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What Were Pugs Bred For? – The Pug Origins, Roles & Jobs

We explore why Pugs were originally bred to do, along with their rich royal history.
Written by Richard Jeng

Pugs are charming dogs with a mischievous side to them. With their wrinkled skin and short flat faces, Pugs are undeniably unique. Though they’re one of the most popular breeds today, you may wonder what these funny-looking dogs were actually meant to do.

So, what were Pugs actually bred for? Pugs were originally bred to be companions of ancient Chinese royalty – dating back to the 17th Century BC (Shang Dynasty). They were ideal dog companions in the Far East and often gifted to rulers of nearby foreign countries. Today, Pugs are exclusively bred to be charming lap dogs.

Although no one is absolutely certain when the Pug was actually developed, we do know they originated from China. From the far east, they took on several roles in society. Read on to learn the history, origins and roles of the Pug.

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When Did Pugs First Appear?

As mentioned, Pugs originated from China hundreds of years ago. Unlike other details of this breed, there is no debate to this. On the other hand, there is a debate on when the Pug first appeared among the people in China.

A handful of researchers believe that Pugs first appeared sometime during the Han Dynasty in ancient China, which dates back to around 200 BC. Even so, not everyone will agree on this.

According to Pet Helpful, some historians believe these Pugs actually arrived around the Zhou Dynasty starting in 1046 BC. What’s more, there’s a growing population that believes the Pug can be traced back to the Shang Dynasty in 17th century BC!

The reason people speculate this is because Confucius may have referenced this dog breed back in 551 BC. That is, in one of his books (The Wisdom of Confucius), he often wrote about a “short-mouthed dog” that resembles the modern Pug.

However, we can’t say for sure if this was a direct reference to the Pug. After all, other ancient Chinese dog breeds, such as the Pekingese and Shih Tzu, also had short snouts. Regardless, we know the Pug is an old breed.

What Pugs Were Originally Bred For

To some, Pugs may seem like a rare dog breed without a purpose. Just spend a day with a Pug and you’ll like understand what we mean. Chances are, they’ll cuddle with you for a few hours, lounge around for another and sleep the rest of the time.

And when they can, they’ll snack on some delicious treats. But is that it? Though we can totally imagine a modern-day Pug doing this, they were actually bred for a higher purpose back in ancient China. In fact, they were coveted by the elitists.

Pugs as Royal Companions

No matter which dynasty Pugs actually originated from, Pugs were undisputed dogs of royalty in the Middle Kingdom. Not only were they companions, but they were luxurious companion dogs for the aristocrats. They were literally elite companions.

Back then, the emperor wanted one thing – a loyal lap dog that could withstand the long hours spent in the imperial palace and court. They didn’t have much time to actively play and walk the dog, which meant breeds with a calm disposition were attractive.

They are man-made dogs…they’ll just sit, which probably appealed to the emperors. The Chinese castles were cold, so the Pugs were royal foot warmers.

– Linda Armstrong (Pug Rescue of Florida)

And according to the AKC, the previous emperors of China had a special affinity towards flat-faced dog breeds. Breeders took note of this. When asked to develop royal dogs, they would almost always breed for the unique trait.

As a result, the Pug was developed along with the Shih Tzu and Pekingese: 3 flat-faced breeds with a royal heritage. And sure enough, they were an instant hit with the royal family and court. In fact, they became especially popular dogs during the Song Dynasty.

Famously known for their laid-back attitude and lap-dog tendencies, Pugs were perfect for the job. Their ability to sit around and do nothing for long stretches is not because of laziness, per se. Rather, it’s the temperament they were bred for.

Gifts for Foreign Rulers

Because Pugs were treated as sacred dogs that only the royal family and court could own, the dogs were never sold. Some suggested that illegal breeding of Pugs were once considered a crime. Rather, they were gifted to those “deserving.”

In other words, Pugs were often used as gifts to rulers of foreign countries. According to Edward Patterson, the author of The Pug, these dogs were regarded as “prized possessions” and not handed out to just anybody.

He describes these dogs as “gifts of great value” to foreign countries. For example, they were gifted to Japanese rulers and later to Russia’s first ambassador to China. They were also popular gifts as a peace offering.

The reason why these dogs were so highly respected in ancient China was because of the “W” shaped figure on their foreheads. While this may seem trivial to modern-day Pug owners, it was a big deal to the Chinese.

This shape resembled the Chinese letters for “prince.” But in reality, it’s just the wrinkled faces and eyebrows Pugs are known for. And without these physical features, Pugs probably would not have enjoyed such a rich royal lineage.

What Are Pugs Bred For Today?

The Pug is the most surprising Chinese dog breed that no one knew was from China.

Modern-day Pugs have lost some of their noble status, though their charming personalities and lively demeanor remain. It’s mostly because they’re not exclusive to the elite and rich anymore, but available companions for all.

But even as recent as the 19th century, the lovable Pugs have still remained in the limelight of the royal elites. After traveling from China to Japan, Korea and Russia, the Pugs’ international journey didn’t stop there.

Eventually they made their way to Europe through merchant traders coming back from Asia. Sometime in the late 16th century, Pugs were believed to have been brought back into Spain, Portugal, Holland and England.

And like with China, it seems to be a repeating pattern for these treasured lap dogs. They were instant hits among European royalty, once again.

Royal Companions, Once Again

In England, Queen Victoria was obsessed with these dogs. It’s partly why they became such popular companion dogs with the general population. Like how Queen Elizabeth II is associated with Pembroke Welsh Corgis, Victoria is the same with Pugs.

