Chile’s First Breed

Officially, the country’s name is La República de Chile, or Republic of Chile.

Unofficially, there are multiple theories as to how this beautiful country got its name.

One of them was posited by the 17th century Spanish chronicler, Diego de Rosales, who reported that Peruvian Incas called the valley of the Aconcagua, “Chili,” a corruption of the name of a Picunche tribal chief called “Tili” who ruled at the time of the Incan conquest in the 15th century.  Another theory is that Chile got its name from the native Mapuche word, “chilli,” which means “where the land ends,” or “the deepest point of the Earth.”

The name may even have come from the Quechua chin, “cold,” or the Aymara “tchili,” meaning “snow” (ask any serious skier about how great the snow is said to be in Chile!)  Others have pointed out the similarity of the valley of the Aconcagua with that of the Casma Valley in Peru where there was a town and valley named “Chili.

But we’re not done!  The few survivors of Diego de Almagro’s first Spanish expedition south from Peru in 1535-36 called themselves the “men of Chilli,” and ultimately, Almagro is credited with the universalization of the name “Chile” after naming the Mapocho valley as such.

Whichever hypothesis is correct, there is more certainty about the first dog breed from that country to be officially recognized, and it is the Chilean Terrier, also known as the Ratónero Chileno, Chilean Fox Terrier, or Chilean Rat Terrier.

Condorito, Chilean Terrier, Ratónero Chileno, Chilean Fox Terrier, Chilean Rat Terrier

Image of Condorito statue in Santiago by Andrés David Aparicio Alonso and shared under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

As new as the breed is to some readers,  the Chilean Terrier has existed in Chile since 1870, and its description was standardized in the late 1990’s in hopes of international recognition. That recognition has yet to come from the FCI, but the breed is accepted by the Kennel Club of Chile.

It is easy to see Smooth Fox Terrier in the breed’s ancestry given the dog’s appearance. British immigrants settling in the territory brought along their fox terriers expressly to exterminate rats and small rodents. Initially, the breed developed on the estates of south-central Chile where the terriers with lust in their hearts cavorted with local dogs (winkie winkie); owners discovered that resulting offspring not only retained their prowess as rat hunters, but were better suited to the South American climate than the Fox Terrier.

In the late 19th century, many farmers and ranchers migrated to cities where the control of rats was especially valued, particularly in factories where most of these people found work. For that reason, Chilean Terriers came to be associated with the working-class, but only for a short time because the new bourgeoisie also became interested this lovable little dog. The terrier had found a place in the hearts and homes of both peasants and landlords alike.

In 1949, a comic book and a cartoon strip called Condorito was published, and one of the characters was a Chilean Terrier named “Washington.” The ever-faithful dog became a favorite among children, and the popularity of the breed soared. Fast forward to 2012, and the strip was still being read in 105 Spanish-language newspapers distributed in nineteen countries.  Given that over a million of the comic strips are published annually, Condorito is one of two most relevant Hispanic comic book characters in the world, and few of its readers don’t know “Washington,” and that he is a Chilean Terrier.

The importance of Condorito for Chileans is underscored by the many statues of the cartoon characters throughout the country, including a large mosaic in the LLano Subercasseaux Park in Santiago seen above. Also, at the last Soccer Cup sub 20 held in Canada in 2007, Condorito was the mascot for the Trans-Andean team which reached the semifinals in the championship.

Fiction doesn’t stray from the truth. The Chilean Terrier is a mischievous breed that makes its people laugh with its screwball antics. Even so, the dogs are loyal and courageous, and all business when it comes to ratting.

Image of Chilean Terrier by juanpablo/AdobeStock Photos


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