How Smart Are Chihuahuas?
[In-depth explanation]

Aaron Rice Expert Dog Trainer
Written: January 17, 2022

There’s a rumor that labels Chis dumb, making Chihuahua owners everywhere sit up and take notice. If you’re trying to figure out the intelligence of dogs, Chihuahuas in particular – you’re definitely in the right place.

So, are Chihuahuas smart dogs? The answer to that question isn’t as clear-cut as many would like. For one, pet experts tend to identify canine intelligence based on three categories: instinctive intelligence, obedience intelligence, and adaptive intelligence. Then there’s the fact that how smart your pet appears to be has a lot to do with how you train it.

But, worry not. As a dog trainer, it’s part of my job description to help canine parents understand all there is to their pets. That’s why this Chi Guide will walk you through all aspects of a Chihuahua’s intelligence – including how well they fare with commands and training. Oh, and there’s also a bonus section devoted to helping you understand how to best train your furry pal.

Chihuahua 101 - A Brief History

Before we get down to breaking down the intelligence ranking of Chis – let’s take a time out to focus on the breed’s history. Why? That’s simple. Ask any canine enthusiast, and they’ll tell you that a dog’s intelligence, temperament, and ability have a lot to do with how they came about. For instance, German Shepherds were bred to help with herding sheep.

You see, breeding is a kind of science in itself. Breeders will often select dogs with specific traits to reproduce so that their offspring have a natural affinity for certain tasks. That’s why dogs are often categorized as working, hunting, sporting, toy breeds, etc.

When it comes to Chihuahuas, their history is traced back to the ancient Mayan civilization. Believe it or not, there are 600 to 700 years old artifacts in fascinating sites, like the Cholula pyramids, that contain drawings of canines that strongly resemble the Chi breed

Historians believe that the modern-day Chihuahua may very well be a descendent of the Techichi. The Aztecs raised their dogs for three main reasons – to be part of religious ceremonies, as pets, and as a food source.

It’s not entirely clear how the sturdier Techichi build eventually morphed into Chihuahua-sized cuteness you see today, but obviously, there was cross-breeding involved. By the time the Chihuahuas were registered with the American Kennel Club in 1904 – they were already pretty down-sized but with longer legs, bigger ears, and pointy heads

However, the important bit is that we’re sure (almost) that Chihuahuas weren’t meant to act as working, herding, sporting, or terrier dogs. Instead, they’ve almost always been categorized as companion dogs – meant to form deep bonds with humans.

How Is Dog Intelligence Calculated

If you’re wondering about exactly how the canine intelligence rankings came about, I’ve got two words for you – Stanley Coren. If you’ve never heard of the name before, that’s okay. Dr. Coren is Professor Emeritus at the University of British Columbia and is highly esteemed for his research and perception of canine intelligence and behavior.

He believes that a dog’s intelligence results from environmental factors and genetics – with genes playing the more prominent role. His book, ‘The Intelligence of Dogs’ makes use of three criteria to gauge a canine’s overall intellect, and here’s how they work.

  • Working and Obedience Intelligence

To put things simply, working and obedience intelligence accounts for all the stuff canines can pick up or learn from humans. Things that don’t come naturally to a pup and aren’t a part of its environment will fall into this category. For example, command training, tricks, and even special skills that police or rescue dogs possess fit this criterion.

Unsurprisingly, this category is deemed the most important when judging doggy smarts, as it relates to how well a canine can pick up the skills you want it to learn. Think of this category as the doggy equivalent of a human report card.

  • Instinctive Intelligence

Remember how I said breeding plays a considerable role when it comes to canines? Well, instinctive intelligence accounts for the unique task the dog breed was created for. For instance, Rottweilers were bred to act as drovers and to look after and protect livestock.

Imagine a world where the skill of doctors is judged on how well they do on a bar exam? It’s almost like setting people up for failure. Similarly, it’s not right to gauge a canine’s intelligence without considering the purpose of its creation. That’s why this category acts as an equalizer – because it takes into account how well a dog performs the tasks for which it was bred.

  • Adaptive Intelligence

Adaptive intelligence comprises how well a dog understands and adapts to its environment. This category helps gauge a dog’s intellect on a more personal scale because it can vary from canine to canine – even when comparing two dogs of the same breed.

The Smartest Dog Breeds In 'The Intelligence of Dogs'

Now that you know experts may judge your furry companions’ brain power – let’s get back to the topic at hand. Chihuahua owners may be disheartened to learn that out of the 131 breeds ranked in Dr. Coren’s book – Chihuahuas clock in at 125.

However, you should know how canines performed during the obedience trials featured big time towards the final score. Here’s what factored in the scoring:

  1. The Number of Tries: The trial judges noted how many tries it took for a dog to pick up an unknown command. So, essentially, dogs that picked up a new trick faster with little to no repetitions were deemed to be smarter. 
  2. Success with Known Commands: The other critical factor noted by judges was how many dogs would follow a known command on the first try. So, for instance, if one breed had a better success rate with known commands, that breed would be deemed smarter than the others.

