Between Xoloitzcuntle, Xoloitzcuintli or Xoloescuincle it’s just as complicated as trying to figure out how to spell it.
By Lucero Gonzalez
"Xolos" are a breed that was once on the brink of extinction and soon after their recovery they found a place occuping our houses, our hearts and now even a referent in the world of our country.
My name is Lucero Gonzales and I am a canine educator and also work with canine behavioral management. The importance of behavior modification is to help better manage emotions and have better responses to negative emotions. It’s never to stop feeling emotions, but instead to learn to channel and recover better from situations.
I’ve always enjoyed talking about dogs and it’s always been important for me to help their humans understand them better. Thus, allowing me to create communications to strengthen the bond between dog & human.
Throughout my work as a canine educator and behaviorist I have worked with many Xolos of all sizes and colors. No matter the size or color, I realized that they all had something in common. Something that’s been inherited from generation to generation: “fear”, as some people may call it.
It is well known that each breed has certain characteristics and one of characteristics Xolos carry is their fear. This fear can range from the people around them, dogs or simply new situations.
By working with Xolos (and always with positive reinforcement, if I may add) and guiding their humans to generate a correct communication, I would see how the dogs transformed. They would first learn to trust themselves and in their humans, then slowly they would discover their great agility capabilities and lastly they would become better at adapting to changes. Even with all the positive progress, I’ve seen that in some cases there are things or moments that continue to cause the dogs fear. I’ve also seen that with consistent work their level of recovery to calm down has become a lot quicker.
My approach to canine training has always been with positive reinforcement and always with a full body harness and long leashes. The goal to working with positive reinforcement is to make our dogs learn to control themselves instead of having us control them. I don’t conceive the life of a dog with a prong collar or E-collar to make them understand a command or for control. Although these tools might give a feeling of control, it’s simply just that. It gives US the control, but it doesn’t help to give the dogs the tools they need to learn and manage on their own.
I’m fully aware of the frustration, anger and sadness that comes from having a dog that reacts/reactive or that can potentially bite a person/another dog. I understand perfectly, but I do also know that if you work with a dog consistently then the road will become easier in the long run. On top of that, the bond will be greater and the trust between you and your dog will be even better than before. That is because we are giving our dogs the proper tools to carry instead of just avoiding the situation or having to control our dog at all times.
I’d now like to speak about my journey with my Xolo, Xolina.
Xolina Tliltlic (tliltlic is black in Nahuatl) came into my life as a puppy. The first day she arrived she hid in the kennel because she was too afraid. I said to myself, "ok, she’s afraid, than that means we’ll need all hands on deck".
The first thing was to work on her proprioception to give her some sense of security. I wanted her to understand her body and how to maneuver it. Secondly, I had her work in different environments and scenarios. Thirdly, we slowly allowed her to meet different dogs in different sizes and energies. All these steps were done at a slow pace and at anytime she showed signs of fear or stress we would simply withdraw from the area. We also worked hard to prepare her for situations that we knew she would face throughout her life: fire, thunder, fireworks, and of course, the veterinary.
Introducing rain was fairly simple. We would simply go out and play in the rain and showed her that it was fun and not scary. So much so that today I can say that we might’ve overdid it! She’s become a complete water lover. I guess sometimes we make our dogs enjoy things more than we’d like to bargain for.
Fireworks - Mexico has many celebrations that are very noisy and therefore it is important for us to keep that in mind. Fireworks usually play a big part in these celebrations so it was that much more important to desensitize Xolina to these elements. It wasn’t easy, so during fireworks we always make sure prepare using Adaptil medication, various games to keep her mind busy and always making sure she isn’t left alone during this time.
It’s important that during the first experiences you never leave your pets alone. As I always say: months of work for years of pleasure. And so it was! Now she sleeps soundly through those parties whether we’re there with her or not.
With the veterinarian, we taught her positions that would help her cooperate with medical management and not be forced to do anything she didn't want to. For example, “Carita” is a command where she puts her chin in my hand while she is being listened to or vaccinated. “Revision” means that she must lay on her side for tummy check or ultrasound. I’ve also taught her how to use the kennel and the head cone in case those are ever or when they are needed.
After all the hard work and building there is always things that can cause some set backs. Covid was ours. Everything was perfect during our vet visits for the first few years. Since emotions are always being worked on and then having a pandemic in full force, we were faced with new challenges.
During this time we weren’t allowed to be inside with her and were only allowed to see her through a window. This was brutal for us as there was a lot of forced interactions. I hated seeing this. We worked hard to avoid having bad experiences at the vet and now we were forced to take a few steps back.
We’ve slowly been able to regain confidence and yes, she still gets stressed, but being next to me during our visits she’s able to cooperate. That's life though, sometimes we have to start over and rebuild.
What I love the most about Xolina is her personality. She is a dog with will, poise and great intelligence. It's not just because she's my dog, (because I have several and I don't think the same of them) but she understands perfectly. She learns new things very quickly, easily and she just loves to work! Her willingness is always rewarded and she knows that very well, but sometimes she just won’t budge. What I really love is when she looks at me with a look of "I know what you're asking of me, I understand it, but right now I don't feel like doing it". I just love that because I see that empowered dog that wants to make her own decisions. I love those dogs that aren't trying to please us all the time. I enjoy dogs like this because I always have to ask myself “how do I make her be interested in working with me?” and no matter what it is, we always succeed! Today we’re carrying out the discipline of “Agility” which we both really enjoy.
All the positive reinforcement work has given its results. I can walk her with a harness and leash along the streets with out worrying about people or dogs. Do keep in mind that I live in a neighborhood with plenty of human life, restaurants, off leash dogs, parties, and busy streets. Even though it’s not the Historic Center, it definitely does feel very similar! Those who know the area know exactly what we face on a day to day. All the work we put in from the beginning was worth it. Months of work for years of pleasure.
Today she is my great companion, the one who helps me with reactive dogs and even though life has gotten a little complicated she has always stayed in line making sure she diverts her attention and always keeping the balance.
So even with all the work and struggles, having a Xolo is one of the best things that has ever happened to me.