The Pug shares the same origin as the Pekingese but is not a relative of Bulldog, a common misconception.
The exact origins of the pug are unknown, as Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, destroyed all records, scrolls and art related to the pug at some point during his reign. Chinese Pugs are referenced as early 400 to 600 years before the start of the Common Era. These dogs would have looked very different than the pug that we know today. Treasures, like pearls, jade, rare animals or dogs were considered imperial property. One emperor, Ling To (168-190 AD) liked them so much, that he gave these small dogs rank, the females received the same rank as his wives. He ordered that these small dogs are to be guarded by soldiers and fed only the best meat and rice. If anyone attempted to steal one of these dogs, he or she would be sentenced to death.
References to dogs with short mouths (Brachycephalic) date back to that time and these dogs were, in all likelihood, the great ancestor to today’s breed.
In the dictionary of all Chinese characters that was commissioned by Emperor Kang H s i, there are two entries that could very well describe the pug … dogs with short legs and dogs with a short head. This dictionary entry dates back to about 950 A.D. There were three breeds that can be traced back to that time: the Pekingese, the Japanese Spaniel and the Pug.
During the 1500’s and 1600’s China began trading with European countries such as Holland and England, Spain and Portugaland carried these small dogs with them on their travels and they became popular especially among the privileged classes. Pugs soon became a favoured breed throughout Europe and a favourite of the Upper Class and royalty. Actually, the Dutch East India Company may have been responsible for bringing the earliest pugs to Europe with Holland perhaps being the point of origin. The breed was called Mopshond by the Dutch and that term is still used to this day.
It’s not surprising that the Pug can be very “regal” in his bearing. We know they became popular in France where they were call Carlin and in Spain where they were known as Dogullo. In Germany they were referred to as Mops and in Italy as Caganlino. Josephine Bonaparte owned a Pug named Fortune before she became the wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, the Emperor of France. There is a story that Fortune liked to sleep on Josephine’s bed to protect her and carried this duty to the extreme on the wedding night of Josephine and Napoleon, biting the famed General on the leg! Chinese Pugs became very popular in England during this period. They remained a popular breed into the reign of George III (1760-1820), when his wife Charlotte kept large numbers.
In paintings and engravings of the 18th and 19th centuries, they usually appeared with longer legs and noses, and with cropped ears. The modern pug’s appearance probably appeared after 1860 when a new wave of pugs were imported directly from China. These pugs had shorter legs and the modern style pug nose. Ear cropping was outlawed in 1895. A book called Dogs In China and Japan provides some additional information. This book was written by Wang Hou Chun in the early 1900’s. It’s based on his experience as a servant in the Emperor’s Imperial Palace. He worked there for 75 years breeding and working with the dogs owned by the royalty. He noted the big difference between the Pug and the Pekingnese was that the Pug always had a short coat. He described the Pug with the term Lo-Sze and noted that the wrinkles on the Pug’s forehead were more noticeable because of their short coat. Three wrinkles in a particular formation resembled the character representing the word “Prince” and this was highly prized.
Later, the breed’s popularity began to wane and by 1867 it seemed cross-breeding was leading to the Pug’s demise. But the little dog had a resurgence in popularity in the Victorian era.
It’s believed the Pug came with migrants to Australia in the 1860s. The first record of them being shown was at the Sydney Royal Show in 1870.
The Pug’s popularity in Europe, of course, eventually led to the breed traveling to the America. The pug arrived in the United States during the nineteenth century (the American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1885) and was soon making its way into the family home and show ring.
The extension is written by the author with some wording extracted from the USA extended standard.