History and Development
Chihuahuas arc the smallest members of the canine family. Contrary to popular belief, they are not Mexican in origin. They have existed, relatively unchanged, for hundreds of years, in the lands of the Mediterranean. Ten years before Columbus made his first voyage one was featured by Boticelli, in a fresco in the Sistine Chapel, Rome, the only dog to receive such recognition. Many modern, cream-colored Smooth Chihuahuas look remarkably like the dog in that painting. However, the show type specimen of today was developed in the U.S.A. They flourish on the island of Malta, where they are known as pocket-dogs (Kelb Ta But), and in England, well before 1850, British fanciers made a number of semi-successful attempts to establish them. Early English breeders stated that these “Maltese” terriers, as they called them, were used to refine several other small breeds before they submerged. When tourists, soon after 1850, found and purchased specimens from peons in the north Mexican state of Chihuahua, unsuspecting American breeders gave the dog its name and established it as a firm favorite in the U.S.A. They drew up a breed Standard and today it is one of the top popularity breeds, sixth among 116 breeds; most Chihuahuas in Britain and on the Continent stem from American-bred stock. However, it is of special interest to note that one of the most prepotent Smooth-coated stud dogs in England. Rowley Black Mice, resulted from crossing a Smooth red bitch imported from Malta by Lt.-Cmdr. A. J. Egerton-Williams with a Smooth dog brought from the U.S.A. by Mrs. Joan Forster.
A dog similar to the Chihuahua appears to have evolved in Egypt about 3,000 years ago. A detailed description of the mummified remains of one of these little dogs, found in an Egyptian tomb, was recorded by the zoologist, K. Haddon, in 1910. She noted the presence of that curious identification mark of the Chihuahua, the “molera” or “soft” spot which often occurs in their skulls.
The colony of Chihuahuas, or pocket dogs, that thrive on Malta, were taken there from north Africa by Carthaginian colonists around 600 B.C. The Maltese apparently specialized in breeding them and a piece of pottery dated approximately KM) B.C. shows a crude drawing of a man holding two such dogs on a leash.
In the 15th century this dog became the symbol of the drama of Malta. The Maltese on one occasion, finding that they were threatened by an extra large Turkish raiding expedition, fled to the mainland, carrying everything, including their livestock, with them. Although the Boticelli fresco in the Sistine Chapel portrays the life of Moses, this episode is deliberately recorded in it. The boy carrying the tiny smooth-coated dog under his arm, who is included in the gronp of Israelites being led by Moses from slavery in Egypt, represents the Malta refugees, fleeing from the Turkish menace and the dog establishes the identity of the group. In 1530 the Knights of St. John established their base on Malta. After the famous Siege of 1565, Malta and the Order of St. John were much esteemed. The little dogs appeared in England and were mentioned in the Holinshed Chronicles. “The Maltese is little and pretty . . . the smaller they are the better they are liked, and especially if they have a hole (the molera) in the foreparts of their heads,” wrote the chronicler.
While Boticelli, using the dog as his symbol, recorded the beginning of the saga, an unnamed Maltese artist appropriately recorded the end. He painted a portrait of Emmanuel de Rohan, when Bailey of the Order, accompanied by one of the pocket-dogs, which hangs in the palace of the Grand Masters at Valetta. Emmanuel de Rohan was the last Grand Master of the Order to rule in the grand manner. In 1800 Malta became British and the little dogs reappeared in Britain. Early records describe some of them as weighing little more than three pounds. The Irish naturalist, Mr. Richardson, published an interesting account of them in 1847, calling them Maltese terriers. His description is unmistakable smooth coats, black the preferred color, but red or white being acceptable, erect ears and minute size coupled with great courage. His uncle, he stated, had one that weighed tour pounds. I Ie mentioned that Sir Edwin Landseer painted one, and this tiny, black, smooth-coated toy-dog, looking startlingly like our modern Chihuahuas, can be seen standing next to the King Charles Spaniel in Landseer’s painting, Diogenes. These dogs also exist on Gibraltar, and in Spain and Portugal, but it is difficult to decide whether they were established there by Carthaginian colonists or later by Spanish and Portuguese members of the Order of St. John. The American tourists who found them near the Villa D’Allende in Chihuahua had no idea that these were the descendants of an ancient Old World breed. Naturally, enthusiasts in the U.S.A. called the dogs “chihuahuas” and searched in the Mexican records for background history. The result was unfortunate. Some believe the Chihuahua became confused with the strange hairless dog, Xoloitzcuintli or Mexican Hairless Hog.
