by Doris Donnerman
(last updated August 17, 2009)
The Chihuahua is generally credited with being the world's smallest breed of dog. Dogs weighing as little as one pound have been known, though weights of from two to four pounds are considered ideal. The weight may go as high as eight pounds. The Chihuahua is also one of the most popular of breeds in the United States, where it ranks with the first dozen breeds in registrations.
There are many glamorous stories about the origin and history of the Chihuahua. Both European and American sources credit the Chihuahua with being the oldest breed of dog indigenous to the North American continent. According to them, the Toltec, as early as the year 900, owned the ancestors of this dog. Both the Toltec and the Aztec are supposed to have used the dogs in their religious ceremonies.
As usually given, the Chihuahua is descended from the Techichi, or is a cross between Aztec dogs and the native wild dog of Chihuahua, the Tepetzcuintli. The Aztecs supposedly used another name for the breed, on occasion, this being Alco.
The truth does considerable violence to these old stories. First of all, archaeologists and paleontologists are agreed that no dogs of any kind existed in Mexico before the coming of the Spaniards. The Techichi is a prairie dog, which is not a dog at all, but a rodent. The Tepetzcuintli of the Aztecs may now be extinct, but the modern animal of that name is the Aguti. Lastly, Alco is not an Aztec word, but is Peruvian.
The State of Chihuahua is the coldest of all the Mexican states, and during nearly six months of the year there is freezing temperature and ice at night. Obviously, this is hardly the climate in which the Chihuahua dog could live in that wild state. But in this State, the wild prairie dog is called the Perro Chihuahueno, which could be translated "Chihuahua dog."
The best available evidence, from the Mexican standpoint at least, is that the ancestors of the modern Chihuahua came from the Orient in fairly recent times. For hundreds of years it has been an oriental sport to dwarf various species of animals and plants. The Chinese especially have dwarfed many types of plants, fish, and even dogs.
The Spaniards established a trade route from China to the Philippine Islands, to Acapulco, across Mexico, and thence to Spain. Hairless dogs and Chihuahuas, the latter merely dwarfs of some oriental species, could have come in this way. There is a record of a pair of dwarfed dogs being brought from the Orient to Mexico City where they were displayed as curiosities in 1785.
About 1895 Chihuahuas began to appear at some of the wealthy homes in Mexico City. And at about the same time they began to appear in homes along the northern side of the Mexican border. It is again speculation, but Chinese emigrants to the region about EI Paso, Texas, might have brought their dwarfed dogs with them.
Today, it is certain that all the Chihuahuas in Mexico come from the United States. There is no standard for the breed in Mexico. As people in the colder areas of the United States discovered that the dogs could be kept successfully in northern homes, interest in the breed grew.
The Chihuahua Club of America was founded in 1923. Since that time, it has done an excellent job in promoting the breed. The Chihuahua appears at virtually all dog shows, but to a lesser degree than the population would suppose. Though delicacy of the dog during travel is one factor, the chief reason is that the vast majority of the dogs are sold as house pets and their owners will not subject them to the dog shows.
The Chihuahua is alert with an attitude of confidence, self reliance almost to the point of self importance. He is graceful, swift moving and highly intelligent.
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