By Susan Dearing

The animal most frequently depicted in Colima art is the hairless dog, known as the Techichi or Escuincle. It is believed to be a relative of the Chihuahua and/or the Mexican Hairless (Xoloitzcuintle). 

The word Xoloitzcuintle (pronounced show-low-eats-queen´-tlee) is derived from the name of the Aztec god Xolotl (twin brother of the god Quetzacoatl), and the Aztec word for dog, itzcuintli

Known to exist in Mexico for more than 3,000 years, the Xolo (show-low) can justly claim the distinction as first dog of the Americas.

Please click on photos below to enlarge

A popular pup known world-wide, and not just a pretty pet. The truth is, the dogs served much more practical, and sometimes exalted purposes.

This pottery puppy in real life was probably fattened up to be eaten, or sacrificed to the gods.

Bradley and Laura Soberano at their arts and crafts booth across the street (south) from the Soriana supermarket

When you visit Colima, you'll find replicas of the famous Colima Dog everywhere. No gift shop would be worth its salt if it didn't have at least one sculpture of Colima's porky pooch. Instead of having chocolates or  flowers delivered, bring home this lovable doggie instead.

The Colima Dog was known to have a variety of uses throughout its centuries of existence: food source, guardian to the dead, healer, watchdog. At least two different types of Colima dogs evolved: one to be fattened up and eaten or ritually sacrificed, and another type for a watchdog and healer of the sick. 

Esteemed as protectors, Xolos were believed to safeguard the home from evil spirits as well as intruders. If the canine was a good guard dog, he would be kept and used as breeding stock. It is believed that, because of the tendency of the breed to make good watchdogs, the superior animals were used to produce stronger and larger animals--hence, today the size of the Mexican Hairless can weigh in at 60 lbs.

"Dancing Dogs" are perhaps the most popular replica in the state of Colima. It is also used in numerous logos of businesses and charities. The dog on the left is depicted as either having hair or wrinkles, while the dog on the right is totally smooth.

Boy holding dog, and dog with food bowl holding an ear of corn

Fat Colima Dog with corn;
Colima dog sleeping

The Xolo held a place of special religious significance for many ancient cultures. Clay and ceramic effigies of Xolos date back over 3000 years and have been discovered in the tombs of the Toltec, Aztec, Mayan, Zapoteca, and Colima Indians. 

The famous pottery dogs of Colima provide evidence of the intricate bond which has existed between man and Xolo for centuries. All of these relics give testimony to the civilizations' fondness for these wonderful dogs. They are truly a living link to the glory of these primitive cultures.

The fat dogs most often depicted in Colima sculpture were eaten. Possibly that's why many of the sculptures of the Colima Dog portray the pooch with an ear of corn in his mouth. 

Diego Durán writes that at the time of the Conquest, hundreds of dogs were for sale at the Market of Acolman near the pyramids of Teotihuacan in Central Mexico. It was also reported that the meat was delicious. Durán was a Spanish clergyman, who was brought to Mexico as a child, and grew up in the Aztec capital city of Texcoco, where he learned to speak Nahuatl, an indigenous language still taught today at the University of Colima. Durán spent his life chronicling the religion and customs of local people.

Perhaps it was the growing taste for escuincle meat that brought the dogs beyond their original turf into more temperate climates, where inevitably they needed special care; Jesuit Priest De Sahagún reports that in the Central Valley they were wrapped in blankets during the winter.

A collection of Colima Dogs at the Nogueras Museum near Comala, north of Colima City.

The Olmec (1,200 B.C.E. to C.E. 600) tribes are often regarded as the "mother" culture of Mexico and were known to eat dogs during their time.

The Mayans (1,000 B.C.E. to about C.E. 1,000) believed that the artifacts they left in their grave would eventually join the dead in the afterlife, which is why the Mayans also put mummified dogs into their tombs. The Mayans believed that dogs were guardians of the afterlife, and the sacred mummification of a dog would allow the dead canine to help the deceased to his ultimate destination.

