portions excerpted from the international edition of
by Barbara J. Andrews
As the world's
smallest, most fabled, most popular and genetically
intriguing dog breed; from Aztec legend to Fennec fox to
movie star, the Chihuahua gets top billing!
Genetic Jumping Bean?
It is difficult to
imagine an evolutionary relationship between the Chihuahua and the
Grizzly bear but we know that the bear family divided into the dog
family that contains the wolf, coyote, jackal and fox sub-species.
The canine has an “elastic” or “jumping gene” that
allowed canis lupus to evolve into such extremes as the Irish
Wolfhound and the Chihuahua. Although some scholars argue that
the fox family cannot interbreed with the wolf, coyote or even the
jackal, others believe this to be untrue.
The Chihuahua shares an
astounding number of zoological and historical characteristics with
the Fennec Fox, a tiny little desert creature billed as the
“world’s smallest canine.” The fennec averages only 1 to 1.5 kg.
Unable to agree on species classification because of features
that do not conform to the fox family, scientists finally assigned it
a separate genus, fennecus zerda. That is fact. Speculation
is that it is “in fact” not a fox!
fennec has huge ears and big round “baby” eyes. Naturalists theorize that the oversized ears serve as shade
during the rare times the nocturnal fennec is exposed to sunlight.
Heavy dew produced by cold offshore currents (fact) would
collect on the back of the ears, which may (supposition) explain how
the tiny creature can survive indefinitely far from any known source
of water. Owners in the
desert SW have declared that the outside or stray Chihuahua can do
With his equally unusual eyes and in the past, remarkable oversized ears,
the Chihuahua is every bit as appealing as the fennec fox which sadly,
is now on Appendix Two of the Cites list. The Chihuahua’s large
luminous eye is quite different
from any other big-eyed breeds.
Fennecus zerda has long, thin, well furred, and somewhat flat feet that
enable it to scoot about over the shifting sands from Morocco to Egypt
to the Sinai to Arabia. The early Chihuahua had the same feet
but we do love to tinker with
nature’s design! We
show folks decided that a small
dainty foot with the toes
well split up but not spread would look better in the ring and granted,
he no longer scurries across the sand. Still, photos of early Chihuahuas show a most distinctive
“hand-like” foot with long, thin finger-like toes.
Chichis are noted for not only recognizing but needing other Chihuahuas in order to live happily.
Notably, unlike any other fox, the fennec lives in groups of eight to ten.
The little fox has weak dentition, a very rare condition in a wild
species. ChiChi owners
attribute the breed's weak dentition to the
foreshortened muzzle. Yes. Look at the fennec fox's
untypical muzzle. Most "toy breeds" have teeth like tigers! Ask any Minpin breeder.
We simply do not know what delightful little creature dances in the shadow of the
“knowledge” has failed us before. Scientists said it couldn’t be done but American farmers
crossed a horse with an ass and thank goodness the mule was there to
drag our plows and artillery! Nowadays, just because we can, we cross a Tiger with a Lion,
a Zebra with a donkey, etc.
The Chihuahua has
terrier-like qualities for a very good reason.
He had to find dinner and he needed
to survive out there. Given
the opportunity, the Chihuahua seeks precisely the same food as does
the fennec; vegetation, little rodents, lizards, and insects. Any Chihuahua owner
will describe their irresistible, irrepressible
urge to chase and eat bugs! But let's cease to speculate because
there are facts on record.
The Foxy Chihuahua
The fennec was in fact, successfully
crossed with the Chihuahua in the 1980s. The result was a less
nocturnal, more social and adaptable and thus, more marketable "fox". The miniature
fox was popular with exotic animal sellers - and the college kids who were
paid to carry, feed, and fondle the kits round
The species cross was accomplished in California where coincidentally, in the
1970s, the Asian Leopard was mated to domestic cats. A medical researcher from the University Of California
discovered that the Leopard was immune to leukemia but he was frustrated by
not being able to handle or breed the small leopard for research
purpose. Working with cat
breeder Jean Mill, they achieved the said-to-be-impossible feat of
combining the different number of chromosomes and overcoming other
spectacularly spotted result is the Bengal, a popular show cat and
come, let’s have a look at some of the theories, legends, and facts
that contribute to the appeal of the world’s smallest dog. Some breed historians think that the ancestor
of the Chihuahua was a hairless dog that came from Asia, across
Russia, through the Bering Straits and into what is now Alaska. Fact: Hairless dogs existed in China, Africa, and Turkey.
One theory holds that the Chinese Crested was
“americanized” as early as the seventh century B.C. when Chinese
vessels reached Central and North America. That is reaching a
long way. The answer is clo
Hairless dogs also existed in Mexico, Central, and South America.
Evidence suggests that they were always domesticated, well….
at least since they became hairless! Folklore surrounding the Xoloitzcuintli has become confusingly
interwoven with that of the Chihuahua but we don’t believe them to
be related. If we
continue this circular logic, why not suppose that the Peruvian and
Mexican Hairless dogs influenced the Chinese dogs and not the other
way round? Small hairless
dogs with a “top knot” of hair are depicted in ancient Mayan
figurines. Perhaps captains of Chinese vessels were fascinated by the
dogs of South and Central America and by the even tinier oddities
later discovered in Mexico. Would they not have taken a few back to China and other parts
of the world? One-way
traffic makes little sense and as is explained in Seminars Online,
there is evidence to the contrary.
