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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 the wrinkled skin and short flat faces, Pugs are unique in both looks and temperament. Though they’re one of the most popular breeds today, their original purpose may seem questionable.

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 (never sold) to rulers of nearby foreign countries.

Although no one is absolutely certain about when the Pug was actually developed, we do know they originated from China. Let’s explore the history, origins and roles of the Pug.

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When Did Pugs First Appear?

As mentioned, Pugs originated from China. There is no debate to this. On the other hand, there is a debate on when the Pug first appeared.

A handful of researchers believe that Pugs first appeared during the Han Dynasty, which dates back to around 200 BC. But not everyone agrees on this.

According to Pet Helpful, others believe these dogs actually originated during the Zhou Dynasty starting in 1046 BC.

But what’s even crazier is that there’s a growing population that believes the Pug can be traced back to the Shang Dynasty, which started as far back as the 17th century BC!

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

However, we can’t say for sure if this was a direct reference to the Pug. Other ancient Chinese dogs, such as the Pekingese and Shih Tzu, also had short snouts.

What Pugs Were Originally Bred For

Pugs may seem like one of the rare dog breeds 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. 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 bred for a higher purpose back in Ancient China.

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. You can say that they were elite companions – literally.

But why were Pugs ideal as companions to the Chinese emperor? 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 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 (ex-coordinator Pug Rescue of Florida)

And according to the AKC, the emperors of China had an affinity towards “flat-faced” dog breeds. Breeders took note when asked to develop royal dogs.

As a result, the Pug was developed along with the Shih Tzu and Pekingese – 3 flat-faced dog breeds. And sure enough, they were an instant hit with the royal family and court. Plus, 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. It’s easy to see why their popularity sky-rocketed among royalty.

Gifts for Foreign Rulers

Because Pugs were treated as sacred dogs that only the royal family and court could own, they were never sold. 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.

A reason why these dogs were so highly respected in Ancient China was because of the “W” shaped figure on their foreheads.

This shape resembled the Chinese letters for “prince.” But in reality, it’s just their wrinkled faces and eyebrows. Without these physical features, Pugs probably wouldn’t have enjoyed such a rich royal lineage.

Modern Day Pugs

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 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, Pugs have still remained in the limelight of the royal elites.

After traveling from China to Japan 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 16th century, Pugs were believed to have been brought back to England, Portugal, Spain and Holland. And like with China, they were instant hits among European royalty.

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 was the same with Pugs.

Not only did Queen Victoria breed Pugs, but they were the inspiration that led her to form the country’s Kennel Club in 1873.

The love for these dogs did not stop with Queen Victoria. Not even the Royal Family could deny the charm and personality of the Pug.

Future 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 dogdom. What’s different is that anyone can experience premier companionship from these dogs today.

Pugs as Watch Dogs

Pugs are 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. We’d like to believe Pugs are capable of incredible watchdog duties such as this.

But it’s true! Pugs are great watchdogs for families today. Just don’t rely on them to defend your home if someone really comes.

However, if you’re looking for a dog to alert you of any unwanted intruders, Pugs are highly capable dogs. It boils down to two qualities of Pugs: alertness and loyalty.

Despite their relaxed look, they’re quite alert dog breeds. They’ll pick up on sights and smells that pique their interest. In addition, a Pug is devoted and will do what they can to protect the master.

The Pug Name Origins

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 the direct phonemic translation of the Chinese name to English. But what about the Pug?

Of course, the Pug is not called by the same name in Mandarin Chinese. Even in the western world, they weren’t called Pugs until the 1700’s.

In the past, Pugs were referred to as “Mopshounds.” We actually like this name a lot (maybe even better!), but 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). Many referred to them 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 similar to 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 surprisingly not. A group of Pugs is called a “grumble.”

There are many possible explanations to this. For instance, National Purebred Dog Day believes that it’s believe Pugs are known for their snorting, nasal vocalizations.

So, a group of Pugs will collectively make a “grumbling” noise. While this may be true (I guess?), 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 me know in the comments section below.

Pugs Were Bred For This 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 snuggle-time. That means 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 this job. In fact, they’ve spent thousands of years specializing in being the best companions and lap dogs possible.

Today, 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.

Few other dog breeds have the same “work experience” on their resume as the Pug.

Combined with their affectionate and quirky personalities, these dogs know how to entertain their masters.

Low Maintenance Dogs

Pugs are famously known to be low-maintenance dogs, as intended with the original breeders. 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 know when to alert the owners.

In regards to physical activity, they’re perfectly comfortable lounging around all day. 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.

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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