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Pug wearing a harness in a garden

The essentials

  • They originally signaled class and prestige. Back when dogs were mainly beasts of burden, owning a dog like a pug was a luxury and a status symbol. .
  • Famous folks over the ages have valued this breed. Aside from royals flaunting them as a token of their lofty positions, owners have treasured pugs for their company, loyalty, and in certain circumstances, life-saving barking.
  • They’re more popular than ever. No longer locked away in castles and palaces, the pug now finds itself napping away in homes worldwide.
Pug under a christmas tree

Born for the lap of luxury

While other dogs were destined for the roar of battlefields or the rugged dangers of wild frontiers, the squat and squishy pug was always meant for the quiet, cozy life. With their petite frame and love of simply lounging around all day, pugs made for the perfect companions of royalty and aristocrats.

Shaped by ancient Chinese customs and culture

Status was everything in high society, so the ruling elite always looked for ways to flaunt their influence, affluence, and power. Today, you’d be forgiven for looking at the humble pug and associating anything but power with these petite pooches. However, given how convoluted the breeding process was and how pointedly impractical these dogs are, in ancient times, the only people who would own such creatures were those with plenty of wealth and connections. If people saw a little pug panting at your side, they would know you were deserving of respect.

Many ancient Chinese dogs were bred purely as cosmetic representations of the ruling class’s prestige and culture. The Chinese lion dog, for example, was bred to resemble the traditional lion statues that guarded the entrances to important buildings. Another small dog, the Pekingese, has a glorious, long coat that requires intense maintenance. And, of course, the pug’s looks were specially curated, too. The twisty forehead wrinkles of the pug (called Lo-sze in ancient China) resembled the Chinese character for “prince.”

Pug closeup

From east Asia to eastern Europe

It didn’t take long after the Western world made contact with China for the pug’s popularity to explode onto a global scale. Soon, English queens and French conquerors alike found themselves side-by-side with this illustrious breed.

The House of Orange. In 1572, the House of Orange, a European House of Nassau branch located in Holland, adopted the pug as its official dog. While they likely did not make this choice based on the breed’s defensive abilities, a certain prince named William the Silent would quickly learn that these short-muzzled pups have a hidden heroic side.  In the dark of night, a band of assassins gathered to take Prince William’s life, but his trusty pug ceaselessly barked, alerting the man to the threat and saving his life.

William III and Mary II. Around the same time, the pug found its place in the royal court. At this time, the English began to mix the breed with the King Charles spaniel, which granted the pug the look we know and love today. Lavish oil paintings depict these new pugs living it up alongside the rulers of the Western world. Some such portraits even depict the dogs dressed in pug-sized pantaloons and jackets.

Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon’s wife, Josephine, had a cherished pug named Fortune that went far beyond just a companion animal. Prior to meeting and marrying the infamous emperor, Josephine, while imprisoned during the French Reign of Terror, used her little pug to smuggle messages to her family members.

Queen Victoria. The famously long-reigning and grieving queen found comfort in her many pugs and fought hard to popularize the breed in England. Her devotion was instrumental in the formation of the Kennel Club. Some of her more famous pugs were Pedro, Olga, Minka, Venus, and Fatima.

Pug dressed up on a chair