ORIGINS OF THE ANCIENT, WRINKLY COMPANION DOG
By Denise Flaim
American Kennel Club
Apr 29, 2021
Some breeds of dogs have seen their purpose change over the years. The Pug is not among them. These cheerful, playful, and affectionate little dogs are among the oldest dog breeds known today, and throughout their long history they have performed just one very important job: keeping us company.
The Ultimate Companion
Pugs are an ancient breed of dog, with roots dating back to 400 B.C. Most historians agree that the breed originated in China, where they were bred as companion animals for the wealthy. This does not come as a surprise to Pug enthusiasts, and they will be the first to tell you that Pugs sure know how to make their owners feel like royalty.
With their people-pleasing nature and adaptability, Pugs made a name for themselves as ideal lapdogs and companions. They kept Tibetan Buddhist monks company in their monasteries and received royal treatment as companions to Chinese emperors and their families, who valued them so much they even kept guards and servants to protect and care for them. Three types of flat-faced dogs were bred by the Chinese: The Lion dog, the Pekingese, and the “Lo-sze,” also known as the ancient Pug.
What About Those Wrinkles?
Pugs have wrinkled faces because Chinese breeders purposely bred them that way. They actually aimed to create a pattern of wrinkles on the dogs’ foreheads, which resembled the Chinese character for “prince” (王). .
The most popular theory about the breed’s name is that it came from marmoset monkeys, which were also known as Pug monkeys. Marmosets were popular pets in the early 1700s, and their faces look very similar to the faces of Pug dogs. Other theories suggest that Pug is based on the Latin word “pugnus,” meaning “fist.”
The Pug’s popularity spread from China to Japan and Russia and ultimately to Europe, where they quickly ensconced themselves in royal palaces and the homes of the upper class. Their small size, sturdy frame, and minimal exercise requirements made them ideally suited as a household pet.
The aunt of Catherine the Great of Russia even took some of her Pugs to church with her, proving just how adaptable Pugs are to any circumstance.
Numerous monarchs kept them by their sides, including Queen Victoria of England and Prince William the Silent of Holland, who owed his life to his brave little Pug. In tribute to the Pug’s lofty social position, even renowned European artists such as Goya, William Hogarth, and Reinagle included them in their paintings.
After the Catholic Church forbid Catholics from becoming Freemasons, a group of Catholics decided to form a covert Freemason society called the Order of the Pug in 1740. They chose the Pug as their symbol because Pugs are loyal and trustworthy. To be initiated into the order, you had to wear a dog collar and scratch at the door.
From the countryside to the city, Pugs kept their owners company, warming hearts and laps alike.
Pugs have been the dogs of choice for royals, historical figures, and modern-day celebrities. Queen Victoria loved Pugs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, had two pugs named Puncj and Missy and Heavy metal singer Rob Zombie has a pug named Dracula, and famous Italian designer Valentino had a pug named Oliver, after which he named one of his clothing lines. Other Pug-owning celebrities include Gerard Butler, Jessica Alba, Hugh Laurie, Tori Spelling, and Paris Hilton.
Today, the Pug continues to delight and entertain owners around the world. While the exact origins of the breed remain a mystery, one thing is certain: Pugs still perform the job they were bred for with the charm and loyalty only a Pug possesses.