🙂

  • I have a Chi that I got at 7 weeks old. Other than a few mishaps she was fully paid trained when I got her. Knows Five to six tricks but understands many words. Is not aggressive towards anyone and isn’t a barker like most Chi’s. All the bad habits I was warned about haven’t happened. I do spend 24/7 with her but she is very intelligent

  • Our 2 chihuahua are so smart. They both mind very very good and knows exactly what you are telling them. Both were very easy to potty train. The baby sleeps with us right next to daddy. We couldn’t be more pleased with having them for our pets.

  • I rescued two Chihuahuas. The older girl is so smart. Knows a lot of my commands and feels my mood so much. Other young chi has so much fear in her that I just end up loving her and not put training to work yet. She still runs when I walk towards her. We can go out on leach and I call out… come come come many times and she will follow but if she sees another dog or person. All is lost. She wants to run. I will not give up on her though. Love my little chihuahuas.

  • Chihuhuas are smart dogs but they are independent, and they do not like to be imposed, they size all situations and then react. They do not want to do all you want of them. I think they are smarter than all dogs, tht is why they are independent.

  • they are smarter than the other dogs , just are independent; so they wont react as you want, they react as they think is better to react.

  • 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)”

    This is me and this was a joke about my dog. As a chihuahua enthusiast I know they are very smart so you can update my response 🙂

  • Took me several years to downsize from farm dogs to lap dogs, but now I love my Chis. Very intelligent, but extremely independent and have to use only positive reinforcement training . . . . except for barking. Dad gets up and yells very loud, scares them. Now he doesn’t have to get up, just squeek his chair a little and the barking stops! LOL! I tell everyone they have 51 to 65 percent cat DNA.

  • I never had a dog until 15 years ago my best friend gave me a chiweinie who was rescued from a puppy mill. She was a special dog and had a heart condition. I was recovering from a brain surgery and penny lynn was the best thing ever. She became my child. She would lick my tears when I cried and was very protective. She was a good judge of character in people too. I realized if dhe didn’t like them then there was a good reason. She would waut at the front door if i left and knew the sound of my car coming home. I lost her this past November 2019 to a stroke and I never thought I’d morn for her so bad. But i just love the hearts of these dogs . They are truely little lovers and i just learned never to mess with their food. I have scars to prove it lol

  • Beautiful stories. I can vouch for the smarts of a chihuahua, Ive had three now. They are independent yes but very loyal. My chi knows my routine and speaks to me in grunts when he wants his treat. Grunts to get my attention then looks towards the kitchen. I know he is tuning me but I give in anyway!

  • If I could leave a video comment lol! We were given a 6 week old chihuahua/maltese mix puppy. He just turned 2 this past week. He is extremely smart. Talk about adaptive, when my fiancé comes home from work, Simba will beat him to his office door, our bedroom door and to the bed…showing how much he’s missed him! He’s willful as all hell, that’s for sure. He knows how to ignore you if he doesn’t want to be bothered…his nickname is Grumpy Gus. I’ve been sick and he hasn’t left my side…chihuahuas are FAR from dumb. Calculating? Yep. Independence? Absolutely! Dumb…no way!

  • I always had big dogs but I literally woke up one morning 5 years ago and wanted a Chihuahua for my birthday. My sweet husband went for it as well.
    The following is no exaggeration. Our little guy is amazingly smart…I’d say dog-genius level. We got him at 11 weeks so were his first owners.
    He learned commands quicker than a kid would! Sit, stay, come, no, etc. Immediately, within a minute or so. Then he went further. I’d ask him to bring me “such and such” and, sure enough, he did! We NEVER taught him that or many, many other things that he does. It’s jaw dropping to this day. The only command he had a bit of trouble with was “roll over.” That took about 10 minutes.
    We think he has a great understanding of language. He always knows what we’re talking about so now we spell things out!! Good grief! I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in a spelling bee one day! (Just a joke, guys!)
    A sidenote here. His stubbornness shows up with his peeing. He marks in the house a bit. That is our challenge with him. I think it’s his way of still being his “own man.”
    I cannot express the love I have for my chi.

  • My girls are extraordinary, I pretend to cry sometimes just to get a reaction from them. What amazes me is they know when I am truly upset and crying, and they will lick my tears get in my lap and pull my arm down with a little paw around them. They mind me very well and are occasionally, stubborn. They are mine and I am theirs.

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