Not only did Queen Victoria’s family breed Pugs, but they were the inspiration that led her to form the country’s Kennel Club in 1873. That’s how much of an impact Pugs had on the dog breed industry in England!

The love for these dogs did not stop with Queen Victoria. Not even other future Royal Family members could deny the charm and personality of the Pug. Royalty, such as King George V and King Edward VII also had many companion Pugs during their rule.

From the Chinese Emperor to the European Royalty, Pugs have remained some of the best companions in the canine kingdom. But what’s different is that anyone can experience premier companionship from these dogs today.

Pugs as Watch Dogs

Pugs became especially popular in Holland. As a matter of fact, a Pug became the mascot of the House of Orange (think, The White House of Holland). Not just any Pug, but the pet dog of William the Silent (of the House of Orange), named Pompey.

Sometime during the night in the 1570’s, the prince was resting in France when an assassin approached his bed. Pompey, the faithful Pug, immediately jumped up to bark and scratch at his master – or so the folklore goes.

Though Pugs aren’t the first to come to mind when watchdogs are mentioned, we would like to believe Pugs are capable of incredible watchdog duties such with Prince William.

But it’s true! Pugs can make great watchdogs for families today – whether you’re in an home or an apartment. Just don’t rely on them to defend your home if someone really comes. They may alert you, but can do little to protect.

It boils down to two qualities of Pugs: alertness and loyalty. Given their lap dog background, a Pug loves nothing more than to sit on his owner’s lap. They are loyal to a fault. So when some stranger is too close, expect some barking.

Despite their relaxed looks, they’re quite vigilant dogs. They’ll pick up on sights and smells that pique their interest. Sitting around all day has helped develop their awareness of the area and surroundings. Few people can get past an alert Pug.

Origins of the Pug’s Name

Have you ever wondered why the Pug is called the “Pug?” The Pekingese was named after the Chinese capital, Peking (now Beijing). In addition, the Shih Tzu is a direct phonemic translation of the Chinese name to English.

But what about the Pug? Of course, the Pug isn’t called the same name in Mandarin Chinese. Even in the western world, they weren’t called Pugs until sometime in the 1700’s.

In the past, Pugs were referred to as “Mopshounds.” We actually like this name a lot (maybe even better!). However, were stuck wondering how the name changed so significantly.

According to Wag Walking, the term “pug” was popularly used to describe Marmosets (a small Central and South American monkey with a growing popularity in China). In fact, many locals would refer to the animals as “pug monkeys.”

Though no one is for certain how the two animals became associated, some believe that the name change was due to the Pug’s facial expressions, which are eerily similar to that of the monkeys’ expressions.

Pugs or Grumble

Do you know what a group of Pugs is called? One would think it’d just be “pugs,” but it’s not, surprisingly. A group of Pugs is called a “grumble” and has been for many years.

There are many possible explanations to this. For instance, the National Purebred Dog Day believes that it’s because Pugs are known for their snorting, nasal vocalizations. They’re so vocal that they actually do grumble.

That being said, a group of Pugs will collectively make a “grumbling” noise. While this may be true, we think this explanation makes a lot more sense: A single Pug is called a Mopshond in Holland, which is derived from the Dutch word for “to grumble.”

What do you think is the true origins for the name? Let is know in the comments section below.

Pugs Were For the Job

Not every dog breed can say they’re one of the “best” at what they were bred to do. But the Pug is undeniably one of the best at companionship. A Pug will never deny an opportunity for some one-on-one snuggle time.

You’ll never have to force your Pug to cuddle with you (as I have to with my Corgi). After a long day of work, there’s nothing better than coming home to your Pug patiently waiting for some cuddles and kisses.

The Ultimate Lap Dogs

They were bred for the job of warming their owners’ laps. They’ve spent thousands of years specializing in being the best companions and lap dogs possible. In fact, it’s why they’re on our list of the best lap dogs in the world.

To put things into perspective, the Blue Heeler (Australian Cattle Dog) is considered one of the top cattle herders in the world. Even so, they’ve only been around for just over a hundred years with much less job history.

Few other dog breeds have the same “work experience” on their resume as the Pug. Combined with their affectionate and quirky personalities, these dogs just know how to entertain their owners and cheer them up on a gloomy day.

Low Maintenance Dogs

Pugs are famously known to be low-maintenance dogs, as intended with the original breeders. What elitist has the time to care for a high maintenance dog? Sure, Pugs are moderate to heavy shedding dogs, but that’s about it.

They actually love being groomed and will happily sit in your lap as you brush away. And contrary to popular belief, Pugs don’t bark unless they feel like they need to. Just like with Pompey (William the Silent’s Pug), they pick their times.

In regards to physical activity, they’re perfectly comfortable lounging around all day and sitting in your lap. But at the same time, they’re always up for some fun play. Still, it’s recommended they get at least 20 minutes of daily exercise.

Compared to other more active dog breeds, such as the Border Collie, this is little to nothing. In my opinion, Pugs are some of the best companions and the fact that they’re consistently in the top 40 most popular dog breeds list speaks volume.

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About the author

Richard Jeng

Richard has been raising dogs his whole life, including a Poodle, Pomeranian, Corgi and Australian Shepherd. He's always working with animal shelters and dog rescues because of his passion for all dogs. Fun fact: his all time favorite breed is the German Shepherd. Read More.

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