Does your Chihuahua bark up a storm at every little thing he sees? Well, you aren’t alone. Excessive and inappropriate barking is one of the most common Chihuahua behavioral problems reported by owners.
This behavior can become a nuisance and make life difficult for both you and your family, but you can train even the most vocal Chihuahua to stop barking by following the tips listed below.
Is Barking Really That Bad?
Barking in itself isn’t necessarily bad. It’s an instinctual trait that’s been passed down from their ancestors over the course of thousands of years. From large Mastiffs to small Chihuahuas, all dogs bark to communicate. Along with growling, eye gazing, showing teeth, and body posture, it’s one of the primary ways in which dogs communicate.
Your Chihuahua might bark when he needs food or water, or when he needs to go outside. Your Chihuahua may also bark if an intruder is trying to enter the home, alerting you to the intruder’s presence. These are all acceptable forms of barking and shouldn’t be discouraged. Teaching your Chihuahua not to bark when he needs to go outside, for example, will result in more accidents in your home.
There are times, however, when a Chihuahua’s barking is inappropriate — and this is where you should draw the line. Examples of inappropriate barking include:
- Barking at pedestrians
- Barking at passing cars
- Barking at guests
- Barking at postal workers
- Barking at neighbors
- Barking at other animals
- Barking at objects (vacuum cleaner, broom, trash cash, etc.)
- Any barking that’s a nuisance to you, your family or others
Inappropriate barking can interfere with your daily life, disturb your sleep, anger your neighbors and create a stressful environment in your home. Furthermore, barking is often covered by state laws and city ordinances. In Massachusetts, residents may file a formal complaint to the city council when their neighbor’s dog barks excessively. If the city council believes the barking to be a nuisance, they may order the owner to bring the dog indoors, or in extreme cases, get rid of the dog.
Even if there’s no specific law covering dog barking in your area, this behavior may fall under a loud noise ordinance, resulting in hefty fines. As an owner, it’s your responsibility to define when it’s acceptable for your Chihuahua to bark and when it’s not.
Why Chihuahuas Bark
The first step to controlling your Chihuahua’s barking is to understand why he does it. Chihuahuas bark for a variety of reasons. Some of these reasons are appropriate, while others are not.
As previously mentioned, barking is a form of communication in the canine kingdom. When a Chihuahua barks, he’s usually trying to say something, either to you or another animal.
Some Chihuahuas bark because they are bored. Known as “boredom barking,” it usually consists of a long, high-pitched monotone bark that occurs in intervals. Being social pack animals, Chihuahuas need regular physical and mental stimulation. Failure to provide your Chihuahua with this stimulation can lead to behavioral problems such as chewing on the furniture, scratching at doors, digging at the carpet, and barking.
To prevent boredom, give your Chihuahua plenty of mental and physical stimulation on a daily basis. Whether it’s playing fetch, tug-of-war, going to the dog bark, or teaching tricks, stimulation is essential to nipping boredom barking in the bud.
You should also avoid leaving your Chihuahua alone for more than six consecutive hours a day, or three hours if he’s a puppy. When left alone for long periods of time, Chihuahuas may bark to release built-up energy and express their loneliness. Leaving the TV or radio on can help by distracting your Chihuahua with background noise, but long periods of isolation may still trigger his barking instinct.
Barking can often be attributed to fear. When a Chihuahua is confronted with a perceived threat — another dog, animal, person, object or loud noise — he may bark and show signs of aggression.
This is all part of the Chihuahua’s fight-or-flight instinct, and it plays a key role in their survival. Chihuahuas, like all dogs, prefer running from threats rather than engaging them directly. If a Chihuahua is backed into a corner or otherwise escape, however, he may try to scare the threat away by barking.
Fear barking typically consists of several high-pitched barks in short intervals. You can usually tell if your Chihuahua is barking because of fear by looking at his posture. If he’s afraid, he’ll push his ears back, hold his tail low, and the fur on his back will stand up. Do not allow anyone to touch your Chihuahua if he’s exhibiting these signs, as this could result in the person being bitten.
