Archaeological and iconographical sources make it clear that just like today, even in the distant Mesoamerican past, dogs were mankind’s best friend.
But unlike other regions of the world, only three dog breeds are known to have existed in ancient Mesoamerica. These are the Xoloitzcuintli, the similar but harrier Itzcuintli, and the Tlalchichi, a now-extinct short-legged breed also known as the Colima dogs.
Coyotes, which are also canines, were also commonly depicted in Mesoamerican art and folklore, though because they were not domesticated were feared and revered in almost equal measure.
The role of dogs in Mesoamerican cultures varied between regions and periods, but aside from offering companionship and protection, they were occasionally sacrificed and even eaten, especially in the Aztec culture.
Like in other parts of the world, it was also not uncommon for dogs to be buried with their owners as the animals were associated with both endings and new beginnings.
In the Popol Vuh, the K’iche’ Maya creation myth, dogs play several important roles in the narrative. For example, in the story of the hero, twins sacrificed a dog that belonged to the lords of Xibalba (the underworld) and then brought it back to life.
There is also the case of the dog deity Xólotl, who was venerated as the god of fire and thunder by people, including the Toltec.
Another interesting aspect about Xólotl is that he is the brother of Quetzalcóatl, the feathered serpent deity, as they were both birthed by the virgin goddess Chimalma.
The tlalchichi or Colima Dog was hunted to extinction in the XVII century by Spanish conquistadors who considered them to be unclean.
Given their relatively small size it is likely that these dogs served mostly as companions. Depictions of the Colima dog are plentiful and are often depicted dancing or in cute poses.
Reproductions of famous Colima dog figures continue to be produced today and are often seen displayed in people’s homes.
Unlike the Colima dog, the larger and more resourceful Xoloitzcuintli has managed to survive.
Despite the common belief that all Xoloitzcuintli are hairless, this is in fact not the case. It just so happens that the hairless variety has become so popular that their furry counterparts get much less attention.
As purebreds, hairless Xoloitzcuintli are fairly sought after they don’t often go for under 500 USD.
In recent decades the popularity of the Xoloitzcuintli has exploded, with thousands of specimens now in Europe, especially Sweden and Russia.