Who is this dog with such an unusual name and no fur? The Xoloitzcuintli stands out as an ancient breed that has earned its place in the competitive world of dog shows and popular media. Find out more about this breed’s origins, characteristics, care, and newfound fame below.
How to Say Xoloitzcuintli (Sho-lo-eetz-queen-tlee)
The Xoloitzcuintli breed originated in ancient Mexico, and it’s no wonder that these dogs have an Aztec name. It is pronounced “sho-lo-eetz-queen-tlee.” To save people time with the tricky name, it is also commonly referred to as Xolo, pronounced “sho-lo.”
Xolos are named after two things. The first part comes from Xolotl, the Aztec god of death, fire, and lightning. Xolotl had the body of a skeleton and the face of a canine, which the Xolos seemed to resemble. Itzcuintli is the Aztec word for dog; they have a combined meaning similar to “god dog.”
Xolos Are Ancient Dog Breeds
Xolos has a long history as an ancient dog breed, dating back over 3,000 years. They are a key part of Mesoamerican culture. The Aztecs, Mayans, Toltecs, and Zapotecs believed this breed had magical and spiritual powers.
These canines were considered healers for illnesses and protectors of the home against evil spirits. Because of the connections with the god Xolotl, these canines were seen as guides to the afterlife and were typically sacrificed after their owner’s death. It was thought that the dog would protect the deceased person on their journey to the afterlife.
This ancient breed was praised for its abilities so much that clay and ceramic Xolo figurines have been found in indigenous people’s tombs.
Xolos Have Evolved to Be Hairless
Xolos aren’t the only hairless dog breed, but they are part of a small, rare group of canines without fur. Per Royal Society Publishing, scientists believe that they do not develop fur because of a mutation in the FOX13 gene. This causes a form of canine ectodermal dysplasias, or genetic disorders that can affect a Xolo’s hair, skin, nails, and teeth. It is not uncommon (or harmful to their health) for Xolos to be missing a few teeth, such as their premolars or incisors.
The same FOX13 gene mutation appears in the Chinese crested and Peruvian Hairless breeds. Because of limited documentation, it is not clear which dog developed this trait first. There are theories that either the dogs shared a common ancestor, or they were crossbred hundreds of years ago.
Xolos Have a Distinct Look
Besides the signature hairless coat, Xolos have other standout features. Xolos with black hides/skin are the poster dogs for the breed, but they come in several shades. You can find them with gray, bronze, or sable hides and spotted markings on their face and body. Some Xolos grow patches of short hair on their head, tails, and feet.
There are three size categories for Xolos. Here’s what to know:
- Toy Xolos are 10-14 inches and weigh about 10 to 15 lbs.
- Miniature Xolos measure 14-18 inches and weigh between 15 to 30 lbs.
- The standard Xolo is 18-23 inches and weighs around 30 to 55 lbs.
Ever seen the Pixar movie “Coco”? Dante, the Xolo who stole the show, was likely a standard Xolo because of his size.
Some Xolos Have Fur!
Although these dogs are known as a “hairless” breed, a coated Xolo exists too. They have similar fur colors and markings as the Xolos without fur, but their short, coarse coat sets them apart.
Coated Xolos typically have minimal shedding and need occasional brushing. The only other major difference between both varieties is in their teeth. Because coated Xolos do not have the FOX13 gene mutation that affects fur and dentition, they usually have a full set of teeth.
These differences are considered when it comes to how canines are judged in dog shows. For example, the coated Xolo must have fur all over its body, while the hairless kind can only have patches on certain parts. Xolos without fur can have a few missing teeth without disqualification, while the coated ones must have all their pearly whites.
Xolos: Loyal to Family, Wary of Strangers
While they are naturally reserved around strangers, Xolos are loyal and protective of their families. The American Kennel Club rates them as three out of five on the vigilant scale, meaning they are moderate watchdogs who need time to warm up to new people.
Xolos are also known as affectionate pets. This breed loves being around its owners and getting pets, hugs, cuddles, and other forms of physical touch. They are okay with children and other dogs, but it is best to introduce them early on, so they have time together to bond.
Other things to keep in mind are that Xolos are extremely playful, can have lots of energy, and need regular mental stimulation to avoid boredom. Xolos are best for owners who have time and physical energy to play, go running with their dogs, and engage in breed-specific dog sports.
