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What's Soft, Warm, Hairless, Hypoallergenic, Carnivorous, And Can Sport A Natural Mohawk?

Xolo dog, photograph from Wikipedia.
Xolo dog, photograph from Wikipedia.

Answer: Not A Tijuana Soccer Player

What's in a name?

If you're American trying to learn about Aztec dogs or Tijuana soccer, well, the answer would be five syllables and a whole lot of confusion. If you're Mexican, the answer might be your patria's national raza de perros, beloved companions of Frida Kahlo. Or, to many, it might refer to Duvier Riascos and his boisterous fans.

Frida Kahlo and Her Dogs
Gisèle Freund, 1948
Frida Kahlo and Her Dogs

The Xolozcuintli (pronounced SHOW-low-eats-QUEENT-lee; also spelled "Xolozcuintle") is widely reported to be one of Mexico's oldest breeds, dating back to the time of classic Aztec civilizations. It's also the mascot of Tijuana's championship soccer team.

The origins of the breed's name is Náhuatl, the most widely used indigenous language in Mexico. "Itscuintli" means dog. It's been said that Spanish conquistador Hernán Córtes allegedly hated the breed, and reportedly tried to eradicate them from Mexico.

Many maintain the dogs were named after a deity, the Aztec God Xolotl. "The hairless Aztec dog was considered to be a representative of Xolotl, guiding and protecting the souls of the dead to their unearthly destinations," writes Stephanie Mazzarella, the Floridian breeder who runs Amoroso Xolo. In images, Xolotl is often represented as a man with the head of a dog.

The website MayanKids notes:

"Xolos were considered sacred dogs by the Aztecs because they believed the dogs were needed by their masters’ souls to help them safely through the underworld. According to Aztec mythology, the god Xolotl made the Xoloitzcuintle from a sliver of the Bone of Life from which all man was made. Xolotl gave this gift to Man with the instruction to guard it with his life and in exchange it would guide Man through the dangers of Mictlan, the world of Death, towards the Evening Star in the Heavens. The Aztecs also raised the breed for their meat. 16th Century Spanish accounts tell of large numbers of dogs being served at banquets."

On YouTube, a video of one such noble progeny has netted just under 20,000 views. It's called "How to Annoy a Xolo."

How To Annoy A Xolo

There are plenty of other videos, too. For example, "Xolozcuintle: Beauty and Brains" is set to a soundtrack of a romantic Norah Jones song.

In the American press, Xolos have taken a beating. They've been called "notoriously ugly" by the Washington Post. Even before that, The New York Times was on it.

Under the bold headline "Who Are You Calling Ugly?" the Times published its own profile of the breed, opening with the sentence: "The Aztecs ate them."

The Times went on to describe the breed as "homely," "humble," and "plug-ugly." In a 2008 Reader's Digest piece, the magazine named the breed "the world's most ugliest dog," saying that they were the "warthogs of the canine world." "From a distance, they look like grey pigs," William Ecenbarger wrote.

They've even been accused of being chupacabras. More than once.

Although Xolos were entered in the Westminster Dog Show in 2011, this year was the first in which the breed was officially recognized by the event. In fact, the American Kennel Club added Xolos to their directory of 170 purebred pooches just last year, a move that enabled the breed to enter the 2012 Westminster competition.

A sleek, rubbery-skinned two-year-old named Giorgio Armani was honored as best of his breed. He beat out ten other Xolo contenders.

Xolozcuintle, Beauty and Brains

The dogs are said to be loyal, instinctual, and great for use as substitutes for hot water bottles, since their skin is naturally warm. They can range in size from around 10 to 50 pounds.

There are also Xolo scholars. The book Xoloitzcuintle: Del Enigma Al Siglo XXI, is by Dr. Raúl Valadez Azúa and Gabriel Mestre Arrioja. "El Perro Pelon su Origen y su Historia," is authored by Dr. Raúl Valadez Azúa, Christopher M. Götz, and Velia V. Mendoza. Valadez is from Mexico's Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, and gives presentations on the dog's history, complete with artifacts, old bones, and what appear to be mounted trophy Xolos. He also writes papers that answer certain Xolos-related questions, like what did prehispanic Mexican dogs eat?

They also appear in the work of modern artists, like Oaxaca's Gabriela Léon, who poses with Xolos in some of her work. In one photograph from her politically charged project "Sunday Walk to the Zocalo of Oaxaca," she carries a Xolo with her to police barricades.