3) Needs Something
When a Chihuahua needs something, he may bark to the attention of his owner. If a Chihuahua needs to go potty, for instance, he may bark by the door, essentially telling his owner, “Hey, let me out!” Whether he needs to go outside, or if he needs food or water, this type of barking can occur anytime the Chihuahua wants to get your attention.
Attention barking is usually soft and short. The Chihuahua will stop barking once his needs are met.
Chihuahuas may also bark when another dog, person, or animal encroaches upon their territory. This behavior is closely associated with fear barking. The Chihuahua views the encroaching subject as a threat to his territory, so he barks to try and scare it away.
A Chihuahua’s “territory” may include his home, yard, crate, bedding, car seat, food and water bowl, and other areas to which he’s accustomed.
Normally, territorial barking becomes louder and more aggressive as the perceived threat gets closer. If the threat doesn’t go away, the Chihuahua may attack it.
Because territorial barking typically comes before an attack, you shouldn’t discourage your Chihuahua from doing it. If you teach your Chihuahua not to bark when his territory encroaches, he may bite the encroaching person or animal.
5) Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety is a common behavioral disorder in Chihuahuas. It’s characterized by the Chihuahua feeling a constant need to be with his owner. When left alone, the Chihuahua may act out by barking, howling, chewing and using the bathroom indoors. Some owners disregard separation anxiety as being harmless or even cute, but it causes severe stress and anxiety, both for the Chihuahua and the owner.
If separation anxiety is causing your Chihuahua to bark, you need to desensitize him to you leaving and being away. There’s nothing wrong with taking your Chihuahua on the occasional car ride, but it shouldn’t be a daily occurrence. If your Chihuahua expects to go with you every time you leave, he may bark and act out the next time he’s left behind.
Also known as canine cognitive dysfunction, dementia can cause a wide variety of behavioral problems in Chihuahuas, including excessive barking. Chihuahuas suffering from this disease often bark for no apparent reason. It’s believed that Chihuahuas with dementia bark because they are confused, or because they’ve forgotten who their owners are.
Barking triggered by dementia isn’t something that you can stop through traditional training techniques. You need to find out what works and what doesn’t for your Chihuahua through trial and error. Comforting your Chihuahua by petting and speaking his name may help. There’s also medication available for masking the symptoms of dementia, such as Anipryl (selegiline). Ultimately, though, you need to remember dementia isn’t something that’s easily fixed.
Some Chihuahuas bark when they are excited or anticipating something that will cause excitement, such as a new toy, going for a walk, or seeing their owner after a long day. The stimuli causes the Chihuahua’s energy levels to rise until he can no longer control it. As a result, he barks, paces, jumps and exhibits other energetic behavior.
Excitement barking consists of short, high-pitched barks. The Chihuahua will stop barking once the stimuli are removed and his energy levels normalize.
Like people, some Chihuahuas vocalize when dreaming. The Chihuahua may bark, howl, whimper and even appear to run in place. This behavior typically occurs during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, during which the Chihuahua’s eyes will twitch in response to his increased brain activity.
Some owners feel the need to wake their Chihuahuas when they dream, believing they are helping by getting the Chihuahua out of a nightmare. Most veterinary experts agree, though, that it’s best to let them sleep through the dream. Sleep is essential for a Chihuahua’s physical and mental health. If you wake your Chihuahua every time he dreams, it can cause fatigue, irritability, and even a suppressed immune system.
How to Stop Your Chihuahua from Barking
Teaching a Chihuahua not to bark requires an understanding of what’s causing the behavior. And as you can see, Chihuahua bark for many reasons. In most cases, however, the following training method will correct barking disorders.
Teach the Speak Command
It may sound counterproductive, but teaching your Chihuahua to bark on command can actually help you control his barking. The ultimate goal is to teach the quiet command. Using the quiet command, you can instantly stop your Chihuahua from barking. Before you can do so, however, you must first teach your Chihuahua the speak command.
Follow these steps to teach your Chihuahua the speak command:
- Have a friend or family member approach the front door.
- Immediately before this person rings the door bell, tell your Chihuahua to “speak.”
