The Peruvian Inca Orchid is a breed of dog native to Peru, and although the breed is most famous for being hairless, some breed members are born with a full coat of hair. A truly ancient dog, Peruvian Inca Orchids were already well-established in their homeland prior to the expansion of the Inca Empire. The Inca and some of their descendants believed that their hairless dogs possessed spiritual powers, and maintained the breed for many centuries. Although still rarely seen outside of Peru, the dog has been attracting an increasing following in the West, including the United States. The Peruvian Inca Orchid has been declared a National Patrimony by the government of Peru and is widely considered the country’s national dog. Like the better known Xoloitzcuintli of Mexico, the Peruvian Inca Orchid comes in three sizes; small, medium and large. The Peruvian Inca Orchid is a breed of many names and is commonly referred to as the Peruvian Hairless Dog, Peruvian Hairless Hound, Peruvian Hairless, Inca Hairless Dog, Incan Hairless Dog, Perro Sin Pelo de Peru, Perro de Peru, Perro Flora, Viringo, Al’Co Calato, Calato, Flower Dog, and the PIO.
Virtually nothing is known with certainty about the origins of the Peruvian Inca Orchid. This breed was developed over a thousand years ago by a people who, despite their many impressive cultural and technological advances, did not possess writing. Additionally, this breed was considered to have spiritual powers and many myths were perpetuated about it. In the 20th Century, experts and non-experts alike developed dozens of theories about the dog, most of which were based on nothing but pure speculation. What is most clear is that the breed has a history in Peru that extends back over a thousand years, and perhaps much longer, and that it has been revered by the indigenous peoples of the region right down to the present day.
The first written descriptions of the Peruvian Inca Orchid come from the 1530’s. After becoming one of the first Europeans to make contact with the Inca Empire in the 1520’s, the Spanish Conquistador Francisco Pizarro became infatuated with its immense wealth of gold and became determined to conquer it. In 1532, Pizarro and 168 other men embarked on a mission to spread the word of the Gospel to the Incas, as well as to spread their gold and silver amongst themselves. The Inca Empire was one of the world’s greatest civilizations, and was the largest and most populous Stone Age empire in history. Although still a great power, the population was battered by a series of epidemics introduced by Europeans and dynastic civil wars. The Empire’s weakness coupled with the superior technology and weaponry of the Conquistadors allowed a handful of Spaniards and slaves to conquer the entire Inca Empire. Several members of the initial expedition would record detailed accounts, and other early Spanish immigrants would make their own as well. Many of these accounts describe small and medium-sized hairless dogs which lived inside the homes, religious buildings, and palaces of the Inca Empire. These dogs were frequently kept alongside flowers, leading the Spanish to call them Perros Floras, or “Flower Dogs.” The fact that the dog was mentioned several times strongly implies that they were relatively common, at least among the Incan upper classes. That they were still commonly kept even after years of epidemics and warfare suggests that they were very highly valued.
Although the Peruvian Inca Orchid was definitely found in Peru by 1532, it is almost surely many centuries older. The Incans were not the first great civilization found in the Andes, but rather the last, and possibly greatest, in a long line of South American cultures that included the Chimu, Tiwanaku, Nazca, and Moche, among others. Artifacts from many of these people include depictions of hairless dogs that are virtually identical in appearance to modern Peruvian Inca Orchids. The earliest of such artifacts are pieces of Moche pottery dated to around 750 A.D. This is very strong evidence that the Peruvian Inca Orchid was already found in Peru at that time, and that it was already highly valued. However, this still does not provide an explanation as to how the breed was developed.
When Europeans first embarked on their missions of exploration, they encountered hairless dog breeds in five different places; the horn of Africa, Southeast Asia, Chinese coastal ports, central Mexico, and the Inca Empire. Of these hairless dogs, three breeds have survived until the present day: the Xoloitzcuintli of Mexico, the Chinese Crested of China, and the Peruvian Inca Orchid of Peru. All three surviving breeds are quite similar, and closely resemble the few surviving specimens of African hairless dogs found in museums. Because of this similarity, it is widely assumed that there is a connection between all, or at least some, of these dogs. Before the history of the Peruvian Inca Orchid was fully researched, many speculated that the Spanish introduced the breed to Peru after acquiring hairless dogs in Africa, China, or Mexico. The opposite theories are also quite common, that Spaniards took the hairless dogs from Peru to other locations. Because the Peruvian Inca Orchid and Xoloitzcuintli were already present in their native lands before the Spanish arrived, they were obviously not introduced by Europeans. It is possible, however, that the Peruvian Inca Orchid is the ancestor of the Chinese Crested. Spanish galleons made many journeys between Peru and the Philippines, which were also controlled by Spain. The Spanish Philippines had trading ties to Chinese sailors, and the Chinese could have acquired their hairless dogs there. Some scholars have also come to believe that the Chinese may have arrived in Peru almost a century before Europeans on a mission of exploration. If so, they may have brought back a few Peruvian Inca Orchids with them. Either the Spanish or the Chinese could have also introduced the dogs to Southeast Asia and Africa as well, where they may have been ancestral to the hairless dogs found there.
