“Mommy, look at Leia!”

I turn around from my computer to see what my four-year-old is up to, and more importantly, how my smallest chihuahua felt about it. As usual, I had nothing to worry about. My daughter is a very gentle soul, and Leia is my gentlest dog. Leia was sleeping in my daughter’s lap, an expression of bliss on her face as she got a gentle shoulder massage.

Chihuahuas can be good with kids, but there’s a reason why many breeders won’t sell you a pup if you have young children in the house. Here’s what you need to know before you decide whether your house is suitable to be a chihuahua house.

Chihuahuas are Fragile

Watching a young kid attempt to carry a small dog is painful. They grab them around their middle, often hoisting them off balance. The dog is terrified, and sometimes gets dropped on their face. Kids are awkward even when they’re trying to be kind and can sometimes be downright violent.

Chihuahuas can be killed from a toddler’s kick. They can be killed from getting sat on, or run over by a bike, or hit with a toy. Even if it was accidental, knowing they killed the family dog (or having older family remember it for them) is something that will stay with them the rest of their life.

Before you bring a chihuahua home to your family, think about how your children play. Are they rough? Are they pushy? Do they listen when you ask them to stop doing something? The first time?

If you know your kids are gentle and animal savvy, it may be okay. Families who participate in dog sports, attend dog training classes together, or have kids who regularly participate in animal care may be good matches for a chihuahua.

Children who don’t have a lot of experience with animals, are destructive, or even overly careless may not be the best choice around a chihuahua.

Chihuahuas Defend Themselves

Some dogs will put up with inappropriate behavior from kids. Even to the point of kids stapling their ears or causing other serious injuries. Chihuahuas typically won’t put up with what they perceive as dangerous to themselves. They will bite if they think your child is trying to hurt them.

When you see a chihuahua misbehaving on YouTube or social media, you often see a small dog reacting to what they see as a big threat. Look at what the people are doing that elicits the bite. It’s often things like shoving their face into the tiny dog’s face, pretending to hit at it, or shoving objects in their face.

Your kid might think they’re playing a fun game sticking their face under the bed to play peek-a-boo with the dog, but the dog sees it differently. Your child may get a bite right to the face if they’re not taught to respect the dog’s space.

Dog Savvy Kids Welcome

A dog savvy child is one who knows not to kick or hit dogs. They know not to pull ears or grab legs or tails. They know not to take things from a dog or tease them.

If you already have a chihuahua and are wondering how your pup will do with a new baby, there’s no reason to get rid of the pup because of the new baby. Instead, you’ll need to lay some groundwork knowing that your chihuahua may have some rough years ahead with toddlerhood.

Make sure your dog has a kennel or other safe place he can go to when he wants to be alone. Ideally, you should fence the kennel off with a gap too small for a toddler to get through, but enough space for your dog to squeeze in.

This way, even if your toddler is able to sneak away in 0.05 seconds to torture the dog, your pup has a place to escape that your toddler physically can’t get to.

Supervision is Key

Reality: You will not be able to supervise your child and your dog 100% of the time. Toddlers are little ninjas. Eventually they will be alone with your pet and you will be completely oblivious. That’s why helping your child learn how to interact properly with your dog when you are there is key.

Spend time showing your child how to play appropriate games with the dogs. (My dogs liked to play tug-o-war with my child, or having a squeaky toy thrown for them. My toddler liked throwing things and squeaking toys relentlessly, so it worked out.)

Show them how to feed treats to a dog, and how to pet softly and open handed. Never allow your child to grab the dog’s ears, tail, feet, lips etc. even if your dog tolerates it. It’s not fair to the dog, or the child, especially if they try the same thing on a dog that doesn’t tolerate it.

Benefits to Dog Ownership

Study after study has shown that dogs are good for kids. They help children learn how to care for other beings, to be thoughtful, and can even reduce allergies and other chronic diseases. If your child is gentle, older, or experienced with dogs, a chihuahua is a good choice. Otherwise, pick a sturdier dog that can hold up to kids who are still learning—and meanwhile, keep working on those dog skills with your children.

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