- If he barks, reward him with a treat and affection.
- Repeat until your Chihuahua barks on command.
The door bell method is only one way to teach the speak command. You can use any stimuli that normally causes your dog to bark. The idea is to create an association between the speak command and treats while enticing his barking behavior through stimuli.
Teach the Quiet Command
After your Chihuahua has learned the speak command, you should teach him the quiet command.
Follow these steps to teach your Chihuahua the command:
- Use the speak command to make your Chihuahua bark.
- While he’s barking, place a treat in front of his nose.
- Assuming your Chihuahua stops barking to inspect and sniff the treat, reward him with the treat and affection.
- Repeat until your Chihuahua stops barking on command.
Correcting behavioral problems like excessive barking requires positive reinforcement, not punishment. If you punish or scold your Chihuahua for barking, you’ll only encourage him to bark by giving him attention. Yelling “Bad boy!” or “Bad girl!” for example, feeds the Chihuahua’s desire for attention. He thinks you are barking with him, so he continues to bark (and possibly more loudly) as a result.
Instead of yelling at your Chihuahua when he barks, reward him when he doesn’t. If your Chihuahua remains quiet in a situation when he usually barks, give him a treat and affection. He’ll eventually realize that being quiet in this scenario results in rewards. Positive reinforcement is the key to stopping excessive and inappropriate barking, so keep plenty of treats on hand.
Provide Plenty of Exercise
Lack of exercise plays a key role in Chihuahua barking problems. Because of the breed’s small size, some owners assume that Chihuahuas don’t need regular exercise. But Chihuahuas need just as much physical stimulation as larger dogs. Failure to give your Chihuahua this physical stimulation will result in built-up energy that’s released through inappropriate behavior.
You can discourage excessive and inappropriate barking by giving your Chihuahua at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. This can include walking, playing fetch, chase, tug-of-war, or just running around outside. As long as your Chihuahua is moving, his energy will be released; thus, helping to correct many behavioral problems such as barking.
Consistency is essential when teaching a Chihuahua not to bark. If you reward your Chihuahua with a treat for obeying the quiet command, give him a treat every time he does it; otherwise, the mixed messages will confuse him and make training more difficult.
All family members in your home should also be on board with the training process. If someone else punishes your Chihuahua for barking, for example, it could impede your training efforts. Sit down and discuss your training method, as described in this article, with all family members. You can even attach a note with the basic training rules to your refrigerator or elsewhere in your home.
What You Shouldn’t Do
There are certain things you shouldn’t do when attempting to correct your Chihuahua’s barking problem. Even if you’ve successfully taught your Chihuahua the quiet command, the following mistakes could negate your training efforts.
Don’t Reward Inappropriate Barking
It’s unlikely that you give your Chihuahua a treat when he barks excessively or at inappropriate times. However, you could still be rewarding him with affection or attention, which encourages him to bark.
To stop their Chihuahua from barking, some owners may toss a toy across the room. This creates a distraction by diverting the Chihuahua’s attention away from the stimuli that initially triggered his barking. In the long run, though, this makes the problem worse by encouraging the Chihuahua to bark in the future.
If you reward your Chihuahua when he barks — treats, toys, affection, playtime, attention, car rides, etc. — he will create an association between barking and rewards. So, the next time he wants a reward, he will bark. Ignore your Chihuahua and don’t give him any attention, or even eye contact, when he barks at inappropriate times.
Don’t Use a Muzzle
A muzzle isn’t an effective solution to stop a Chihuahua from barking. Depending on the specific type, it may prevent the Chihuahua from eating, drinking or panting. Both drinking and panting are essential to regulating the Chihuahua’s body temperature. If he cannot do these things, his body temperature will rise to potentially dangerous levels. Because of this, leaving a muzzle on an unattended Chihuahua can be viewed as cruelty, leaving the owner susceptible to animal cruelty charges.
The basket-style muzzles typically allow the Chihuahua to drink and pant while wearing it, but you still shouldn’t use it to stop your Chihuahua from barking. Muzzles promote stress and anxiety, which can worsen behavioral problems. The Chihuahua will still feel the need to bark; the muzzle only prevents him from acting on this instinct.
