Chihuahuas and Xolos — Mexico's dog breeds

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with a look at Chihuahuas and Xolos, breeds native to Mexico.

For dog lovers, the Mexican celebration of Cinco de Mayo, held every year on May 5, is also a great time to celebrate Mexico’s two native dog breeds – the Chihuahua and the Xoloitzcuintli (Xolo for short). What better time to learn more about these unique breeds and their mixes, and to discover if adopting one would be right for you?

Chihuahuas – a short history

According to the American Kennel Club, the 9th century Toltecs (who lived in what is now Mexico) raised a breed of dog called the Techichi, considered to be the ancestor of today’s Chihuahua. The breed gets its name from the Mexican state of Chihuahua, where the earliest examples of these dogs were discovered.

Traits and characteristics 

  • Today’s Chihuahuas may have short or long coatschihuahua
  • Although tiny, Chihuahuas and their mixes usually have strong personalities and are alert and playful. They can also be nervous and easily startled. Chihuahuas shake when anxious, according to Dr. Nick Adams of Misfit Haven Animal Rescue and Adoption Center, which focuses primarily on Chihuahuas and their crosses.
  • Chihuahuas make great family pets, as well as companions for single and senior homes; though these dogs can be territorial and protective of their space, they are highly trainable, and can be very affectionate when well socialized.
  • Chihuahuas feel the cold more than many other breeds, so if you live in a northerly region with colder winters, your Chihuahua should wear a warm dog sweater or coat when going outside.
  • Dr. Adams says that one challenge surrounding Chihuahuas is that people adopt them without adequately researching their characteristics and needs. “These are not typically dogs that you put on a leash and take for a walk,” he says. “Chihuahuas are primarily homebodies. They just don’t have the muscular capacity or mass for walking in public, though Paris Hilton did popularize that idea with her reality TV program. These are best suited for staying at home. They are ideal for people who like to have their pets follow them around the house, and are great with children, particularly when adopted as puppies so that they can be well-socialized.”
  • Contrary to what some people believe, Chihuahuas aren’t any more delicate healthwise than many other breeds. Dr. Adams says that any chronic ailments they may have are usually associated with allergies such as skin irritations, sneezing and runny eyes.

Small but mighty

Despite their diminutive size, Chihuahuas are resilient and resourceful. As an example, Dr. Adams talks about Oden, a four-year-old Chihuahua he recently took in for rehabilitation and adoption. Oden was brought to the shelter after an incident involving a house that exploded due to a chemical fire. “When he first came to me, he was of course traumatized by what happened to him. The only thing that saved him was that he was underneath a couch at the time of the explosion. But now, to interact with him, you wouldn’t know he’d been through something so awful. He is affectionate, kind and loving, a testimony to the resilient spirit of this breed,”

Believe it or not, chihuahuas can also be working dogs. Back in 2007, CBS reporter Brian Dakss featured a seven-pound female Chihuahua that was doing police work because her small size made her ideal for searching for drugs in small spaces, something larger police dogs were at a disadvantage for!

“I recommend doing your homework prior to adopting a Chihuahua to be sure this breed is right for your lifestyle,” concludes Dr. Adams. “But beyond that, if you’re looking for a wonderful dog that’s both loyal and loving, consider the Chihuahua.”

Did you know? The ancient Aztecs thought Xolos had healing properties and could cure a variety of ailments, including arthritis. This belief could have arisen because Xolos, with their primarily hairless bodies, seem to radiate more warmth than full-coated dogs, making them good “hot water bottles”!

Showcasing the Xolochihuahua

Like the Chihuahua, the Xolo has ancient roots in Mexico, dating back to around 3,000 years. It’s recognized as one of the oldest and rarest breeds, says the Xoloitzcuintli Club of America. According to the AKC, “Xoloitzcuintli” (pronounced “show-lo-itz-queent-li”) comes from “Xolotl”, the name of an Aztec god, and “itzcuintli”, the Aztec word for “dog”. Also referred to as “Mexican hairless dogs”, Xolos are generally larger than Chihuahuas (there are toy, miniature and standard varieties), with a lean, muscular body type. They can be either hairless or have a short flat coat.

The Xolo is calm, loyal and alert, and makes a good pet and guard dog. He is quiet and attentive, sometimes rather aloof. Xolos are better suited for exercise than Chihuahuas, and enjoy walks. Because of their lack of hair, they’re also good for people with allergies.

Xolos enjoy good health, but because of their exposed skin they need protection from the elements. They’re considered indoor dogs, especially during the winter, and should wear a coat or sweater when outside in the sun or on cold days. Never leave a Xolo outside for long periods. Dry skin may also be an issue in this breed.

Chihuahua and Xolo rescues

Canadian Chihuahua Rescue & Transport,
Misfit Haven Animal Rescue, Inc./Adoption Center,
Xoloitzcuintli Primitive Breed Rescue,
Xolo Rescue League,


Anabelle Lee Macri lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She graduated from the University of Georgia with a Bachelor's degree in journalism, and is a freelance writer.