The Chihuahua

The Chihuahua
Small Sassy Charmer

6

No, it's not a rat, nor a toy - it's a dog, a real dog, with teeth and attitude. Tiny in size but large in spirit, the Chihuahua is one of those highly evolved breeds that has managed to convince most humans that it should be carried around everywhere. Of course for a Chihuahua simply walking down a sidewalk or hanging out in the kitchen can be a risky business. At less than six pounds, a little buddy subjected to a careless misstep by a human can be badly injured. However most Chihuahuas are very affectionate anyhow and prefer cuddling close to their humans.

The Chihuahua is an old breed with an obscure history. Most believe that it originated in Mexico with the Mayans, Toltecs and Aztecs, but other less favoured theories suggest Egypt, Malta, or even China. Certainly the indigenous people of Central America kept small dogs that the rich seemed to revere enough to want buried alongside themselves after death. The dogs were apparently ritually sacrificed after their masters died, under the belief that the sins of the master were then transferred to the dog, ensuring safe passage of the (human) soul to its final resting spot.

The poor also revered these dogs but tended to appreciate them while still lively enough to eat. Following his arrival on the shores of Mexico in 1517, Hernando Cortes found enormous markets with "daily more than sixty thousand souls buying and selling," where all kinds of animals were to be found for sale, including birds, "rabbits, hares, venison, and small dogs which they castrate for the table." Some vendors even specialized in the breeding and trafficking of dogs, and certain types were considered more delectable than others.

The Spaniards who conquered the great Aztec societies likely had smallish dogs on their ships as ratters, and these may or may not have interbred with the native dogs.

Much of the early evidence of the possible Chihuahuan ancestry in the New World is inferred from old manuscripts translated from Spanish, from clay figurines, or from other archaeological artifacts on which dogs were engraved. A key to interpreting skeletal evidence is the presence or absence of something called a molera, which is a soft spot on the top of the head similar to the one found on newborn babies.

Among modern-day breeds it is considered unique to Chihuahuas (though it is not found on all individuals). The molera, if present, can be felt by gently stroking the top of the head.

What is known is that in the mid-1800s, American visitors to Mexico became enthralled with a certain tiny type of dog they found living with the peasants there. The name "Chihuahua" is derived from one of the northern Mexican states from which some of these dogs were obtained. Brought to the United States, the little fellows gradually gained popularity as pets. They began to be exhibited at dog shows, and in 1904 the American Kennel Club (AKC) granted them recognition as a breed.

While small, in modern Chihuahua is a compact, solidly built dog that gives a general impression of alertness and balance. It has a round, apple-like skull with low-set, flaring ears and a moderately short muzzle that should emerge from the skull at a 90-degree angle (i.e., there should be plenty of stop.) The eyes should be wide-set, large and round but not protruding.

There are two coat varieties, smooth and long, and both shed. Smooth coats may or may not have an undercoat; long coats may be either flat or curly and usually have an undercoat. Often with long coats there is fringing on the ears and feathering on the legs. All colour and patterns are acceptable in both coat types.

Dogs heavier than six pounds are considered outside the AKC breed standard but otherwise there are no restrictions on size. There are also no official sub-groupings within the breed (i.e., while some individuals may be especially tiny, there is no "Miniature Chihuahua").

The temperament of the Chihuahua is described as terrier-like. These are spirited, curious, confident dogs, feisty and brave. Many seem to come into the dog park thinking they're the biggest studs in town. What can be comical is that a much larger dog will often back down from a charging Chihuahua - though from fear or sheer disbelief is not clear. Chihuahuas are excellent watchdogs, loyal and quick to defend their homes and families; however this brave temperament can be a liability in a city where predators like coyotes are common, as the little dogs can easily be snatched and borne away (as can cats who have learned to stand their ground against dogs).

Playful, intelligent and deeply affectionate, Chihuahuas like little more than to cuddle with their humans. They tend to be excellent apartment-dwellers, as they can get much of the exercise they need indoors and often seem to prefer the comforts of home to the great outdoors. (Concrete? No thanks. Up! Up!) Forget "couch potato" - these are lap potatoes. But it is more than a simple matter of a comfort-loving temperament. Keeping Chihuahuas, especially those with single coats, warm in cold or wet weather is something that needs to be taken seriously. All else being equal, small dogs have a lower tolerance for cold than large ones through the basic geometric fact of their body surface (heat=radiating area) being large relative to their volume (furnace power). Raincoats are sweaters are well worth considering.

