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What Were Chihuahuas Bred For? Chihuahua History Explained

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By Nicole Cosgrove

long-haird chihuahua portrait

Chihuahuas pack plenty of personality into tiny, adorable packages. They’re popular pets because of their size and appearance. The breed is named for the Mexican state of Chihuahua, though these dogs are believed to be descendants of the Techichi dog.1

Many Chihuahua owners may wonder what their unique dog was originally bred to do. Since they’re so small, it’s hard to imagine that they’d be bred to be working dogs. Today, Chihuahuas are primarily companions for people. Originally, they are believed to also have been used for companionship, as well as religious rituals and even food. Read on to learn more about this charming dog’s complex history.

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The Techichi Origin

It’s believed that the Chihuahua is a descendant of the Techichi dog, which is now extinct. Everything that we know about this ancient dog can be found in artifacts tracing back to the 9th century A.D. These dogs were domesticated by the Toltec indigenous tribe of Mexico. They are thought to have crossbred the Techichi with a breed of wild dog that populated the Chihuahua mountains, known as the Perro Chihuahueno. Ancient drawings and carvings show that the Perro Chihuahueno can have either an apple or deer head shape, much like Chihuahuas today.

The Techichi dogs are believed to have been around 10–20 pounds, which is bigger than most Chihuahuas. They were also mute. It’s unclear if they couldn’t bark or just simply didn’t know how to, but they apparently didn’t make any sounds.

The Toltec civilization was taken over by the Aztecs during the 11th century. Remains of Techichi dogs were found in pyramids and gravesites of the Aztec people, suggesting that when someone of the upper class died, a Techichi dog was sacrificed and buried with them. If they owned a Techichi, that dog would be used as the sacrifice. The belief was that the spirit of the dog would guide the human soul to the afterlife. The dogs were considered sacred and were used in religious ceremonies and treated as beloved companions.

Chihuahua
Image Credit: HG-Fotografie, Pixabay

Using Chihuahuas as Food

Until the early 1900s, it wasn’t considered taboo to consume dog meat in the Western world, and Chihuahuas were bred to be food. Lower-class Aztecs often faced significant food shortages and would eat Techichi dogs. They did not share the belief of the upper-class Aztec people and clergy that these dogs were sacred.

Ancient Mayans used Chihuahuas as their daily food. They also used them as hunting dogs and for religious ceremonial and sacrificial purposes. Hunting and fishing required a great deal of energy without a guaranteed result. Breeding dogs was easy because they reproduced quickly. They gave the Mayan people a reliable protein source.

Ratters in Mexico

Dogs bred specifically to hunt and kill rats and other rodents are known as ratters. Chihuahuas are skilled ratters and are used to hunt vermin in rural areas of Mexico.

If you own one of these dogs, you may notice their strong prey drive and desire to chase after small animals. It is unclear whether Chihuahuas were taught to hunt rats or the ability was passed down through their ancestry.

Chihuahua
Image Credit By; HG-Fotografie, Pixabay

Companionship

Since the Techichi was a mute dog, it made the perfect companion for Toltec families. They lived in small homes in a crowded city. Small dogs that didn’t bark were ideal pets.

While they were used for various purposes, Chihuahuas were always bred to be companions. Today, they are still used for companionship, especially by people seeking small dogs. The difference now is that Chihuahuas are far from mute — some of these dogs can be quite loud!

Modern Chihuahuas

While the exact ancestry of the Chihuahua is not certain, the dogs became a common sight in Central and South America in the 1800s. The dogs were often sold to American tourists, who brought them back to the United States as pets.

Since they didn’t have an official name, they were named after the place where they were originally found: the state of Chihuahua. In 1904, the American Kennel Club officially recognized the breed. In 1923, The Chihuahua Club of America was founded to further develop the breed in the United States.

close up of chihuahua sitting outdoor
Image Credit: Rebecca Scholz, Pixabay

Chihuahuas Today

By 1964, the Chihuahua was the third most popular dog breed in America.

The Chihuahua’s popularity soared in the 1990s, when a female Chihuahua played the Taco Bell mascot. Since then, movies and television shows have showcased teacup Chihuahuas, making them even more desirable. Celebrities have also purchased these tiny dogs, toting them around in purses and further perpetuating the trend.

Today, Chihuahuas are beloved family companions. They are sought out to be affectionate lapdogs. Chihuahuas don’t serve the same purposes that they once did, though you may get one that enjoys hunting rodents.

Chihuahuas are good watchdogs, alerting you to any new noise or stranger approaching. They bark loudly and frequently, so you’ll always be aware of anything happening around your home. Due to their size, though, they don’t make good guard dogs. Barking is as much as they can offer in terms of home protection.

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Final Thoughts

Chihuahuas have come a long way from the days of the Toltecs. Today, these little dogs are full of energy and personality, making wonderful family pets. These loyal, affectionate dogs may have a spotty history, but they have certainly established themselves today. Chihuahuas are here to stay, so we can look forward to seeing more from this breed in the future as their popularity grows.

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Featured Image Credit: HG-Fotografie, Pixabay

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