It turns out that according to the test set out by Coren and the judges, the top five smartest dog breeds are:

  • Border Collie
  • Poodle
  • German Shepherd
  • Golden Retriever
  • Doberman

How Did Chihuahuas Fare?

Chis came in at the bottom half of the scoreboard and qualified for the ‘fair intelligence’ category. That’s because most Chihuahuas could pick up an unknown command with approximately 40 to 80 repetitions. Additionally, they only obeyed a known command on the first try around 30 percent of the time.

Now, if you’re a Chihuahua owner, you’ll agree when I say Chis aren’t the most obedient of canines. They can be stubborn little terriers and may require more effort when training than your average doggo.

Just so you know and don’t feel too bad about how Chihuahuas performed in the test, the fair intelligence category includes breeds like Maltese, Shih Tzu, Pug, and French Bulldog.

What’s more, Stanley Coren’s method of testing canine intelligence received quite a bit of criticism because the ability to obey commands or pick up tricks isn’t all there is to a canine’s intelligence.

Are Chihuahuas Very Smart Or Dumb

I know what you’re thinking. It seems like we’re back at square one in trying to understand how smart Chihuahuas are.

As a trainer, I don’t equate obedience with intelligence. After all, you spend enough time training a dog with positive reinforcement, and there will come a time when the furball will pick up the trick. So, all dogs tend to have some measure of adaptive intelligence (the ability to solve problems, etc., based on past experiences).

However, apart from all that, canines also have keen social cognitive skills. They can understand human behavior based on visual and audible cues and adapt accordingly. That’s one area where Chihuahuas excel.

So, understanding how smart these stubborn and adorable little dogs just require a change in methodology. Here’s how.

When gauging whether your Chihuahua is a smart dog, it’s necessary to understand not all canines are created equal.

They have unique personalities, and each breed is heavily influenced by genetics and the reason behind its existence. For example, consider the fact the Border Collies and German Shepherds were both bred to herd sheep. To an extent, both breeds are wired to be working dogs and will thrive when they have tasks to do.

Now, think back on Chi history. Chihuahuas are companion dogs, and they’re often described as loyal, protective, affectionate, and even sassy. They’re not known for their ability to follow commands, nor are they defined as pliable.

But that’s mostly because so much of your Chi’s life revolves around you. This breed loves cuddling and like being lapdogs. They can form deep bonds and will likely single out one person to develop a profound attachment with.

So, Chihuahuas are motivated by their attachment to their owners. Their protective instincts are always at the fore. That’s one reason why your pet is quick to bark when someone’s at the door or when someone’s standing a little too close to you. As long as their human is safe, Chis aren’t too concerned with following commands or learning new tricks.

That doesn’t mean your Chihuahua is dumb. It’s just as bright as any other canine. But, you need to handle and train a Chihuahua a little differently for best results.

Are Chihuahuas Hard To Train

The question – are Chihuahuas intelligent – is often tied up to how easily they can be trained. A lot of people are under the misapprehension that Chihuahuas are difficult to train. But that’s not entirely accurate.

Chis are known for their willfulness. They’re often called tenacious and sidelined as hard to train. The truth is, the problem isn’t so much the dog as it is the training method. If you find it challenging to train your Chihuahua, it’s possible because you’re trying to force your pet into doing stuff.

Punishments and reprimands don’t work too well with this breed. If anything, you’re likely to make your pet even less likely to follow your cues if you start losing patience. You need to treat your pet with gentleness and focus on training through positive reinforcement.

Make training your Chihuahua seem like fun-time, and you’ll notice a marked difference in how your Chi behaves. Training a Chihuahua will require perseverance and consistency, but if you stick to your guns – your pet will end up picking all the tricks you’re trying to teach it.

How To Train Your Chihuahua The Right Way

Let’s forget everything relating to how Chihuahuas rank on the intelligence test and focus on how you can go about training your pet the right way.

No matter its variation or mix, you can train your Chihuahua to become a well-behaved and mature adult by focusing on two factors: time management and the right obedience school.

More often than not, new doggy parents find it difficult to divide their time between their everyday responsibilities and training their new pet. However, before you get too overwhelmed thinking about what training might entail, you should know that you can educate your pet at home by dividing training sessions throughout the day.

For instance, you can bring in some aspect of training whenever you have time to interact with your furbaby. Try working on the same trick – through treats and verbal encouragement until your pet gets the hang of it before moving on to something else.

Additionally, while enrolling your Chihuahua in a reputable obedience school isn’t mandatory, it will help you, and your pet adjust to the training sessions at home. You’ll also get the chance to see professional dog trainers in action and learn their techniques. Finally, it’ll also be an excellent way for your Chihuahua to learn more about socialization.

