Intelligence and Abilities of Chihuahuas – How Smart Are They?

One thing that many people, especially potential Chihuahua owners, have probably wondered is, are Chihuahuas smart?

The short answer is that it depends on what type of intelligence you’re talking about.

Where Chihuahuas Excel Best

Chihuahuas rank in the upper 60s in the intelligence percentile compared to other dogs. They have one of the largest brain-body ratios.

They were originally bred in Mexico to hunt rodents, especially rats. To this day, many are still prized for hunting rats and other rodents, including squirrels.

Their hunting instinct is a very strong one. That’s why, for example, whenever they see something like a squirrel in your yard, they don’t hesitate to chase after it.

As a result, Chihuahuas do best with instinctive intelligence.

Not only do they have excellent hunting instincts, but they also, in spite of their tiny size, make incredible guard dogs.

Like all dogs, Chihuahuas also have an excellent sense of smell. They can also hear about ten times better than humans.

If your Chi’s ears perk straight up, that means that a sound has piqued their interest.

Are Chihuahuas Smart and Capable of Learning Tricks?

Chihuahuas are very capable of learning the usual tricks of sit, stay, and shake with their paws.

However, how much they figure out on their own depends on how motivated they are as individuals.

One may figure out how to push or pull a door open while another will just stand there and bark at it until you open it.

What about Obedience?

Again, it depends on your Chihuahua as an individual. Some are highly motivated to please while others won’t budge without a highly valuable treat.

I know from personal experience that Chihuahuas enjoy taking road trips in the car. I can get our Chi to cooperate on the journey by bribing with treats.

With the ones who aren’t eager to please, the question is whether that’s a sign of a lack of intelligence or authority issues.

As far as words go, they seem to do well at understanding command and food words. The rest is pretty much a mystery.

A study by a canine psychologist, Stanley Coren, found that it took an average of between 40 and 80 repetitions for most Chihuahuas to learn new commands.

Other dog breeds tend to take between 20 and 40 repetitions. As a result, the difference does not have a major gap but a gap is there.

Coren also found that Chihuahuas respond to commands with about a 30 percent success rate. Owners, however, argue that their dogs simply respond best to them.

Coren’s study ranked the Chihuahua the 125th out of 138 smartest dog breeds.

Are Chihuahuas Smart?

Can Chihuahuas Demonstrate Empathy?

That can be argued either way.

When their owner is sick, Chihuahuas have been known to go to their owners to lick their faces, for a hug or bring a toy.

Some scientists argue that it’s simply their way of making sure that their owner is still a competent pack leader. That to think otherwise is simply a human projection.

However, most owners would definitely argue otherwise.

Why Do Chihuahuas Rank Relatively Low in Intelligence?

Coren’s study, unfortunately, based intelligence on response to obedience commands only. As stated above, Chihuahuas tend to be the best at adaptive intelligence.

Chihuahuas are notoriously stubborn and strong-willed. They don’t respond to force or coercion well, if at all.

What Chihuahuas need is positive reinforcement, patience, and consistency.

Why Do Chihuahuas Bark So Much and So Aggressively?

They’re being protective of you. At least, they believe that they are.

Some argue that they don’t show any fear in the face of danger in spite of their diminutive size. However, the aggressive anger that they display actually stems from fear.

With its small size, the world probably looks very intimidating to them.

Their constant, aggressive barking is likely a reaction to that. Chihuahuas also tend to shake a lot and we’ve previously written in detail about this.

It may also actually be their way of testing people.

Chihuahuas are street smart and instinctive at protecting against dangerous animals.

However, they don’t seem to be as intuitive at sensing strange humans’ motives on the individual level.

It could also be that they think that strange humans are something else to chase away.

That’s not to say that they don’t warm up to new people eventually. It’s just that it often takes them anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks.

It tends to take longer for those with trauma in their past.

They are, however, very loyal and understanding of their owners. They do make great lap dogs.

How Do I Know if a Chihuahua is Right for Me?

If you’re patient, understanding, consistent, and can stand the constant barking, the Chihuahua may be a good fit for you.

If your home tends to have an issue with wild rodents, a Chihuahua could come in handy for that as well.

If you live on a farm with livestock and need a dog that can herd quickly, a Chihuahua would be a natural choice for you.

In time, and with patience, your Chihuahua can learn to get along with a cat if you already have one.

If getting a Chi puppy, read up on how much food to feed it. Also, be aware of how to tell if your Chi is pregnant or in heat.

Final Thoughts

So far, Chihuahuas have ranked in one of the bottom percentiles for intelligence.

However, it’s largely due to canine psychologist, Stanley Coren’s study.

The main issue with Coren’s study is that it only looked at how quickly dogs respond to new commands rather than a more general, are Chihuahuas and other breeds smart?

There are many other types of intelligence that dogs display, including instinctive hunting and protection. Chihuahuas display both of the above extremely well.

Chihuahuas were bred to hunt rats and other rodents. That’s the reason why you don’t see them hesitate to chase after squirrels.

They make excellent companion dogs for their owners but are slow to warm up to strange humans.

They were originally bred in Mexico, and there, some of them are still prized as rat hunters.

What Chihuahuas need the most, however, is a lot of loving patience and consistency.