If ever you’re doing a pub quiz and get asked to name a dog breed beginning with X, the answer is Xoloitzcuintle. Also known as the Mexican Hairless, it certainly isn’t the first breed you’d think of as a sports dog! Sarah Hamblin has kind of fallen in to the world of agility and dog sports - as many of us did! It certainly wasn’t a consideration when she became a Xolo owner! She gets a lot of questions about competing with such an rare and unusual breed when they're out and about so she was more than happy to share some with the Agilitynet community!
Xoloitzcuintle – it’s pronounced Show-low-it’s-queen-tlee or Xolo (Show-low) for short. There’s no Z involved and Xolo is perfectly acceptable! Though they’re also known as Mexican Hairless, this isn’t very accurate as many are fully coated. In fact, litters are usually born with a mixture of coated and hairless puppies.
Q. What were they bred for?
Absolutely nothing! Yes, I know that it takes a special kind of crazy to consider a dog with zero work ethic as a sports dog! 3,500 years ago the Ancient Aztecs, Toltecs and Mayans believed them to be a gift from the gods and they were worshipped. A status any Xolo would still have you believe today!
Q. Do they make good sports dogs?
That’s a tricky one to answer! They are very athletic, intelligent and high energy but their primitive nature means training often isn’t ‘off the shelf’ so you have to be on the ball with that and be ready to think outside the box!
Q. Are there many around?
The breed have been feared extinct twice, most recently in the 1950s though an expedition was led and 10 dogs were found in the wilds of Mexico. A pair were sent to London Zoo with the hopes of mating. Nowadays there are a couple of hundred in the UK over all three sizes - think Poodle sizing as a rough guide. Around five or six are competing in sports with another four or five young dogs in training.
Q. Do you have to do anything special on show days?
Xolos are pretty low maintenance, mine are all darker colours (I have a Grey/black a red/black and a merle) and have high pigmentation which means they tan incredibly well. I don’t have to sunscreen them but if they had white or pink patches or we suddenly had strong sun I’d be cautious.
In winter I have to time the preparation carefully, especially if it’s bitterly cold, so their coats come off at the right time to run without them getting cold muscles but also in good enough time for them to acclimatise a bit. I apologise to anyone I’ve ever said no to when they ask to push in front of us after we’ve stripped off….it’s nothing personal! In the summer the problem is keeping them in the shade! They love the hot weather and will bask in it all day if you let them. At RVA this summer I had to explain to one of the car park guards very early in the day that my dog was cold with the draught of the boot open and plead with them not to smash my windows before I dare walk my first course!
Q. Do they need any other extra care?
Not really, they’re the same as most dogs, wash them when they’re filthy, feed them when they’re hungry, cuddle them when they ask! A good diet is really important, like us if they live on a lot of processed food and sweets they can get spots and iffy skin. Fed and exercised well their skin tends to be lovely and smooth, though quite tough so running through fields and woods is never a problem.
Q. What’s your season been like?
Phenomenal! Karma, currently my only competing girl, has gone from Grade 1 in July to Grade 4 in October and competed at some amazing shows (I will add we weren’t always competitive, but we went and gave it a shot!) My 2018 goal was to compete in the Starters Cup and we got through to the final at Discover Dogs and placed 4th overall. My ultimate goal for her is to reach Grade 5, to end our first proper year at G4 is just amazing.
Q. That’s not a bad year! So they are good at agility?
As I mentioned, training can be tricky, you have to work hard to motivate them and you can’t repeat things, they second guess you and change it up because “surely you wouldn’t ask me to do the same thing 3 times when I did it right the first time…would you??!!” They’re not very toy motivated either but since we’ve been using choice games and building value in kit and actions, that’s a game changer! They also like to show off so sometimes our best runs come in the most unlikely of places!
Q. So training them is difficult?
I’d say the hardest part is understanding them. You need to be able to understand any dog to train effectively and I personally have to work very hard to understand my dogs better so I can present new challenges to them in the best possible way for them to succeed. In one respect I’m very lucky with Karma having been rehomed to me at 22 months old totally un-socialised. We have an incredible bond now and I can use that to our advantage. Though with my youngster I’ve had to dig deeper to try to create that bond and I’ve had to learn to step back and let her mature in her own time. She’s just turned two, and we are only just starting to sequence, but there’s no rush. They’ve managed 3,500 years without a job so another year or two is nothing!
For me a huge turning point was being asked to join Taming Canines Dog Sports Team, led by the amazing Hayley Laches. It’s given me a real insight into training ABCs (anything but collies) and watching her training lead to her success with both her Spaniel mix and Kelpie as well as her Flatcoat Retriever and Husky has been invaluable to me. We’re starting to build on our distance handling too with Hayley and I’ve noticed a definite shift in my dogs when they understand something enough to do it without me - there’s an extra spark. If my youngster were a 2-legged, she would be Hermione Granger from Harry Potter. She has to know and understand everything and then do it better than anyone else, Otherwise it’s just not worth getting out of bed for!