Knowledgeable breeders reject a connection between hairless dogs and the
Chihuahua based on major differences in conformation. The rectangular head shape of all hairless dogs is absolutely
unlike the Chihuahua. Hairless-type
dogs have long, round, whippy tails whereas the Chihuahua has a
flattened, stiff, furry tail. The
long claw-like feet of the early Chihuahua are not seen in any other
we accept that there is simply no
evidence to substantiate that the Mexican Chihuahua is descended
from hairless dogs brought to South and Central America in fifth
century sailing vessels, then we must look for some other explanation.
There are more plausible theories that place the breed’s
ancient roots in Egypt or the Sudan and that it migrated across the
Bering straits or was carried though the Mediterranean countries and
thence to Malta. Physical
evidence connects the Maltese “pocket dog” to the Chihuahua but it
could be that its ancestor was dropped off on the island by ancient
mariners. The important
and easily verified characteristic shared by the pocket dog and the
Chihuahua is the soft spot in the skull known as molera. The cranial gap closes in other canines just as it does in the
human infant but in most adult Chihuahuas, the molera can be easily
Digging Chihuahua History!
As with all speculation, there are interesting glitches.
A major “oops” in the theory that dogs came to the Americas
by way of Chinese sailing vessels is that small dogs of North America
were revered by the earliest humans as evidenced by Indian Knoll, a
two-acre site in Kentucky U.S.A. In a single dig, Dr. William Web found 21 small dogs interred
in graves dated 3000 B.C. The
Kentucky dig provides irrefutable evidence that dogs were domesticated
in North America long before they could possibly have arrived
on Chinese vessels making port in Mexico.
There is more. As recorded
in the authoritative publication Walker’s
Mammals of the World, Fifth Edition, Volume II, the oldest
documented remains of domestic dogs, dating from 11,000 and 12,000
years ago, were found respectively, in Idaho (NW United States) and in
Iraq which borders Turkey and Arabia!
seems certain the Toltec’s techichi is the more recent ancestor of
today’s Chihuahua. It
is represented in stone carvings, part of a monastery known as
Huejotzingo. The monastery, situated between Mexico City and Puebla,
was constructed by Franciscan Monks circa 1530 and includes materials
transported from the Aztec Pyramids of Cholula. The Toltec reign gave way to the Aztecs who seem to have
adopted the techichi, using them and the hairless ones for religious
sacrifice. The Aztec used
rattles such as this Moche rattle with a startlingly perfect Chihuahua
head on one end and a human head as the other end of the handle!
As staying alive became easier, the people had more time to spend upon
such matters as breeding dogs. Archaeological
evidence shows that selective keeping of dogs progressed from an
edible interest to spiritual significance, and finally, to the
ultimate luxury of providing nothing more than companionship.
we have come full circle, developmental history having brought us back
to Mexico and the southern United States. Perhaps the ancestors were brought in on Chinese trading
vessels. Maybe they
originated in the Egyptian desert and were related to fennec zerda,
the little “dog” that is so unusual it has its own species
he came from, the smallest domestic dog thrived in northern Mexico and
the southern United States.
Chihuahua Fact, Fable, Spirit Dog
Unfortunately, the many dialects of the American Indian afford little in
the way of meaningful descriptions of native dogs. An incredibly creative artist, the Native American used
symbolism more than realism. Even
today, the original American traces creation and his own history
though the spoken record. He
relies on The Story Teller to pass the past from one generation to the
One such story clearly relates to the Chihuahua.
It was believed that not only could the little dog be a
companion in the next world, he served his owner in a much greater
way. The sins of the
master were transferred to the dog so that the human could gain safe
passage to the other world but as you shall learn, getting there was
no easy task, even for a sin-free soul.
Writing of the little dog’s spiritual assistance Fray Bernardino de
Sahugun said “The deceased were burnt, encircled by all their
clothing and belongings, but he who had nothing among his wretched
belongings went bare, and underwent much pain and suffered much in
order to pass the place of the obsidian-bladed winds. And also they caused him to carry a little dog, a yellow one,
and they fixed about its neck a loose cotton cord. It was said that he (the dog) bore the dead one across the
place of the nine rivers in the land of the dead.”
Color is significant to the Aztec religion and the color of death is yellow. So
it was that the little yellow dogs were sacrificed that they might
precede their masters to the other side. It was there they waited to aid the owner across the ninth
river. The Story Teller speaks of “a yellow one that wore a strand
of slackly spun cotton for a collar. It is told he takes the dead across the ninefold river to Meitlantecutli.
