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Rare Dog Breeds

'Rare Dog Breeds' is London Dog Forum's latest category and we invite anyone who has a depth of knowledge about one of the more unusual dog breeds to write in and tell us about it.  

Ashley opens this series with the Xoloitzcuintle or Mexican Hairless Dog.

by Ashley

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Often referred to as the Mexican Hairless Dog, though there are both coated and hairless varieties, the Xoloitzcuintle, (sometimes spelt Xoloitzcuintli), is an ancient breed. The name, pronounced, show-low-eats-queen-tlee, is derived from the ancient Aztec deity, Xolotl and the Aztec word, itzcuintli, meaning dog. This fascinating breed, indigenous to North and Central America, was kept by the Mayan, Aztec, Toltec, Zapoteca and Colima people. In more recent times the infamous artist, Frida Kahlo owned this breed, several of which are represented in her colourful and evocative paintings.

In ancient time, the Xolo was highly prized due to its usefulness for a variety of purposes. Reputed to have proficient curative powers, according to ancient legend, sleeping with one of these dogs was alleged to alleviate pain resulting from a plethora of ailments and it is no doubt possible that due to the warmth generated by the dog's body heat, certain benefits may have been felt. Whilst it is true that by virtue of its hairlessness the Xolo does feel warm to the touch, the core temperature of this breed is in fact no higher than that of any other dog.

Aside from their reputation as healers, Xolos were also ritually sacrificed in religious ceremonies as it was believed that this would alter fate as well as offering protection from evil. Dogs were also sacrificed during funerals in order to serve as guides into the underworld. Colour was significant in this context and Xolos with reddish coloured skin were allegedly most prized as spiritual guides. Despite all of the aforementioned uses and virtues, it is highly likely that the most common usage of the Xolo was as a food source and these dogs were specifically bred and fattened for that purpose.

Throughout history hairless breeds have been recorded around the world, but the Xolo is thought to be the oldest of such breeds by far. The hairless condition seen in this breed is due to the presence of a dominant gene and therefore every dog who exhibits hairlessness may also reproduce it if bred from. It is equally important to remember that hairless Xolos, when mated together, may produce a percentage of coated offspring. It is imperative that anyone who is considering breeding from their Xolo be aware that coated puppies may be far more difficult to home than their hairless siblings. Hopefully as the breed gains popularity its suitability for sports such as flyball and agility may offer an option for both coated and hairless Xolos alike.

As a breed, the Xolo is incredibly versatile and comes in three sizes, Miniature, Intermediate and Standard, ranging in size from about 10” to 23”. Due to over 3000 years of natural selection, the breed appears to be free of the majority of genetic based conditions experienced by many of the more ‘manufactured’ breeds. One exception would seem to be that the hairless gene also carries with it the risk of incomplete dentition, which is less common in coated Xolos. Some breeders are now seeking to address this issue, though dogs exhibiting this trait appear not to be unduly affected by the lack of a complete set of teeth. In terms of proportion, the Xolo is slightly longer than high, with a desired ratio of 10:9, though bitches tend to be slightly longer than males. This body length is ideal as it allows the dog to move smoothly and efficiently with maximum reach and propulsion.

The Xolo is an all purpose, athletic breed and its profile should suggest strength and endurance. The dog must be well angulated but not overdone in any way. All sizes should exhibit good bone, substance and muscle development. One of the most distinctive of the Xolos features are its hare feet which are also webbed, this type of foot allowing extra leverage, speed and agility. The ears could also be described as hare like in the sense that they are large and ideally should be carried erect. It is probable that they are effective in regulating the body temperature of the dog in the hot climates where the breed originated. Xolo pups display an abundance of loose, wrinkly skin but this is gradually taken up as the dog grows into adulthood by which time it will be close fitting. The majority of hairless Xolos possess a tuft of sparse hair on their head and sometimes on their tail and feet, this hair tends to be coarse and should not extend to other areas of the body. The skin should ideally be free of blemishes and rough, dirty looking skin is undesirable.  Adolescent Xolos sometimes get outbreaks of acne like eruptions but these tend to lessen as the dog matures. Whilst the Xolo breed standard allows for a variety of colours in both coated and hairless varieties, dark colours are preferred as they offer more protection from the sun due to the presence of a higher proportion of melanin. Coated Xolos should be identical to their hairless brethren aside from the fact that they have a smooth coat.