Xolos Are Intelligent and Trainable
Xolos are smart dogs and can easily be trained. They may try to take control at first but will follow commands once the owner establishes control. This works for anything from house training to getting your dog used to new people to teaching a new trick and getting along with other pets.
As with most dogs, praise and positive encouragement work best for training. Compliments, plenty of treats, and gently correcting problem behavior will help them learn. Patience and consistency are also two of the best training tips for Xolo owners to build a bond with their pets.
Even Hairless Xolos Are Not Hypoallergenic
You might think Xolos are a hypoallergenic breed because they have no fur or very short coats. However, people with pet allergies have reactions to the animal’s skin cell and salvia, not their fur. This means that fur coat length and texture do not really affect someone’s allergies.
While some breeds cause fewer running noses and itchy eyes, no dog breed is 100% hypoallergenic. Folks with dog allergies should spend time with a Xolo before bringing one home to make sure they won’t have any symptoms. Keeping them groomed and cleaning the most-visited items and spaces in your home can help reduce allergies, too. If Xolos aren’t a match, consider another allergy-friendly breed (like Labradoodles) instead.
Xolos Don’t Need Regular Grooming
Luckily for Xolo owners, they do not have to worry about regular fur brushing. However, they have unique things to consider to keep the dog’s hide safe and protected. They only need an occasional bath with mild soap to maintain their skin’s natural oils. Spending extended time outdoors can cause their skin to darken, so they also need dog-friendly sunblock to prevent sunburns and tans.
On the opposite temperature scale, you also want to protect their exposed hide/skin from extreme cold. Xolos do not have thick fur to keep them insulated when the temps drop. Be sure to buy or make your own doggie sweaters and give them an extra blanket to sleep on cold nights.
Like Other Breeds, Xolos Have Their Ailments
Like all dog breeds, Xolos are prone to certain health conditions––most of which are fairly common dog illnesses in general. It is recommended to take them for regular hip and patella evaluations. Doing so will help catch any cases of patellar luxation (knee displacement) and hip dysplasia (abnormal cell growth).
Adult Xolos have thick, developed hides, but puppies can develop adolescent acne. Similar to human teenagers, younger Xolos may have a growth of bumps or pustules on the skin. The best thing to do is take your pet to the vet, get their condition diagnosed, and get treatment. Avoid popping the bumps, as this can lead to more inflammation and discomfort.
As with all pets, teeth-brushing and dental treats can help maintain their oral health, while veterinary check-ups monitor their overall health.
Xolos Compete at Dog Shows
In the world of dog shows, the Xolos have gained recognition for their unique appearance and historical significance. While not as common as some other breeds, Xolos are appreciated for their elegance and grace in the show ring.
They participate in the non-sporting group and were re-recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 2011. The AKC notes that when Xolos are judged at dog shows, the standard guide says: “The ribcage is deep and oval, of good length, with sufficient ribspring to produce a rounded shape, but never barrel shaped.”
For achievements, the Xolo has won the Best of Breed Award twice in 2013 and 2016 at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
Xolos Appear in Popular Media
Aside from the recognition at dog shows, Xolos have made appearances in popular media. They are the official dog of Mexico and a Tijuana-based soccer team, the Xolos, uses the dog's image as their mascot. Earlier this year, a public poll for Albuquerque residents revealed that they voted for naming the Xolo the unofficial dog of New Mexico.
Xolos gained worldwide exposure thanks to a popular animated film. As noted, if you’re a Disney fan, you probably recognize this breed from the movie “Coco.” The main character’s dog companion is Dante, a high-spirited Xolo who guides him through the Land of the Dead.
The Xolos Had a Close Call with Extinction
A few centuries ago, pure-breed Xolos were in danger of extinction. Dogs from Europe made it to Mexico, mated with the pure-breeds, and created mixed-breed puppies without the signature Xolo characteristics. Around the same time, Spaniards began eating them as a meat source, and this further decreased the breed’s population.
In the 1950s, Mexican Xolo enthusiasts eagerly found a group of pure Xolos from remote towns and mated the dogs as a way to increase their numbers. This involved the help of famous artists Diego Rivera and Frida Khalo. The couple owned and adored Xolos, often depicted them in their artwork, and began a breeding kennel for them.