First discovered in Mexico, the Chihuahua is best known for being the smallest dog breed in the world. Extremely loyal to its owner, the breed has recently become a popular culture icon in the United States, most notably Paris Hilton's Chihuahua, Tinkerbell.
The Chihuahua’s coat can be long with soft and straight hair, smooth with glossy and soft hair, or wavy with fringed ears. Its graceful body is compact and small, although slightly long in proportion to its height. The Chihuahua also bears a resemblance to the terrier in its alertness, attitude and lively expression. As far as its appearance, the breed can be found in solid black, solid white, with spots, or in a variety of patterns and colors.
The Chihuahua dog breed is known for its varied temperament. For example, while the Chihuahua is reserved towards strangers, it is friendly with pets and other household dogs. The dog may also try to act protective, but this boldness is generally displayed as barking and is, therefore, not very effective as a guard dog. However, this sassy dog has become a favorite among toy dog lovers, especially for its extreme devotion to its master.
As the Chihuahua is generally an indoor dog, it is not fond of the cold, preferring instead warmer regions. For the smooth Chihuahua variety, coat care is minimal, while the long-coated dog needs to be brushed twice or thrice a week. The Chihuahua's exercise needs can be met simply by running around the house, although it enjoys exploring yards or going for a short leash-led walks.
The Chihuahua, which has an average lifespan of 14 and 18 years, is known to suffer from some minor health ailments such as keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), hypoglycemia, pulmonic stenosis, patellar luxation, and hydrocephalus. It is also susceptible to some severe health issues, including molera -- a hole in the Chihuahua's skull, occurring when bones in the fontanel are not firmly knit together.
The history of the Chihuahua is quite controversial. According to one theory, it was originally developed in China and then brought to the Americas by Spanish traders, where it was interbred with small native dogs. Others speculate it is of South and Central American origin, descended from a small, mute dog -- the native Techichi -- which was occasionally sacrificed in Toltec religious rites. It was believed that this diminutive red dog guided the soul to the underworld after death. Thus, all Aztec families kept this dog and buried it with the deceased member of the family. (Curiously, the Toltecs and the Aztecs also fed on the Techichi.) When not used in burial rituals, however, the Aztec and Toltec priests and families took great care of the Techichis.
The ancestors to the Chihuahua nearly became extinct during the 1500s, when the Aztec Empire was decimated by Hernán Cortés and the Spanish colonizers. In 1850, three small dogs -- now thought to be modern versions of the Chihuahua -- were discovered in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, from which breed gets its name. Border states within the United States, such as Texas, Arizona and New Mexico, soon began to see a massive import of the dog breed. However, it wasn't until the Rhumba King, Xavier Cugat, began appearing in films carrying a Chihuahua dog in the early 1900s, that the breed gained its celebrity. Today, it has emerged as one of the most popular breeds in the United States.