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Rottweilers. American Staffordshire Terriers. Loving, loyal, ideal family pets. Yet they are sometimes misunderstood, assumed to have traits that a good representative of their breed would not possess. So why is a story about the smallest of all AKC-registered breeds talking about the big guys? Because Chihuahuas have also been subjected to a few undeserved misconceptions. “These are not frail, yappy, ‘ankle biters’ who only like to sit on your lap,” says Kyle Potts. As president of the Chihuahua Club of America, she’s been around enough of these little charmers to know. But even those new to the breed should be able to quickly assess for themselves that the Chihuahua is a stable, friendly, and healthy dog who isn’t afraid of an agility tunnel or going along on the family camping trip.

Even the Chihuahua’s homeland is up for debate: Most likely a native of Mexico, some experts in the breed have theorized that the Chihuahua may have been brought from the island of Malta by the Spanish conquistadors. Others speculate that the breed may have originated in China. Things get even stranger when we learn that early writing made wild claims, such as the Chihuahua was not fully canine, or that they were even related to chipmunks.

In his colorful History of the Chihuahua, William Miller writes, “We know that the Toltec people of Mexico kept a little dog known as the Techichi, which had a fat body and large, Chihuahua-like ears. When the Aztecs came into power, the nobility of that society owned the little dogs. These dogs were more than just companion animals. This dog was believed to have been bred with the Xoloitzcuintli, the Mexician hairless dog to produce the Chihuahua as we know it today.

An Aztec Treasure

As history and power would have it, the Toltecs civilization gave way to the Aztecs (not by choice) during the 11th century.

The Aztecs believed that when an Aztec noble would die, it was necessary to slay a Chihuahua and bury or cremate it with the body of the human. They believed that the spirit of the dead Chihuahua would act as a guide through the afterlife for the soul of the dead noble. The human spirit needed help swimming across a river into the afterlife and would crawl onto the back of the Chihuahua spirit to reach his heavenly destination in the afterlife.” There is evidence that the nobility kept large packs of hundreds of dogs.

Potts adds that they “were almost a form of money, and used in trading.” But at some point, the Chihuahua had the good fortune to become “average,” and most homes had one.

Chihuahuas in the U.S.

By the 1800s, people in the U.S. began to take interest in the breed. In 1888 James Watson, an author and judge, purchased a bitch named Manzanita. Owen Wister, author of The Virginia, also imported a Chihuahua named Caranza, which became the dog that produced the famous bloodlines, Meron and Perrito. Surprisingly, most of the imports at this time were long coats, not the popular smooth coat. And some believe the long coats were bred out of Pomeranians or Papillons. This is not true and in fact, the long-haired is a true variety of the breed.

Approximately, twenty years later the AKC recognized the breed in 1904 with the first registered Chihuahua Midget owned by H. Raynor of Texas. Within a couple of years, the breed had its first champion, Beppie, owned by Mrs. L. A. McLean of New Jersey.

The Chihuahua Club of America, founded in 1923, was created to develop a community of Chihuahua breeders and further the breed in the United States. The founders included: Mrs. Henrietta Proctor Donnell, Ida H. Garrett, Alice Dobbs, Rose Clark, M. R. Muller and Clara L. Dobbs. One of their most notable members included Helen Nowicki a Chihuahua breeder among other breeds and the editor of Dog World magazine.

Billie Holiday was one of many celebrities in the U.S. to own and love Chihuahas.

Mrs. Dobbs was instrumental in establishing the annual specialty show, which was first conducted on 19 May 1928 at the Queensboro Kennel Club show with 42 dogs entries — 14 males and 28 females. Within a few years, the club decided to hold their annual meeting and specialty show in Chicago indefinitely. This move created a more centralized meeting location for members and ultimately the breed’s registration with the AKC grew from then on.

Separating into Two Varieties

Some of the earliest breeders included Mrs. Harry S. Peaster of Philadelphia who owned the La Rex Doll Kennels. The kennel produced a record number of champions and provided the foundation stock for other well-established dogs. La Oro Kennel which, produced national champions like Ch. Ai Si Ora Principe, Ch. La Rey, La Oro Marinero, and others, was owned by legendary breeder Anna B. Vinyard who served as president of CCA during the 1950s.

Probably two of the most well-noted Chihuahuas are Ch. Tejano Texas Kid who took a record 15 best in shows and Ch. Holiday Gold Jubilee who took 16 best in show and 81 Toy Group firsts. Ch. Holiday Gold Jubliee, aka Doc Holiday, is also notable on account of his record as the first Chihuahua to be ranked as number one in the Toy group in the United States.

First long-coat to finish after separation. Ch. Schaefer’s Skeeter, Chihuahua. c. 1952

It took over 50 years before the long and smooth coats were exhibited at dog shows. In 1952 they were separated into two varieties with the smooth coat the preferred variety as pets. One year prior to this, Ch. Attas’ Gretchen a smooth coat Chihuahua won the first all-breed Best in Show, a milestone for the breed.

The famous bandleader Xavier Cugat did much to popularize Chihuahuas in the 1940s and 50s. More recently, these natural performers stole the show in “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” “Legally Blonde,” and “Sex and the City.” The minor-league baseball team of El Paso, Texas, is named the Chihuahuas.

Related article: Giant Schnauzer History: From Guarding in the Alps, to Military Dogs and Beyond
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