Chihuahua: My other underdog

It amuses me that people are frequently more horrified that I own a Chihuahua than that I own a pit bull.

Vicious, yappy, ankle-biter. Worthless, not even a dog.

Come on, people. Let people like what they like.

I get a kick out of her.

I am not sure when I started wanting a Chihuahua of my own, but it might have started with the one I saw on the Appalachian Trail on Peter’s Mountain. He was a cool dog, and the idea of a tiny, portable hiking dog appealed to me.

It’s hard to find a Chi in the shelters around here. While they’re being killed left and right in the shelters in California and the Southwest, in the Northeast, little dogs are a hot commodity, and often don’t even make it onto the shelter’s adoption page.

I had a friend tag me on this shelter’s facebook post, and showed up the next morning with my other dogs in tow to meet her.

Potato Chip. She’d been seized by police along with her housemate after the owner was taken to prison on murder charges. The dogs had been left alone with only potato chips and crackers to eat.

Little Potato Chip was quiet, not-fearful, and tolerant of being touched. She was scared out of her gourd, too. She met my big dogs without worry, and they were fine with her.

By the time I filled out my application for her, there were several more people at the shelter to look at her.

Happily my application checked out, and I was able to adopt her a week or so later.

I renamed her Tweak.

She’s a hoot.

She’s aloof with strangers. She is absolutely yappy. She plays tug like a monster, chases squirrels, chews bones. She wears her tutu and her pink party dress with attitude.

She climbs mountains like a boss.

This was the last rock scramble up Mt. Killington in Vermont. Up above 4000 feet. Up above treeline. She hiked the whole thing by herself.

(It was really freaking cold on top.)

She is a great dog in all the ways my “real” dogs are great dogs. She’s fun. She’s feisty. She is a great cuddler, and I enjoy having a lapdog who doesn’t smash me.

But people look at her or hear about her and make all kinds of assumptions about her because of her breed.

Just as my pit bull has yet to eat a baby, my Chihuahua has never bitten anyone’s ankle. She’s never bitten anybody. I’ve yet to step on her and break her (though I did sit on her once).

She’s a lot of fun, despite her breed’s reputation.

Despite the stereotypes.

Genetics are a thing. Really.

A friend of mine posted a meme today that boiled down to “it’s all in how you raise them”, about dogs in general, and of course featuring a picture of a pit bull.

It’s simply not true, and I am so frustrated by the perpetuation of this myth, especially when it comes to my heart breed.

Dogs are a product of their genetics as well as their environment.

That’s why we have breeds in the first place. That’s why Border Collies are working sheep, not Dalmatians. That’s why the military is full of hard-hitting Shepherd breeds like the Malinois, not Golden Retrievers.

That is why I bought a Border Collie instead of an Australian Cattle Dog and adopted pit bulls instead of Chow Chows. Because they’re all so very different, completely apart from how they are raised.

I feel like, with pit bulls especially, we set both dog and owner up to fail when we insist that if you raise a dog right, you can mold him into anything you want him to be.

Helo is eight months old now, and he’s well-socialized with both dogs and people. He goes to doggy daycare and occasionally to the dog park. Right now he loves to play with other dogs. He’s a social little butterfly.

 

And I will completely unsurprised if and when that changes, because I know that pit bulls are genetically inclined to be aggressive toward other dogs. If he’s the oddball, that’d be great, but more likely he will become less social as he matures.

I expect it. I watch carefully for signs of trouble.

I know that all of the socialization and good experiences in the world cannot overcome genetics. They can influence where on the spectrum he falls, certainly! It is not all for nothing. But it is also not everything.

There are so many stories of people who are shocked when their pit bulls grow aggressive toward other dogs, and it both angers and saddens me.

People feel like they failed their dogs, when that is not at all true. I have seen so many online posts over the many years I have been involved in the breed where people did everything right and their pit bulls grew up to hate other dogs. They are confused and heartbroken. They blame themselves for failing.

And that is so unfair.

The American Pit Bull Terrier was selectively bred for many generations to fight other dogs. They are quick to fire up, slow to simmer down. They are strong and they were designed to have the drive to never quit, to never back down, to never give up.

It’s part of what makes them such great dogs, that tenacity, that fire, that determination.

But it’s sure no good when that gets turned onto a harmless, rude dog at the dogpark and the owner is shocked and caught entirely by surprise, because that’s not how she raised her dog to be.

We need to be honest about our dogs. We need to respect that they are a product of both breeding and environment. We need to do our research and make wise choices that suit our lifestyles, not just follow our bleeding hearts.