The history of Chihuahuas is rich in speculation, theory and legend.
Despite it being the oldest breed in the Americas, one of the theories behind its origin is that it came from the Mediterranean. The evidence for this theory lies in paintings dated prior to Columbus' return from the Americas, depicting small dogs resembling Chihuahuas.
In particular, a fresco by Sandro Botticelli dated 1842 , Scenes from the life of Moses, depicts a woman holding two dogs with characteristics similar to the Chihuahua, such as round heads, large eyes and big ears. Botticelli could not have yet seen such a New World dog, yet the animal in his paintings closely resemble it.
Others believe that the Chihuahua is a mix of the dog known as the Techichi, bred by ancient civilizations, and the Chinese Crested dog, brought to the Americas by the Spanish Conquistadors.
Techichi's were not only larger than the present day Chihuahua, but their coat was longer than that of long haired Chihuahuas, and it was mute too. The reduction in size and its voice is therefore attributed to mixing with the Chinese Crested dog.
What we do know for certain about the history of Chihuahuas, is that they can be traced back to the Toltec, Olmec and Aztec civilizations of Mexico and Central America. The Toltecs are believed to have been the first to domesticate the dog known as the Techichi. These were small and plump with a round head and erect ears, reminiscent of the Chihuahua.
Techichi's were believed to possess mystical powers, and as such were used as sacrificial offerings to redress sins and as guides for the spirits of the dead. This was not their only use however, Techichi's were considered a delicacy and were raised for their meat; they were considered a sacred icon of the upper class.
The arrival of Hernando Cortes and the Conquistadors in the 1500s saw the end of the Aztec civilisation. This brought with it the end for most of the Techichi's, other than those which escaped into the mountains and lived off what they could scavenge.
There is no further information about the history of Chihuahuas for the next 300 years. During this time, the Chihuahua was plunged into obscurity, until 1850, when several very small dogs were found in old ruins near Casas Grandes in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, from which the breed gets its name.
Chis remained rare until 1904, when they were finally recognised and registered by the American Kennel Club (AKC). In the 1930s and 1940s, Xavier Cugat, known as the Rumba King, gave the breed widespread exposure when he appeared in movies and television shows with them. The Chi's popularity took off, reaching its peak in 1964, when it became the 3rd most popular breed in the USA. Today, it remains a consistently popular breed, with an average of 40,000 being registered every year with the AKC.
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