In North America, the remains of small, domesticated dogs have been found dating back from 11,000 to 12,000 years ago. In Mesoamerica, remains have been found from at least as early as 1,200 BCE, and probably earlier. When the Spanish Conquistadors arrived at the Mayan Yucatan they noted a small breed of dog which resembled a spaniel, called “Techichi”, a long haired mute dog. It is believed the early ancestors of the Aztecs, the Toltecs, were the first to domesticate the Techichi. The Aztecs revered the dog for its healing power for pain and for protection. The genetically mutated members of this breed, the hairless dog, were used for religious purposes.
History is not clear as to how the Techichi became the Chihuahua of today. Either the Chinese came to the Americas with their Chinese Crested Dog prior to Columbus or the Spaniards brought some of these dogs with them and/or took the Techichi back to Europe and the two breeds were integrated. A breed of dog that is often confused with, and is sometimes referred to, as a Hairless Chihuahua, is in fact, not a Chihuahua at all, but is the Mexican Hairless Xoloitzcuintli (show-low-its-queent-lee) or Sholo or, Xolo, for short. The Xolo is a true hairless dog. Archaeological evidence shows that the breed has existed in Mexico for over 3,000 years, possibly as far back as 5,700 years. They were used as hunting and traveling companions and considered sacred by the Aztecs for their spiritual and healing powers. The Aztecs believed the Xoloitzcuintli was a gift from the gods with the power to heal people’s illnesses. It is a known fact that their hairless skin radiates heat well and can be used as a living hot water bottle. They may have also been raised for meat, but it may have depended upon the situations in the lives of the Mesoamericans. The Xolo can vary in size from 10 to 30 and possibly up to 50 pounds. They were thought to be almost extinct until 1954 when an expedition of American and British members of the FCI (a federation of international kennel clubs) found ten good dogs in remote villages of Mexico. They were finally accepted as a miscellaneous breed by AKC in January of 2009. Since they are a rare and old breed, they are intelligent and have a heightened intuitive nature.
It was commonly believed by Mesoamericans that a dog would accompany and guide the deceased through the nine levels of the underworld. Skeletons of dogs have been found in Mayan and Aztec burial sites along with human remains. Some dogs were sacrificed and cremated with the corpse to ensure the deceased would have a companion-guide dog with them.
It was believed that when Aztecs died, most of them would journey through the 9 levels of the underworld to Mictlan, where the soul would find eternal rest, but it was a journey not without challenges. The soul would have to travel through deserts, climb hills, pass a giant snake, a giant lizard and suffer through a wind that was full of knives, among other dangers. The companion dog would guide his soulmate on this journey, lasting 4 years, until they reached the last level, Mictlan.
The first level of the underworld was known by two names, Where One Crosses the River and the other, The Place of Dogs, because there were so many dogs at the shore, faithfully waiting for their masters until they descended into the underworld, after death. When the dog recognizes his master, he jumps into the river and carries his master safely across; they then continue their journey all the way to the Aztec’s vision of the soul’s resting place in the Land of the Dead.
This article is dedicated to my sweet dog, Mona, who died tragically on November 29th, 2011 and Lola who went to the river on March 16, 2023. I know they are waiting for me.