Chihuahuas are little bundles of joy and sass. Though these Mexican dogs are tiny, they have big and bright personalities. As a result, they’re some of the most popular lap dogs today. But with their petite size, owners may wonder what they were originally bred for.
Chihuahuas are descendants of an ancient dog from the Toltec Empire, called the Techichi dog. The ancestors of the Chihuahua were originally bred for various purposes, such as companionship, religious ceremonies, rituals, and even for food. However, modern Chihuahuas are bred solely for companionship today.
There’s much more to the Chihuahua’s history than most people know. And unlike some dogs, it’s not as obvious as black and white. That said, let’s look into the Chihuahua’s complex origins and discover the true reasons why these dogs were bred.
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The Chihuahua Origins
For hundreds of years, we believed Chihuahuas originated from an ancient civilization of Mexico. Though this is all true, past researchers have claimed that the ancestors of the Chihuahua may have originated from Asia. And to be specific, roots from China.
It’s certainly a controversial claim, considering how iconic and significant the Chihuahua is to the culture of Mexico. They may not be the national dog of Mexico (rather, the Xoloitzcuintli is), though they might as well be.
But despite these recent claims of the breed, we can (most likely) safely say that the modern iteration of he Chihuahua was developed in Mexico. That’s because they were bred from the ancient Mexican dog, called the Techichi.
Bred From the Ancient Techichi
It’s been long believed that Chihuahuas were developed from the ancient dog of Mexico’s Toltec Empire or indigenous tribe, called the Techichi dog. These dogs can be traced back as far back as 9th century AD!
What’s interesting is that the Techichi was believed to be mute dogs. In other words, they did not bark. And it’s uncertain if they actually knew how to bark. Considering how Chihuahuas are notorious barkers, it’s a bit hard to imagine they came from these bark-less dogs.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much information on these ancient Mexican dogs. We know very little about the ancestor breeds of the Chihuahua. The Techichi dogs are extinct today and everything scientists have learned about them have come from old artifacts.
What Chihuahuas Were Originally Bred For
Nearly every single dog breed we know today have been purposely bred for a job in society. For example, the Australian Shepherds were bred to herd livestock. Golden Retrievers were bred to retrieve game. And even Pit Bulls were bred for bull-baiting.
However, not all dogs were bred for a specific “working” job, including the Chihuahua. But even so, these dogs served many purposes early on. In fact, the past Chihuahuas arguably had the most unusual roles in their society. The Chihuahua was truly a multi-purpose dog.
To cover all the original roles of the Chihuahua, we must first look at the Techichi in ancient Mexico. Even though they’re not exactly the same dogs, they are their true ancestral breed.
Chihuahuas Were Bred to be Sacrificial Dogs
As descendants of the Techichi dog, Chihuahuas were popular among religious ceremonies and rites. It’s a bit sad, but true. This meant that Chihuahuas were sacrificed during sacred Toltec practices.
In addition, evidence suggests that the ancient Aztecs and Toltecs believed these small dogs guided the soul to the underworld after death. For this reason, the Techichi dogs were often buried with deceased family members and owners.
Though it may seem like these ancient civilizations treated these dogs poorly, this is not the case. When these dogs aren’t being sacrificed or buried, they were very well cared for. In fact, the people of Toltec loved and respected these dogs!
The people treated these dogs as sacred animals because of their connections to the sacred religious ceremonies. And as you may have guessed, they were some of the most popular companion pets back then too – at least in ancient Mexico.
Chihuahuas Were Bred to be Food
Most of the western world have banned the consumption of dogs today. Even in other parts of the world where consuming dogs is legal, it’s still considered taboo (such as Korea). However, this perception was not always the case around the world.
Most of the western world did not ban the consumption of eating dog meat until the early 1900’s. With that said, Chihuahuas were also bred to be food. In fact, about 10% of meat consumption of the ancient Mayans came from their beloved dogs.
It’s hard to comprehend why these people decided to eat such a sacred pet and animal. However, some researchers believed that the civilization faced major food shortages and had to resort to consumption of their dogs. But of course, we have no conclusive evidence.
Chihuahuas Were Bred as Companions
Aside from being sacrificed and eaten, Chihuahuas were also popular companions for the families of the Toltec. Even after all these years, they have remained some of the best dog companions all around the world.
These dogs were (and still are) charming and affectionate, making them perfect family dogs no matter what time period. The people of the Toltec civilization lived in small homes around the crowded ancient city. So, keeping a small mute dog like the Techichi was a perfect fit.
Similarly to how Chihuahuas are now some of the best apartment dogs, the Techichi dogs were ideal for those living in that time period.
What Chihuahuas are Bred For Today
The Chihuahua is the world’s smallest purebred dog, so they’re really limited on what jobs they can do for humans. That being the case, we can rule out herding, guarding, hunting, tracking, and retrieving. So what are Chihuahuas bred for today?
Chihuahuas are solely bred as loving companion dogs today. And according to Purina, Chihuahuas are one of the top 11 best companion dogs in the canine kingdom. However, in rural areas, there are still Chihuahuas that serve as skilled ratting dogs.
Highly Skilled Ratters
So what exactly is a “ratter?” They’re dogs developed specifically for helping humans in the capture and killing of rats. And although they’re great companions for families, some will argue Chihuahuas are even better at hunting small vermin (such as rats!).
