Everyone knows that the Chihuahua is one of the, if not the smallest dog breed in the world, but not everyone will know about the history of chihuahuas. The origin of the chihuahua has been heavily debated and is surrounded by a lot of mystery. In this detailed guide, we share all you need to know about the Chihuahua breed history and reveal why these toy breeds are so well-loved by Chihuahua owners around the world.
Origins of the Chihuahua Breed
These little dogs are great companions known for their vocal nature and big personalities, but the true history of the Chihuahua has been lost in time. While there’s been debate about its origins, many believe it to be one of the oldest breeds still in existence. Some experts say it originated from the Chihuahua state of Mexico, with roots going back to the Aztecs, Toltec civilization, and Mayan times.
The Techichi is a small, mute, and extinct dog species that existed during the time of Toltec culture dating as far back as the 9th century C.E. While it has never been proven, Chihuahuas are long thought to be the descendant of the Techichi, which were revered by ancient civilizations. There are various similarities between this breed and today’s Chihuahua, such as their apple head and big ears.
These dogs held religious significance to the Toltecs, who believed the canines had magical powers. When their owners passed away, Techichi dogs would be sacrificed in religious ceremonies to help guide their owners to reach the afterlife.
By the 12th century, the Toltecs were conquered by the Aztecs but the Techichi breed continued to be part of their culture. The Aztecs treated these dogs more than just companion animals, believing them to have mystical powers. Much like the Toltecs, the Aztecs also used these dogs for religious purposes, believing that their spirits could cross the river into the afterlife by riding on their dogs’ backs.
It’s believed that nobles would have kept hundreds of these small animals during ancient times. The Aztecs are mostly credited for the development of the lighter, spunkier dogs known today as Chihuahuas. Historians believe that the Techichi were crossed with the Xoloitzcuintli, a Mexican hairless dog (interestingly, another hairless dog, the Chinese Crested may also be ancestors of the chihuahua according to a different theory).
Again, these possible ancestors of the Chihuahua have only been theorized, and the real story has long been lost in time. What we do know for a fact is that the Aztecs treasured these dogs, as well as their descendants. A recent study into the DNA of the modern day Chihuahua was able to confirm that this breed isn’t related to any European or Asian dogs.
Moreover, a team of researchers from Sweden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology delved deeper into the origins of several American dog breeds including the Chihuahua. They found out that the unique DNA belonging to this dog confirms a connection to pre-Columbian samples of more ancient dogs. This suggests that this newer breed or its Techichi ancestor was definitely present in Mexico long before the European settlers arrived.
It was in 1519 when conquistador Hernando Cortés set foot in what we know today as Mexico, in search of gold. They eventually conquered and took over the Aztecs, who surrendered to Spanish rule on August 13, 1521. There’s also speculation regarding the Chihuahua’s origins here — that the Chihuahua was brought by conquistadors from Malta, a Mediterranean island.
Chihuahuas could be the descendants of the Maltese Pocket Dog (which has a soft spot within its skull called a molera) that comes from this island. This second theory is supported by the famous painting from 1482 called “Scenes from the Life of Moses” inside the Sistine Chapel. Within it is a tiny white dog that bears striking similarities with the Chihuahua, paving the way for experts to believe that the two are related.
Chihuahuas in the Modern Age
Chihuahuas today are popular pets in various parts of the world, especially the United States where this breed is celebrated in movies such as Beverly Hills Chihuahua, which has boosted its popularity.
Making the Modern Chihuahua
It was during the mid to late 1800s when the modern-day Chihuahua was discovered around South America or Central America. Its official name, Chihuahua, is actually derived from the Mexican state of Chihuahua and was used to name these tiny dogs. One of the earliest written descriptions of the Chihuahua dog came from James Watson, a writer and dog judge who came to New York from Scotland during the 1870s.
While traveling to San Fransisco for a dog show, he visited El Paso and purchased a Chihuahua for $5, which he then named Manzanita. Due to their small stature, he found them to be more convenient than larger dogs, and he soon returned to purchase more Chihuahuas. He then wrote about his dogs in the American Kennel Register, describing them as small enough to squeeze into his pockets.