Because Hairless dogs were found in both centers of Pre-Colombian civilization in the Americas (Xoloitzcuintli of Mexico and Peruvian Inca Orchid of Peru) , it is now frequently speculated that they were developed in one location and then spread to the other. In fact, a number of domestic species such as Maize (corn) did spread in just such a manner. However, the distance between Mexico and Peru is very great and covers difficult jungle and mountainous terrain, and many other species never made the journey, such as the llama, guinea pig, and turkey. It is very possible, and perhaps likely, that the Xoloitzcuintli and the Peruvian Inca Orchid developed independently of each other. Perhaps similar mutations occurred in both places at different times and local breeders greatly favored them. If so, the Peruvian Inca Orchid is almost certainly descended from the first dogs to enter the region alongside the first humans in the region. Although there is substantial debate, most agree that Peru had been colonized by hunter-gatherers by at least 11,000 years ago. These people almost certainly used their dogs in the same way that other tribes in the Americas did, as hunting aides, camp guardians, and companion animals. These dogs were almost certainly of the Spitz-type, and were probably very similar to the Carolina Dog of North America and the village dogs kept by the myriad tribes of the Amazon Rainforest.
However the Peruvian Inca Orchid arrived in Peru, it came to have religious and spiritual significance to the many Andean peoples, especially the Incas. This protected the breed before the Spanish arrival, but was a serious threat to its existence afterwards. The Spanish wanted to spread Catholicism and sought to destroy as much of the old faiths as possible. It doesn’t appear that the Conquistadors actively sought to kill off the Peruvian Inca Orchid, but they did strongly discourage the beliefs that protected the breed. The continuous introductions of European diseases also caused the deaths of millions of native Aztecs, meaning that there were far fewer masters to care for the Peruvian Inca Orchid. Subsequently the dog became increasingly rare in the urban centers that were most dominated by the Spanish Empire.
However, old beliefs die very hard, especially in remote rural areas. In those areas farther away from the major centers of power, Native influence would remain strong. Old spiritual beliefs survived, although often underneath a devout Catholic faith. Breeders in those areas maintained the Peruvian Inca Orchid for centuries. The breed was especially favored by speakers of the Quechua language, the descendants of the Inca people. Myths about the breed also survived, and new ones were created. Some said these dogs had spiritual powers, most of which dealt with healing. Because there is no hair to separate the dog’s skin from a human’s, this breed feels significantly warmer than other dogs. Peruvian Inca Orchids served as hot water bottles, and it was believed that they could cure disease. In particular, Peruvian folklore holds that a hug from a hairless dog can cure stomach pains, along with various other conditions such as asthma. Other myths claimed that the dog is a vegetarian or that it does not bark.
Gradually, the Peruvian Inca Orchid recovered, eventually becoming a relatively common sight throughout Peru. Three distinct size varieties of Peruvian Inca Orchid were developed, a small (pequeno), medium (medio), and large (grande). In 1955, the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI) gave full recognition to the breed, making it one of the first FCI recognized breeds originating in the Americas. In 1966, the first Peruvian Inca Orchids arrived in the United States. Fewer than a dozen breed members founded the American population, and very few additional specimens were imported over the next 30 years. This small gene pool meant that American Peruvian Inca Orchids were considerably more standardized in appearance than the dogs found in Peru. Almost every country classifies dogs differently. In America, the Peruvian Inca Orchid became associated with Pariah Dogs such as the Basenji and Carolina Dog, and Sight Hounds such as the Greyhound and Saluki. Throughout the last third of the 20th Century, Peruvian Inca Orchid fanciers in America made regular appearances in rare breed shows. They worked to increase awareness of the breed and to increase its numbers. One of their primary goals was to get their dogs registered with the two major kennel clubs operating in the United States, the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the United Kennel Club (UKC), respectively the largest and second largest dog registries in the world. Much of this work was done by members of the Peruvian Inca Orchid Club of America (PIOCA). 1996 was a momentous year for the Peruvian Inca Orchid in the United States. In that year, the UKC granted the breed full recognition as a member of the Sight hound & Pariah Group, and the AKC added the breed to its Foundation Stock Service program (AKC-FSS), the first step towards full recognition with that organization.