Q. What are other people’s reactions to them?
Very mixed! Some people just stand and stare. Some are captivated by their beauty, while others screw their faces up and walk by. They are still incredibly highly regarded in Mexico and I’ve had a few people in tears when they’ve met them as it’s deemed a huge privilege. Interestingly, if I am in public with just one, we hear 'oh poor thing' or 'eww how weird' yet, when I’ve got two or three with me, it’' more 'Wow! Look at them' and 'OMG, they’re amazing!'
Karma has charmed herself quite a few fans around the shows and it's true that more people know her name than mine, but I often forget how accepted she’s become until I go to a new show further afield and get stopped for questions every five minutes! She suffers from 'stranger danger' but loves the admiration, and I’m always happy to chat!
Q. What do you think of ABC classes in Agility?
I love them! It’s very hard to be competitive against herding breeds who are fast, athletic, intelligent and totally mad for it! It's nice to have a platform to showcase other breeds, too. I often say Karma and I are bridesmaids, whilst we pick up plenty of clear rounds, there will usually be a working breed beat us on time. I wish there were more ABC classes at shows. There’s certainly some really nice ABCs out there and so many people are now taking their pet dog out to try their paws at sports!
Q. Do you compete in just agility?
I also train and compete in Hoopers with my guys. I am an Accredited Canine Hoopers UK Instructor and often use one of my girls as stooge dogs in workshops. It’s great to be able to show people that any dog can have fun with sports, even the unlikely ones! It’s all about the enjoyment for me and if the dog is having a great time then so am I! Xolo’s often aren’t as fast as some other breeds which is why we love Hoopers too. It’s all based on points for progression rather than class wins and Karma is currently ranked no.2 within Canine Hoopers UK on points overall!
Q. What’s the worst part about having a rare breed in sports?
Being so recognisable!! There’s so many times I wished I had something like a Collie and could blend into the hordes of spectacular eliminations at any given show! For example, at the CSJ Open this year Karma spooked in the first round and knocked her confidence. Getting off to a shaky start meant we spent most of the show being recognised as 'that naked dog who trotted around, mostly clear, sometimes with time faults. I hope the judges all enjoyed the opportunity to both blink and breathe while we were in the ring. You don't get that luxury with a fast dog do you! We certainly enjoyed the opportunity to 'run' their courses!
Equally though, when a judge at KCI recognises her from a disastrous show and gives you some very personal feedback during the prize giving after a great round in a big class, that's very special indeed! As is a judge chasing you out of a G1-7 class, still clapping to tell you how thrilled she was to see an Import Register breed in her ring. I admit when I saw her coming, I thought oh oh! What have I done now! So I suppose it’s not all bad!
Q. What’s the best part of having a rare breed in sports?
Getting to set the bar! Karma is one of only two Xolos at Grade 4 - Ani, the mighty miniature is rocking it for the Smalls - and none have ever made it to Grade 5... yet!
Karma is also the first Xolo to be eligible for promotion in Hoopers.
She was also the first Standard Xolo to make the Main Arena at KCI and the first Xolo into the Main Arena at Discover Dogs.
Q. What sort of questions do you get asked?
'Do you shave your dog?' is always a favourite! I laugh and explain it’s a trauma to have to shave my legs before a show let alone the dog as well!!
Q. So what’s next?
Olympia and Crufts of course! I'd love to have a shot at the ABCs
Though we are looking forward to trying again at the CSJ Open and BAC in agility as well as the Tri Score Tournament in hoopers but we’ll just see where the wind takes us! I’m looking forward to the eligibility details for the Starters Cup next year too, that would be an amazingly ambitious goal for Dacey my youngster if we are eligible and another fantastic showcase for the breed.
Q. Any final words?
I’d like to say a very big thank you to everyone who has helped us achieve so much already from Claire Mason for her incredible patience and warped sense of humour that kept me believing that maybe, just maybe #nakedagility could be a thing! To everyone who has cheered us on at shows and in training, those who haven’t judged us when we’ve turned up to train with and alongside champ handlers and top dogs.Also for all the support we’ve received through an incredible year of competing and finally to Hayley Laches for showing us that standing out is already part way to outstanding!
For anyone apprehensive about getting into a ring or worried they can’t be competitive with their dog….it’s not always about that! I could burst with pride over some of the clear rounds we’ve had that were unplaced (and they were a long time coming!) and know that for every person who’s beaten us to a ribbon, there’ll be another who wished they ran our round. Go out there, have some fun with your dogs and challenge yourselves, set your own goals and don’t be afraid to dream big!
Karma just became the first Xolo to ever be awarded an official certificate of merit from the KC in any discipline with her Agility Warrant Bronze and I can’t wait to hang her first ever winning out certificate alongside this, a huge thank you to AgilityNet and thank you to all the crazy people who make Agility special!
She is a trainer and judge with Canine Hoopers UK. When not training and assessing Accredited Instructors Courses, she hosts workshops throughout the UK.
Having grown up on gundogs and working terriers, she fully appreciates the importance of dogs being kept fit and active both physically and mentally
She is based in the East Midlands in Leicestershire and is Vice Chair of the Xoloitzcuintle breed club.
Photo Credits: Agilityfoto and Shh…! Creative
First published 31st December 2018