It’s National Nude Day — We Celebrate With Hairless Dogs!

"Naked" dog breeds such as the Chinese Crested and the Peruvian Inca Orchid show lots of skin.


It’s National Nude Day! Ever wonder what it would be like to hang out in a nudist colony? Maybe take a stroll on a nude beach? Just ask the folks who share their lives with any of the nude breeds. But remember, before you or your dog do any nude sunbathing, be sure to use sunscreen!

The Mexican Hairless was the first canine nudist to became widely, um, exposed in North America. The American Kennel Club registered the first one in 1887, but it was so scarce (or perhaps modest?) it wasn’t until 1940 that the first one earned a championship. This did nothing to fan the flames of popularity, and in 1959 the AKC dropped the Mexican Hairless from its breed list — something that never happens! America apparently was just not ready for total nudity.

Meanwhile, another exhibitionist was on the rise. The Chinese Crested started to appear in paintings in the mid-19th century, and they were strutting about naked in American show rings by 1897. Of course, the breed is not totally hairless. The Crested has long hair on the top of his head, his ankles, and his tail. A dog’s got to have a little modesty!

In the 1950s, the breed received exposure from its most famous owner and breeder, stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. But the Crested also had a false start with the AKC, joining its Miscellaneous Class in 1955 but getting dropped by 1965. Not to be daunted, the Chinese Crested was not only back by 1991, but with full AKC recognition — and climbing the popularity lists.

The Mexican Hairless then ventured back into the spotlight. Only now they had a stage name: the Xoloitzcuintli. Because, of course, a catchy easy-to-spell name helps, right? And Mexican Hairless was too hard to say? Actually, the name comes from the Aztec Indian god Xolotl and “Itzcuintli,” the Aztec word for dog. Just say Xolo for short.

Whether the name appealed to people, or America had simply warmed to the idea of dogs who showed skin, this time the Xolo found many admirers, and in 2011 the breed became a full-fledged member of the AKC Non-Sporting group. The breed comes in three sizes: Toy (10-14 inches tall), Miniature (14-18 inches tall), and Standard (18-23 inches tall). Like the Crested, the dog often has a Mohawk and maybe a bit of hair on his tail.

Yet another buck-naked dog came out of hiding: the Peruvian Inca Orchid, also known as the Moonflower Dog. Throughout most of the world, the official name is Perro sin Pello de Peru (Dog Without Hair of Peru). The breed comes in three size varieties. Small is 8.75-15.75 inches tall and 8.5-17.5 pounds. Medium extends to 19.75 inches tall and 26.5 pounds. Large goes up to 25.75 inches tall and 55 pounds.

The PIO has been around since the days of the ancient Incans. It’s more Greyhound-like compared to the Xolo, possibly because of an influx of Greyhound blood from the Conquistadors.

All three of these hairless dogs share the same mutation that causes hairlessness. A single dominant gene causes the hairless condition. Dogs with two copies of the gene die as embryos. Dogs with no copies grow normal coats. This gene makes it impossible to breed a pure hairless Crested, Xolo, or PIO. Even if two hairless dogs are bred, about one quarter of the puppies will be coated. At one time breeders thought this was “nature’s way of keeping the hairless puppies warm.” The coated puppies in the litter were thought to provide warmth to their littermates. This of course isn’t so, because some totally hairless litters are born and thrive. And mostly because genetics doesn’t work that way. Maybe some are just more modest than others.

In Chinese Cresteds, these haired dogs are called Powderpuffs. They have long flowing hair, just like the hair the hairless ones have on their head, ankles, and tail. In Xolos and PIOs, the coated dogs have short hair. The coated ones kind of look like ordinary dogs, so you have to really study them to figure out what they are! But they are essential for keeping the breed alive.

The hairless gene has one other interesting side effect: It causes teeth to be crooked and even missing. The effect is called a pleiotropic effect, which means it’s a side effect and you really can’t breed against it.

The American Hairless Terrier breaks this mold. What else would you expect from the only hairless breed to come from the USA? In 1972 a hairless puppy named Josephine was born to two normally coated Rat Terrier parents. She was bred and produced more hairless puppies. Her descendents are now in the AKC Miscellaneous class, a waiting room for full recognition.

What sets the American Hairless apart from the other hairless breeds is the gene that causes it. The AHT gene is a recessive, so it takes two copies to produce a hairless dog, and there’s no such thing as embryos dying as a result of having two copies. It also doesn’t affect the teeth.

These are the top nudists in America, but a few other nude breeds may have existed elsewhere. The African Hairless Dog is no longer known, but there’s a stuffed one from the early 19th century in a museum in England. There have also been accounts of an Egyptian Hairless Dog and a Siamese Hairless Dog.

It’s possible mutations for hairlessness occur spontaneously. I met somebody whose Pit Bull was hairless. When I quizzed her, she said yes, he had crooked and missing teeth. Both his parent were coated. I’ve since heard other reports of hairless Pit Bulls, but have not been able to find details. It seems peculiar that a mutation would spontaneously occur in just this one breed so often. Instead, perhaps it’s another gene, or just a case of nudist fever!

Do you own a hairless dog? Have you spent time with one? Let’s hear what you think about these fascinating dogs in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you’d like us to write about, let us know that, too!

Interested in other breed profiles? Find dozens of them here.

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