There the waters are wide, dogs are the ferrymen, and when he
recognises his master, he leaps into the water in order to take him
When one experiences the utter devotion of a Chihuahua, it is easy to
understand how a highly developed culture could believe that such a
dog would gladly assume the sins of its beloved person. There
was no doubt whatsoever that incredibly loyal little dog would faithfully await the
arrival of its master, then guide his loved one to the Aztec vision
The Mexican Chihuahua
that is why Montezuma II, last of the Aztec rulers, is said to have
had hundreds of Chihuahuas in his palace. More recently, is that why General Santa Ana, (the dictator of
Mexico who sold northern Mexico to the United States in 1848) also
kept large numbers of golden fawn Chihuahuas? They went with him into battle, no doubt to guide his soul
across the ninth river should he be slain. In fact, they were in his camp when he was finally defeated and
captured in 1836!
The theory that places the Chihuahua’s development in Europe with the
assumption that it arrived in the New World in the arms of Spanish
explorers totally ignores recorded history. The Spanish had a singular use for dogs during that time.
They brought horses to the Americas, not dogs. When there was no local game, when there were no injured
horses to be slaughtered, they raided Indian settlements for food and
that included indigenous camp dogs and in some tribes, the small dogs
kept for sacrifice – or as pets.
Hernando de Soto wrote that dogs were a major source of meat for the
hundreds of troops he led during exploration of the southern United
States. They not only
decimated the Indian population from the Florida peninsula to Mexico,
they also wiped out thousands of domesticated dogs. Spanish scribes recorded that male dogs were fattened on corn,
castrated, and used for food by the Aztecs. We know dogs were sacrificed in religious ceremonies but one
has to wonder if the Indians were forced to breed them in great
numbers in order to feed the conquistadors who enslaved them?
high atop a 600 foot pinnacle called Acoma, I understand how a people
enslaved by the Spaniards might have eaten anything to survive! Only a short drive west across the barren red desert from
Albuquerque New Mexico, Acoma is the oldest inhabited settlement in
the United States, well established when the Spaniards first occupied
it in 1540. The people
who steadfastly live there today still collect water in the baked clay depressions scattered through the tiny
community. The few who
emerge from the shadow of their adobe dwellings to be photographed or
to sell their beautiful pottery are centuries removed from the
memories are not buried at Acoma. They are painfully evident.
We saw no dogs, only the shadow of those that might have
been…. The sadness was
palpable and it was easy to imagine a child secretly holding onto his
little dog. Comfort
must have been priceless to the people of Acoma, or as it is called
today, Sky City.
Thankfully, some tiny dogs went unnoticed by the cruel conquistadors or
perhaps they were not considered worth the trouble to roast. The smallest and dearest would have been hidden in the high
dwellings of the pueblo people. Of this we can be certain, every Chihuahua owner is deeply
grateful that littlest dog escaped the voracious appetites of the
The Modern Chihuahua
first record of the Chihuahua as a breed occurred about 1884 when
enterprising Mexicans began selling them to tourists in the border
markets. An American
Judge is said to have bought a dog in El Paso Texas and later, another
from Tucson Arizona. The
first Chihuahua to be officially registered was a dog called
who entered the American Kennel Club stud book in 1904 along with
three others. By 1915,
thirty Chihuahua were registered in the States and that number jumped
to over 25,000 by the early seventies!
breed has always been popular with celebrities from Spanish-born band
leaders Xavier Cugat to Miss Lupe Velez, a famous actress of the
1930's shown here with her tiny little King. She fed him with an eye-dropper, certainly because it was the
“dramatic” thing to do.
The great Opera star Enrico Caruso was
seldom seen without his considerable sized pack of Chihuahuas dog and
even at the height of the financial depression, the famed Florence
Clark (pictured at right) won prizes with her Chihuahua champions in the 1934 Westminster
Kennel Club show in New York.
The Chihuahua began to move into England from the United States and
directly from Mexico and by 1897, a Chihuahua was formally exhibited
at the Ladies Kennel Club Show. Registration
privileges followed in 1907 which would appear to be a meteoric rise
to fame except that it was seventeen years before the next Chihuahua
was registered! Less than one hundred were recorded by
the beginning of WWII. The
low breeding population was critically impacted by the bombing and
devastation which followed. By
1949, there remained only eight registered dogs.
As families and homes were
re-established, many turned back to dogs for solace and a logical
choice was the Chihuahua. Easily
fitting in cramped quarters during the rebuilding, cheap to feed,
hardy, requiring few veterinary visits, and above all, a grateful
little soul to fill the empty arms and hearts of those who had
suffered terrible losses. Numbers climbed rapidly and by 1953, there
were 111 registered with The Kennel Club.
In America, the Long and Smooth coats
were shown together until 1952 when they were separated into two
varieties for the show ring. They
are still interbred in the States, resulting in both coat varieties in
the same litter.
Well over 20,000 Chihuahuas are now
registered each year. They
are extremely popular because they are such wonderful companions and
because breeders strive to retain their unique characteristics for the
world to enjoy.
Whether breeding or judging the Chihuahua,
we hope you will bear in mind his developmental history and evolution. He is a clever little dog, gigantic in heart and personality,
but clearly driven by strong survival instinct, he “pancakes” to prove it! He
is in so many ways, unique, even among Toy Breeds.
Copyright © 1998
Under penalty of law, no portions
thereof may be reproduced or reprinted in any form without prior written consent
of the publisher.. Link to this page or obtain