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The History and Origins of the Lovable Pug

Pugs are one of the world’s most recognizable dog breeds in the world…

But did you know that lovable squishy-faced ancestors of Pugs have been around for nearly 2,200 years

Not only are they adorable and perfect companions for people of all ages, but they also have a fascinating history with deep ties to ancient China and Tibetan monasteries.

How can you not love this squishy little face?!

The Pug in Ancient China: Early Origins of the Pug (circa 200 BCE – 200 CE)

The Pug is an ancient breed that has been around for over 2,000 years.

It’s believed to have originated in China and was used as a companion dog by royalty and nobility during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE).

Some sources state that the Pug breed dates back even further to the Shang Dynasty, which would place the origin of the Pug to 400 BCE.

The Pug was known as the “Foo Lion”

The Pug has also been known as “Foo Dogs” or “Foo Lion” because of its resemblance to Chinese guardian lions. In fact, it may have been one of these very dogs who inspired the creation of Foo Dogs!

The Pekingese is another ancient breed that looks similar but was developed much later than Pugs coming from the same region.

Bred to be companion dogs

Pugs were specifically bred as companion dogs to the residents of the Imperial City, where many emperors were known to have had a Pug as a pet.

In fact, it’s rumored that one Chinese Emperor even gave his female Pugs the same rank as his wives!

A status symbol

The Pug was also considered a status symbol and was often seen in old Chinese paintings.

Pugs can also be found immortalized in places of worship, imperial tombs, homes of the rich and famous, and even government offices throughout China. 

The Pug in Tibetan Monasteries (circa 600–900 CE)

The Pug was the constant companion of monks in Tibetan monasteries.

The Pug was a symbol of wealth and prosperity and was often given as a gift from one wealthy patron to the monks. 

The Pug was a Temple Dog

The idea that Pugs were temple dogs may be hard for us to imagine now, but there is evidence that this practice existed as far back as 600-900 CE.

Pugs might get their “Zen” from the Monks

Some even think that the Pug’s zen attitude is from their ancestor’s many, many years spent living in the monasteries with Tibetan monks. 

Pugs are pretty laid-back dogs

The Pug’s Arrival in Europe (circa 16th century)

The Pug’s arrival in Europe was a result of Dutch traders, who were responsible for bringing the breed to the continent after trading in China.

The first Pugs were introduced to European nobility during the 16th century and quickly became popular pets with royalty and nobility, similar to the imperial and royal families in Asia.

Loved by the Dutch

The Dutch Royal Court was especially fond of these lovable dogs, which may be why they’re often referred to as Dutch Bulldogs.

It’s also believed that this connection helped contribute to their popularity throughout other European courts, including that of Spain, where King Philip II owned several Pugs himself!

Adorable & Protective

A truly amazing story of a lovable Pug comes from 1572 when a brave Pug named Pompey reportedly saved the life of Price William from the House of Orange when Pompey alerted the prince to assassins coming to take his life — adorable and protective!

Other royal houses of Europe also fell in love with the Pug, including Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife, Josephine, who owned a Pug named Fortune.

Pugs in England (17th–19th century)

The Pug made its way from the Netherlands to the United Kingdom, more specifically England, when William III and Mary II left to accept the throne in 1688 with their pet Pug in tow. 

Throughout the years, Pugs, who at that point were bred with the King Charles Spaniel, gave it more of the modern-day look of the Pug and became increasingly popular throughout the United Kingdom. 

Owned by the rich & famous

Many rich and famous aristocrats and artists reportedly owned Pugs, including renowned English painter William Hogarth, who owned several Pugs, including his beloved Pug, Trump, forever immortalized in William’s elf portrait hanging in the Tate Gallery in London. 

The Pug really began to flourish in the later half of the 19th century under the reign of Queen Victoria, who herself bred Pugs, including Olga, Minka, Fatima, and Venus. Queen Victoria’s deep involvement with the breeding process and love of the Pug helped establish the first Kennel Club in the United Kingdom in 1873.

