Although the love towards dogs is a common feature of all dog owners, there are still many differences in their preferences in regard to the breed, temperament and skills that the perfect canine should possess. Some people are more into energetic breeds while others prefer calmer breeds, some like dogs of large breeds, others adore small doggies, that are easy to carry...etc. Choosing the “right” dog may be a very challenging task, especially if we are talking about service dogs. What breed will be most suitable, what weight and height the dog should have to fulfill certain tasks, will they shed a lot, will they bark, will they require much exercising and walking, will they fit the owner’s lifestyle and living arrangement... These are a few essential questions that every person who would like to raise a service dog will need to answer.
The breed, especially the maximum weight and height that the breed representatives can reach, is one of the most important factors, that owners typically take into account prior to choosing a service dog. Although the term a “service animal” is still associated with large breeds like the German Shepherds or the Golden/Labrador Retrievers, more and more people with mental disabilities, opt for a doggy of a small breed. Many of you may say: “Small breeds do not require so much space, they can be easily transported, their representatives still can be trained various tasks, they are affectionate and lovely”. We can not argue with that!
We would like to take a look at a breed, that remains one of the most loved breeds among many US citizens, and pay attention to its qualities as a service animal- the Chihuahua.
What Are Service Animals
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) a service animal is “a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person's disability.”
Two questions may arise here:
1. Can a dog of every breed become a service dog?
2. Can Chihuahuas be trained to perform specific tasks?
Service Animals Breed Restrictions
The ADA explicitly states that dogs of all breeds can become service animals:
“Q22. Can service animals be any breed of dog?
A. Yes. The ADA does not restrict the type of dog breeds that can be service animals”.
Moreover, the ADA prohibits any discrimination towards service animals based on their breed:
“A service animal may not be excluded based on assumptions or stereotypes about the animal's breed or how the animal might behave”.
Considering this information, we can say with confidence that the representatives of the Chihuahua breed can become service animals.
Chihuahua- A Short Breed Overview
We will discuss the most common features of the breed, based on factors like energy level, predisposition to barking, shedding, affection to their owner and other family members and interaction with children. The Chihuahua are affectionate and very loyal to their owner. However, if you have a small child/ children, you should be very careful while they are interacting with your dog. Since children tend to be a bit clumsy, they can easily hurt your small paw friend. Chihuahuas, on the other hand, can be a little snappy around very small kids, so keep that in mind. We would recommend that you teach your kid how to be gentle with your dog and always supervise them when being close to each other.
The breed representatives can get along with other dogs and pets, but you should socialize them at a young age and introduce them properly. Problems may occur if your small paw friend wants to be the alpha and behaves a bit bossy around a dog of a larger breed. However, it all depends on both dogs’ temperaments. The Chihuahua shed throughout the year, but do not worry! They are considered lightly to moderate shedders, so this feature may not cause you much troubles. These small doggies can be quite vocal, and territorial. Although barking is not a wanted feature in dogs, it can be very beneficial for people, who are looking for an alert service animal.
The Chihuahuas are very energetic and you should provide them with enough physical and mental stimulation. For those of you who appreciate the traits of this breed and would like to train their representative as a service dog, we have good news- these doggies are quite trainable! Also, they are very adaptive and suited to apartment living.
How to Train a Chihuahua to Become a Service Animal?
If you are confident in your training skills and are ready to invest time and energy, you can conduct training yourself. US citizens are not required to professionally train their service dogs, since the ADA states:
“No. People with disabilities have the right to train the dog themselves and are not required to use a professional service dog training program”. For more information about the ADA regulations you can click here.
If you decide to go that way, you should be prepared to be consistent, patient, and disciplined. If you think that training a service dog yourself is a task you can not deal with alone, you can always contact a professional trainer or an organization in your area. You are likely to arrange to consult first, so that the trainer can evaluate your dog and advise on what the next steps should be. There are different programs that most organizations offer such as group courses, private sessions in person or online, board & train programs, as well as programs designed to address certain behavioral issues. You should keep in mind that training a dog professionally, will cost you a lot of money, and based on the program, you may be unable to spend so much time with your furry friend. Enrolling in an online course that provides all the necessary learning materials and support may be a good option for those of you who want to be actively engaged in the training process, but still be able to rely on guidance and structured learning plan.