The PIOCA along with the Peruvian Inca Orchid Enthusiasts Club (PIOEC) continued to exhibit their dogs in rare breed shows, but also made as many attempts as possible to enter them in other competitions such as obedience and agility as possible. Lure coursing events are perhaps the favorite event of Peruvian Inca Orchid fanciers, as they provide the best venue to familiarize fanciers and judges of other sight hounds with the breed. Beginning in the 1990’s and continuing through the 21st Century, additional Peruvian Inca Orchids were imported from Peru and Europe to increase the dog’s gene pool in the United States. This has had the unintended side effect of making American breed members somewhat more varied in appearance.
In 2001, the Peruvian Government designated the breed a National Patrimony, and the dog is widely considered the national dog of Peru. In 2010, the AKC moved the Peruvian Inca Orchid into its Miscellaneous Class with a Hound Group designation. The breed is now eligible to compete in almost all AKC events that a member of the Hound Group may participate in with the exception of conformation. The AKC selected the PIOEC as the breed’s parent club. Once the AKC has determined that the breed has met a certain number of guidelines, the breed will be given full recognition. Although the breed is currently set to join the Hound Group, there is significant talk about group reorganization. If this occurs, the Peruvian Inca Orchid will likely be placed in a group dedicated to Sight Hounds. Peruvian Inca Orchid numbers continue to grow in the United States, but the breed remains rare. Although this breed regularly competes in a number of events such as lure coursing, the majority of American breed members are primarily show dogs and companion animals, which is likely where the Peruvian Inca Orchid’s future lies.
The Peruvian Inca Orchid is most famous for being hairless, but between a quarter and a third of breed members have a full coat of hair. This dog also comes in three size varieties, small/pequeno, medium/medio, and large/grande. The standards for all sizes and both hair types are identical, with the exception of size and coat. With the exception of coat, the Peruvian Inca Orchid is very similar in appearance to Pariah Dogs found across Latin America, Africa, and Asia, and probably closely resembles the earliest dogs. It is frequently said that this breed closely resembles a Whippet, although somewhat bulkier and less refined.
Depending on the variety, Peruvian Inca Orchids range from being tiny to medium-sized. The small variety usually stands between 9¾ and 15¾ inches tall at the shoulders and weighs between 8 and 18 pounds. The medium variety typically stands between 15 ¾ and 19¾ inches tall at the shoulders and weighs between 17 and 27 pounds. The large variety stands between 19¾ inches and 25¾ inches and weighs between 26 and 56 pounds. This breed should have a very natural appearance, without any exaggerated features. The Peruvian Inca Orchid is a well-proportioned breed that should be almost exactly as long from chest to rump as it is from floor to ceiling. The Peruvian Inca Orchid’s body is very average for a dog, although they are considerably more thin and athletic than thick and bulky. This dog is surprisingly muscular and fit, a feature that most easily visible in the hairless variety. The tail of the Peruvian Inca Orchid is of average length, but quite thin. Often looking whip-like, it is usually held low unless the dog is in motion when it is typically held straight out from the body with a slight curve.
The head of the Peruvian Inca Orchid is relatively wolf-like. The head is very proportional to the size of the body, and there are essentially no overtly exaggerated features. The muzzle blends in very smoothly with the rest of the head, although is still somewhat distinct. It should be equal in length to the skull and very straight. The muzzle is relatively wide and appears quite powerful, although this should not be excessive. Hairless breed members are frequently missing teeth as a result of their genetic abnormality, but coated dogs should have a complete set. The nose of the Peruvian Inca Orchid is colored according to the dog’s skin tone. The eye color is also dependent on skin color and may range from black to all shades of brown and sometimes even yellow. The eyes are medium in size, almond in shape, and give off an alert expression. The only difference between the haired and hairless dogs other than coat is in their ears. The ears of hairless Peruvian Inca Orchids stand erect, either straight up or pointed slightly to the sides. Burdened by the weight of hair, the ears of haired breed members are usually semi-prick, but sometimes fold down more completely, and often point to the sides or back. The ears of this breed are relatively wide and of medium length. Although the ears of both varieties are of equal size, those of hairless dogs look substantially larger because they are not folded.
