By Ralph F. Graves
April 2001 Guadalajara-Lakeside Volume 17, Number 8

Can your pet do all this: protect you from the flu, provide a ritual feast, even guide your soul through the gates of heaven? If not, perhaps you should check out a Xoloitzcuintle (Xolo, for short), a rare breed of Mexican dog with these and other reputed attributes.
Once nearly extinct, this unusual breed is attempting a comeback. Dubbed "el perro mexicano," it is believed to be one of over 15 breeds that accompanied the ancients in their migrations from Asia across the then frozen Bering Strait to North America over 15,000 years ago. Today, only the hairless Xolo and the tiny Chihuahua have survived as distinct breeds in Mexico.
Although an exotic species, the Xolo is not the most glamorous breed of dog around. Puppies are wrinkled, clumsy, unruly and will attempt to eat or chew on anything within reach. They are easily trained and housebroken, however, when reaching maturity Xolos are generally calm and reserved.
The standard breed measures between 18 and 24 inches high at the withers and weighs between 20 and 30 pounds, although there are smaller varieties classified as toys and miniatures.
They have large erect ears, almond shaped eyes and a slightly elongated muzzle. Varying in color between solid gray, patchy gray & white and reddish brown in color, their most distinguishing characteristic is their smooth, hairless skin. It is possible, however, that in any given litter, one or two pups will be fully or partially coated.
Other characteristics include the lack of pre-molar teeth, sweat glands in the chest and abdomen, and a body temperature several degrees higher than other breeds. They seldom pant, growl or bark; don't harbor fleas; and groom themselves like a cat.
But why hairless? Apparently it is caused by a fairly complicated process of gene mutation which is not restricted to canines. Horses, cattle, sheep, cats, mice and rats have been known to exhibit similar mutations. Geneticists believe that some time in the distant past, this hairless characteristic evolved among some animals to provide an advantage in a hostile environment.
A number of myths surrounded the Xolo in pre-Hispanic Mexico, some of which were related to the afterlife. It was commonly believed that the dogs had the power to safely conduct the souls of the dead through the complex maze of the underworld, enabling them to enter the interior of heaven.
To this end, the Mayans sacrificed the dogs and buried them in graves, along with their masters. This practice endured to the time of the Conquest, although some cultures, especially those of Western Mexico, were content to bury clay sculptures of the dogs instead of the real thing.
Another belief associated the Xolos with fire, rain and lightning. Blackfoot tribes of North America believed that hairless dogs had the power to cause rain to douse forest fires. In Mayan codices, the dogs are depicted with bolts of lightning coming from their mouths. And the Aztecs used Xolo puppies as sacrificial offerings to Tlaloc, the rain God (In later years, the Aztecs fattened and ate the dogs in ritual feasts).
Even today, the Xolo is thought by some to have occult powers. Their body temperature averages 104 degrees which makes them, for some people, an ideal substitute for a hot water bottle. Just snuggling up, they say, will provide relief from arthritis, rheumatism, the flu, toothaches and insomnia, among other things.
The group credited with saving the Xolo from extinction was led by a former attache to the British embassy in Mexico City, Norman Pelham Wright. He apparently became fascinated with the breed after seeing Xolos at exhibitions of the Mexican Canine Federation during the mid-fifties.
Upon learning that the breed was dying out, he and several acquaintances dedicated themselves to finding breeding pairs and establishing standards for the breed. After ten years, through their efforts, 70 Xolos had been registered by the Federation, and today, the number has reached 2000.
The breed is gaining popularity outside Mexico, as well. The Xolo Club of America was formed in 1986 by a group dedicated to gaining official recognition of the breed by the American Kennel Club. It has made ongoing efforts to establish ties among Xolo breeders and enthusiasts throughout the world and has members in Europe, Canada and Mexico as well as the U.S. It has documented over 750 of the breed in the U. S. but believes there are quite a few undocumented animals north of the border.
The club has its doubts about the therapeutic attributes of the dogs, however. In their handbook they caution, "the legendary healing powers of the Xolo are just that, legendary.
Other than their wonderful ability to soothe and comfort, Xolos have no place in modern medical treatment of today." Oh well, a hot water bottle probably costs less, anyhow.