Chihuahuas are often referred to as being either "deer head" or "apple head," depending on their appearance and physical characteristics.
It's a common assumption that deer head and apple head are official varieties of the Chihuahua. But if you read the breed standards for the Chihuahua, you won't find them listed as such. The American Kennel Club (AKC), Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) and United Kennel Club (UKC) recognizes only long coat and smooth coat (short coat) varieties. They do, however, call for a well-rounded "apple dome" head. So, what are deer head and apple head Chihuahuas and how do they differ?
Deer Head and Apple Head: What Does it Mean?
"Deer head" and "apple head" are unofficial terms used to describe a Chihuahua's appearance, particularly in regards to his muzzle and facial structure.
- Apple head Chihuahuas have a round apple-like head with a 90-degree angle where the muzzle joins the forehead.
- Deer head Chihuahuas have a longer deer-like head with a sloped junction of approximately 45 degrees where the muzzle joins the forehead.
There are other differences between the two (see below for a complete list), but you can usually tell a Chihuahua's type by looking for these characteristics.
Somewhere throughout the Chihuahua's history, the breed separated into two variations: the apple head and deer head. We don't when this genetic evolution occurred, nor do we know how. Pre-Columbian artifacts discovered in Central America depict small dogs with both apple and deer-shaped heads, suggesting this evolutionary split occurred before the Europeans discovered the New World.
Some breed experts theorize that a small ancient dog known as the Techichi is the Chihuahua's true ancestor, while the deer head variety is a cross between the Techchi and the Chinese Crested. Others believe the Techichi is the deer head's true ancestor. Regardless of how it happened, there are now apple head and deer head Chihuahuas.
The Apple Head Chihuahua
The apple head Chihuahua is named after its apple-shaped head, which is noted in the breed's standards.
Apple head Chihuahuas can have a smooth coat or a long coat in any number of colors or color combinations.
Here are some of the characteristics of an apple head Chihuahua:
- Apple head Chihuahuas feature a prominent 90-degree angle (known as a stop) where the muzzle meets the forehead. This juncture should essentially form an "L" shape, indicating an apple head. This is the most distinguishable feature of an apple-head Chihuahua.
- Apple head Chihuahuas have shorter jawlines than deer head Chihuahuas.
- They often have shorter necks than deer head Chihuahuas.
- The AKC specifically mentions the apple-like facial features in its breed standards for the Chihuahua.
- Due to their apple-shaped skulls, apple head Chihuahuas tend to have more prominent and expressive eyes.
- Apple head Chihuahuas have a stout, "cobby" body featuring short legs relative to their body length.
- Nearly all apple head Chihuahua puppies are born with a molera or "soft spot" in their skull. This cranial opening typically closes, however, by 3 to 4 months of age.
- Apple heads are the only type of Chihuahuas that can compete in the show ring.
The Deer Head Chihuahua
Also living up to its namesake, the deer head Chihuahua has facial characteristics resembling that of a young deer's face. If you look at a young deer's face, you'll notice they have a long muzzle, large ears and a sloped forehead, which are characteristics of this breed variation.
Deer head Chihuahuas are also found in both smooth and long coats. While coat colors vary, fawn is the most common.
Deer head Chihuahuas are just as popular, if not more popular, than apple heads. The Taco Bell dog, Gidget, was actually a deer head Chihuahua. During her 8-year career with the national fast food chain, she was responsible for introducing this breed to millions of Americans. Gidget was the first Chihuahua many Americans had ever seen. Her adorable appearance and fun-loving personality skyrocketed the breed's popularity through the late 1990s.
Here are some of the characteristics of a deer head Chihuahua:
- The muzzle of a deer head Chihuahua is longer than an apple head's.
- Instead of a 90-degree angle, deer head Chihuahuas have a slope where the muzzle meets the forehead. You can feel for this slope by gently running your index finger from the tip of your Chihuahua's nose up to his skull, which should reveal a gradual slope of approximately 45 degrees.
- This variation typically has longer legs, resulting in a taller body height without the "cobby" appearance of an apple head Chihuahua.
