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Chihuahua in a field

The essentials

  • There are multiple theories on the origins of the Chihuahua — The most commonly-accepted country of origin for these small dogs is Mexico, but some believe they’re from Malta.
  • Their ancestors were probably mute — The Chihuahua likely evolved from a slightly larger and significantly quieter breed known as the Techichi.
  • The Chihuahua has stood the test of time — The smallest dog breed has survived the fall of two ancient civilizations and made its way onto many famous names’ laps.

The Chihuahua family tree

Chihuahuas are known for their spunky, vocal personalities, but their precise story is a well-kept secret lost to time. There’s some debate on the origin of the Chihuahua. Generally, it’s believed the dogs, one of the oldest breeds still around today, originated in Mexico with the Mayans, Toltens, and Aztecs. But other claims include Egypt, Malta, and China. Let’s dig into the Chihuahua’s history, from ancient civilization roots to modern-day lapdogs.

800-1168: Toltec origins

While we don’t know it as an absolute fact, the Techichi is the most commonly accepted predecessor to the Chihuahua. Techichi vs. Chihuahua: What’s the difference? The now-extinct Techichi was also a small size but likely larger than the Chihuahua. And, get this, Techichis were mute. The breed, revered in ancient civilizations, also had the Chihuahua’s large ears and apple head.

The Techichi dog was likely bred by the Toltecs starting around the 9th century. The Toltecs believed Techichi dogs had magical powers and were sacrificed in religious ceremonies after their owners died so they could guide them to the afterlife.

1169-1521: Aztecs and Chihuahuas

The Aztecs conquered the Toltecs, but the Techichi continued to inspire. Like the Toltecs, the Aztecs believed the Techichi dog was more than a companion pet. Why were Chihuahuas bred? Several reasons, including food. In Aztec culture, these dogs had mystical powers.

They performed rituals with them, believing that the Chihuahua’s spirit could guide a dead noble’s spirit through the afterlife. If a human spirit couldn’t get across a river during the afterlife, they’d crawl on a Chihuahua’s back, who would then help them reach their heavenly destination. Nobility may have kept packs of hundreds of these small dogs.

The Aztec people are largely credited with developing the lighter, spunky, apple-headed toy dogs we know today as Chihuahuas. Historical experts believe that Techichis were bred with the Mexican hairless dog breed, the Xoloitzcuintli, to produce Chihuahuas. (Speaking of hairless dogs, there’s yet another theory that the Chihuahua calls the Chinese hairless dog, the Chinese crested, an ancestor.) Again, it’s lost to time.

What we do know is that the Aztecs treasured Techichis and, later, dogs that became known as Chihuahuas.

1521 – 1799: European influence

In 1519, conquistador Hernando Cortés arrived in what is today known as Mexico, hoping to find gold. Ultimately, they took the land from the Aztecs, who surrendered to the Spanish on Aug. 13, 1521. There’s some speculation that the conquistadors brought the Chihuahua from the Island of Malta in the Mediterranean. Another small dog on the island has a soft spot on their skull known as a molera.

A famous work of art supports this second theory: The 1482 painting, Scenes from the Life of Moses, is at the Sistine Chapel. In it, there’s a small, white dog in the lower left that bears a striking resemblance to a Chihuahua. Therefore, there’s a theory that the European Maltese pocket dog may be another Chihuahua ancestor.

Chihuahuas in the modern age

The modern Chihuahua is a popular pet in many parts of the world, including the United States.

1800-2000ish: The Chihuahua breed and the AKC

The modern-day Chihuahua was discovered in Central and South America in the mid to late-1800s. Ever wonder what “Chihuahua” means? It’s a long name for a tiny dog. The small dog name from Chihuahua, Mexico, is considered the main point of origin.

There, Mexican merchants bred and sold the pups to American tourists, which is how the smallest dog breed made its way to U.S. soil. Americans kept the tiny dogs as pets.

The breed gained American Kennel Club (AKC) recognition in 1904. Bleppie became the first Chihuahua registered with the AKC in 1908. The Chihuahua comes in two varieties based on coat types: One with a smooth coat and one with longer hair, known as a long coat.

Other variations, including the Chiweenie (a dachshund and Chihuahua hybrid) and “teacup Chihuahua,” a supposedly smaller version of the Chihuahua, are not recognized by the AKC. “A Chihuahua is just a Chihuahua,” the Chihuahua Club of America states.

Present: The Chihuahua’s popularity today

Bandleader Xavier Cugat used to love to hold his Chi in one hand as he conducted with the other in the 1940s and 50s, adding to the breed’s appeal.

The Chihuahua has drawn a bright spotlight in recent times, appearing in flicks like Legally Blonde and becoming a beloved breed among the likes of Paris Hilton, Madonna, and Britney Spears.

The dogs are popular abroad, too, including in Belgium (where they’re often a target of thieves) and Mexico.

Frequently asked questions

What were Chihuahuas originally used for?

Chihuahuas were initially bred for companionship and food. The “original” Chihuahua breed, or the breed’s ancestors, the Techichi, was believed to have magical powers by people living in ancient civilizations.

What did Chihuahuas evolve from?

The Chihuahua likely evolved from the Techichi. The Techichi was a heavier, larger dog than the Chihuahua that likely had similar ears and heads.

What two breeds make a Chihuahua?

It’s generally accepted that the Techihi is an ancestor of the Chihuahua. Other parent breeds are up for debate. Theories include the European Maltese and Chinese crested.

What are Chihuahuas known for?

Chihuahuas are loving, affectionate dogs that often get attached to one person. They’re vocal and may not always enjoy the company of young children or other dogs. They do well in city apartments and rural areas. Though they are subject to some health conditions, like patellar luxation, obesity, and dental disease, they generally can live long, healthy lives.

Did Chihuahua originate from Mexico?

The Chihuahua’s history is a matter of debate. They likely evolved from the Techichi, a dog revered by the Toltecs and Aztecs. The Chihuahua gets its name from the Mexican city where the modern-day version was discovered.