Known as the world’s smallest dog, the Chihuahua nonetheless has big ideas. A perpetual favorite of advertisers, celebrities and families, this mighty mite is one of the world’s most beloved breeds. Yet surprisingly little is known about his background.
The Chihuahua probably descends either from the ancient Central and South American Techichi or maybe from Chinese dogs brought to Central America by the Spanish Conquistadors in the 1600s — or most likely, a combination of both.
A fanciful tale is that the Chihuahua was the result of feral Techichis bred with prairie dogs! Um … no!
In 1850, three tiny dogs were spotted in Chihuahua, Mexico, by a dog fancier. They remained rare, with most people doubting the existence of such a minuscule dog, even though several more were found along the Mexican border.
The little dogs were usually named after where they were found, so there were Arizona Dogs, California Dogs, and so on. But because most were from the Mexican state of Chihuahua, they became known as Chihuahuas.
In Mexico the breed is called the Chihuahueno.
In the 1890s, Mexico’s president presented the celebrated soprano, Madame Adelina Patti, with a Chihuahua hidden in a bouquet of flowers. Patti toured North America with her Chihuahua, Bonito, proving to all that the tiny dogs really did exist — and perhaps setting the stage for celebrities and their famous lap dogs!
Also in the late 1800s, a troupe of trick Chihuahuas toured the country.
The AKC recognized the breed in 1904. The first registered Chihuahua was a smooth coat named Midget. Four more were registered that year.
The Chihuahua is in the AKC Toy group.
More exposure came when Xavier Cugat, “The Rumba King,” made his Chihuahuas his trademark, appearing with them in movies and in his weekly television show. His best known dog was Pepito, who was even the subject of a book: Pepito the Little Dancing Dog: The Story of Xavier Cugat’s Chihuahua.
By 1964, the Chihuahua was the third most popular breed in America. One of the most popular advertising dogs of all time is the Taco Bell Chihuahua.
The Chihuahua is one breed with two varieties — smooth and long coat — which means that they compete in separate classes at dog shows but the varieties can be interbred. The smooth variety has always been the more popular. The smooth coat results when a dog has one or two dominant genes for short hair. Two recessive genes are needed to produce a long coat.
The Chihuahua comes in one of the largest selections of color of any breed.
Chihuahuas that weigh more than six pounds can’t be shown in AKC conformation shows, but can still compete in other events. The smallest Chihuahua on record was a 4-inch-tall, 1 1/2 pound dog named Boo Boo.
It is typical for young Chihuahuas to have a molera, or open fontanel, which is a soft spot on the top of the head where the skull bones have not knitted together. In some Chihuahuas, the spot gets smaller and even disappears with age; in others, it remains and care must be taken not to let anything hit the soft spot. Of course, you should take care that no Chihuahua gets hit in the head!
Despite being America’s most popular toy dog in history, no Chihuahua has ever won Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, and only one has won the Toy group!
Chihuahuas have been featured in movies such as Legally Blonde and Beverly Hills Chihuahua.
Chihuahuas are a favorite with celebrities. Owners include Paris Hilton, Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, Paula Abdul, Billie Holiday, Jayne Mansfield, George Lopez, Brian Littrell, Hilary Duff, Britney Spears and the Osbournes.
The Chihuahua is currently the 18th most popular AKC breed, dropping from ninth most popular a decade ago.
Do you own a Chihuahua? Have you spent time with one? Let’s hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you’d like us to write about, let us know that, too!
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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.