Chihuahua, Lung-coated: Chihuahuas on Malta are always Smooth-coated and never throw Longs; this is also true of a number of American lines, and the Chihuahua has been regarded primarily as a Smooth-coated . When the breed was re-introduced into England at the end of the ‘forties and early ‘fifties, Long-coats were rare indeed. Yet, according to the American records, one of the first Chihuahuas to reach the U.S.A. from Mexico was a red Long-coat, Caranza, belonging to Mr. Watson. Pictures can be found on ancient Creek vases, and Renaissance and later paintings that depict Long-coated dogs very similar in build and type to Smooth-coated Chihuahuas. These were much loved by the Spanish royal family, and were also taken to the Americas by Spanish colonists. At first, Long and Smooth-coated Chihuahuas in both the U.S.A. and Britain were treated as one breed, but today are classified as separate varieties. Inter-breeding between them will not be permitted by the British Kennel Club after 1976, but it will be many years before the Smooth-coated variety can be depended on to breed only Smooth-coats. Long-coats bred together do not produce Smooths.
There is no difference between the two varieties apart from coat, which vary greatly in quality, some being very thick with heavy undercoats, others being thin, whispy, and lacking the required feathering. Occasionally one turns up with a curly coat. No doubt in time, with careful breeding, this problem of variation will sort itself out, tor the Long-coated variety is here to stay.
The breed Standard permits any color or combination of colors, and so far, the color inheritance of this breed has not conformed to any recognizable pattern. Optimistic breeders have endeavored to concentrate on one favorite color or another with varying degrees of success. The puppies in a litter seldom resemble either each other, or their parents, color-wise. Even on Malta, where black has been preferred and deliberately in-bred for over 150 years, tans, chocolates, fawns, reds, whites and particolors stilt turn up.
Properly reared and cared for, Chihuahuas are long-lived dogs, sometimes reaching nineteen or twenty years of age. They require a warm, dry bed, well away from draughts, with some heat in winter. The adult should be given one good meat meal every day, but do not over feed with table scraps. They are ideal dogs for the town and will obtain most of the exercise they need following their owners around the house, but naturally, will appreciate a run out of doors, oft the lead, if this can be arranged. They can, for the sake of convenience, be carried on buses, trains and in crowded areas in a shopping bag or basket, but should never be treated as invalids.
The normal fondling that a Smooth-coated pet Chihuahua receives is as good as a daily massage, but the Long-coated variety needs regular, gentle brushing and combing. Nails grow fast and must be clipped back regularly. Teeth should tic checked frequently, and if milk teeth are still in the gums when a puppy reaches six months of age, the vet should be asked to remove them. New owners and children handling a Chihuahua for the first time must be careful not to let the little dog jump suddenly from their arms. Puppies are especially liable to do this and may hurt themselves badly in consequence.
When breeding, let the vet see the bitch ten days before the puppies are due. Most bitches of reasonable size whelp without trouble, but there arc some who will require veterinary attention. But it is unfair both to the bitch and the vet to wait until the last moment should trouble arise. Do not breed from tiny bitches, and remember that a tiny stud dog will not necessarily produce tiny offspring.
The Chihuahua, considering its small size, is a surprisingly agile, courageous and fiery dog. In England between 1800 and 1850, the tiny dogs from Malta were tried out in the rat pits. Richardson stated that his uncle’s dog. Lion, once killed an enormous rat in a few seconds, but added that they were too small to be really useful and had “degenerated” into “mere lap-dogs”. Modern Chihuahuas are equally willing to “have a go”, as many present-day owners have discovered.
They arc exceptionally intelligent, love to be fussed, but tend to be suspicious and shy with strangers. They live contentedly with other household pets such as cats, rabbits, and guinea-pigs, but will not tolerate intruders.
The Chihuahua should not weigh more than six pounds, the average weight being about four pounds. It must be compact, fine-boned, with well-sprung ribs and deep brisket. A good Chihuahua moves with a brisk, firm, forceful action that can only be achieved if symmetry and angulation of shoulder and hindquarters is correct. A slightly arched neck of medium length goes with a good lay-back of shoulder and straight front legs. The hindquarters need strong muscles if the dog is to be sound and move correctly. The level back is slightly longer than the height at shoulder, while feet arc small and dainty with well-cushioned pads. The skull, with or without molera, should be well-rounded, with erect, large, low-set “fly-away” cars that have plenty of width between them and give the dog an alert, intelligent appearance. The nose must be moderately short and slightly pointed. The stop should be well-defined. The eyes arc large and round, but do not protrude. On Smooths the tail should be furry, flattish in appearance, and, after broadening slightly in the center, taper to a point. It should be carried sickle-wise, up or over the back. On Longs it should be well-feathered and carried proudly. The Long-coated Chihuahua should have a large ruff on the neck and feathering on feet and legs. The coat should be long, of soft texture, and never harsh or curly.
Selections from the book: “The World encyclopedia of Dogs” (1971)