The exact origin of the Chihuahua remains shrouded in legend and lore. Evidence of similar tiny dogs dates back to the 9th century in artifacts, written descriptions and artwork from many parts of the world. There was a small, silent dog that occupied Mexico for several centuries called the “Techichi,” which is evidenced in stone carvings that closely resemble the modern Chihuahua. When the Aztecs conquered that part of the world in the 12th century, they brought with them a tiny, highly prized hairless breed similar to dogs then found in China. Some authorities speculate that the modern Chihuahua descends from a cross between those two early breeds. Interestingly, despite the Techichi’s close connection with Mexico, a letter from Christopher Columbus to King Ferdinand of Spain mentions that he found a small, mute domesticated dog in what today is Cuba that closely resembles the Chihuahua. Some people claim that Chihuahuas are purely of European origin, developed from the small Comforter Dogs of the Middle Ages, while others believe that the original breed homeland is Malta or China. There is little firm evidence to support any of these theories, and the most commonly accepted view is that the Chihuahua developed as a dwarf pet dog in ancient Mexico.
When Cortez conquered the Aztec civilization, these little dogs largely were lost. However, in the mid-1800s in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, canine remains thought to be the ancestors of the Chihuahua were discovered in ruins of an emperor’s palace. Archaeologists have discovered countless remains of tiny dogs thought to be predecessors of the Chihuahua throughout Mexico, often in human graves. Apparently early fanciers of the breed believed that upon cremation and burial of both dog and owner, the sins of the human would be transferred to the dog, and the wrath of the deity would be averted. Chihuahuas were thought to guide the human soul through the underworld into the afterlife, fighting off evil spirits. These legends are a rich part of the history of this breed, regardless of whether or not they are true.
In about 1850, the first Chihuahuas were brought to the United States from Mexico. Many were poorly bred and malnourished. The hardiest of these survived to establish a breeding base, and both short and long-coated varieties became popular. Modern Chihuahuas differ substantially from their poorly cared-for predecessors. They are alert, intelligent and clannish, preferring the company of their people and their own breed over all others.
The American Kennel Club recognized the Chihuahua in 1904, with no distinction between varieties except for coat length. The first three AKC registered Chihuahuas were long-coated. The first champion, a dog named Beppie, was entered into the American Kennel Club Stud Book in 1908. The Chihuahua Club of America was formed in 1923. The two coat varieties were separately recognized in 1952. This tiny dog gradually became one of the most popular breeds in North America, especially well-suited to urban life. It retains its popularity world-wide.
The Chihuahua is a long-lived breed with an average life expectancy of 15 years or more. The breed is known for having open fontanels, called a “molera,” which is a soft spot on the top of the skull. Breed health concerns may include collapsing tracheas, eye problems, hypoglycemia, mitral valve disease, medial patellar luxation, congenital elbow luxation, pulmonary stenosis, patent ductus arteriosus, melanoma, hydrocephalus, endocardiosis, pattern baldness, cryptorchidism, testicular neoplasia, foramen magnum dysplasia and seizures.