I grew up with Chihuahuas and anyone who is familiar with the breed will know that they’re a lot bigger inside than they are on the outside. If you don’t believe me, try sitting on a sofa next to a person with their Chihuahua on their lap.
A couple of years ago, our Chihuahua, Paco, died. We bought him from a kennel when he was barely weaned. The vet asked what other kinds of dogs we had. We answered, “A Black Lab.”
She laughed, holding Paco out to my daughter, and said, “This one will be in charge.”
Her prediction came true. Paco dominated Buck for the rest of Buck’s life. It was a happy thing, though. Buck didn’t mind. He’d gently gnaw on Paco’s head once in awhile, purely in play, but he also always seemed to do exactly what Paco wanted.
After Buck’s passing, it became obvious to me that Paco was unhappy, especially considering that he howled for days. I took pity on him and the family went to the Humane Society and rescued Toby the Catahoula Leopard Dog and Buddy the Chabrador. They are both large breeds and have reputations for being somewhat aggressive. Neither of them dared to get out of line as far as Paco was concerned. He was as in charge of them as he had been with Buck.
Yet, this story is about another Chihuahua, one I grew up with. His name was Little Bit and his mother was Tina. I don’t have any photographs of Little Bit, but here’s a portrait I did of him when I was a teenager.
He was born in our house to a fat, nearly-toothless Chihuahua my stepsister rescued from some men who were drunk all of the time and all she had to eat was scraps and beer. Because she didn’t have many teeth, her tongue hung out. Tina wasn’t a vision of loveliness, but she was well-loved in our home.
When her son was born, we named him Little Bit, but we rarely called him that, because, well, another thing about Chihuahuas is that the males dearly love to mark their territory. We were constantly catching him doing it in the house, so we started calling him Squirt.
Shortly before we rescued Tina, we bought a well-pedigreed German Shepherd named Chief. He was the great-great-grandson of one of television’s Rin Tin Tin actors. We trained him to attack anyone that jumped over the back brick wall. This was a necessity, because we lived across the street from the mental hospital in Norwalk, California. Many times an escaped patient would scale our wall and bang on our back door. That all stopped when we got Chief.
When Tina came along, she immediately put Chief in his place. Chihuahuas rule! German Shepherds drool! That big, silver and black, attack dog was so scared of Tina that when she nipped at him with her gums, he’d go crawling into a corner. Then she’d go lay down next to him to let him know there were no hard feelings.
When Squirt came along, he tried to follow in his mother’s footsteps, but the dynamics weren’t the same. Usually, Chief would back off if Squirt nipped at him. There were two times when that notably was not true. The first time, Chief picked Squirt up in his jaws and ripped two gashes in his side. We rushed Squirt to the vet and got him stitched up. When we brought Squirt home, the first thing he did was attack Chief, who went scurrying into his dog house.
A couple of years later, after having been picked on by Squirt relentlessly, Chief picked him up by the head and punctured his skull and cut his face. The vet patched Squirt up again and he went right back at Chief. Eventually, the two became friends, as long as Chief remembered who was in charge.
I don’t know what it is in the nature of Chihuahuas to be able to dominate larger dogs. It seems to be universally true. We always joked that Paco was our pet and that Toby and Buddy were Paco’s pets. You could almost see him giving them non-verbal orders which they hopelessly obeyed.
Nature is a funny thing sometimes. What seems to be natural can often get turned upside-down. It also seems nearly impossible for things to go against their own nature, even when the natural consequences of following nature are life-threatening.
I think I understand it when clients I work with return over and over to their self-destructive behaviors. While I’m at it, I’ll even admit that it takes a great deal of effort for me to steer away from the things that have hurt me before, as if the very nature of things will change just to accommodate the exceptions I want to make in how nature works.
In my work, we are not allowed to create consequences for our clients’ maladaptive behaviors. The most we can do is not interfere with the natural consequences that befall them, in the hope that one day, they’ll figure out that if they do one thing, the bad thing naturally follows. Even when I point it out to them, it’s very hard for them to change.
I don’t say it this tritely, but when a parent I am trying to train says, “When I say ______, my son hits me,” I say something along the lines of, “Well, don’t say ________ anymore.” I get paid good money for that wise piece of advice. The funny thing is, the parent never really seems to stop saying ________, and as a result, never stops getting hit. Those who don’t respond to my training conclude that I’m not doing my job if they don’t get to continue behaving the way they always have.
We organisms think we have a right to our bad behaviors and that somehow the laws of the cosmos are just going to have to change to accommodate us. For those of us who believe in God, we frequently think the same way. God is just going to have to accommodate us, change the commandments, and make room for us to do the very things that bring us harm, only that God will shield us from that harm. If it doesn’t work our way the first time, like Squirt with Chief, maybe it will turn out better the next time.