The Peruvian Inca Orchid (PIO) and the Xoloitzcuintli could easily be mistaken for the same breed. Both dogs are hairless, with possible patches of wiry hair on their heads and faces. Both have perky ears, a lean, athletic stature, and a keen, alert nature.
Yet, similar as they may appear, the two are not one and the same. With the Xolo hailing from Mexico and the Peruvian Inca Orchid from Peru, both dogs carry a different cultural significance.
PIOs and Xolos Look Very Similar
It isn’t just a lack of hair that unites the Xoloitzcuintli and the Peruvian Inca Orchid. When comparing the breed standards, the two dogs are shockingly similar. Both the Peruvian Inca Orchid and the Xoloitzcuintli come in three distinct sizes. The Xolo’s size groups are referred to as toy, miniature, and standard, while the Peruvian Inca Orchid simply comes in small, medium, and large. The dogs vary in weight only by a single pound. The Peruvian Inca Orchid’s smallest variation begins at nine pounds, and the largest variation ends at fifty-five pounds. The Xolo begins at ten and ends at fifty-five. So, Xolos and PIOs aren’t giant dog breeds, but they’re not necessarily pint-sized, either.
Both dogs come in both hairless and coated varieties, a common trait among hairless breeds.
The Peruvian Inca Orchid holds greater color variety than the Xolo does but bears nearly all of the colorations that the Xolo can. A few of these overlapping colors include black, gray, bronze, and red. Make no mistake; while these dogs are usually hairless, they still need creams and moisturizers to prevent common skin problems.
Xolos and PIOs Are Revered, Ancient Dog Breeds
Cultural significance surrounding the dogs bears similarities, too. In both Aztec culture and many indigenous Peruvian cultures, dogs were often buried alongside their human companions to serve as guides and protectors during the journey to the afterlife. It is clear, from both historical artifacts and oral accounts, that both dogs held spiritual significance. Each breed’s exact spiritual role is where we begin to see some fascinating variation.
The Peruvian Inca Orchid: Medicinal and Spiritual Creatures
The Peruvian Inca Orchid, also known as the “Perro sin Pelo del Peru” (dog without hair of Peru), was a companion to a variety of indigenous cultures. Just how far back their kinship with the indigenous people of Peru goes is not clear. The dogs began to appear on Moche pottery as early as 750 A.D. The indigenous Chimu, Chancay, Vicus, Nazca, and Incan peoples also portrayed the Peruvian Inca Orchid through ceramics and textiles.
The dogs’ depiction of wearing sweaters hundreds of years ago tells us that these ancient dog breeds were considered companions; their well-being mattered to their human caregivers. These unique canines held medicinal and spiritual value, varying throughout the cultural groups who kept them.
Some cultures were believed to use the dogs’ urine and feces in medicine, and the Chimu people found that the dogs’ warmth was useful to those with joint pain or respiratory issues. Though their body temperature is the same as a coated dog, hairless dogs are warm to the touch. For thousands of years, people have been cuddling up with these dogs for mutual benefit.
The Xoloitzcuintli: Dog of the Gods
The Xoloitzcuintli’s name comes from a powerful, mystical source: Xolotl, the Aztec God of Death. Legend has it that Xolotl lent his name to this powerful dog. As the Aztec tale went, Xolotl created this special dog from a sliver of the same bone from which all of humanity was born.
As sinister as a God of Death may sound, the Xolo’s role in the process of death was not at all malicious. Instead, these loyal dogs were said to wait for their human companions in Mictlan, or the underworld. Armed with a supernatural sense that humans lacked, the Xolo would lead their human companions through the perilous journey to the afterlife. With a Xolo by one’s side, one was better equipped to navigate the supernatural.
Throughout ancient Latin America, dogs were said to be appointed to this role. What’s unique about the Xolo is that the breed’s entire purpose was to serve as this spiritual guide. Throughout the height of the Aztec empire, the dogs were revered for their service and considered to be deeply powerful.
Colonizers Nearly Killed Off Both Breeds
The arrival of European colonizers in Latin America marked the beginning of a very dark time for humans and dogs alike. The lives of indigenous people were changed forever, and their canine companions did not fare much better. The Spaniards brought a plethora of European dog breeds with them, who began to interbreed with Latin American hairless dogs. Both Xolocuintlis and Peruvian Inca Orchids were impacted by this change.
The Spanish invaders drove both breeds to the brink of extinction. Some believe they were intentionally targeted and killed due to their spiritual value, as a method of replacing indigenous beliefs with Catholicism. Peruvian Inca Orchids, which hailed from rural areas, were forced into cities, where they were often exterminated under the belief that they were diseased.
Xolos became a source of fear for the invaders, who disliked their association with “pagan” beliefs. In the ultimate act of disrespect, Spanish colonizers actually began to use the dogs as a food source.
Both breeds were heavily persecuted by the colonizers, but thanks to ethical dog breeders, both dogs came back from the brink of extinction. Today, both breeds are on the rebound.
The Xolo is a far more common breed than the Peruvian Inca Orchid, and is likely the most well-known of hairless breeds. While the Xolo has been featured in works by famous artists (including Frida Kahlo) and has appeared in media including the Disney movie “Coco,” the Peruvian Inca Orchid remains a breed little-known outside of its home country.