Man’s Best Friend: The ancient history of Mexico’s national dog

It was to be my first experience of meeting a Xoloitzcuintli dog.

The breed, which also recently featured in the Pixar film Coco, is revered as a famous Mexican symbol entrenched in the country’s history which reaches back as far as the Aztec empire.

When I entered the room, Janis – inspired by Janis Joplin – excitedly leapt up at us and in a bout of exuberance bounced off the furniture and hurried around the room. Janis’ breed, however, is unlike your typical fluffy canine friend. A tuft of wispy, fiery orange hair stuck up on ends from her head and she wore a pink dog coat to keep her warm which, when taken off, exposed her dark grey skin. Commonly known as the Xolo dog, Janice and her breed are in fact hairless and when stroking the dog it feels more equivalent to a wrinkly human skin than a cuddly pup.

Not to be mistaken with the Peruvian Inca Orchid, the breed comes in various forms across the Latin American continent, however, Mexico’s loveable hairless best friend is believed to be the oldest and apparently made its way to Latin America with the first settlers from Asia.

The Xolo’s trademark image is borne from a gene default which eventually became a dominant trait in the animal family. As well as being loyal servants in the ancient kingdom of the Aztecs, their association with the underworld god of lightning, Xolotl, defined the dog as mankind’s guide into the depths of the world beyond. In Aztec mythology the animal is believed to have been created by the gods to protect the living whilst also protecting the souls as they embark on their journey into the afterlife. Their names, as a result, are made up of two ancient words: Xolotl, the god of lightning and death, and itzcuintli which refers to ‘dog’.