Queen Victoria’s love for the Pug breed was passed on to other members of her family line, including King George V and his son King Edward VII.

They looked different 

On an interesting note, many paintings of Pugs from the 18th and 19th centuries appear with longer legs and snouts than the modern-day Pug possesses.

It’s believed that the Pug’s appearance changed in the 1860s when a wealthy aristocrat brought Chinese Pugs back from a business trip, bringing the Pug breed back closer to the original Chinese look. 

Pugs in America (19th–21st century)

Pugs have been popular in America since the 19th century.

While it’s unknown how the Pug was brought to the United States, one popular thought is that the breed was first brought to the United States by a sailor who had seen them in Holland and brought back two Pugs with him.

These were then bred with other dogs, creating the Pug we know today.

The Pug Dog Club of America

The Pug Dog Club of America was founded in 1931 and held its first show that same year; and was also officially recognized by the American Kennel Club within the same year — what a feat!

From that point onward, the Pug only continued to rise in popularity among all classes!

Loved for their cuteness

Pugs are still among some of the most sought-after breeds today due to their cute appearance and personality traits such as loyalty and intelligence — they’re also known for being easygoing animals that make great companions for people of all ages (especially children).

You may have seen one of these lovable fuzzballs before on TV or in movies like the animated films Pocahontas and 101 Dalmatians and the live-action movie Men in Black! 

Popular in media

In fact, Pugs are still popular in movies, tv shows, and commercials down to this day with the latest Sony Pictures animated movie, Connected featuring an adorable Pug named Monchi, as well as the much loved animated movie — The Secret Life of Pets. 

The Modern-Day Pug — Pug Health and Modern Breeding (20th-21st century)

The modern-day Pug has been bred for hits, often flat nose and wrinkly-faced appearance, which has caused significant health problems, including reduced breathing capacities.  

Since 2006, there has been a resurgence among some Pug breeders to bring the Pug back to its “retro” origins, referring to the 18th-century depictions of Pugs with longer snouts and legs, which is thought to be healthier in the long run for these faithful companions. 

A Retro Pug – Pug and Jack Russel Terrier mix
A Retro Pug – Pug and Jack Russel Terrier mix

Pugs are Pretty Popular

With the overall popularity of Pugs rising in recent years — the AKC even lists Pugs as the 35th most popular breed in 2022!

The Pug has Some Health Issues

Though modern-day Pugs are generally healthy, they have some unique health issues to be aware of. 

The most common problems include breathing problems, as mentioned prior, due to their flat faces and small nostrils, skin allergies (including red mange), eye issues like cataracts and cherry eye (a prolapsed gland in the corner of the eye), heart murmurs which can lead to heart failure or arrhythmias if left untreated or undetected early enough by your veterinarian. 

Pugs are prone to…

  • Breathing problems
  • Skin allergies
  • Heart issues
  • Eye issues

It’s important that you know these common conditions so you can watch out for them!

Breeding Standards Help Better the Pug

The American Kennel Club and the Pug Dog Club of America play a huge role in ethical breeding and the continuation of the Pug by setting breed standards, providing recommendations on health care, and researching how to better the lives of all dogs, especially Pugs. 

The Pug Dog Club of America’s main mission is to support the responsible breeding and humane treatment of all canines, more specifically Pugs, with proper public education on both ethical and selective breeding, ensuring a healthier line of Pugs for the future.

The Pug Dog Club of America also encourages human bonds with these faithful sidekicks, provides information for support therapy groups and assistance programs, and helps displaced Pugs find their forever homes.

With a seemingly endless history, it’s no wonder that Pug has withstood the test of time for thousands of years, slowly rising in popularity around the world among the rich, famous, royal, and now the working class globally.

Frequently Asked Questions

When were Pugs first bred?

Pugs are believed to have been first bred in 400 B.C.