If you ask most folks if they’d ever consider sharing their life with a Chihuahua, they’d probably just start laughing and change the subject.

Chihuahuas are the Rodney Dangerfields of the dog world — getting no respect, labeled a nasty little creature that yips, growls and bites.

While many of these dogs certainly live up to this reputation because of poor breeding, a dedicated group of toy dog fanciers are working diligently to educate the public about the joys of owning one or two of these little dogs that are a pleasure to have around the house if they are well bred and properly trained.

Whether long or smooth coated, the breed’s hallmarks are its rounded “apple” head, luminous eyes and terrier-like demeanor. These dogs require minimal grooming and stand five to eight inches tall.

Kris Specht, east region vice president of the Chihuahua Club of America, has owned the breed for eight years and use to think that these canines were “yappy, horrible mean dogs.”

She adds that if Chihuahuas are used as fashion accessories, spoiled or allowed to suffer from “the little dog syndrome,” the results will spell disaster.

“Chihuahuas are very happy to let their owner be the boss, but if they perceive that the owner isn’t doing the job, they’ll take right over,” Specht continues. “My dogs are lovely dogs but they have to be taught to be dogs.”

The experienced dog fancier emphasizes that many dogs suffer from health and temperament issues, and that the members of the Chihuahua Club of America, the Heart of New England Chihuahua Club and similar organizations are working tirelessly to breed “healthy, friendly. nice dogs.”

Specht adds that well-meaning owners are often mislead by unscrupulous breeders looking for large profits to believe that “teacup” Chihuahuas are a smaller variation of the breed standard.

“All Chihuahuas should be small and should weigh under six pounds,” she said.

“A two-and-one-half-pound dog come serious health problems,” Specht said, noting that it’s important that owners purchase dogs from responsible breeders.

According to Specht, a well-bred Chihuahua should be “polite, respectful, and spunky” and a pleasure to own.

“They can be smarter then their owner,” she laughed. Specht said she works in an office and brings  Chihuahuas to work every day, much to the delight of her co-workers.

The dog lover advises against purchasing a Chihuahua for a young child, noting that these fragile animals must be kept safe and are easily injured.

“A well-bred Chihuahua that doesn’t have health issues may live to be 10 years old or much longer,” she said. “It’s a very fun breed. They can be your worst nightmare or your best friend. They are smart, sassy and they certainly have their opinions.”

Somerset resident Terre Valerio says she became interested in the breed after she adopted “Cuppy,” short for “Cupcake,” now age seven, a few years ago.

“He had been passed around and he was very timid,” Valerio recalls. “He loves me and my granddaughter.”

The dog owner says that the dog loves to burrow under the covers and hides under throw pillows.

“Chihuahuas throw a lot of heat, and Cuppy keeps us warm at night just like a hot water bottle,” she said.

For more information about the Chihuahua, visit www.akc.org/dog-breeds/chihuahua, or visit the Heart of New England Chihuahua Club on Facebook.