Itzquintle means “dog” in the important Nahuatl language the Aztecs spoke. All dogs can be called “itzquintles”.
“Xoloitzquintle” is the registered name for a breed of dogs that features a semi-dominant gene that restricts hair on the body of the dogs that carry it. Strictly speaking, the nakedness itself is not a breed because it doesn’t breed true. It is a mutation on the gene for normal hairy coats, which restricts the hair on dogs that get just one copy of the mutation. Because of the way this gene works, the single copy produces a condition midway between no copy and two copies. One copy of the mutated part of the gene (known as an allele), is dominant and those dogs will have a restricted hair look aka, phenotype. Two copies of the gene is considered lethal in this example, because the embryos with two copies of the mutation must have such an extreme condition of hairlessness and toothlessness that they never develop at all. On the other hand, when you breed hairless to hairless, you will get chances of two copies of the gene, as well as for one copy of the gene, but some coated dogs which are throwbacks to the original itzquintles have no copy of the gene. It is the nature of the semi-dominant gene to act this way.
The capital letter is the dominant allele, the small is the recessive. In this case they represent two hairless dogs bred together. The box above shows the odds for when two copies of the GG or dominant alleles meet, which is approximately 25%, so 25% of the puppies from a two hairless dog mating never develop. 50% will be hairless like their parents, and down in the lower right corner are the 25% that do not inherit a copy of the mutation. This semi-dominant mutation has been definitely traced to Mexico and happened at least 3 thousand years ago. It is easy to keep it going, for it only takes one hairless dog to produce the condition in approximately 25% of the resulting litter.
The Xoloitzquintle breed developers used this name in tribute to the context in which the dog arose, ancient Mexico. The naked dogs were considered to be of Xolotl who was Quetzalcoatl’s twin and also an odd dog, and thus the name invokes those ancient times when odd dogs belonged to Xolotl.
However, in choosing a name based on the Nahuatl word for dog they point out a way to look at a lot of Indian dogs today. There were a great number of Nahautl or Uto-Aztecan language speaking tribes spread across Western America down into Mexico. I haven’t been able to find the exact right map to include here, but about 30 tribes in the USA speak Uto-Aztecan languages, including the Utes, Commanches, Hopis, Pimas, and Yaquis and that does not include Mexico. Nahuatl must be one of the earliest language families in the greater southwest and it became one of the most important in central Mexico with the rise of the Aztecs.
(orange equals the range of the Uto-Aztecan language family. The purple- Athabascans- came in much later and squatted right in the middle of the formerly completely orange area)
So, what does an itzquintle throwback from the Xoloitzquintles look like? It looks like your basic dogwolf, prick eared , relaxed tail with absolutely nothing to distinguish it from most aboriginal dogs of the Americas, except they have fairly uniformly short hair.
Now I would like to add in a map by William Pferd III from Dogs of the American Indians (1987) which indicates where particular kinds of aboriginal dogs lived.
Wherever you see hairless dogs, the actual type of dog is the itzquintle to which the hairless gene has been added, as I explained earlier. These would also have been called “common dogs” by Allen and Pferd, had not the emphasis been on the hairless condition. The common dog is common to the area where the greatest number of Uto-Aztecan tribes occupied the land. I think Pferd drew the common dog area small, and somewhere I saw a map where the common dog was anywhere a specialized dog wasn’t. The common dog should cover all the white areas because there was no area where there were no dogs.
A caveat for these kinds of maps is that they are far from precise, but precision is not needed here. What is needed is to mentally superimpose the two maps and you can see the itzquintles are the major common dog of the Nahuatl speaking peoples. The hairless version is found from the border to the south where the weather is not such a challenge for hairless dogs.
(The hairless dogs also come in the techichi size, but I am not dealing with that here).
So my purpose here is to claim the name Itzquintle until the Xoloitzquintle people grab it for themselves, which they should, because it is an oxymoron of some kind to call the ones with hair “coated hairless” dogs or by the hairless version’s name, “coated Xoloitzquintles”,for it is only the hairless one that is special to Xolotl. These rest are plain old “itzquintles” and this name ties in very well with Grover Allen’s description of the Indian common dog.
One thing about the common dogs born to the kennel club registered Xoloitzquintles, they now have fairly long pedigrees of known ancestors, and as the popularity of the AKC Itzquintles grows, so does a resurgence of the common Indian dog of now known indigenous stock. Even if the hairless gene is the only one left that hasn’t been killed by Europeans, the phenotype of the common Indian dog has been maintained throughout all genetic changes, but that is the subject for another post.