There are times when a muzzle is useful and appropriate. If your Chihuahua is fearful of the vet or groomer and exhibits signs of aggression, a muzzle can protect the vet or groomer from being bitten. Generally speaking, though, muzzles should only be used to prevent a Chihuahua from biting. They should not be used as punishment or to correct behavioral problems.
Don’t Use a Shock Collar
We do not condone the use of shock collars to stop a Chihuahua from barking. Often marketed under gimmicky names like “e-collars” and “collar-mounted electronic training aids,” they use battery-powered electrodes to emit up to 4,500 volts (sometimes more) directly into the Chihuahua’s neck when he barks.
Some shock collars are operated manually, while others automatically apply the shock when a bark is detected. The latter are particularly troublesome since they shock for all barks, both good and bad.
Whether it’s manual or automatic, you should avoid using shock collars when training your Chihuahua. While typically not fatal, they still cause pain and discomfort. Can you imagine being shocked in your neck? It’s not pleasant. There have even been reports of dogs sustaining second- and third-degree burns around their neck from wearing shock collars.
Aside from the pain and potential harm shock collars cause, their effectiveness is questionable at best. In a study titled “The Welfare Consequences and Efficacy of Training Pet Dogs with Remote Electronic Training Collars in Comparison to Reward-Based Training,” researchers from Lincoln University in the UK found that shock collars were no more effective at training dogs than traditional recall and control chasing techniques.
Don’t Use a Spray Collar
Spray collars are less invasive than shock collars but still a poor choice when training a Chihuahua not to bark. They work — and I use the term “work” loosely — by spraying mildly irritating substances like citronella or lemon juice in the Chihuahua’s face when he barks. The short bursts of juice sting the Chihuahua’s eyes and nasal passages, punishing him for barking.
Furthermore, both shock and spray collars are known to pick up the sound of other dogs barking. If your neighbor’s dog barks while your Chihuahua is wearing one of these collars, it could activate the collar and punish your Chihuahua. While some owners have reported success using these punishment-based training collars, most canine behavioral specialists will agree that there are better, safer, and more effective ways to teach a Chihuahua not to bark.
Rather than exposing your Chihuahua to pain and discomfort, follow the use of the techniques described here to teach your Chihuahua his barking boundaries. As long as you remain consistent with your training efforts, your Chihuahua will learn when it’s acceptable to bark and when it’s not.
What About Removing the Stimuli?
You can typically stop a Chihuahua from barking by removing the stimuli from his environment. If your Chihuahua barks at pedestrians walking in front of your home, for example, you can pull the curtains shut. Or if your Chihuahua barks when he hears your car pull into the driveway, you can raise the volume on the TV to create white noise. With the stimuli removed, your Chihuahua will no longer feel the desire to bark.
With that said, removing the stimuli is only a temporary solution for barking problems. You can’t keep the curtains closed or the TV on forever. And the next time your Chihuahua is exposed to the stimuli, he will bark. Rather than removing it, try to desensitize your Chihuahua to the stimuli. This is done by acclimating your Chihuahua to whatever is making him bark.
Using the same scenario mentioned above, you can desensitize your Chihuahua to pedestrians outside by having someone walk in front of your home (with the curtains open). This person should begin at a far enough distance so it doesn’t cause your Chihuahua to bark immediately. You can then feed your Chihuahua treats for as long as he’s quiet. Once he begins to bark, stop feeding him treats, and begin to ignore him.
It may take several sessions, but this should desensitize your Chihuahua to whatever causing him to bark.
The Bottom Line on Chihuahua Barking
All dogs bark and Chihuahuas are no exception. It’s one of their primary methods of communication. When your Chihuahua’s barking becomes a nuisance and interferes with life, however, you need to take action by correcting his behavior. Barking excessively or at inappropriate times creates a chaotic environment for you, your family, and your Chihuahua. Use the training techniques described here to correct your Chihuahua’s barking and regain control of your home.