The Peruvian Inca Orchid dog isn't like other breeds. Thanks to its noticeable lack of hair, it has a tendency to turn heads. Did we mention it's also pretty rare? Here’s what we know about the scarce (but surprisingly cuddly) South American canine.
1. THEY'RE THE NATIONAL DOG OF PERU.
The Peruvian Inca Orchid is an ancient breed. Thanks to clues on Chimu, Chancay, and Incan pottery, experts believe the dog existed as far back as 750 CE. When Spanish conquistadors arrived in Incan territory, they quickly took notice of the bald dogs. Some believe that the invaders bred their sighthounds with the PIO to create slightly larger dogs than the pups depicted on the scraps of pottery.
Peru is proud of its unusual-looking pet and declared it the national dog in 2001. To date, they are Peru’s only internationally-registered breed.
2. THEY HAVE MANY NAMES.
The name “Peruvian Inca Orchid” is pretty wordy, and its official Spanish moniker isn't much better: Perro sin pelo de Peru (Peruvian hairless dog). If you want something a little shorter, they’re also called perros flora or “flower dogs.”
3. AN AMERICAN NAMED THEM.
According to legend, the dogs were labeled perros flora by the Spanish, who first encountered them hanging out in caves with wild orchids (poetic, huh?). Another, equally lovely, nickname: Moon dogs, because of their aversion to the sun (you'd avoid it too if you had nothing covering your skin). American dog fancier Jack Walklin came across the many-named dog while visiting Peru in 1966. Combining several of its tags together, he settled on "Peruvian Inca Orchid," and brought eight of the dogs back to the U.S. A breeder by the name of Jenny Tall introduced some of the American dogs to Europe, which resulted in Germany also calling the breed by its American name. When referring to the breed, Peruvians prefer to stick with perro sin pelo de Peru.
4. NOT ALL OF THEM ARE HAIRLESS.
In the case of the PIO, the odd dogs out are actually the ones who look like, well, dogs. For the most part, these pups are totally hairless, or have little puffs of hair on their heads and tails. Occasionally, some are born with a full coat. These coated dogs look much more like traditional pooches than the hairless variety and sport cute, floppy ears. They also are more likely to have all of their teeth—the hairless gene is linked to missing a tooth or two.
5. THEY’RE RARE.
If you’re wondering why you haven’t come across any of these pups at the dog park, it’s because they’re incredibly rare. Thanks to their unusual appearance, they haven’t enjoyed the same amount of popularity as other breeds. Peruvian Inca Orchid dogs are not widely bred, and as a result, there are only about 1000 in the world.
6. INCANS USED THEM AS BED WARMERS …
The PIO is mainly a companion dog and was essentially bred to serve as a living hot water bottle. Thanks to their lack of fur, they can snuggle up to their owners and generate a good amount of warmth. At one time, they were also said to have mystical powers, and the ability to cure anything from headaches to arthritis.
7. … BUT THEY WERE ALSO HUNTERS.
While the PIO is a great lap warmer, they're also useful out in the field. Their sighthound blood makes them great hunters. Similar to greyhounds or whippets, the canines are skilled at coursing, a type of hunting that emphasizes sight over smell. Thanks to their intelligence and agility, the dogs were tasked with both flushing out and catching small game. Their speed helped them nab prey—and also run messages between villages.
8. THEIR FEET ARE A LOT LIKE BUNNY FEET.
9. THEY COME IN DIFFERENT SHAPES AND SIZES.
Along with being either hairless or coated, the Peruvian hairless dogs can also be one of three sizes. The small variety can be as light as 8 pounds while the larger variety can be as heavy as 55. The American Kennel Club recognizes these as the same breed, although Peru categorizes the sizes as two separate breeds entirely.
The dogs also come in a wide range of colors and coats. Coated hounds can have all different kinds of fur: short and smooth, long and flowing, or long and straight. Coated dogs can be any color, but the hairless dogs tend to be a shade ranging from black to pink. Generally they are born pink or black and later develop freckles, which grow and combine to create the dog’s final coloring.
10. YOU'LL NEED TO KEEP THEM OUT OF THE SUN.
Since the PIO doesn’t have a thick coat of hair to cover its skin, the sun is as much a threat to it as it is to us. This means that these dogs shouldn’t be left in direct sunlight, or they might get sunburned! A healthy dollop of sunblock can go a long way for both you and your dog.