These native breeds were then bred and sold by Mexican merchants to American tourists, allowing the smallest breed to make their way into the hearts of dog lovers. By the early 1900s, the Chihuahua had become highly popular and the breed was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1904. Throughout the years, their popularity kept growing and the breed started making its way around Europe and throughout the world.
In 1908, Bleppie was the first Chihuahua to be listed under the AKC. In the years following its official introduction, breed enthusiasts began developing the breed standard that we know today.
Today, there are two different kinds of Chihuahuas based on their coat types known as the long coat (long-haired Chihuahuas) and the smooth coat (smooth-coated Chihuahua). Both of these varieties come in a wide range of colors such as white, chocolate, black, fawn, and many other combinations. While the Chihuahua’s history is shrouded in mystery, this small canine has found itself in the limelight plenty of times.
Chihuahuas have been used for various purposes, appearing in movies such as Legally Blonde, and are the favorite lap dogs of stars like Madonna, Britney Spears, and Paris Hilton. Now they’re even more popular throughout the world, where they are particularly booming in Mexico and Belgium (where they are often stolen). However, other variations of the breed aren’t recognized; according to the Chihuahua Club of America, a “Chihuahua is just a Chihuahua.”
Chihuahuas in Popular Culture
Recently, Chihuahuas have taken a more significant part of popular culture, and will often serve as a fashion accessory for both influencers and celebrities. This trend has led to an increase in breeding designer dogs, and Chihuahuas are often combined with other small breeds to create more unique dogs. While Chihuahuas are popular for all the right reasons, it’s important not to forget their cultural heritage and historical significance, which has made them one of the most beloved breeds worldwide.
The Most Famous Chihuahua
Arguably, the most famous Chihuahua to ever live was Gidget, an adorable dog that starred as the mascot for a popular Taco Bell advertisement during the 1990s. His catchphrase, “Yo quiero Taco Bell,” which means “I want Taco Bell,” became an instant success and catapulted the Chihuahua into instant stardom. After capturing the hearts of viewers all over the world, the breed experienced a spike in popularity, sparking its reputation as a “purse dog.”
Chihuahuas as Pets
Chihuahuas are well known for their free spirit, devotion, and loyalty to their owners. These dogs are highly trainable and intelligent, making them the ideal partner for many activities such as agility and obedience competitions when given proper training. Even with their small size, they often think like a “big dog” and will often be protective and fearless.
Because they’re so small, these dogs have unique health conditions that you need to look out for, such as heart disease, patellar luxation, hydrocephalus, and dental problems. Moreover, they won’t do well in homes with young children since their small and fragile bodies need to be treated with care. To make sure that they live a healthy and long life, be sure to take your pup to the vet regularly, give it daily exercise, and a high-quality diet.
Here are a few of the most asked questions about the Chihuahua.
What was the Chihuahua’s Original Purpose?
Originally, the earliest forms of the Chihuahua were bred by ancient civilizations as a food source and for companionship. This breed’s ancestors, known as the Techichi, were treasured for their supposed magical powers for leading the dead to the afterlife.
What was the Techichi?
The Techichi was an ancient breed of dog that may have been the Chihuahua’s ancestors. It was a larger and heavier breed compared to the Chihuahua but it had a similar head and ears. They served throughout the ages and existed at the same time as many ancient civilizations until they became extinct.
Why are Chihuahuas Popular?
The Chihuahua is an affectionate, loving breed that will often get attached to their human. These vocal dogs may not always enjoy spending time with other dogs and children but will definitely steal the spotlight when given the chance. They’re also one of the most heavily featured dogs in media, shows, and movies.
The Chihuahua boasts a fascinating history that’s clouded in mystery. Yet, this dog has managed to shine brightly among the hundreds of other dog breeds we know today. When you see these dogs on the TV, cinema, or in the park, remember that their ancestors once lived at the same time as our ancestors.