Chihuahuas do like their food, and it is easy to overfeed them since they are so small. A single piece of kibble is relatively big to a six-pound dog, and treats designed for Labrador-sized beasts are veritable banquets. It is always kinder to keep a dog's weight down to its proper level and particular care must be taken with the tiny breeds.

If Chihuahuas have a negative reputation, it is often that they seem "snappy," "yappy" or "sharp." In part this is probably due to their strong attachment to their humans (they are not particularly drawn to strangers) and the fact that everything else in the world is so big. It can also be a result of poor breeding. However a large factor in the behaviour of any dog derives from the attitudes of its human caregivers. With a dog that can be carried around like a baby and whose bite is a joke (though from personal experience, a Chihuahua bite is not always funny), owners are often overindulgent and can lack a sense of the need for training. A Rottweiler must be trained. A badly behaved or poorly socialized Chihuahua, on the other hand, is unlikely to get an owner into much trouble.

But underneath it all, a Chihuahua is not really all that different from other dogs - and is happier with consistent training, fair guidelines and discipline, and a clear sense of who is alpha in the household. (And it's not the dog.) Chihuahuas are extremely trainable dogs, capable of learning all kinds of cute tricks, but at the minimum they will give their owners much greater pleasure if taught basic manners as all dogs should be. If not, Chihuahua owners will likely find themselves being trained by their clever companions instead.

The Chihuahua is a great city dog and a fine little buddy. Contrary to the beliefs of many, it is a true dog if treated as such, and will reward a loving human family with great charm, loyalty and affection. Tiny breeds have special needs (for example, they cannot be left outdoors) but are easier to keep in countless ways. If your lifestyle suits a Chihuahua, a Chihuahua may suit you. But be prepared to buy new colour coordinated clothing as he will probably want to be in your arms a lot.

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Thu, 05/10/2012 - 18:02
I love my Chihuahuas! Great article on them – all so true. The world is so big to them, could you imagine being that small? It seems like more and more people are adopting Chis. They are picky eaters tho and mine won’t eat anything unless it’s small breed bites Natural Balance Ultra. You can’t help but pamper them with only the best!
Tue, 05/15/2012 - 10:33
love it
Fri, 12/07/2012 - 09:22
Although a great article on the history of Chihuahuas I found some information was missing. My loving Charlie is 4 years old and I find that this breed is fiercely protective of it's owner. Although small is size chihuahuas know where to attack a larger dog if need be to protect them and most large dogs sense this. They go after the soft underbelly and/or privates of a larger dog and although endurance is not their strong point, speed and agility is. I found my chihuahua knows he is small and also knows how to use this ability to the best of his talents. He is also great with all people large or small showing a gentle, passive demeanor. Despite this I would not recommend chihuahuas for families with smaller children only due to the fact that they like to burrow under pillows and blankets and an excited, playful child may mistakenly jump on a spot where a chihuahua would hide to sleep and hurt it seriously. A Chihuahua trained and treated as a loving dog, socialized well and respected will become a gentle, loving kind animal that will do anything for it's master. These dogs a very "One person oriented" so they will attach themselves to one person and accept the rest of the household only as part of it's pack.
Mon, 01/21/2013 - 17:24
Kisses Pisses ROFLWe have a Chihuahua/Peke named Tanner. OMG cute but hands down the bossiest crteitr in our house. Bullies our two 30 lb dogs mercilessly and hoards every toy we bring into the house. Also, spoiled absolutely rotten. Sleeps in bed, under the covers, despite the fact that he smells persistently of corn chips in defiance of every dog shampoo we've tried.What is it about those little furry demons that makes them so appealing?NC Narrator recently posted..
Fri, 04/05/2013 - 03:15
I had my chi since 8 weeks old and started pad training him that day always kept and eye on him only took a few weeks to train him only having about 4 accidents..........when people would come to the door I would let him bark them telling him to stop........I mostly let him eat his dog food dont usually give him table scraps......he is socialized with other dogs big and small.....also socialized with children however kids are not allowed to pick him up he likes them because they give him treats but usually runs away after that.....I have many friends that come hang out at my house he absolutely loves all them snuggles with and them plays he is so friendly wants to say him to everyone he meets........like the article said you just really need to train them like any other dog they need structure.....people are always so amazed how well behaved and smart my chi is Im glad my dog is able to change the opinions some people I come across have them.
Tue, 09/17/2013 - 08:45

Dog of the Week!

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