August 17, 2017

Introduction to the Chihuahua

Small but sassy, the Chihuahua has been a popular breed in the United States for years. The Chihuahua’s small size often makes them popular with people who live in cities and apartments. However, they should not be thought of as “purse” dogs. They may be cute but they are still dogs. Chihuahuas can be very protective of their owners, despite their small size. They can also be injured by rough play. For these reasons they are not usually recommended for homes with small children. Chihuahuas come in both long and smooth coats.

History of the Chihuahua

The Chihuahua’s origins are something of a mystery. Even recent DNA research into early New World breeds which has found clues to the origins of the Xolo and the Peruvian Hairless Dog is largely silent about the Chihuahua. The breed seems to stand alone with its closest genetic relative being the Chinese Crested.

What we do know about the history of the Chihuahua is based on myth and archaeological evidence. All evidence seems to point to the fact that the breed originated in Mexico. The most likely theory is that today’s Chihuahua is descended from the Techichi, a larger companion dog that was kept by the Toltec people in Mexico. (The Toltec were active in Mexico from about 900-1200 AD.) Records of the Techichi exist from the 9th century. However, there is pottery and other materials with representations of dogs believed to be Techichi that date back as early as 300 BC. We could guess that the ancestors of the Techichi (and Chihuahuas) were present in the Yucatan peninsula long before the time of the Toltecs. Wheeled dog toys resembling the Chihuahua have been found throughout Mesoamerica. The earliest of these toys dates back to 100 AD, suggesting that the ancestors of the Chihuahua were known throughout central America more than 1400 years before the arrival of Europeans.

While dog toys suggest that the Techichi was kept as pets, the explorer Cortes wrote in 1520 that the Aztecs were raising and selling the small dogs as food. Note that the Xolo was also used as food at times, but it’s believed this was only done on ceremonial occasions since the dogs were considered sacred. The same may be true for the Techichi. It’s also possible that Cortes may have confused the dogs. The Techichi were also kept as comforters during illness or injury. There may have been a belief that pain was transferred to the animal – or perhaps having a dog nearby simply made someone feel better as it does today.

According to the Conquistadores, the little dogs were plentiful in the Mexican region that was later known as Chihuahua. This area would later give the breed it’s modern day name. Today’s Chihuahua is smaller than the old Techichi but otherwise they are similar. The dogs were not well-known in the United States until the early 20th century. Chihuahuas were first registered with the American Kennel Club in 1904. Today the Chihuahua is the 30th most popular breed in the United States, according to AKC registration statistics.

Chihuahua Health Related Issues

If you are interested in a Chihuahua, we urge you to contact a reputable breeder. You can find information about breeders and health issues in the breed on the Chihuahua Club of America web site. Chihuahuas are very small dogs and they have some special health concerns. The AKC breed standard calls for Chihuahuas not to exceed 6 pounds. However, this is mostly relevant for show dogs. It is not unusual for pet Chihuahuas to weight more. Some pet Chihuahuas may weight 10 pounds or more if they have large bones or if they are overweight. Being overweight or obese is not healthy for any dog, but don’t worry too much if your Chihuahua weighs a little over 6 pounds.

On the other hand, there are some breeders who advertise “teacup” or very tiny Chihuahuas that are less than 3 pounds as adults. These very tiny dogs are often prone to extra health problems. They may have a shorter than normal lifespan. We suggest that you be very careful about purchasing excessively small puppies for this reason.

There are some special health issues found in Chihuahuas. Puppies, in particular, can have issues. Hydrocephalus occurs in the breed. With hydrocephalus a puppy has an abnormally large head, lethargy, and doesn’t grow at a normal rate. Most breeders should be able to recognize a puppy with this condition, or at least suspect if the puppy is not normal. A vet can confirm the problem.

Chihuahuas can have heads that are apple-shaped or deer-shaped. Puppies with apple-shaped heads usually have moleras, or a soft spot at the top of their skull. The skull is not quite completely complete at the time of birth. This is not a birth defect. It’s a normal adaptation to help the head fit through the birth canal. It’s the same as the fontanelle in a human baby. Moleras are common in most Chihuahua puppies today, whether they have apple heads or not. This soft spot will fill in and solidify as the puppy grows but owners do need to take care during the dog’s first six months until the skull has fully formed. In some dogs the molera doesn’t close completely and extra care has to be taken throughout the dog’s life.

