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“Yo Quiero Taco Bell!”: The Chihuahua
Posted on 08/27/2005 in Ringside Conversations.

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After a number of years resting in a position among the more-but-not-most popular breeds, the Chihuahua popped back into the limelight with the gusto of a Mexican jumping bean, or perhaps we should say Mexican jumping taco. From the first moment TV viewers saw that Chihuahua trudge down the street in search of his Taco Bell taco a few years back, phones began ringing in Chihuahua kennels from coast to coast. Breeders everywhere said their phones practically rang off the wall for months. “They all wanted a dog ‘just like the one in the Taco Bell ads.’ ”
Helen Woliver, one long-time breeder I talked to, exclaimed, “Heaven help us, the dog they used in the commercials is what Chihuahuas looked like 40 years ago! I invite people to my kennel and have them take a look at what a good representative of the breed actually looks like. But I’m afraid we are saddled with the TV image for a while because the same (kind of) dog was used in the Tommy Hilfiger commercials broadcast during one of the Super Bowls. I think everyone in the world saw that!”

Though Chihuahua fanciers aren’t entirely pleased with the days-gone-by look of TV Land’s Chihuahua, they will admit the little fellow is certainly doing a lot to change some preconceived ideas of Chihuahua temperament. Too often thought of as a pampered, ill-tempered breed suitable only for being carried about in Milady’s handbag, this new “Generation X” Chihuahua is independent, curious and even, as we are seeing, somewhat randy.

That confident attitude is what a Chihuahua should have according to Rod Murphy, successful Chihuahua breeder in Detroit, Michigan. Murphy seems to speak for most dedicated fanciers of the breed in stating, “a Chihuahua is a companion dog and if it can’t have anything else, it must have a good temperament.”

It’s been some time since the Chihuahua has been the dog of the hour. In the 40s and 50s, bandleader Xavier Cugat helped popularize the breed by appearing in movies and in stage performances with one of his many little Chihuahuas tucked into the breast pocket of his jacket.

But, as is the case with so many things, anything old can very suddenly become new again. Chihuahuas are a very ancient breed according to breeder and Chihuahua judge, Marion G. Mondshine. In her book, The New Owner’s Guide to the Chihuahua, Mondshine states, “ …Toy breeds like the Chihuahua are known to have existed since even before dynastic times in Egypt.” She cites The Natural History of Dogs by historians, Richard and Alice Fiennes who also point out amazing similarities between the ancient “ha pa” dogs of China and those kept by the Aztec and Incans in the countries of the upper regions of South America and Mexico. The little dogs were bred both in the homes of the tribes and within the temples of the high priests for ceremonial purposes and alas, also for food.

Great Britain’s Thelma Gray, considered by most as the international doyen of the modern Chihuahua, believes Spanish invaders were accompanied to the new world in their voyages across the ocean by a small black and tan dog of terrier type that was popular in their homeland at that time. Gray says the little terriers interbred with the small native dog of the Aztecs and that cross became the basis for the Chihuahua as we know it today.

By the beginning of the 19th century, the small dogs proliferated south of the border and could be found throughout Mexico. American tourists became enchanted with the curious little dogs they saw along the Texas and Arizona borders of Mexico. In the mid-1800s a number of the pint-sized dogs were purchased from around the Mexican state of Chihuahua and brought back to the United States. They called the dogs Chihuahuas for no other reason than that they came from that region of Mexico.

This sound and stylish Smooth Coat Chihuahua is English CH Ballybroke Miles Better.

Those first dogs varied a great deal in looks because of their wide variation in size, broad color spectrum and in the fact that they had both smooth and long coats. About the only thing that seemed to remain consistent throughout was a soft spot at the top of the dogs’ skulls, similar to the open fontanel with which human children are born. The soft spot became known as the “Chihuahua molera.”

The breed was very slow to catch on in the United States and it was not until 1908 that the first Chihuahua show championship was recorded and it took almost 50 years before interest really took hold.

Chihuahuas now have a consistency of type they lacked in the early days, and even though there are two coat varieties, smooth coat and long coat, the requirements for both, aside from amount of coat, is exactly the same. The long coat is soft to the touch and either flat or slightly curly. An undercoat is preferred so that there are no thin or bare spots visible. The weight of the Chihuahua should not exceed six pounds, and the breed should be compact and sturdy for its size. The Chihuahua’s head is most distinctive in its apple-domed skull. All colors are permissible, and the colors can be solid, bi-colored or splashed.

This beautiful example of the Long Coat Chihuahua is CH Charming Chi’s Cheyenne, bred and owned by Rod Murphy and M. L. Brown of Detroit, Michigan

Living With a Chihuahua

It is extremely important that those interested in owning a Chihuahua understand the breed and are able to provide the kind of environment in which the dog will do well. It is not the least bit unusual for a Chihuahua to live well into its teen years, and some have been known to reach the age of 20. Since the Chihuahua will be a member of the family for many, many years, it seems only wise that the dog comes from a breeder respected for producing mentally and physically-sound animals.

Temperament varies significantly in the different lines, ranging from quiet and collected to extremely hyperactive, thus it is important for a prospective buyer to spend some time with the parents and relatives of the puppy being considered.

It is extremely difficult for the very young child to understand just how delicate a Chihuahua puppy can be, and as a result, few breeders recommend the breed for a home with toddlers. Rough-handling or being dropped can permanently injure or even kill a Chihuahua, particularly when it is still in puppyhood.

Although the breed is susceptible to a number of common canine health problems, it is a surprisingly hardy breed for its size and if from well-bred stock, few major problems are encountered. There are some inherited health problems in the breed, including cleft palates, hemophilia A and heart valve complications, but the reports of these have been minimal.

Luxating patellas (a dislocation of the small, flat, movable bone at the front of the knee) plague most toy breeds, and the Chihuahua is no exception. Experienced breeders do their utmost to breed away from this condition and generally use breeding stock that is free from the affliction. It is wise not to let any Chihuahua become overweight as this excess weight can aggravate any patella weakness. The luxating patella can be corrected by surgery, but this is never an ideal situation in a breed as tiny as the Chihuahua.

The molera, or soft spot, at the top of the puppy’s skull often closes by the time the dog reaches maturity. This is not always the case, however, and obviously extra care must be given with any dog that retains this feature. Some veterinarians who are not familiar with the molera misdiagnose it as hydrocephalic (“water on the brain”). This is not so, and not only does the standard of the breed allow for the molera, it was once considered a requirement. A Chihuahua can have a molera and be a happy healthy companion for its entire life.

All in all, the Chihuahua is an easy breed to care for, with the long coated dog requiring just a bit more care and attention than the smooth coated dog. A thorough brushing of the long coat twice a week will keep the dog in tiptop shape.

The average Chihuahua may never achieve the star status of the Taco Bell or Tommy Hilfiger dogs, but they can certainly become the fun-loving center of attention in any home where space is a consideration or an owner is incapable of handling a larger dog. As most any Chihuahua owner will tell you, the only small thing about a Chihuahua is its size!

The information contained in Mr. Beauchamp’s “Solving the Mystery of Breed Type” series that appeared in BLOODLINES can be found in his book, Solving the Mystery of Breed Type, published by Doral Publishing, Inc.