If you thought Dante, the dog from Disney's Coco, was just a street mutt, you're wrong. Dante is a Xoloitzcuintli, now more commonly known as the Xolo Dog or the Mexican hairless dog. These hairless canines were thought by the ancient Aztecs to be guides to the underworld, and they're represented in Aztec tombs and art throughout history, in addition to some of Frida Kahlo's work and now the hit Pixar film.
However, just because these naked lil' guys are adorable doesn't mean you should necessarily own one. Huskies rose to popularity with Game of Thrones, and then ended up in shelters thanks to unprepared and unqualified owners. So, if you think you'd like a Xolo, do your research first and be sure to look at shelters and rescue groups. In the meantime, here's some history about these ancient dogs and what inspired the makers of Coco to go all in on this fun little character.
The Xolo Isn't A Pixar Invention
Dante, the scene-stealing dog from Coco, isn't just a figment of some artist's imagination. Dante is a Xolo, short for Xoloitzcuintli (pronounced "show-low-eats-KWEEN-tlee"). Though the Xolo isn't as popular today as it once was, it's now more commonly known as the Mexican hairless dog. There are three sizes of Xolos today: toy, miniature, and standard, ranging in weight from five to 40 pounds. They're known as guard dogs, but have a calm demeanor and aren't predisposed to any health problems.
BTW, They're Naked
The outstanding characteristic of the Xolo is, well, that it's naked. The breed is naturally hairless. Though hairlessness is a genetic defect, the Xolo was then actually bred to stay hairless. Some Xolos -- about 20% -- do have a short coat, making them hypoallergenic.
Because the Xolo doesn't have natural protection from the sun or the elements, owners have to vigilantly protect their skin. Like people, Xolos can get sunburns and skin cancer; they also have more skin problems in general than other dogs in part because their skin is barely protected. But Xolos aren't alone in their nakedness; they're joined by the Chinese Crested and cats like the Spyhnx.
Xolos Were Considered Guides To The Underworld In Ancient Mexico
In Coco, Dante's tongue may have been pretty long, but the Xolo itself has an even longer history. The Xolo made it to Mexico about 3,500 years ago, coming over with Asian settlers. According to National Geographic,
"The Xoloitzcuintli gets its name from two words in the language of the Aztecs: Xolotl, the god of lightning and death, and itzcuintli, or dog. According to Aztec belief, the Dog of Xolotl was created by the god to guard the living and guide the souls of the dead through the dangers of Mictlán, the Underworld."
It's no wonder, then, that Disney/Pixar animators wanted to use this specific breed as a model for Dante: nearly the entire story of Coco takes place in Mexico's Underworld.
The Xolo isn't the only ancient breed we have today, though -- but it's one of the most rare. Pekingnese are about 2,000 years old, the Saluki possibly dates back to 10,000 BCE, and the Shar Pei to 206 BCE. The Chow Chow is likely one of earliest breeds to have descended from the wolf.
They Can Lead You To The Underworld If The Need Arises
The Aztecs thought that the Xolo could lead them through the underworld and as a result, ancient Xolo owners were often buried with their dogs in tombs. Representations of Xolos were prevalent in burials for about 600 years. Knowing the Xolo's place in Aztec culture, it makes sense that Dante the Xolo was the right dog to guide Miguel through the strange Underworld setting of Coco.