Posts Tagged ‘chihuahua’

Could the Fennec fox be the Chihuahua's ancestor? I'm going to have to go with no on that one.

Could the Fennec fox be the Chihuahua's ancestor? I'm going to have to go with no on that one.

Dog breed origin stories are often like creation stories in religions. They are full of bad information, poor speculation, and it is difficult to find evidence any evidence that is not tautological or really bad hearsay. In golden retrievers, we have the Russian circus dog theory, which has been so clearly disproven, that I am not going to rehash it here. As near as I can tell, though, this has been the only folk story about breed origins that has been disproven. Although the FCI has raised doubts the Dalmatian actually came from Croatia when it claimed that it was the result of crossing pointers and setters with bull and terrier-types in eighteenth century in England, no one has disproven the Croatian dog story. The dachshund is said to have a history going all the way back to Ancient Egypt, where it is pictured on the walls of tomb of one of the pharaohs!

The Chihuahua dog has a similar dubious origins story. Supposedly this breed originated in Mexico as one of the Toltecs’ sacred animals.  It is supposedly a Native American dog, like the extinct Tahltan Bear Dog (which did look like a big Chihuahua). And the Pre-Columbian indigenous peoples of the Americas were major dog breeders, breeding all sorts of hairless dogs, wool dogs, and various types of dogs that could be either eaten or as beasts of burden. The Aztecs did have a little dog, called a Techichi, but analysis of the Chihuahua’s DNA suggests that it is of Old World origin, perhaps derived from some European toy dogs and maybe some toy terriers with apple heads.  Again, the original story has not yet been disproven, because the DNA analysis looked at only mitochondrial DNA, which only is inherited through the mother. So the fathers of the Chihuahua could have been the Techichi.

However, of all the bizarre theories I’ve read about a dog breed’s origins, this alternative theory about their origins takes the cake. Apparently, the author thinks that the Chihuahua got its small size from hybridization. Now, some theories about dog origins do include hybridization. Charles Darwin was a major proponent of the theory that dogs were derived from a medley of foxes, wolves, coyotes, jackals, and dingoes. In the twentieth century,  Konrad Lorenz  postulated that dogs were a mixture of wolf and golden jackal in Man Meets Dog   This hybridization gave rise to great genetic diversity and new shapes and forms could be brought out of the hybrid soup. However, this theory has been falsified. Dogs come from an East Asian population of wolves, and the wolf  is their primary and perhaps sole ancestor.

Now, the problem with this theory of Chihuahua origins is  that the author is arguing some things that do not comport with what we already know about world history and the development of all of these dog breeds.

First of all, the only hairless dogs that have ever been proven to exist are American in origin. Even the Chinese crested is American in origin, coming from a kennel where Xoloitzcuinli (Mexican Hairless dogs) were crossed with fuzzy lap dogs. China hadnothing to do with them.  The whole dog breeds coming from China to the New World thing is not supported by the evidence. The hairless dog stories are common in popular dog literature, but that part of the theory is still somewhat believable. Luckily, the author recognizes that hairless dogs are not related to Chihuahuas. However, it is possible that the dogs that Chihuahuas were crossed in to make the smaller Xolo dogs. The Xolo is indeed indigenous America breed, although it probably has European dogs in its mitochondrial DNA sequence.

Also, dogs come from East Asian wolves, not Turkey or Mesopotamia. That whole part of the theory is simply wrong. So the Chihuahua isn’t from the Middle East.

In addition, Chihuahuas are terrier-like, perhaps because they were stray dogs of terrier ancestry living in Northern Mexico, and when they were imported to England, they were probably bred with the toy white terrier and the toy Manchester terrier. That would give them a really strong terrier-like temperament.

But the part of the theory that is most wrong. Is that the Chihuaha is descended from the Fennec fox, incorrectly classified here in the old genus Fennecus, which has since been changed to Vulpes,  the same genus as the red fox.  The foxes in the Vulpes genus live in the Old World and North America, and none of them can interbreed with dogs, wolves, coyotes, jackals, and dingo/pariahs. They are simply another genus that has evolved differently from the dogs to the point that they cannot interbreed. A dog breeding with a Fennec is just not possible. None of the foxes in the old world ever could breed with a dog. The other foxes that cannot breed with dogs are the Arctic fox, which may actually be in the genus Vulpes because it can hybridize with red foxes and make infertile hybrids, and the grey foxes (the ancient canids of North America, Central America, and Venezuela and Colombia that can climb trees) cannot breed with them  either.

However, the South American canids are interesting, and it is the discussion of these wild dogs that causes a great deal of confusion. The Europeans called the smaller species of South American canids foxes. However, these foxes are actually more closely related to the dogs, wolves, coyotes, dingoes/pariahs, and jackals. Marion Schwarz in A History of Dogs in the Early Americas reportst that a crab-eating fox (Cerdocyon thous) may have crossbred with domestic dogs. This species is more closely related to dogs than foxes, and the some indigenous people have kept them as pets, allowing them the opportunity to breed with dogs. Again, this is an anecdote, but it makes more sense that this animal would cross with a dog than the fennec.

This South American "fox" may have interbred with domestic dogs. It is more closely related to dogs than the animals we in the Northern Hemishere think of as foxes.

This South American "fox" may have interbred with domestic dogs. It is more closely related to dogs than the animals we in the Northern Hemishere think of as foxes.

Messybeast reports some stories about dog and red fox hybrids, but there was never any DNA analysis ever performed on them. They were probably foxlike dogs like this one:


The volpino is named for its fox-like features. Volpe is Italian for fox, and volpino is the diminutive. It is derived from the Latin word for fox, vulpes, which is the scientific name for the genus of red foxes and their close relations. However, these dogs do not have fox ancestors.

So the fennec is not the ancestor the Chihuahua.

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