NEW YORK — Jose Barrera enjoys pretty things. A jewelry designer to the stars, his gold-plated breastplate is what Beyonce wore for her "I Am ... Sasha Fierce" album.
These days, he's showing off another gem – Alma Dulce, his tiny, trembling xoloitzcuintli.
With the 136th Westminster Kennel Club dog show set to begin Monday, time to know your Xs and Os. So start with the xoloitzcuintli, one of six new breeds welcomed this year to Madison Square Garden.
"They are exotic," Barrera said. "You can't take her for a walk around the block without someone stopping you to ask, 'What is that, how do you spell that?'"
Commonly known as a Mexican hairless, and featuring oversized batlike ears, they're pronounced "show-low-eats-QUEEN-tlee." That's according to Amy Fernandez, an expert who's written books about the breed.
"We go around with little cards at shows telling people how to say it. Otherwise, you would lose your voice doing it every time," she said.
Fernandez planned to enter two of her xoloitzcuintli in America's most distinguished dog show. There are 10 ready to compete, though little Alma Dulce will sit out this time at only 2 1/2 years old.
The "show-low" expected to show best is Georgio Armani, the first xolo to win best in show at an American Kennel Club event.
"As magnificent a dog of any breed that we might see," praised David Frei, longtime television host of Westminster.
More than 2,000 pooches will take part, coming in 185 breeds and varieties. Among the favorites to become top dog are a wire fox terrier, a smooth fox terrier, an affenpinscher and a couple of standard poodles.
Judge Cindy Vogels, who comes from a terrier background, will point to her pick as best in show around 11 p.m. Tuesday. CNBC and the USA Network will share the TV coverage on the first night, then USA will show the winner.
Next year, Westminster expects to have 3,200 entries when it moves part of its show about 20 blocks north to an exposition space along the Hudson River. The show normally has 2,500 dogs, but an ongoing renovation at the Garden took away available space, so Westminster will hold its breed judging at Piers 92/94.
The nighttime events – group judging and the best in show pick – will remain at the Garden, the show announced Sunday night.
Last year, Hickory the Scottish deerhound earned the prized silver bowl. Among the popular winners from the past were Uno the beagle, Josh the Newfoundland and J.R. the bichon frise.
This year's six new breeds to Westminster are the xoloitzcuintli, the Entlebucher mountain dog, the Norwegian lundehund, the American English coonhound, the Finnish lapphund and the Cesky terrier. Watching any of them win would be a surprise – it's taken more than a quarter-century for any newcomer to take the top honor.
Seeing any xolo is pretty rare, be it in the nonsporting group or anywhere else. Sporting an Aztec name that meant "dog of the gods," the xolo dates back 3,000 years, Fernandez said.
"An ancient, primitive breed," she said.
Fernandez said there are about 2,500 purebred of them in the United States. They were able to meet the AKC criteria for recognition – an ample number, a good geographic distribution in the country and a parent club to set proper standards.
A xolo can range from about 10 to 24 inches high, weigh from 10 to 50 pounds and have hair or be hairless. Their skin is very warm, and once was believed to provide healing power to humans in chronic pain who slept next to them.
Barrera certainly is having fun with Alma Dulce. He brought her to a recent dog event with an attractive turquoise necklace and a little tuft of hair atop her head.
"I didn't even realize you could get a xolo in the present day," Barrera said. "I looked at breeds from A to Z. This was the X factor."