If you see a small, bug-eyed creature poking out of the top of a tote bag, there’s a good chance it’s a Chihuahua. For anyone with an affinity toward the adorably portable, it’s easy to see why the Chihuahua has risen in arm-candy fame. Add to that its dedication to its human parents and it’s clear why this small dog enjoys such popularity. In the last 10 years, the Chihuahua has remained in the top 13 most-registered dogs in the United States according to the American Kennel Club (AKC). With short little legs, it usually stands about 6 to 9 inches (15 to 23 centimeters) to its shoulder and weighs between 2 and 6 pounds (1 and 3 kilograms). Bred with either short or long hair, Chihuahuas come in over 30 different colors and varieties. Perfect for the person on the go, they make great travel companions and city dwellers since they don’t require much exercise. No doubt the Chihuahua is a breed you’ll keep seeing around. In the next few pages, you’ll learn some surprising facts about the tiniest dog in the history of the AKC.
No one knows exactly where the Chihuahua came from, but the breed’s ancestors are likely the Techichi, a small breed of dog that lived with the Mayans and Toltecs as far back as 8 A.D. Techichis had long-haired coats and were larger than modern-day Chihuahuas. According to D. Caroline Coile’s book “Chihuahuas: Everything About Purchase, Care, Nutrition, Behavior, and Training,” the Toltecs may have kept Techichis as companions or as a source of food, and later the Aztecs may have elevated the Techichi’s status to that of sacred animals used in healing and burial. According to the AKC, it is believed that the Techichi was eventually bred with a small hairless dog, probably the Chinese crested, resulting in today’s Chihuahua. Some say the hairless breed was brought across the Bering Strait from Asia, and others say it was brought by Spanish settlers who had contact with China via trade routes. Today’s Chihuahua got its name because it was found in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. It became popular in Mexico and nearby American states, and became a registered breed in the AKC in 1904.
Chihuahuas may be small, but these tiny packages are chock-full of personality. Classified as a toy breed by the AKC, they are generally bred to be less than 6 pounds (3 kilograms), but every ounce counts. And despite his diminutive size, a Chihuahua will have no problem standing up to (or even acting aggressively toward) much bigger dogs. According to the AKC, Chihuahuas are partial to only one dog breed — their own.
Bred to be a companion to humans, the Chihuahua takes its job seriously. According to breeders, they are protective, jealous and will guard you using their yappy bark when they see fit. Chihuahuas have been known to exclude members of their own human family and remain faithful to only one person. But these lively, funny little dogs flourish under human contact, and are dedicated to their beloved owners. They want to be with you 24/7 and require constant companionship to be truly happy.
From as early as 200 B.C., an ancestor of the Chihuahua appeared in art from Mexico’s Colima region. According to the travel writer Susan Dearing, Mayans and other Mesoamerican people were often buried with mummified dogs or images of dogs resembling Chihuahuas because they believed that dogs helped people travel safely into the afterlife.
As companionable as their modern-day relatives, early Chihuahuas were important in life as well as in death. Another famous Chihuahua in art is from Botticelli’s fresco “Scenes from the Life of Moses.”It was completed in 1482 in Rome’s Sistine Chapel, and in it is pictured a small dog similar to a Chihuahua. Bigger than the modern-day Chihuahua, the shorthaired white dog is curled up in a little boy’s loving arms. From the 15th century on, Chihuahua-like dogs can be found in paintings from all over the world, by artists like Vittore Carpaccio, Pietro Longhi, Sir Edward Landseer, Charles Van den Eycken and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
Despite medical research that says otherwise, some people believe that Chihuahuas have healing powers, including the power to cure asthma in children by transferring the disease to themselves. According to Snopes.com, this myth may have origins in the Aztec belief that dogs like the Techichi would absorb a human’s sins while escorting him to the afterlife. This fabled ability to “absorb” something from a person may be why some still believe that the Chihuahua can cure health issues. Also, since asthma often subsides as children age and since Chihuahuas often live 10 to 15 years, the “cure” could be attributed to the dog.
Some people think the Chihuahua craze started in 1997 when Taco Bell ran an ad campaign starring a Chihuahua named Gidget. The ad boosted Taco Bell’s sales, but also boosted the world’s love of the Chihuahua. Since then, we have seen Chihuahuas in starring roles in movies like “Legally Blonde” and “Beverly Hills Chihuahua.” But the Chihuahua actually appeared in Hollywood much earlier. In 1948, Marilyn Monroe owned a Chihuahua named Josefa (sometimes called Choo Choo). Stars were not photographed in public as frequently back then, so there are only a few remaining pictures of the bombshell with Josefa. Today, we see paparazzi pics all over the Web of stars like Madonna, Paris Hilton, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Mickey Rourke, Britney Spears and Adrian Brody — just to name a few — toting their pet Chihuahuas of the past or present. And Hollywood isn’t the only place that loves Chihuahuas. They might be the smallest breed, but Chihuahuas have taken the whole world by storm.