By the age of the Toltec (700 C.E. to 1,160 C.E.) tribe, it became quite common to eat canine. Evidence suggests that they ate plump, thick-necked dogs with short erect ears and tail. Clearly the dog was bred for the table, particularly the nobles.

The Aztec raised turkeys and dogs, which were eaten by the wealthy, and usually only on special occasions. Male dogs were castrated and fattened on corn, and either eaten or sacrificed. Just so dog lovers won't feel bad, the Aztecs also practiced cannibalism, and the sacrifice of humans.

In his Historia de Tlaxcala (1585), Diego Muñoz de Camargo describes the sacrifices of several hairless dogs to the rain god. Believers conducted canine sacrifices by shooting them with arrows, asphyxiating them, or throwing the hog-tied animals on rocks before extracting their hearts, which were later cooked.

In addition to raising dogs as a food source, many peoples of Mexico believed that a dog accompanied a person's soul on the journey into the underworld. Discovery of these dog sculptures and mummified dogs in tombs suggests they were intended as companions for the deceased. The Xolo dog was named after the god who would lead the deceased into the afterlife. Xolotl ("Lord of the Underworld") was the deity who aided the dead on their journey to the afterlife.

A 2,000-year-old Xolo

There are two types of modern-day Xoloitzcuintle: coated (front) and hairless (back), coming in 3
sizes, toy, mini & standard

Although not recognized by the American Kennel Club as a breed,   the Xoloitzcuintle is the official
dog of Mexico (and Colima).

Highly prized for their curative and mystical powers, the Xolo's breed purity appears to have been maintained throughout the ages. 

Ancient clay representations bear witness to the fact that the species has remained virtually unchanged for centuries. 

Modern day Xolos bear a striking resemblance to the primeval artifacts found in museums all over Mexico.

The Colima Dog's reputation as a healer persists to this day. It is not at all uncommon to find small Chihuahua-like dogs put to use in remote Mexican and Central American villages. Believed to ward off and cure numerous ailments including rheumatism, asthma, toothache and insomnia, undoubtedly the gentle warmth of the animal's smooth skin does have a soothing effect on the sufferer. Being hairless, the dogs do radiate a lot of heat.

In pre-Columbian times, if a dog showed promise as a healer he was kept as a pet and spared being a main course on his master's dinner table. In addition to its supernatural significance, the xolo or escuincle fulfilled some of the more pragmatic needs of the ancient Mexicans. 

Though in general domesticated animals played a much less important role in the pre-Columbian diet than in that of Europeans, ancient Mexicans cooked and ate escuincles, often prepared in green sauce and served with pigweed. (Pigweed, also known as amaranth, grows wild in North America. There are more than 60 species. The leaves have an extremely high vitamin and mineral content. Amaranth seed is at least as rich in protein as soybeans and contains amino acids essential to health, and can be ground like maize. The leaves can be picked when young and used as greens.) 

A species of Pigweed

Comala-style earthenware vessels with decorative representations of foodstuffs along their rims occasionally incorporate the figure of an escuincle; one unusual ceramic piece depicts a life-sized roasted dog ready for carving. 

One of the first conclusive pieces of evidence of the existence of dogs in the American Continent before the arrival of the Spanish is found in the written statement of Father Sahagún who examined and wrote of the things he observed:

"The dogs of this land have four names, called: Chichi, Itzcuintli, Xochiocoyotl, Tetlamin; and also tehuizotl.
"They are of different colors. There are black, others white, others gray-like, and others with stains. There are some large animals, others have long hair. They have long snouts, their teeth are sharp and large, their ears are concave and hairy, they have a large head; they are corpulent and have sharp claws; they are tame and domestic, they accompany and follow their master or owner. They are joyous, and wag their tail in sign of peace. They growl and bark; they lower their ears toward their neck in sign of love. They eat bread and green corn stalks, and raw meat and cooked as well. They eat dead bodies and eat corrupted meat.
"They breed in this land some dogs with no hair at all, and if they had any hair strands they were few indeed. They raise other dogs that they call Xoloitzcuintli with no hair at all, and by night they covered them with blankets to sleep. These dogs are not born this way; from small puppies they smooth over them a resin which is called Oxitl, with which their hair falls out leaving the body smooth. Others say that they are born without hair in the towns of Teotlixco and Toztlan. There are other dogs that are called tlalchichi, short and round, that are very good to eat."
After the Conquest, the popularity and reverence for the escuincle was largely replaced with the arrival of European dogs, and the animal survived only in Western Mexico, the area of its origin. Fortunately, the escuincle did not suffer the same fate as the dogs indigenous to the island of Hispaniola, which were hunted to extinction by Columbus's famished crew. Instead, throughout the colonial era and well into the 19th century, numerous laws enacted to control the problem of stray dogs effectively reduced the escuincle population. On occasion manufacturers used the dogs' skins for gloves made for export. 

Then, during World War I, military scientists experimented on the dogs with poisonous gases because of the similarities between the animals' skin and that of humans, which accelerated the already dwindling population. 

Check the lower-left corner of Diego Rivera's mural for the escuincle bravely defending his home turf against a European import.

It was not until the mid-20th century that the escuincle had a reversal of fortunes. With the fevered nationalism of the post-revolutionary era, the dogs began to attract the attention of Mexican artists. 

For Diego Rivera, this most Mexican of animals functioned as a symbol of national pride; escuincles frolicked in the gardens and patios of Rivera and Frida Kahlo's "Blue House" in Coyoacán, as documented in numerous photographs of Lola Alvarez Bravo and others. In the corner of Rivera's mural, painted in Mexico City's National Palace, an escuincle filled with the spirit of indigenous resistance can be seen snarling at the European pooch imported by the conquistadors. Rivera's private collection of ancient art, now housed in the Anahuacali Museum, includes several of his pre-Columbian ceramic escuincles. Escuincles also populate the artwork of Frida Kahlo, Maria Izquierdo, and others of the post-revolutionary generation.

Frida and her pets, including an escuincle

The flourishing Aztec civilization was halted by the arrival of Hernan Cortes in the early 1,500s. At this time, many of the Techichi were believed to have become feral. What is known about the Techichi is that it was bigger than the modern day Chihuahua and had hair. It is thought that the Chihuahua originated from the cross breeding of Asiatic hairless dogs, but now it is known that the Techichi was in Mexico at least 1,000 years prior to the existence of the Asiatic species. The Techichi was also hunted and eaten by the Spaniards, but obviously some of the breed managed to survive. It wasn't until the late 1800s that the Chihuahua that we know today made an appearance in the civilized world. A few were found in Mexico around 1850 and named after the Mexican state they were found in, Chihuahua. They remained rare until the early 1900s.

The bottom line is that most likely, the Colima Dog sculptures seen in the museums and the replicas sold in gift shops all around the state were once roasted and prepared for a wealthy nobleman, shaman, or honored warrior, or were sacrificed to accompany a loved one to his final destination. Some cultures ate the meat of the Xoloitzcuintle for ritual or medicinal purposes, and sources say the meat may still be found for sale in some parts of rural Mexico.

Another great article
about Xolos

Today the Xolo has three sizes - toy, miniature and standard, and two varieties, hairless and coated. Efforts to establish the Xolo as a purebred have met with little success. No large scale breeding programs exist to promote good quality. Neither country of origin nor the breed standard (at this point in time) offer direction to breeders. Interest waned and in April 1959, the AKC (American Kennel Club) voted to drop the Mexican Hairless from the Stud Book. However, the breed is viewed as a national treasure in Mexico. An interesting video about this species is:
This is an American web site that is very interesting about the breed, so those who want to learn more about our "Colima Dog."

Own your own Colima dog!

Facts about
the Xolo breed

Timeline for the cultures mentioned above.

Olmec: 1,200 B.C. to A.D. 600
Mayan: 1,000 B.C. to about A.D. 1,000
Toltec: 700 to 1,160
Inca: 1,438 to 1,532