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What Were Chihuahuas Bred For? History & FAQ

Written by: Kristin Hitchcock

Last Updated on April 18, 2024 by Dogster Team

chihuahua dog standing on the grass

What Were Chihuahuas Bred For? History & FAQ

The Chihuahua is one of the oldest breeds, and like most ancient dogs, they were bred for a purpose. However, this is where things get fuzzy. While most ancient breeds are large because they were bred for hunting or herding, the Chihuahua is extremely tiny. There is no way that they were ever used for hunting, herding, or any similar tasks that you typically see dogs doing.

We don’t have exact information on much of the Chihuahua’s history, as it was long before people wrote down things like this.

We do know that the Chihuahua likely had religious meaning for the ancient Mayans, which may have been the dog’s main purpose. However, it is also possible that they had another purpose, such as alerting their owners to enemies. Some colonizers claimed that the Aztecs raised small dogs for food, but we do not have much more information on this.1

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Where Do Chihuahuas Come From?

The Chihuahua is a native breed to northwest Mexico. However, the details of their actual lineage are highly debated since we have no proof as to how or when these dogs were developed. It is all theory!

male chihuahua standing on grass
Image Credit: Piqsels

The Techichi

Many believe the Chihuahua is descended from the Techichi, a small canine known in Mayan times. However, since Techichi and Chihuahua are separated by hundreds of years, they do differ a bit. European bloodlines have mixed in with the Chihuahua’s original bloodline, which makes them very different from their ancestors.

The Techichi is now extinct, but they were believed to have been domesticated as far back as the Toltec civilizations. We have evidence of these dogs through artifacts and pictures, so we know that they resemble the modern Chihuahua in size and many other physical traits. In other words, the Techichi looks like a Chihuahua, so many people consider it to be the modern dog’s direct ancestor.

However, it wasn’t until recently that anyone used science to prove this theory. The Institute of Technology in Stockholm recently did a study into the Chihuahua’s DNA and found that about 70% of it originated from the Techichi. Of course, while that does cover much of where the Chihuahua came from, the remaining 30% of the DNA is much debated.

Furthermore, not everyone agrees with this study. A different study found that the Chihuahua only has 4% pre-colonial DNA.

The Chinese Crested

Chinese Crested dog
Image Credit: Veronika Andrews, Pixabay

The Chinese Crested is quite similar to the Chihuahua. Therefore, some people believe that the Chinese Crested somehow contributed to the Chihuahua’s lineage. However, it is difficult to prove how a Chinese dog ended up in South America in great enough numbers for this to be true.

Some claim that trading ventures between China and the Americas are to blame. While there was some trading going on, there is little proof behind this theory. As of yet, there is no DNA evidence that the Chinese Crested contributed to the Chihuahua at all.

“Pocket” Dogs

Around the time of colonialization, “pocket dogs” were all the rage in Europe, especially among the royals. While we don’t call certain breeds “pocket dogs” today, these early small dogs are likely the ancestors of the modern Maltese and other breeds.

Some people claim that these European breeds made their way to the Americas and bred with the native breeds, leading to the Chihuahua. There are some depictions of Chihuahua-looking dogs in European art, so it is possible that these dogs contributed.

However, there is a large gap between finding a dog in a painting that looks similar to a Chihuahua and actually tracing these dogs from Europe to South America. Therefore, while this theory may have some logic behind it, there isn’t actually any proof.

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FAQ

What About the Modern Chihuahua?

We don’t know much about the Chihuahua’s origins or how they became the dogs they are today. However, we do know that the Chihuahua was not a very popular breed until the 1900s. The AKC didn’t even register the breed until 1904.

Reports of “nearly hairless” dogs did not begin popping up until the 19th century. One of these claims says that these small dogs were from a region known as “Chihuahua,” which may indeed be where these dogs originally came from.

Chihuahua with a book
Image Credit: Aaron_H, Pixabay

However, it is equally possible that people mistakenly believed that these dogs came from that region and named them as such. (It wouldn’t be the first time.)

Therefore, while they are a more common breed today and a common breed in ancient times, they only entered the modern world in great numbers in the early 20th century. It is likely that they were still around in South America—they just didn’t reach Western civilization in great numbers until later.

It is reported that Mexican merchants sold the small dogs to tourists, which were then brought home to the U.S.A. as pets. In this way, the breed slowly funneled into the United States and became a companion animal.

Were Chihuahuas Made to Be Eaten?

There is one report that 16th-century Aztecs bred some sort of small dog for food. However, it takes more than one report to make something certain. Plus, there are lots of different small dogs that may have existed in the region along with the Chihuahua.

For all we know, the small dog being used for food may be a now-extinct breed. Or, they may have been a cousin to the Chihuahua or the ancestor of the modern Chihuahua. We don’t know what these dogs looked like and have not found any remains that could give us DNA to compare to modern breeds.

male and female chihuahua
Image Credit: Piqsels

Furthermore, it is equally likely that the 16th-century European reporter mistakenly thought that the dogs were being sold for food when they were actually being sold for other purposes. Europeans regularly misinterpreted the actions of natives, so we can’t take everything that we say at face value. Therefore, all that we can for sure take from this account is that some sort of small dog was being exchanged at the market. Some of them might have been eaten.

However, we also have evidence that Chihuahuas had some sort of religious significance. In this case, the dogs may have been bred solely for this purpose. In other words, they may have been used as companions and for sacrifices, which may have been why people were purchasing them in markets.

That said, it is also possible that they were eaten in a ritualistic manner.

Do Chihuahuas Have Wolf DNA?

Yes. All dogs come from the gray wolf. However, that does not mean that Chihuahuas (or any other dog) is extremely similar to wolves or anything of that sort—these dogs have not been wolves for a very long time!

Therefore, the fact that they are descended from wolves shouldn’t have much bearing on how you treat them. For instance, there is no need to feed them raw meat just because thousands of years ago, they were wolves.

However, all dogs are technically descended from wolves, including Chihuahua. You cannot have a dog that isn’t descended from wolves.

Female Chihuahua
Image Credit: Piqsels

Are Chihuahuas Related to Rats?

On top of being a running joke, there are a few misconceptions running around that the Chihuahua is actually some sort of rat (or some strange rat-dog hybrid). However, this is absolutely untrue. Chihuahuas are dogs, and just like every other dog, they are related to wolves and other types of dogs.

Furthermore, rats and dogs cannot interbreed. Only animals within the same genus can be interbred, and rats aren’t even close to dogs. Based on this information, there is no way that Chihuahuas can be rat-dog hybrids.

Instead, they are descended from an ancient breed of dog that once existed in Central and South America. They were selectively bred for their desert environment, which is likely why they don’t have much fur.

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Final Thoughts

Chihuahuas are a very old breed. Therefore, we don’t exactly know why they were bred to begin with. No one wrote about breeding dogs back then, so it is likely that they developed organically. People bred the dogs that they liked best, and then the dogs developed in this manner.

We don’t know exactly what these dogs were used for, which also means we don’t know what they were developed for. There are quite a few theories out there. For instance, they might have been used for food, as a few reports say. Alternatively, they may have just been used for religious purposes, though this may have been a secondary purpose. As was often the case with small dogs, these canines may have also been used as alert dogs. They are very noisy, after all!

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Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

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