One of the most rare and unique dog breeds in the world, the Xoloitzcuintli, or Xolo (“sho-lo”) for short, has been around for a very long time. Also known as the “Mexican hairless dog,” these (usually) bald, ancient beauties are revered for their calm and loyal disposition.
Despite their long history and reputation, Xolos remain quite rare in the U.S., so you may not have met one in real life. Read on to get to know one of the most unusual dogs in the world.
What’s in a name?
The word Xoloitzcuintli combines “Xolotl,” the Aztec god of the underworld, with “itzcuintli,” the Aztec word for dog. The breed’s name is tricky to spell, and even more challenging to pronounce, but don’t worry: you can just call them Xolo.
In English-speaking countries, Xolos are more commonly known as “Mexican hairless dogs.” However, because hairlessness is a recessive trait, about one in five Xolos will be born with a coat of fur (source)!
Coated Xolos might not appear to be as remarkable, but they’re just as intelligent, loyal, and lovable as their bald counterparts.
Beauty and brains
In the 1500’s, explorer Francisco Hernandez described the Xoloitzcuintli in his journals (source):
“A dog of medium size, rather heavily built, and long bodied in proportion to its height; ears large and erect; tail thick, drooping or carried nearly straight behind; hair nearly absent except for a few coarse vibrissae and generally a sparse coating on the tail, particularly near the tip sometimes a tuft on the crown.”
Over 500 years later, Xolos can be described in almost the exact same way: sleek body, almond-shaped eyes, bat-like ears, and a long, elegant neck. But not every modern Xolo is “of medium size.” There are now three classes of Xoloitzcuintli, ranging in weight from 10-50 pounds:
Whatever size Xolo you meet, you’ll find them to be alert, calm, and loyal.
The American Kennel Club calls the Xoloitzcuintli “the first dog of the Americas” because it was one of the earliest dogs to be domesticated by human populations, and has existed in Mexico for more than 3,000 years.
According to the Xoloitzcuintli Club of America, archaeologists have discovered clay and ceramic statues of dogs nearly identical to the current-day Xolo in tombs of the Mayan, Colima and Aztec Indians. These ancient tribes revered the dogs for their supposed healing qualities, and snuggled up with them at night for warmth.
An artistic legacy
Around the same time Xolos showed up in human civilizations, they started to appear in human art. The sculpture and paintings of early South American cultures include representations of dogs that look an awful lot like modern-day Xolos. Because the dogs were celebrated for their healing properties and connection to the spirit world, they’re represented in a lot of sacred art such as burial icons and representations of the gods.
Xolos are also part of 20th century art history, having appeared in the life and works of famed artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Rivera and Kahlo, who are famed for their respective artwork as well as their long, tumultuous relationship, raised Xolos in their shared homes. Kahlo’s work famously includes representations of her favorite dog, Señor Xototl.
Legends and myths
According to Aztec legend, the Xolo came about when the god of death, Xolotl, created a dog from the Bone of Life. Xolotl gave the dog to Man and instructed him to guard it with his life. In exchange, the dog would guide Man through the underworld on the way to the heavens. With an origin story like that, it’s easy to see why Xolos are celebrated as the national dog of Mexico.
In recent American mythology, Xolos have been connected to the Chupacabra, a figure in Latin American folklore that preys on farm animals. Chupacabras likely don’t exist, but some urban legend enthusiasts believe their origins may lie in the unusual-looking hairless dog. The chupacabra legend is so pervasive that frightened farmers have mistaken Xolos for the mythological creature.
Healers and protectors
In Aztec tradition, Xolos were viewed as guardians, warding off both intruders and evil spirits. They were also believed to have healing properties, and it’s easy to see why; without fur to hold in body heat, they radiate more warmth than other dogs, and are effective “heating pads” on cool nights.
Xolos are still used as comforting healers in remote Mexican and Central American villages. They’re believed to prevent and cure ailments including asthma, toothaches, insomnia, and rheumatism.
While modern science has debunked the idea that Xolos can cure all that ails you, like any dog, they can offer health benefits like lower blood pressure and stress, and ease loneliness. And it’s hard to deny the magical qualities of a hairless dog. As one Xolo guardian noted in an interview with ABC News:
“I believe they are special; I do believe that you don’t get the same effect from any old breed. They’re highly intuitive.”
Are you a Xolo person?
With their distinct looks, watchful personality, and storied history, Xoloitzcuintlis are truly special dogs. But are they the right fit for your home? The ideal Xolo home will offer:
- A calm environment without small children (though Xolos can be good family dogs, their protective nature means they’re not the best fit for little kids)
- Positive reinforcement-based training. Positive training is a good idea for all dogs, but Xolos are especially sensitive and smart, and they do not do well with reprimands.
- Occasional bathing and frequent moisturizing to keep their hairless coat in good condition
- Sunscreen in summer (they’re prone to sunburn) and coats in winter
If the Xolo sounds like a good fit for your family, you can learn more about the breed and reputable breeders from the Xoloitzcuintli Club of America. Even better, consider adoption! Xolos are becoming more and more popular in America, meaning they show up in shelters and rescue groups more often.
This Cinco de Mayo, celebrate the national dog of Mexico. ¡Viva el Xolo!