What Tasks Is The Chihuahua Able to Perform?
Since the breed representatives are of a small size, they will be unable to perform physical tasks. None of us can imagine a Chihuahua pulling a wheelchair or being a balance support dog. However, there are many tasks that service dogs can be trained to perform, related not only to the physical health of their owner, but to their mental health as well.
Training basic obedience commands and mastering them will be a good basis for future development.
There is no reason for these cuties to be unable to perform basic obedience commands. Commands like “sit”, “stay”, “drop”, “come”, build the foundation of every training process.
Deep Pressure Therapy and Tactile Stimulation
Chihuahuas can become great Psychiatric Service Dogs, as some of the essential tasks of these dogs are providing tactile stimulation and a Deep Pressure Therapy. You can train your small cutie to jump on your lap and calm you down, when anxiety episodes occur. Kissing, nose-nudging, pawing, licking your arm (some owners do not like their doggies to lick them on the face) are skills that small breeds can acquire and perform as good as the dogs of large breeds.
Also, these little fellows can be trained to alert their owner to certain sounds or objects on their way. The alerting tasks can be very beneficial for people, dealing with low/high blood sugar, seizure attacks, epilepsy, cardiac problems, impaired vision, hearing...etc. Your paw friend can alert you to take your medication as well.
Despite their small size, the Chihuahua representatives can be trained to retrieve medication or other small objects.
Can Every Breed Representative Be Trained as a Service Animal
No. Not every representative of the Chihuahua and not all dogs in general can be trained as service animals. There are some essential requirements that future service dogs must meet, to be suitable for work as service dogs. They must be calm, balanced, friendly, easy-going, trainable, intelligent, love being around people, get along with other animals, and be able to develop a strong bond with their handler. Mild behavioral issues are likely to occur occasionally. However, the presence of severe behavioral problems, may be considered a red flag. Of course, this does not mean, that you (or a professional trainer) will never be able to address these issues, but such a venture may take a lot of time and resources.
Tips on How to Train a Chihuahua Alerting Tasks
If you decided to train your doggy in alerting tasks, you should begin with the identification of the trigger, that you want your dog to respond to. Also, you need to think about the behavior that you will expect your doggy to perform as a response to this trigger, i.e., pawing, barking, nose-nudging, licking...etc.
As a next step you should reinforce the trigger. In other words, you need to present the trigger to your dog, i.e. you can simulate anxiety or depression symptoms, you can let the phone or the fire alarm ring, or provide your dog with a swab of your saliva when your blood sugar levels are too high / too low. It all depends on the event, whose occurrence you want to be alerted of. Once your canine starts paying attention to the trigger, even if it is by accident at the beginning of the training process, you should click and give them a treat/toy. Although food is used as a main positive reinforcement tool, some dogs feel more encouraged when provided with toys, so you should remember this. As a next step you should add a cue word/words to your dog’s response, i.e. if you would like them to give you a kiss, you can say “kiss” or “give a kiss”. Remember to praise and reward your canine every time they fulfill the given task. That way they will feel encouraged to keep performing the wanted behavior. You can gradually decrease the amount of treats (primary reinforcement) you give your dog, until they learn to perform the task even when you motivate them only through praising/petting (secondary reinforcement). Some owners prefer to incorporate hand signals to the voice commands for bigger effect.
Tips on How to Train Your Chihuahua to Manipulate Objects
As a first step we would recommend that you clicker train your small paw friend. Of course, you need to prepare a bag of their favorite treats as well. As a next step you can introduce to your doggy the item, that you will expect them to manipulate. Place the item near your canine and monitor their reactions. Once your pooch starts exploring the item, usually through sniffing and mouthing, click immediately and give them a treat. Break down the desired behavior into easy steps and click and reward your doggy every time they perform some of the steps. Gradually you can raise the bar and reward your paw friend only when they perform the task almost perfectly. That way you will be able to shape the wanted behavior and show your canine what exactly you are expecting them to do.
As you can see dogs of all breeds can be trained as service animals. Whether a dog can become a great service dog or not, depends on their personality and individual features, not on their breed.