Chihuahuas! Seems like I’m seeing them everywhere these days! Short-haired ones, long-haired ones, some that are so tiny I can fit them in the palm of my hand. I see them sticking their little heads out of purses in the grocery store and out of the windows of passing cars. It seems that people here in the US and other parts of the world are going crazy for this breed. So, Why are Chihuahuas so popular?
What is a Chihuahua?
You’re probably not surprised that the Chihuahua is the world’s smallest dog. They weigh anywhere from 2 to 8 pounds, have apple-shaped heads, pointed muzzles, very large, round, dark eyes and large ears that sit on the top of the head. Chihuahuas have both long and short hair and come in many colors.
Why are Chihuahuas so popular?
They can go anywhere with you. Put them in your purse or backpack, let their little heads stick out and you’ll both be happy as clams at high tide! And, if you’d like to dress them up for extra cuteness, they look great in their little Chihuahua outfits. On that note, it’s interesting that people are inclined to dress up small dogs. I don’t know why. Do you?
The temperament of the Chihuahua is described as terrier-like. People say they’re loyal, playful, affectionate and have loads of attitude! Furthermore, they’re curious, feisty, confident and brave. When they show up at the dog park there’s a good chance they’ll think they’re the king-of-the-hill. It’s very funny to picture this tiny little dog standing up bravely to dogs that are literally 20 times their size!
Chihuahuas are also excellent watchdogs and are quick to loyally defend their home (note: Chihuahuas should never be left alone outside, especially at night. You don’t want them to become food for a coyote or some other predator).
Chihuahuas love to give love to their humans! They’re excellent pets for the apartment dweller as they can get much of their exercise indoors. However, you still need to take them outside for walks and to do their business.
Remember, small dogs such as the Chihuahua, have a lower tolerance for cold weather, so dress them accordingly with raincoats and sweaters.
Also, be careful about their food intake. It’s easy to overfeed these little guys because they’re so small. So be very aware of this.
Types of Chihuahuas
Did you that there are seven types of Chihuahuas? They are:
Teacup Chihuahuas can be as small as 2 pounds. However, on a less positive note, beware of breeders who are continuing to make smaller and smaller dogs just for profit. In my opinion, you can only go so far with breeding before you create all kinds of health problems for the dog. I’m not a genetic expert, but something tells me that creating a dog who is only 2 pounds might be crossing the ethical line.
So, now that you know why Chihuahuas are so popular, you can read on to learn the history of this beloved dog breed.
Theories on the origins of the Chihuahua
The history of the Chihuahua is a convoluted one and there are many theories that surround it. One of the most plausible is that they are a descendant of the Techichi, a small-framed companion dog that several pre-Columbian Mesoamerican civilizations and North American tribes domesticated. The Techichi is larger but has many of the same physical characteristics as the Chihuahua.
We can assume that either the Maya (1800 BC to 900 AD) or the Toltec (900 AD to 1150 AD) were the first to domesticate the Techichi. The Maya saw Chihuahuas as the guardians of the afterlife. They used them in burial ceremonies and for food. They sacrificed, mummified and buried the dogs with their owners believing that they would be joined in the afterlife. By the way, the Maya had nine different words for “dog” so you can see what an important role they played. Historians believe that the Maya also domesticate the Xoloitzcuintli.
Archaeologists discovered pots and sculptures in Mexico dating to 300 BC depicting a dog with strong similarities to the Chihuahua. They also discovered a Mayan sculpture with a woman holding a small Chihuahua-like dog
As the Mayan civilization declined the Toltec civilization began to flourish. The Toltec also domesticated dogs for food and sacrificial purposes. Archaeologists have discovered carvings of dogs from this civilization that resembled Techichi as well.
After the end of the Toltec civilization, the Aztec Empire rose to power. The Aztec viewed the Toltec as the perfect civilization and so followed many of their practices and these included human and dog sacrifices. Just like the Maya and Toltec, the Aztecs believed that sacrificial dogs joined their owners in the afterlife. They also believed that diseases could be transferred from human to dog and this would cure the human.
From this era we have more written accounts of the Chihuahua because of the European explorers. In these we find depictions of Aztec ceremonies which included the sacrificing of the Techichi. In 1520, Hernan Cortés wrote that the Aztecs raised and sold the little dogs as food. I’m so glad that we don’t engage in these practices any longer and I’m sure Chihuahuas feel the same. Colonial records also refer to small, nearly hairless dogs at the beginning of the 19th century. One of these claims that 16th Century Conquistadors found them plentiful in the region which would later be known as Chihuahua.
In addition to the theory that they came from Mesoamerican civilizations as outlined above, there is the possibility they originated in Europe, specifically the country of Malta. This Mediterranean island was once home to a small dog known as the Maltese Pocket Dog who shared characteristics with the Chihuahua. Of specific note is the opening in the skull known as a molera. Most Chihuahuas are born with this cranial gap.
Another piece of evidence lies with the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. In the late fifteenth century, Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli completed a fresco that shows a boy holding a small dog with a remarkable resemblance to the modern-day Chihuahua.
19th century to present
One of the first detailed written accounts of the Chihuahua was by James Watson, a dog judge and writer who immigrated from Scotland to New York in the 1870s. While traveling to a dog show in San Francisco in 1888, he stopped at El Paso, Texas and crossed the border into Mexico to investigate rumors of a small breed of dog. It was a Chihuahua. He named his Chihuahua Manzanita.
He returned to buy several more and this included one of the first champions of this breed, Juarez Bell.
In the 1890s, Mexico’s president gave opera singer Adelina Patti a bouquet of flowers with a Chihuahua hidden inside. She felt an immediate connection with her new pooch and named him Bonito (Pretty). She took Bonito across the country as she toured. At this time, many people had heard of Chihuahuas but had never actually seen one. It was Patti who was really responsible for introducing the Chihuahua to the masses.
Carl Lumholtz, a Norwegian explorer and researcher of indigenous Mexican cultures wrote about the Chihuahua in his two-volume set “Unknown Mexico.”
In 1904 Texas resident H. Raynor registered the first Chihuahua, Midget, with the American Kennel Club. The Chihuahua Club of America was founded in 1923 to promote the breed and provide educational resources for their care. In 1928, the Canadian Kennel Club added the Chihuahua to its list of recognized breeds. In 1948 Britain’s United Kennel Club did the same.
Then, more recently in the movie Legally Blonde, the Chihuahua named “Moonie” starred as little Bruiser Woods. No doubt, this movie also fueled the Chihuahua craze.
In my opinion, the Chihuahua isn’t the dog for everyone. Some see them as yippy and snappy. And, for some reason, there are people who just don’t seem to take to small dogs. However, for others, they are perfect! Myself, I have no size preference and love all dogs for different reasons!
We love comments so be sure to leave yours below. Do you have a Chihuahua or know a Chihuahua? Tell us about your experiences with them.