- Deer head Chihuahuas have larger ears, which like its apple head counterpart, also remain erect and upright once fully developed.
- Deer head Chihuahuas often have longer necks.
- They also have a longer jawline than apple head Chihuahuas.
- Because they are not recognized by the AKC as an official variety, deer head Chihuahuas are disqualified from participating in conformation dog shows.
- Moleras occur in deer head Chihuahuas, though the condition is more prevalent in apple heads.
- Fawn is the most common coat color for deer head Chihuahuas (see images of deer head photos above).
- Deer head Chihuahuas are often larger than apple heads, weighing more than the standard six pounds as defined in the AKC's breed standards.
- Whether true or not, some owners claim deer head Chihuahuas are less aggressive.
- It's also believed that deer head Chihuahuas have fewer health problems.
Only Apple Head Chihuahuas Meet Breed Standards
Neither the AKC nor any other major canine association distinguishes between apple head or deer head Chihuahuas. The breed standards for the Chihuahua require "A well rounded 'apple dome' skull, with or without molera." Other variations of the head, including the deer head, are not allowed.
Upon hearing this information for the first time, many owners assume their deer head Chihuahua isn't a real Chihuahua. If a Chihuahua doesn't meet the AKC's breed standards, conventional wisdom may lead you to believe he's not an actual Chihuahua, right? Not necessarily. You can still have a purebred Chihuahua without the characteristic apple-shaped head, and you can still register him with the AKC, assuming he's a pedigree whose parents are also registered. However, he won't win any ribbons for showmanship at conformation shows like the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the National Dog Show, the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship, or Crufts since he doesn't meet the breed standards.
Breed standards created by the AKC and other canine organizations are used for judging dogs at conformation shows. If a competing dog fails to meet the standards for his respective breed, judges will automatically disqualify him from receiving the championship title. Spayed or neutered dogs are also disqualified from competing in conformation shows, regardless of whether they meet their respective breed's standards.
The bottom line is that deer head Chihuahuas are real Chihuahuas; they just won't win points or championship titles at conformation shows. The same can be said for Chihuahuas weighing over six pounds, which is also grounds for disqualification.
Should the AKC Recognize Deer Head Chihuahuas?
Being that they are so common, there's a strong argument that the AKC should acknowledge deer head Chihuahuas as a variation of the breed -- and this wouldn't be the first time the organization has done so.
In 1936, the AKC separated the English Cocker Spaniel into two varieties: the traditional English Cocker Spaniels and the American Cocker Spaniels. A decade later, they revised the standards again to include the American Cocker Spaniel as a separate breed (only dogs of different varieties can be interbred, not breeds). While similar in appearance the English Cocker Spaniel is shorter than its American counterpart and found in more colors. English Cocker Spaniels are also "showier," with less instinctual drive to chase prey.
1952, the Chihuahua Club of America (CCA) -- the official AKC parent club for the club --revised its standards for the breed, separating the Chihuahua into long coat and smooth coat varieties, the latter of which was preferred as pets. More than half a century later, breed standards created by all of the major canine associations recognize long coat and smooth coat varieties. Perhaps we'll see similar action taken by the AKC in the near future, acknowledging the deer head Chihuahuas as a separate variety.
Can My Chihuahua Have Characteristics of Both Apple Head and Deer Head?
Absolutely! Many Chihuahuas are born with, or later develop, characteristics of both apple head and deer Chihuahuas. A Chihuahua with a perfectly found apple-shaped dome may feature the longer muzzle and larger ears of a deer head variety. Or a Chihuahua with the sloped muzzle of a deer head may feature the apple head's cobby body.
Furthermore, don't assume that breeding two apple head Chihuahuas will result in a litter of all apple heads, or vise-versa for deer heads. When breeding two Chihuahua of the same variety, there's always a chance that one or more puppies in their litter will be the opposite variety.
Unless you plan to compete your Chihuahua in a conformation show, don't worry about whether he's an apple head or deer head. While there nuances between these two varieties, both exhibit the breed's fierce, confident and fun-loving personality.
Is your Chihuahua an apple head or deer head? Let us know in the comments section below!