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The hairless Xolo is a dog with exotic appeal and to some people this is utterly compelling, but this alone is not a valid reason for acquiring the breed.  Whilst low maintenance in terms of grooming, Xolos, particularly as youngsters, require similar training to that of a high energy working breed in order that their physical and mental demands are met. Without sufficient time and energy given over to training, and if deprived of socialisation in their formative years, Xolos may become territorial, dog aggressive or destructive. They thrive on human contact and adapt well to training in agility, obedience and flyball and have been trained effectively as helper dogs. They are quick to bond with their owner and can suffer from separation anxiety if not habituated to the idea of temporary separation from puppyhood. In the right environment, the Xolo can become an incredibly satisfying dog to own and despite the fact that the breed was on the verge of extinction for many years, there is currently a renewed interest in the Xolo around the world.

Much of the breeding stock behind the bloodlines that exist today are derived from Mexican stock. In 1940, when the FCM or Federacion Canofila Mexicano was founded, Xolos were seen to appear at some of the larger dog shows though they did not appear to have incited much interest at the time. One of the most important landmarks in the development of the breed came about in 1954 when the Xolo Expedition was initiated. This was probably one of the most important dog conservation projects ever conceived and undoubtedly was hugely influential in securing the long term future of the breed. The aim of the expedition was to travel to remote areas in order to search for pure bred Xoloitzcuintle stock from which to initiate a viable breeding plan. According to records, good quality Xolos were ultimately sourced relatively near to Mexico City in the state of Guerrero. Six females and four males were subsequently brought back, so the expedition was successful in achieving its goal. In 1957, one member of the expedition team, Hilary Harmar,  brought two of the Xolos collected by the expedition to the UK, and these dogs were subsequently permitted to serve out their mandatory six month quarantine whilst on exhibit at London zoo, where they soon became  something of a public curiosity. After being released from quarantine, the dogs and their offspring often appeared at shows during the 1960’s.  

The American Kennel Club was responsible for compiling the first official breed standard in 1884 though the breed at that time was referred to as the Mexican Hairless Dog and it was actually one of the first breeds to ever be admitted to the American Kennel Club Studbook. However, due to the fact that the Xolo remained a relatively obscure breed with small numbers registered and exhibited only sporadically, the breed was omitted from the AKC Stud Book in 1959, though reinstated into the Miscellaneous Class in 2009.

In Mexico, the first breed standard was created in 1956, this being based to a large degree on ancient, historical, breed descriptions. So, after 3000 years, this enchanting breed finally achieved official recognition in its land of origin on 1st May, 1956.

Here in Britain, the Xoloitzcuintle was occasionally exhibited at shows during the last quarter of the nineteenth century and has been officially recognised since the 1950’s. However, although the Kennel Club allowed the breeds inclusion in the Stud Book, there were actually almost no recorded registrations.  Due to quarantine restrictions and the fact that, during the 1950’s the FCM banned the export of the breed by virtue of its rarity, Xolos were almost impossible to obtain outside of their homeland.

Donna Cawley, whose mother originally imported several Xolos in the 1980’s, is now striving to establish the breed in the UK and with the advent of the pet passport, obtaining quality Xolos from overseas is now somewhat easier. Donna imported her first intermediate Xolos from the States in 2003, and in 2007 the breed became eligible for competition in UK shows for the first time in nearly half a decade. Tzapa, Donnas’ hairless male was shown eight times during 2007 and subsequently won the title of Best Import at six of those eight shows, earning him the title of “Top Import Register-Mexican Hairless” for that year. Unfortunately, only being eligible for Import Register classes is incredibly restricting, and such classes are not scheduled at many shows.


Donna has also imported the stunning standard Xolo bitch, Diva, otherwise known as “Chichen Itza Dune-De Dior For Ima, and it was this bitch who first incited my interest in the breed. Diva has won consistently in the showring and has been awarded the title of ‘Top Import Register Of The Utility Group 2009”. This is an incredible accolade for Diva and the breed as a whole, especially given the fact that as a hairless breed, the Xolo can hide nothing in terms of its condition and conformation, unlike some coated breeds. 

Given the current renewed interest in the Xoloitzcuintle around the world, we can hope that the future of this wonderful breed is secure. However, it is important to remember that the gene pool is small as there are only an estimated 4000 Xolos in existence, those numbers being spread over the three sizes. Here in Britain we now have over forty Xolos with several litters currently planned. For anyone seriously considering this particular breed, I can recommend the comprehensive book, (from which much of this information is derived), entitled, Xoloitzcuintli, by breed expert, Amy Fernandez, which offers advice on training, breeding, showing and breed history.  For information on the Xoloitzcuintle Club UK, contact Donna Cawley at To view more of the dogs that Donna owns, see her website, IMA Xolos.

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