In fact, these dogs are fearless ratters that take down squirrels, rats and other rodents in their native country of Mexico. This innate skillset is their instinctive intelligence. It’s a big part of what makes the Chihuahua smarter than people think.
Even after domestication, these instincts to hunt still live within the Chihuahua. If you have a rat problem in your home, then a Chihuahua may be your best weapon! Keep in mind, these dogs are only used as ratters in more rural areas of Mexico.
The Ultimate Lapdog
Part of the Chihuahua’s charm is that they make such excellent and affectionate lapdogs. With a strong bond and loving relationship, there’s nothing they enjoy more than cuddling up with their owner. And Chihuahuas love to do this with their family members.
Joe, a Chihuahua owner, tells us:
My Chihuahua sits on my mom’s lap pretty much endlessly. If she lies down she sleeps on her chest.
Other Reddit users chimed in, saying “that’s pretty typical” for a Chihuahua.
Other says they’re not quite lap dogs, but rather great “velcro dogs.” And by velcro dogs, we mean they stick to you (the owner) or other family members.
Another Chihuahua owner on Reddit said,
If either of us are sitting down, Brinkley (Chihuahua) is in one of our laps. When we have one of his dog park friends over, there is always competition for for the available lap.
One owner said, “mine follows me everywhere, hangs out in the bathroom when I’m getting dressed, wants to sit at least beside me when I’m sitting, and sleeps next to me anytime I’m sleeping.“
If you check out the Chihuahua Subreddit forum, there are literally hundreds and hundreds of owners telling you the same thing. They all say that these dogs were meant to be lap dogs. And sure enough, they’re one of the best in the world at this “job.”
Chihuahuas as Watchdogs
Okay, Chihuahuas weren’t exactly bred for this. However don’t underestimate their watchdog abilities. Also, don’t get it confused. We’re saying they can be great watch dogs, and not guard dogs. There is a huge difference.
If you expect a Chihuahua to attack an intruder and defend the house, you’ll probably be out of luck. But because these dogs are fairly territorial and yappy, expect them to bark like a mad-dog when intruders come onto your property.
This can be a good or bad thing. For example, if you have a gated front yard and pedestrians walk by, a Chihuahua will go investigate and bark as they’re passing. With their always-alert erect ears, they seem to always pick up on the slightest of sounds.
This can be annoying for many owners. And it definitely takes a while to get used to. However, when you actually have an unwanted intruder invade your property, you’ll be happy that your little Chihuahua was able to alert the family.
So, Why Get a Chihuahua?
There are so many reasons to keep a Chihuahua. They’re not particularly difficult to care for. These dogs are normal shedders. They don’t require as much physical activity as other dogs. And the best part is that they develop great bonds with their owners.
In addition, they’re spirited and lively little dogs. There’s rarely a dull moment when you’re with a Chihuahua. Plus, they’re more intelligent than people give them credit for.
It’s unlikely that you need a Chihuahua to help hunt vermin. You’re likely looking for a companion, which these dogs were literally bred to do.
When debating about a dog breed, make sure that you pick a breed because their temperament and personality fits yours. Also, consider your schedule, as some dogs can’t spend too much time alone. Because Chihuahuas are companion dogs, they can’t stand being alone all day long.
To make the relationship work between your Chihuahua, you’ll need to be patient with them. You’ll quickly learn this when obedience training starts, as they’re stubborn little dogs.
Every chance you get, shower them with love and affection – nothing less. In return, the Chihuahua will be one of the most loyal and entertaining companions you’ll ever own. Give the Chihuahua a try and you won’t regret it!
So do you own a Chihuahua? Let us know in the comment section what you think about these past roles and jobs of these wonderful small dogs.
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Sunday 31st of July 2022
We have a Chiweenie, a mix of half Chihuahua and half Dashound. We've determined that she inherited the best qualities of breeds. Alas, she also seems to have inherited some of the bad traits from each breed as well. Overall though, she's highly intelligent and very loving so we have few complaints.
Monday 4th of July 2022
I have two girls, Penny and Polly. Polly is definitely the watchdog of the two, which can be a bit annoying at 2am when the wind is blowing. But when we’re outside and someone walks by, they bark like they’re pit bull/Rottweilers that just happen to be in small bodies. At least until I tell them that no one is afraid of them. Then Penny just gives me a really annoyed look.
Friday 20th of May 2022
One simple fact that most people are unaware of is that the Chihuahua natural enemy is the Scorpion. Chihuahuas were used in Mexico to hunt and kill scorpions. I've owned a few Chihuahuas and I live in Arizona, and they do kill scorpions with great efficiency.
Friday 20th of May 2022
That's so interesting, thanks for sharing!
Tuesday 19th of April 2022
I own 2 and they are the most loveing dogs a little noisy at times but that’s ok by me I love them both they will definitely let you know when somebody is there
Wednesday 23rd of March 2022
I have a Chihuahua mix. The Chihuahua is not my favorite dog breed. I have been snapped at by several Chihuahuas. I love my little Chloe, from what I can tell she is mixed with some type of terrier. Her momma was a purebred Chihuahua and it was a backyard breeding. She is my shadow and goes everywhere with me. Wherever I am that's where you will find Chloe. She cries like a baby when I am not home. For the past 12 years this dog has done just about everything. From being my horse back riding companion to my personal guard dog.I am not sure if I will own another Chihuahua or even a Chihuahua mix, I do know I am glad I have my little Chloe.