There’s a famous story about the strangest dogs in the world. Supposedly, in the days of the Chinese maritime golden age, the traders hauled small hairless dogs, which killed the rats that tried to hitch a ride on the junks. When food became scarce on board, the hairless dogs were eaten. The Chinese supposedly introduced hairless dogs to the Americas and Africa. One version of the story is that hairless dogs come from Africa originally, and the Chinese traders took them to these far off ports.
The dog I’m talking about is called the Chinese crested dog, the breed that dominates the World’s Ugliest Dog Competition. One variety is nearly hairless, except on the head, feet, and tail. The long hair on the head resembles a crest, hence the name. The other variety is called the powderpuff. It has really long, thick hair. The hairless gene is dominant, but breeders cannot breed the hairless cresteds together, because the gene is a lethal homozygous, which means the puppies with two copies of the hairless gene usually die in utero. So the powderpuffs are necessary for development and maintenance of the breed. Some hairless dogs actually have a lot more hair on them than is expected, but unlike the powderpuffs, they have a single coat that may have bald patches.
The story behind this breed may be malarkey. The only hairless dogs that exist are of American origin. The Xoloitzcuintli (Mexican Hairless) of Mexico is the most famous. It is believed to have medicinal powers, because it gives off lots of body heat through its skin. There are also breeds in Peru that have hairless varieties. It’s a similar gene that causes the hairlessness in these dogs. It’s a dominant gene, although its not necessary a lethal homozygous. It’s likely that pariah dogs in the Americas started turning up hairless amd then these were kept as pets and given preferential breeding opportunities. It’s not unusual to see hairless dogs among the pariah dogs in some Mexican cities, even today, although these dogs are not as hairless as the dogs we have here.
But here’s the thing: the coated varieties of all of these dogs are not long-haired. The coated Xolo looks like a Carolina dog. Here’s a picture:
Where did the Chinese Crested originate?
Well, there’s actually a good theory on this breed. It involves no Chinese junks. It doesn’t involve China at all.
In the 1920′s, two breeders named Ida Groves and Deborah Woods founded the Crest Haven Kennel. All Chinese Crested dogs come from there. My guess is that they took the smaller Xolos and bred them to the Maltese and other puffy breeds of dog. It’s kind of funny, though, because the Rothschild Zoological Museum seems to think that there is something to the African and Chinese origins of these dogs. My guess is they were fooled by some dog dealer.
Hairlessness is really well-established only in Latin American dog populations, where there are lots of interesting dog mutations. In addition, there are dogs with two noses in Bolivia. These dogs were probably more common in the past, because the Spanish conquistadors mentioned them almost as often as they mentioned the hairless dogs. Remember, the people of the Americas were expert dog breeders, every bit as much as European and East Asian dog breeders. Dogs were often the only domestic animals they had, so breeding for utility was a concern.