Xoloitzcuintli, pronounced “show-low-itz-QUEENT-ly” or ‘xolo’ (“show-low”) for short, is more commonly known as the Mexican hairless dog. This exotic breed is a calm, alert, and loyal companion. While the standard xolo weighs between 30 and 55 pounds, the breed can also be found in two smaller sizes, as well: toy (10–15 pounds) and miniature (15–30 pounds).
Xoloitzcuintli can be either completely hairless, or sport a short, flat coat (and both can be born in a single litter!). These small-to-medium dogs have a striking appearance, and tend to be a dark color like black, gray, bronze, or red. They may also have white spots that give them a little extra flare to their interesting look.
Excellent watch dogs, the xoloitzcuintli’s history begins more than 3,500 years ago in Mexico and Central America. The ancient Aztec dog of the gods, they were loyal companions thought to ward off evil spirits. It was a good job until their owners died, when xolos were often sacrificed and buried with them (the thought was that they’d help guide their owners into the afterlife).
Today, xolos live a more casual existence. Their unique look sets them apart from the rest of the pack, and xolo enthusiasts are quick to point out their strong, graceful bodies and calm, loving demeanors. What they lack in hair, these pups more than make up for in loyalty to their owners.
If you’re looking to add a xoloitzcuintli to your household, it will likely set you back a few bucks. Costs vary widely depending on a variety of factors, but Kay Lawson, past president of the Xoloitzcuintli Club of America, says owners looking for a show-worthy dog should expect to spend somewhere in the range of $2,000 for a registered xolo.
Xoloitzcuintli are found in three sizes, according to the American Kennel Club: toy (10-14 inches tall and weighing between 10-15 pounds); miniature (14-18 inches tall and weighing between 15-30 pounds); and standard (18-23 inches tall and weighing 30-55 pounds). You might hear the smallest versions referred to as “teacup xoloitzcuintli,” roughly the size of a Chihuaha.
Unlike many dogs that were bred to develop certain traits, xoloitzcuintli evolved naturally thousands of years ago, giving them a distinctive look that means they never go unnoticed. These primal-looking dogs have long, muscular bodies with long, low-set tails. Their large, upright ears and wrinkly brows that furrow when deep in thought, show quizzical expressions that make it clear this is one smart, emotive dog.
While the hairless look is certainly not for everyone, xolo enthusiasts are passionate about keeping this native breed going strong. Lawson says the history of the dog resonates with her on a personal level, citing its status as a breed that’s indigenous to the region. “We are both Native American,” Lawson says. “The temperament and personality of this breed fit my personality. The backstory of the breed was intriguing, and [that’s how I became] a preservation breeder.”
Xolos are known for their hairless appearance and tough, smooth skin. However, there are xolos that have a short, flat coat. Many even sport a small tuft of hair on their heads. While most are one dark color overall, some may have white spots or other markings. Their eye color can range from light caramel to dark brown.
Xolos might appeal to some people because of their lack of hair, which may be a help to some allergy sufferers looking for a dog that doesn’t make them sniffle or scratch. But if you’re sensitive to dog dander, the xolo’s lack of hair might not be much of a benefit. A completely hypoallergenic dog is not a reality, but it’s possible that some dogs—xoloitzcuintli included—may cause fewer allergy symptoms than others.
Regardless, rest assured that heading out for a walk with your xolo means you’re a one of a kind pair. These dogs are truly unique!
“[Xolos] are highly intelligent and adaptable,” Lawson says. “When properly bred and raised correctly, they are a primitive survivalist—not fragile and dependent—who are highly motivated to participate in whatever activity you are interested in.”
Lawson advises xolo owners that they’ll need to commit a significant amount of time to train their xolo during puppyhood. These energetic pups will need a lot of attention and exercise, so they may not be the best dog for a busy household without the ability to train and socialize their dog properly. While xolos have a reputation as great family pets, they may not have patience for the clumsiness of small children who tug on their ears or tail. As with any dog, it’s important to supervise anytime kids and dogs are together.