If you have a Chihuahua puppy you also need to be aware of the potential for hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. This is true for most small breed puppies. Because of their small size, these puppies need frequent small meals and snacks during the day, at least until they are old enough to digest larger meals. You should keep a sugar supplement handy, such as NutriCal or Karo syrup, so you can quickly increase a puppy’s blood sugar level if necessary. Symptoms of hypoglycemia are lethargy, unresponsiveness, sleepiness, the head falling to the side, unfocused eyes, neck spasms, fainting, and seizures.

Because of their large, protruding eyes, Chihuahuas are also prone to eye injuries and infections.

Chihuahuas can also be prone to collapsed trachea. This often occurs in response to the dog pulling on the leash. Many people recommend using a harness for a Chihuahua instead of a collar in order to avoid putting pressure on the throat.

Chihuahuas can also have problems with luxating patellas. This is similar to a slipped kneecap for a human. Severity varies. Some dogs can have one incident and never have a problem again. Other dogs will have a chronic problem that needs to be treated with surgery.

The breed can also experience experience some heart problems such as heart murmurs and pulmonic stenosis.

Despite these possible health problems Chihuahuas tend to be very long-lived. It’s not unusual for a Chihuahua to live well into the teen years. The lifespan for the breed is about 15 years but many Chihuahuas live 18-20 years.

The Chihuahua Club of America recommends that dogs being considered for breeding have a cardiac evaluation, an eye exam by a boarded ACO ophthalmologist, and a test for patellar luxation.

You can read more about health research funded by the club here.

Chihuahua Temperament

The Chihuahua is often described as graceful and charming but they can also be very bold little dogs. They don’t seem to realize that they are small dogs. Many people have pointed out that they have certain terrier-like qualities despite the fact that they are not in any way related to the terrier breeds. Chihuahuas will stand up for themselves and they can be very feisty at times. In fact, they can get in the face of larger dogs which can be dangerous. If you are out walking your Chihuahua you should keep an eye on what your dog is doing or he can get in trouble! Despite his small size, Chihuahuas can start fights with much larger dogs – and these fights don’t always turn out well for the Chihuahua.

As mentioned earlier, Chihuahuas are usually not suitable for a home with small children. They can be “snappish” with children that provoke them. With their small size, Chihuahuas can also be injured if a child trips over them or falls on them. However, Chihuahuas can be a good pet if you have older kids such as teenagers who know how to be more careful with small dogs.

The breed tends to be fiercely loyal to one special person in a home. In some cases Chihuahuas can become overly protective of their person when other people or pets are nearby which can cause problems in the home. Chihuahuas don’t always get along well with other breeds of dogs. They tend to have a clannish nature and prefer to pal around with other Chihuahuas or Chihuahua mixes when possible. If you are planning to add a second dog to your home, you should take this issue into consideration.

Chihuahuas enjoy sunbathing and staying warm. They like burrowing under covers on the bed, under blankets, in pillows, and other warm places.

Chihuahua Grooming

The breed standard for Chihuahuas in the U.S. and most other countries calls for them to weigh no more than 6 pounds but, as we’ve already discussed, most pets will weigh a little more. There is no height limit provided in the AKC breed standard but most dogs are between 6 and 9 inches tall at the top of the shoulders. Some pet Chihuahuas may grow as tall as 12 to 15 inches tall. You can see the AKC breed standard for the Chihuahua here.

The breed comes in virtually any color or combination of colors. Common colors are fawn, black, white, red, cream, chocolate, brown, and mixed. Dogs can also be spotted and have various color patterns. The merle coat pattern (a mottled pattern) is not traditionally considered part of the breed standard. Most kennel clubs around the world have disqualified this color pattern because of the potential health risks associated with trying to breed dogs that may produce it. However, the Chihuahua Club of America voted that merles would not be disqualified in the U.S. Because of this decision, merles can be registered and compete in AKC events. (Breed parent clubs exercise control over breed standards in the United States, unlike most other countries where the kennel clubs control the breed standards.) One of the other issues with the merle pattern is whether it is a natural genetic mutation in the breed or whether it has appeared in Chihuahuas due to modern – secretive – crossbreeding with other breeds.