I’ve devoted the following two headings between house training and basic commands for ease of navigation. You can scroll down to the relevant section and search for tips and tricks to make your life easier.

House Training For Chihuahuas

When you bring your Chihuahua dog home, one of the first things on your to-do list should be house-training your pet. This is a precursor to training your pet to potty outside the house. Not to mention, it’ll help your pup understand it’s not okay to poop or pee wherever it wants to inside the house.

You’ll need to select an area in your home to set up puppy training pads. Essentially, you should choose a place that’s easily accessible for your furball, isn’t too far away from its sleeping spot, and has plenty of ventilation.

It’s also a good idea to have a steady supply of training pads on hand so that you don’t run out while training your pet. Once your pup masters the art of elimination on the puppy pads, you can slowly teach your canine to potty or pee-pee outside by taking the puppy pads outdoors to help with the transition.

Here’s what you’ll need to do to help your Chi puppy get used to house training.

Step one

Set up the puppy training pad in the spot of your choosing. You can either place the pad directly on the floor or place it inside a box or plastic tray to ensure the pad doesn’t move about too much.

Next, you’re going to have to observe your pup to understand when it’s feeling the urge to eliminate. By placing your dog on the potty pad each time it feels the urge to poop or pee, you’ll slowly condition your Chihuahua to only resort to the training pad whenever it feels like it needs to go.

It’s best to place your pet on the pads right after it wakes up, right after eating or drinking, or before going to sleep at night.

Step two

Whenever you place your pet on the training pads, be sure to follow up with a verbal command. For instance, you can say ‘time to potty’ in a gentle and encouraging tone so that your pup gets used to the verbal cue.

Step three

Once your puppy does end up using the pad to pee or poo, be sure to encourage its behavior by petting and follow it up with a yummy treat. This is essential for training your Chihuahua through positive reinforcement and will help your pet understand rewarding behavior.

Basic Command Training For Chihuahuas

There are plenty of commands you can teach your canine, which is why I probably won’t be able to cover all of them in this section. I’ve decided to cover ‘sit’ and ‘down’ for this heading because these commands tend to come in real handy with perky Chis.

However, ensure you’re equipped with a clicker and your pet’s favorite toy or treats – no positive reinforcement training sesh is complete without these things.

The Sit Command

This training method will require your doggo to be wearing a collar. That way, you’ll be able to handle your doggo with ease and keep its attention focused on you.

Step one

Hold your pet in place by gently taking hold of its collar. Use your other hand to hold a treat in front of its nose, then slowly move the treat in an upward motion, going past your pet’s eyes to over its head.

Step two 

If you do this slowly enough, your pup will rock backwards as it follows the trajectory of the treat and will eventually assume the ‘sit’ position because you’re holding on to its collar.

Step three

As soon as your pet sits, say ‘sit’ out loud, press the clicker, and immediately hand over the treat. Repeat this exercise until your pet understands the command without you having to hold its body in place.

The Down Command

A little heads-up before teaching your Chihuahua the stay command – only move to teach your pet this move once it has mastered the art of sitting. It’s not advisable to overload your Chihuahua with too many commands because it may lead to confusion.

What’s more, the down pose is a type of submissive position – which means it’s incredibly helpful in establishing a hierarchy. You can use this command to make your Chihuahua see you as the alpha – to be obeyed and followed.

On the flip side, if your Chi is a bit dominant itself, it may take some time for your pet to pick up this command. But if you keep at training with patience and secondary reinforcements – it’ll eventually pick it up. Another option is to let your dog trainer teach your pet this command and continue with sessions at home.

Step one

Start by grabbing hold of your Chi’s collar firmly but gently and make sure it’s facing you. Hold a treat in your other hand and raise it until your hand is at eye-level with your pet.

Step two

Once your Chi has gotten a good look at the treat in your hand, slowly move your hand downwards, from its nose towards your canine’s chest.

Step three

If you move your hand slowly enough, this will cause your Chihuahua to look down and eventually move into the down position – since you’re gripping its collar. 

If you have to move your hand until it’s touching the ground to get your furbaby to move all the way down, do so. Once your Chihuahua has assumed the down position, say ‘down’ out loud, press the clicker, and follow up with the treat.

Repeat the process at least four to five times each training session. Don’t be tempted to go overboard in one sitting. Remember, Chihuahuas are quick to feel bored and may react stubbornly once the fun begins to wear off.


There you have it, folks. Hopefully, I’ve been able to put all your doubts about your Chihuahua’s intelligence at rest. You no longer have to concern yourself with asking – are Chihuahuas intelligent – and just concentrate on building a stronger bond with your furball.

When you’re training your Chi, remember perseverance and gentleness work best. It’s best not to act as the alpha by reprimanding or punishing your pet. Instead, lead with positive reinforcement and ensure your pet knows the difference between desirable and undesirable behavior.

Also, if you feel like you’re in over your head, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with turning to a professional trainer for help. What matters, in the end, is that you and your pet get along and love each other.