Xolos may also be aloof with strangers, so they won’t be hamming it up like a Labrador for attention. They also make excellent watch dogs as they alert you, but they aren’t nuisance barkers.
Like most dogs, a properly trained, exercised, and cared for xolo will be a reliable companion for years to come. “They are, for the most part, a healthy, solid, athletic partner,” Lawson continues. “And a dog that will bond intensely with its owner.”
Xoloitzcuintlis need a moderate amount of exercise—typically 20 to 30 minute walks twice a day, and some off-leash playtime in the yard. They are calm and happy in the house, and their small size and gentle temperament means they can make good apartment dogs.
However, they do have a high-prey drive to chase other animals and are excellent jumpers who have been known to easily scale a 6-foot fence. Even puppies can be talented escape artists, so owners must be aware of their surroundings.
Because xolos don’t have any or much hair, they are better suited to warmer climates and will need a coat to go outside if it is very cold. But if it does get chilly, fear not. Xolos love embracing the hygge lifestyle and are great cuddlers. And because they have no insulating layer of hair, their skin can feel very warm to the touch. Xolo owners say snuggling these pups is like a soothing “hot water bottle” to anyone who has arthritis or another ailment that could benefit from heat therapy.
Training a xolo is similar to other dogs, as they need consistency and react best to positive reinforcement. Since xolos are adept learners who are easily able to grasp commands, they need a confident person to show these “show-lows” the ropes.
Lawson does warn that xolos are not a good dog for someone who has no experience with dogs. “They have a considerable amount of what we refer to as ‘pushback,’” Lawson says. “They need consistent training, a healthy diet, and a considerable amount of exercise.
“Most importantly, they are not a dog that can just be left at home, on their own, for hours while their owners are away to work,” Lawson continues. “They will find a way to entertain themselves, and it most likely will not be in a way that you find acceptable. They don't do well when left crated for extended amounts of time. They are primitive guardians, so they can and will become antisocial if they are not socialized well.”
Despite being hairless, xolos still need grooming. Xolos clean themselves like cats, but need regular baths to keep their skin healthy and clean. Because their skin is prone to burning, they need dog-formulated sunscreen (human sunscreen can be toxic for dogs) if they spend ample time outside in the sun. Their nails grow fast and should be trimmed often, and their teeth brushed regularly with dog formulated toothpaste (FYI: human toothpaste is also toxic for dogs).
Xoloitzcuintli tend to be a healthy breed, and aren’t prone to any serious genetic diseases. You can expect this breed to live from 13-18 years.
You may have seen cute pictures of xolos with their tongues hanging out the sides of their mouths. Xolos often lose their premolars, the teeth located between canines and the molars, hence this cute look of that lolling tongue. This is normal and doesn’t affect their ability to eat.
Speaking of food, it’s important to note that xolos have a tendency to easily overeat. Obesity can cause stress on their joints, so experts recommend feeding them two servings of high-quality dog food daily, depending on their size.
Xoloitzcuintli dogs have an incredible history that goes back more than 3,000 years.
Xolos are one of the world’s oldest breeds that evolved naturally, with archaeological evidence showing that they accompanied humans as they crossed the Bering Strait to the Americas.
The Mexican hairless’ name, xoloitzcuintli, comes from two words in the Aztec language: Xolotl, the god of lightning and death, and itzcuintli, which means dog. According to legend, the god Xolotl created a dog to help guard the living and guide souls through the underworld.
Xolo figurines and statues appear in ancient Mesoamerican art, often in burial sites, according to National Geographic. These hairless dogs were thought to have healing powers and ward off evil spirits for people on earth, too. Unfortunately for the xolo, that meant they were often sacrificed when their owners died to escort them into the underworld.
The Aztecs also ate xolo meat, and when European explorers arrived they developed a taste for the xolo, too. So much so, that they almost ate them into extinction.
Xolos have gone through many ebbs and flows of popularity. The American Kennel Club first recognized them in 1887 as the “Mexican hairless,” but the breed waned in popularity and lost its AKC registration in the middle of the 20th century.
Today, the xolo is experiencing a bit of a revival: The AKC added it back in 2011, and it is Mexico’s national dog.