Understanding the Past

Wealthy Aspirations

The fuel that fed the desire to create the pure bred dog began with the 19th century's upper-class society. Victorian England's elite became to imbue supreme wealth with the keeping of dogs as idle pets and for nothing else.

A family had arrived if you had so much money that you could entertain animals only for the purpose of leisure. Stirring the pot further was the world's fascination with a class society and maintaining pure blood lines– hitting an all-time high during this period. 

As the prospered and leisured middle-class rose in society and wealth, they sought to recreate this. For many, the dog became their tool, their pride, and their hobby.

They began to play with dog genetics, essentially breeding for looks since their dogs would also have no need for purpose of labor.  This culminated in the the highest form of status a breeder could attain– that of a Breed Founder, one that created a brand new breed. 

The desire for class distinction continued as dog popularity skyrocketed. Soon, a measure was needed and standards were created. The next step was to create some authenticity and authority. So, in 1859, England's first dog show was held and thus began the whole business of the 'pure' bred show dog.

As you can imagine, since America at this time was still very much influenced by Victorian society, this concept traveled oversees along with many of the early dog breeders.

Little did the small Techichi know the perfect storm was just decades away.

The Wild West

The Chihuahua that we know of today begins its history in the United States in the mid to late 1800s. This was a time when Americans were infatuated with the Western Frontier.

It was, after all, a time when Mexico was just then relinquishing land that would become California, Arizona, and New Mexico– land that no one had really ever seen before, let alone experienced.

That is, until the train provided all the access they needed. It was the train that made it possible for hundreds, if not thousands, of travelers to journey to the Southwest.

Interestingly, there are no records of the Techichi existing from 1840 to 1880. It was even suggested by early Naturalists that they became extinct. Obviously this could not be further from the truth. The simple reason was probably that the Apache Indians were very active in the area and some didn't want to tempt fate.  

But for those that did go, many Chinese and Germans were among them. Looking for work in mines and on the railroads, they hoped for a better life. This where another theory of European or Asian influence comes into play.

The theory states that the Chinese and Germans brought dogs with them that may have had some influence on the breed. It's highly unlikely though that individuals looking for work, short on cash, and living in new dangerous territory would bring dogs with them. It seems like an extra burden to care for and feed.

None the less, the transition into becoming a significant breed can be directly attributed to this point in time in American history, because some of these early travelers were dog enthusiasts from the East Coast.  

As the trains roared into these distant outposts of the Southwest, poor Indian children flooded the stations with trinkets to sell in hopes of making a few dollars. One of the many items for sale were the little Techichi– or Indian dogs as they were later called– that were so plentiful in their small villages.

Documents from the 1880s note that the little Indian dogs were held up to the train windows so even the continuing passengers could still take a good look and perhaps buy.

Prominence Has Its Privileges

It so happened that in 1888, one of these passengers was none other than James Watson, the famous writer, dog breeder, dog show official, and future founder of the AKC.

Though Watson was widely respected as the foremost authority on dogs in America at the time, canines were not the impetus for this particular trip to California . But when he arrived in El Paso, Texas, an indian child holding a unique little puppy caught his attention.

Immediately, he fell in love and gave the child a few dollars for it. He named her Manzanita, put her in his pocket, and off they went. It is believed that this petite bundle of joy was the spark that ignited the dog world's interest in this 'brand new breed'.

An interesting misconception that arose from this find was that this was a very small breed of dog. In reality Manzanita's extremely small size was most likely attributed to being the runt of the pack– the average Indian dog was considerably larger.

Although he was cut from the same cloth of dog breeding as English society, he was not quick to breed Manzanita. In fact, he didn't breed her at all.

This story is only significant to the fate of the Chihuahua in that, like a Paris Hilton of his day, his notoriety in society, dog society, helped spread the popularity of this little dog. Otherwise, the dog may have continued to live a relatively quiet life.

I say a 'quiet life' since the dog was not unknown. In fact, other dog breeders before James Watson, had already come upon the dog and even began breeding them. In 1884, one such breeder from Texas, Mr. H. Raynor, showed the first version or type of the Chihuahua at a dog show in Philadelphia.

Then again, around 1900, another famous author and storyteller, Owen Wister, became infatuated with the Indian dog on a trip out west. I don't think it's coincidence that published authors back then were attributed to creating the breed. They were the ones who had immediate access to making or breaking history since books and newspapers were all people had to go on– unlike the social media of today.

Regardless, he loved this little dog so much, he became one of the first few Chihuahua breeders in America. Together with his friend, Charles Stewart, he made several more trips back to the desert in search of more breeding stock.

One of their dogs, Caranza, is considered to be the originator of the breed and the father of the first and original bloodlines, Meron and Perrito.

Wister may have also become instrumental in naming the breed "Chihuahua" or at least, through his fame, popularized the name. Unfortunately though, it is unclear as to exactly when, where, and who first coined the phrase "the dog from Chihuahua" or began calling them "Chihuahuas."