The coat of the Peruvian Inca Orchid is the breed’s most important characteristic. This breed is famous for being hairless. Hairless dogs should be almost completely devoid of hair. Some dogs are completely hairless, but most have thin patches on the tops of their heads, tips of their tails, and their feet. Additionally, a few scattered hairs may appear throughout the body. The coats of breed members with hair are somewhat variable. The coats are always single, but range in length from very short to medium. Most of the coat is moderately coarse, but there may be longer and softer furnishings on the ears and tail. The coat may either be straight or somewhat wavy. Skin and coat color are not considered important for this breed, and most kennel clubs allow both haired and hairless dogs to be shown in any color or pattern. In practice, most hairless dogs are dark brown or grey, often mottled with pink, and haired dogs are frequently white or blonde with black or brown markings.
In terms of temperament, the Peruvian Inca Orchid is intermediate between a primitive breed such as a Basenji or Chow Chow and a sight hound such as a Whippet or Greyhound. This breed tends to be very loyal and frequently forms very close bonds with its family. Some bred members have a tendency to become one person dogs, but most will form equally close relationships with all members of a family. Peruvian Inca Orchids are somewhat variable in how openly affectionate they are, with some being quite reserved and others being quite demonstrative. Peruvian Inca Orchids want nothing more than to be in the constant presence of their families, and this dog can suffer from severe separation anxiety.
This breed tends to be somewhat clownish, and often provides great amusement for those it loves best. Peruvian Inca Orchids which have been properly socialized with children usually get along very well with them, and this dog is more robust and tolerant than most sight hounds. Breed members that have not been exposed to children from a young age are very likely to view them with suspicion, and are considerably less tolerant of their rough play and jerky movements. In general, the larger dogs make better companions for children under the age of 10 because they are much less likely to be accidentally injured or unnerved by them. The Peruvian Inca Orchid does far better with someone who is very familiar with dog behavior and is generally not recommended for inexperienced dog owners.
Peruvian Inca Orchids have a strong natural inclination to view all strangers with suspicion. Peruvian Inca Orchids must be very carefully socialized from a young age, and it is recommended that they meet at least 100 people by the age of four months. When properly socialized, this breed is usually very polite and accepting of strangers, although they range from being very reserved to somewhat friendly. Without proper socialization, this breed usually becomes highly suspicious and distrusting which often leads to timidity, extreme shyness, and sometimes aggression. Alert and protective, the Peruvian Inca Orchid makes an excellent watch dog that will reliably provide alert its owners to an approaching visitor. This breed also makes a surprisingly courageous guard dog, defending its territory from intruders when its owners are away. The smaller varieties seem completely unaware that they are not especially imposing, and some larger breed members are not dogs to be messed with.
Most breed members get along well with others dogs, and usually have few serious problems with them. The majority of these dogs would greatly prefer to share their lives with at least one other dog and seem to especially enjoy the company of other sight hounds, particularly other Peruvian Inca Orchids. As is the case with any breed, Peruvian Inca Orchids which have never been exposed to other dogs do often have issues with them, and even the best socialized breed members may develop issues with dominance, territoriality, possessiveness, and same-sex aggression.
The Peruvian Inca Orchid is average with non-canine animals. This breed does not have a particularly strong prey drive, and when socialized with other creatures such as cats will usually leave them in peace. However, these dogs still do have a natural hunting urge and will likely give chase and potentially attack animals that they are unfamiliar with so some caution is advised.
A highly intelligent breed, the Peruvian Inca Orchid tends to learn very quickly. This breed is considerably easier to train than most similar dogs and has competed very successfully in a number of competitions such as obedience and agility. This dog learns best when training begins at an early age, and experts recommend that training begin between 8 and 12 weeks of age. Breed members do tend to be highly sensitive and correction based methods may make them so nervous that they refuse to continue training out of fear of failure. Because of this, rewards-based training methods, especially those that involve food, work best with this breed.
This is a relatively energetic breed, and requires a vigorous daily walk. This breed also greatly enjoys an opportunity to run freely in a safely enclosed area, or at least a regular jog. Much like humans, hairless Peruvian Inca Orchids are sensitive to the sun and must be provided with shade or sunscreen if they are to be outside for any length of time. It is very important that these dogs be provided with an outlet for their energy; otherwise, they will likely develop behavioral problems such as destructiveness, excessive barking, and over-excitability. However, this breed is happy with moderate exercise and the average committed family will not be overly burdened meeting its needs. Peruvian Inca Orchids that receive sufficient exercise are usually very relaxed in the house, and most are devoted couch potatoes. Most of these dogs spend hours laying on sofas, and are especially fond of snuggling up underneath blankets.
