Also known as the Mexican hairless breed of dog, the Xoloitzcuintli is believed to be the first animal domesticated in the Americas. It is mostly hairless, and can range in size from that of a Chihuahua to that of a Doberman. Archaeological evidence shows that they were kept by the Maya as early as 300 AD.
The Xolo is named for the Aztec god Xolotl (known as Pek to the Maya), whose earthly form was that of a dog. Xolotl was the twin of Quetzalcoatl, representing lightning and the planet Venus in its aspect as the evening star. It was also believed that he met souls after death and guided them to Mictlan, one of the lands of the dead. For this reason, many ancient burial sites contain Xoloitzcuintli figurines or actual sacrificed dogs.
The ancient Mexicans used the Xoloitzuintli for a variety of purposes. They were raised in herds for food, sacrifice, and sale at market. They were also good hunters, and kept for protection and companionship. As food, it was believed that they could cure arthritis and other ailments. Also, because of their lack of hair, they are very warm to the touch and were used as sleeping companions, as a living hot-water bottle for ailments or just to keep warm. An extremely cold night was a "three-dog night".
The Xoloitzuintli had nearly died out by 1956, when Norman Pelham Wright got his hands on a few pure specimens and began a breeding program. Today there are about 4000 in the world.
The name can also be spelled with an 'e' on the end, instead of an 'i'.
Mexican and Central American Mythology, by Irene Nicholson