The Xoloitzcuintli – in its Standard and Miniature forms - was common in ancient Aztec settlements, where it was used as a companion, a watchdog and a source of warmth. Less pleasantly to most modern dog fanciers, but still important historically, Xolos also were a food source for people during ancient times. They have been described as “oven-ready, high protein food sources,” which made them especially valuable to tribal people. The Xoloitzcuintli was prized for its supposedly mystical and curative healing powers. Pressing the hot skin of a Xolo to a sore or wounded area of the human body was believed to draw out pain and sickness. These dogs are claimed to have helped relieve asthma, toothaches, headaches, sore muscles, rheumatism, insomnia and even malaria, among other ailments. Although these claims have not been proven scientifically, the mythical powers of Xolos continue to be believed by some alternative human healers even today.
In the Nahuatl tongue, “Xoloitzcuintli” means “dog of the god Xolotl.” Xolotl was the Aztec god of twins, of the Aztec court ball game and of things that were deformed. “Itzcuintli” is the Aztec word for “dog.” Xolos were commonly killed as a ritual sacrificial offering and buried with their owners, as they were thought to be sacred animals that would protect and guide their owners’ souls on their journey to the afterworld.
Many authorities have tried to establish some relationship between the Xoloitzcuintli and other hairless breeds in Asia, Africa and elsewhere, such as the Chinese Crested. However, there is no reliable evidence of any such connection. It is unlikely that hairless dogs accompanied early Asiatic settlers on the arduous, frigid trek to the Americas. It is much more likely that the hairless gene cropped up independently in distinct geographic areas at different points in time. The Xoloitzcuintli probably descends at least in part from the Colima Dog of western Mexico, which was present locally long before any European dogs arrived in the area. Archeological artifacts found in the tombs and other ruins of the Mayan, Aztec, Zapoteca and Colima civilizations are virtually identical in type to today’s Xoloitzcuintli. This is most likely an indigenous Mexican breed whose unique nakedness was caused by a spontaneous genetic mutation that happened many hundreds of years ago.
As ancient civilizations became increasingly modernized over the centuries, the Xoloitzcuintli declined in popularity. It eventually reached the brink of extinction. Xolos reportedly were seen in the United States as far back as the early 1880s. However, they remained extremely rare for a very long time. The breed finally started to gain in popularity almost a century later. In the 1950s, several members of the Mexican all-breed Kennel Club started a selective, rigorous program to rescue, promote and protect the Standard and Miniature varieties. They also developed and standardized the smaller Toy form of the breed. Today, fanciers of this unusual breed prize it as a watch dog, guardian, companion, service dog, competitive show dog and avid participant in a variety of active dog sports, including agility. While its numbers are slowly increasing in Mexico, the United States and some parts of Europe, Xoloitzcuintlis still are very uncommon dogs.
The Xoloitzcuintli is a long-lived breed, with an average life span of 15 to 20 years. Because it lacks a normal haircoat, its exposed skin is quite susceptible to becoming sunburned. Xolos cannot tolerate extreme heat or cold. They should be protected from prolonged exposure to bright sunlight and should wear a sweater or coat when the temperature gets chilly. Newcomers to the breed sometimes think that Xolos should get frequent baths and be slathered with moisturizing lotion. However, this can cause acne and other infections in the pores and sensitive skin of this breed and should only be done occasionally. The Xoloitzcuintli has fewer teeth than most other dogs, especially in the molar (back) regions of its jaws. This abnormality in dentition is thought to be associated with the genetic mutation that causes hairlessness, although the specifics of this association are not understood.