The Peruvian Inca Orchid has very low grooming requirements. Breed members with hair only need a regular brushing, and hairless dogs obviously don’t need any coat care at all. This does not mean that this is a low-maintenance breed, quite the opposite. Hairless Peruvian Inca Orchids require a great deal of skin care. They need to be bathed quite regularly, and also need to have lotions, sunscreens, and other skin care products placed over their entire bodies on a regular basis, sometimes multiple times a day. This dog also needs to have dead skin gently rubbed off on occasion, usually during a bath. Many hairless dogs also require more daily dental care than other breeds. On the other hand, dogs with hair are very low maintenance.
The hairless variety of the Peruvian Inca Orchid is regarded as one of the best breeds for allergy sufferers because it does not shed, and is also recommended for the fastidious for the same reason. However, no dog is truly hypoallergenic as most people are allergic to a dog’s skin, not its coat. The haired variety does shed, although the amount varies from dog to dog. Most are light to moderate shedders, but some shed more heavily.
Peruvian Inca Orchids tend to suffer from low rates of genetically inherited conditions common in most purebred dogs, but Hairless breed members are extremely prone to a number of health problems caused by their genetic abnormalities. Luckily for the Peruvian Inca Orchid, most of these issues are non-fatal and this is a long-lived breed with a life expectancy of between 11 and 12 years.
There are at least two forms of hairlessness found in dogs. One is limited to the American Hairless Terrier while the other is found in the Peruvian Inca Orchid and all other hairless breeds. The form of Hairlessness found in Peruvian Inca Orchids is unusual and has been carefully studied by geneticists. All organisms acquire two copies of each gene, one from each parent. The hairlessness of the Peruvian Inca Orchid is governed by two versions of a specific gene, one which produces hairless dogs and one that produces haired dogs. The trait is dominant, meaning that any dog with even one copy of the hairless gene will be hairless. However, the trait is also homozygous-fatal, which means that any dog with two copies of the hairless gene will die in the womb. Because of this, all Hairless Peruvian Inca Orchids are heterozygous, meaning they have one hairless gene and one haired gene. This means that it is impossible to eliminate haired dogs from the breed, even if breeders wanted to due to the laws of inheritance. Crossing two hairless Peruvian Inca Orchids results in ¼ of all offspring dying prenatally, ½ of all offspring being hairless, and the other ¼ quarter having hair. This means that the ratio of surviving dogs will never be greater than two hairless for every one haired.
There is substantial debate among breeders as to proper breeding practices. Most American breeders maintain that it is necessary to regularly cross haired and hairless dogs together (at least every few generations). They claim that such matings reduce the severity of common health problems in hairless dogs such as tooth loss and skin problems, an also lead to increased life spans. Due to the laws of inheritance, crosses between haired and hairless Peruvian Inca Orchids result in equal numbers of haired and hairless offspring. Peruvian breeders maintain that such crosses are not necessary, and very rarely breed haired dogs.
Hairlessness causes several health problems. The genes responsible for dentition and hair are closely linked, and most hairless breed members are missing teeth, usually molars and premolars, but sometimes canines as well. Most of these dogs can still chew with little effort and lead otherwise normal lives, but in cases of extreme tooth loss difficulties may arise.
The bare skin of this breed is not protected by hair and thus is susceptible to a number of problems. These dogs are highly vulnerable to sun burn and require protection such as shade and sunscreen. Their skin also has a tendency to dry out and many require regular treatments with lotions and moisturizers. Obviously, hairless dogs have no protection from the cold and must wear sweaters and booties when the temperature drops, and should also be provided with ample blankets and other bedding. Because many pesticides, especially insecticides, are absorbed through the skin, the Peruvian Inca Orchid often takes in very large amounts of them, even without consuming them directly. This makes the breed highly susceptible to their affects, and owners of these dogs should either refrain from having their homes sprayed or remove their dogs to a different location for awhile afterwards. Without hair providing a buffer, the skin of the Peruvian Inca Orchid is easily torn, and these dogs are frequently injured.
A full list of health problems commonly experienced by Peruvian Inca Orchids would have to include: