How Smart Are Chihuahuas? Everything We Know About Their Intelligence

Written by Mandy Trotti
Updated: September 22, 2023
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Chihuahuas are the smallest recognized dog breed, named after their place of origin, the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Their pint-sized bodies hold a lot of personality and their large brains. Answering the question “How smart are Chihuahuas?” is difficult without looking at their history and various factors. Below, we explore their intelligence, starting with their problem-solving skills and concluding with some tips on unlocking your Chihuahua’s intelligence potential.     

chihuahua puppies blue and brown color. pet adoption

Chihuahuas originate from the Mexican state of Chihuahua.

©ElenaYakimova/Shutterstock.com

Exploring the Intelligence of Chihuahuas

Chihuahuas are descendants of Techichis, a breed of dog kept by the Toltec people of Mexico. The Techichi was small and mute with long hair and they share a lot of characteristics with today’s Chihuahuas. But not all traits passed down from their ancient past are helpful in the same way.  

There are many factors to consider when measuring a dog’s intelligence. Their instinctive, adaptive, and working and obedience intelligence are the three main categories that determine a dog’s IQ. Psychology professor Dr. Stanley Coren is highly acclaimed for his book The Intelligence of Dogs, which ranks over 100 dog breeds according to their intelligence. He evaluated every breed according to their problem-solving capabilities, obedience, memory, and social training. But the most widely used canine intelligence marker is obedience.   

Similar tests can be conducted at home to determine your Chihuahua’s intelligence. However, it’s important to note that while these tests can help discover your pet’s strengths and weaknesses, they don’t have the final say in your dog’s intelligence. Genetics, environment, and physiology also impact a dog’s intelligence. 

So, how smart are Chihuahuas? Keep reading to find out how Dr. Coren’s tests and the natural abilities of the Chihuahua determine their intelligence.  

dog food for Chihuahuas

Instinctive, adaptive, and working and obedience intelligence are the three main categories that determine canine intelligence.

©Ratchat/Shutterstock.com

The Cognitive Capabilities of Chihuahuas: Understanding Their Problem-Solving Skills and Brain Size

The average size of a Chihuahua’s brain is 2.5 inches wide and weighs around 55 grams. That’s about the size of a tangerine and one-tenth the size of a human brain. That sounds small, but most Chihuahuas are only 5-8 inches tall and weigh between 1-6 pounds. So, compared to their bodies, their brain is considered rather large. However, brain size doesn’t correlate with intelligence. 

The reason Chihuahuas were bred is unclear. As a result, it isn’t easy to know which instincts to measure to determine their instinctive intelligence. But what we do know is that Chihuahuas are loyal companions.

The Aztecs believed Chihuahuas guided people through the afterlife. If someone mistreated a Chihuahua while they were alive, they wouldn’t receive help from one of the spirit guides. These abilities aren’t testable, but their history speaks to their strong emotional bond with their owners. 

They are also great problem solvers. Chihuahuas are very perceptive to the emotions of those around them. Since they are loyal and attuned to their owners, they appear to feel the same emotions. Therefore, Chihuahuas have high emotional intelligence, allowing them to help their owner emotionally or get what they want through perception. But this is only one way to answer the question, “How smart are Chihuahuas?” This popular breed has many other skills that make them intelligent.  

Long-Haired Chihuahua Looking Back

The size of a Chihuahua’s brain is comparable to the size of a tangerine.

©MODMOD/Shutterstock.com

Chihuahuas’ Learning Aptitude: How Quick and Adaptive Are They?

Adaptive intelligence refers to how well dogs learn from experience. For example, how many times do you have to pick up your dog’s leash before going outside for them to associate it with going on a walk? But adaptive intelligence also includes learning to steal treats or escape from their crate when no one is looking.  

According to Dr. Coren, Chihuahuas ranked 125th out of 138 breeds tested for obedience and working intelligence. Although they ranked low in obedience, he praised them for their adaptive intelligence. They are too small to protect their owners, but they are alert and hypervigilant. Chihuahuas are always ready to sound the alarm to let everyone know when something is amiss. Their alertness also makes them more intuitive to the feelings of the people around them. Therefore, training them for obedience trials and dog sports is easy. 

Chihuahuas are highly adaptable but don’t adjust well to being alone. Many Chihuahuas who are frequently left alone at home develop separation anxiety. This can cause excessive barking, howling, and destructive behavior. The best way to prevent your Chihuahua from developing separation anxiety is to have someone check on them every 4 hours if possible.

Chihuahua puppy on soccer ball

Chihuahuas are prone to anxiety if they lack attention and mental stimulation.

©iStock.com/Aime Martin

Intelligence Ranking: Where Do Chihuahuas Stand Among Other Breeds?

As mentioned, Chihuahuas ranked 125th out of 138 tested breeds. According to Coren, this ranking puts them in the “fair intelligence” category, which is considered below average. As a result, Chihuahuas learn a new command after 40-80 repetitions. Depending on the complexity of the command, it can take a few hours of training to learn it. Other popular breeds in the same intelligence category include the Maltese, pug, French bulldog, and the Great Pyrenees.

But how smart are Chihuahuas compared to the average dog? The average dog learns a new command in 25-40 repetitions. That means the average dog learns a new command almost twice as fast as a Chihuahua. Moreover, the average breed successfully obeys a command on the first try at a minimum of 50% of the time. Although these numbers aren’t significantly higher, they are still better. For reference, some average dog breeds include the Great Dane, Siberian husky, and the bichon frisé.   

Chihuahuas may not be the most obedient dog breeds, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t intelligent. In fact, this can be seen as a sign that they have tricked us into believing they aren’t obedient because of their strong will. They obeyed a known command at a 30% success rate on the first try. Therefore, they can respond depending on who gives the command and the reward at stake.  

Pomeranian and Chihuahua

Compared to other dog breeds, Chihuahuas have below-average intelligence.

©iStock.com/cynoclub

Unlocking Chihuahuas’ Intelligence Potential: Training Techniques and Mental Stimulation

Chihuahua in agility training

Chihuahuas can perform well in agility competitions.

©iStock.com/cynoclub

Now we know the answer to the question, “How smart are Chihuahuas?” But how do we unlock their potential? Like any dog breed, Chihuahuas require structured training and daily mental stimulation to be healthy. The more time and effort you put into meeting these everyday needs, the more obedient your Chihuahua can become.  

Training

Chihuahuas are quick to learn new tricks if their favorite treats are involved. They are eager to please their owners, making them highly trainable. Despite their loving personalities, they need a strong leader to keep their strong will in check. They are not the most easygoing dog breed, especially around young children. Chihuahuas are prone to anxiety, so socializing them is an essential training component. 

Positive reinforcement includes using treats, toys, or a game your dog enjoys to reward them for their hard work. Although it may sound like a bribe rather than a training tool, positive reinforcement is one of the most effective animal learning methods. Consistent training combined with positive reinforcement can help Chihuahuas learn new commands faster and make them successful in dog sports.  

Mental Stimulation

Chihuahuas are attention seekers. Although they don’t always take kindly to instruction because of their strong will, they often want to be close to their owners. They are also highly energetic. They can become anxious and destructive if they don’t receive regular mental stimulation. That’s why it’s essential to spend a lot of time with them doing their favorite activities. 

Their small size doesn’t hold them back from athletics. Chihuahuas are considered the perfect lap dog, but they perform well in agility competitions, which require strong obedience skills. They are adept and confident, making them the ideal breed for agility courses. Toy or treat scavenger hunts, puzzle toys, hide-and-seek, and teaching them new tricks are a few ways to keep your Chihuahua happy and engaged.  

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Fractal Pictures/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Mandy Trotti is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on pets and travel. Mandy has been writing professionally for three years and holds a Bachelor's Degree in English Literature from the University of South Florida, which she earned in 2022. A resident of Florida, Mandy enjoys going on walks with her rescue beagle, visiting botanical gardens, and watching the sunset on the beach.

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