Chihuahuas can have long coats or smooth coats. They are still the same breed. Longhaired Chihuahuas don’t require any extra trimming and only minimal grooming. It can take 2-3 years for a longhaired Chihuahua’s coat to fully develop. The smooth-coated Chihuahua requires only minimal grooming.

Otherwise, you should brush your Chihuahua regularly, whether you have a longhaired or smooth-coated dog. Bathe your dog about once a month unless your dog gets dirty and needs a bath more frequently. Regular brushing and bathing helps cut down on shedding. Clean your Chihuahuas ears and keep the nails trimmed. Pay special attention to your Chihuahua’s eyes since they can be prone to injury and infection.

As with many Toy breeds, the Chihuahua can have dental problems. They are especially prone to crowded teeth and losing teeth at a young age. You should brush your dog’s teeth regularly and have your vet check your Chihuahua’s teeth during your dog’s normal exams.

Chihuahua Fun Facts

Common Chihuahua Mixes

The Chihuahua has been very popular as a cross to breed with other dogs. Some of the mixes we found online with a Chihuahua parent include Chihuahua/Jack Russell mixes (this is a popular mix at the moment), Chihuahua/Shih Tzu, Chihuahua/Pitbull, Chihuahua/Dachshund, Chihuahua/Feist (Feists are a type of hunting dog), Chihuahua/Poodles, and Chihuahua/Pugs. Many people bring Chihuahuas into the U.S. from Mexico these days and rescue groups transport them around the country. You can check with shelters in different states to see if they have Chihuahuas (no papers) or Chihuahua mixes. Be careful about health problems and vaccination issues with these dogs. Some imported dogs have had falsified health certificates and rabies vaccinations.

Chihuahua FAQ’s

What is a Chihuahuas Life Expectancy?

Chihuahuas are one of the longest-lived breeds. Many dogs live to be 15-18 years. Some Chihuahuas live to be 20 years.

Are Chihuahuas easy to train?

No, Chihuahuas are not especially easy to train. They are very smart but that’s not the same thing as being easy to train. According to the book The Intelligence of Dogs, the Chihuahua ranks 67th on the list, with “Fair” working/obedience intelligence. They only obey a first command about 1/3 of the time and it takes a lot of repetitions for them to learn a new command. However, the rankings in the book are only based on obedience training. Many dogs are a little too independent to do well at this kind of ranking and the Chihuahua is probably one of these breeds. Many Toy breeds (and terriers) are low down on the list. These tend to be some of the more independent-minded breeds. So, if you can find ways to motivate your Chihuahua, training can be easy. Food, playing games, and other positive rewards can make training easier and more fun for both of you. Some people do say that house training a Chihuahua (and other Toy breeds) takes extra time, so be patient.

Do Chihuahuas shed a lot of hair?

No, Chihuahuas don’t shed a lot. The smooth coats are said to shed more hair than the longhaired dogs, contrary to what you may expect. Neither type of coat has a very thick undercoat.

Do Chihuahuas make good apartment pets?

Chihuahuas make excellent apartment pets. Their small size and modest exercise requirements makes them perfect for living in the city or an apartment. Unlike many Toy breeds, Chihuahuas are not usually big barkers either, though they will bark when they think there is a need.

Are Chihuahuas good with children?

Chihuahuas are not recommended in homes with small children. They tend to attach themselves to one particular person in a home and they can become jealous of that person. They are not the most patient dogs when it comes to children and they do not tolerate rough play. Because of their small size they can also be injured easily if a child falls on them. For these reasons, Chihuahuas and very small kids are not a good combination. However, if you have teens, Chihuahuas can be a good dog as long as your children are well-mannered and know how to treat a dog with respect.

Carlotta Cooper

Carlotta Cooper is a freelance writer and a long-time contributing editor for the weekly dog show magazine, Dog News. She is the author of The Dog Adoption Bible, the Dog Writers Association of America Adoptashelter.com award-winner for 2013. Additionally, Carlotta is the author of Canine Cuisine: 101 Natural Dog Food & Treat Recipes to Make Your Dog Health and Happy, as well as other books about pets. She is a guest writer for numerous website and blogs and a frequent pet food reviewer.

View all posts

Add comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

/* ]]> */