Are Pugs From China? The History And Origins Of The Pug

Pugs are one of the oldest dog breeds globally and are known for their affectionate nature and adorable faces. People love to have these small dogs as pets, and more specifically, as lap dogs. However, where did this breed originate from? And what makes them such great companion dogs?

Are pugs from China? One of the oldest known and most popular breeds, the pug, is indeed from China. You can trace them 2,000 years back when emperors had a known preference for this flat-faced breed. Over time, pugs were brought over to Europe, and from there, this adorable breed spread all over the world!

When you own a dog, it’s important to research as much as you can about them. Knowing how the pug came to be will help you understand and care for your pet in a far better capacity. Let’s take a deeper dive into the history and origins of the famous pug so you can appreciate why they are considered by many as the perfect companion.

The Pug Life In Ancient China

Nobody can trace precisely how old the breed is, but many believe that pugs date back to the Han and Tang dynasty eras. Do you think these dynasties are comparatively recent? Well, not exactly. They existed back in 150 B.C. and some also believe the pugs to have appeared in 450 B.C. during the Shang dynasty. The “lo-Chiang-sze”, also known as the pug breed, was bred for royalty and monarchs. They were solely bred and trained as entertainment for the members of the imperial city.

A famous emperor that went by the name of “Ling To” gave pugs the same prestige and stature as his wives. Talk about love for pugs! Royals were so infatuated by the breed that the moment baby pugs were born, vets in that time would examine their wrinkles. Yes, the wrinkles that give the pug their cute face had more to offer back then. These wrinkles were carefully examined for the W shape to resemble the Chinese character for “prince” back in the day. Just imagine a bunch of wrinkles determining the fate of the breed! How exciting!

Have you ever heard of the Pekingese breed? They are known as the closest relatives to the pugs. The two breeds are suspected of having a common ancestor, thanks to the many similarities they share. For example, they both have flat faces and share the same color bracket as well. Another breed known as the Chinese Happa dog is now extinct but can be considered a modern-day pug. However, there is no detailed general information about the breed; hence the stance is debatable.

Let’s Journey Back To Tibet With The Pug

The first breed of pugs appeared in Buddhist monasteries in Tibet around 400 BC. It’s believed that there was a possibility that the monks kept them as either guard dogs or pets. Although, the primary purpose of pugs now is to remain as jovial lap dogs due to their playful and loving nature.

Another theory proposes that due to this guarding aspect of a pug in the old days, the Chinese Fu Lions were modelled after the pug, strongly resembling the dogs. Nevertheless, it could be the other way around, and maybe monks preferred pugs because they looked like the famous Chinese guardian lion.

There is slight confusion regarding the breeding of pugs. Some argue that they were bred under the care of monks as guard dogs, while others believe that they were solely bred for the royals and were considered a fashion statement back in ancient China. The majority supports the latter version of the tale.

Another interesting fact about the origins of the pug is that they were called “hand dogs.” It translates to “lags k’yi” in Chinese.  This name came to be as a result of a Chinese legend that says: “If a person touches an eagle hatchling, the eagle immediately turns into a pug”.

Pugs And Their Introduction To The Europeans

The pug’s popularity saw a rapid rise during the 16th century when the Dutch started importing the puppies to Europe. Royals were particularly fond of them due to their companionship qualities. Pugs quickly made their mark in Holland, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, England, along with France. So much fame in such little time!

They made their mark in different ways, and many pugs became wildly popular. For example, Pompey the pug rescued prince William by alerting him of the presence of assassins nearby. Their sharp senses are a reason why these canine companions are known to be lifesavers too. They will do whatever it takes to protect their human companion.

Not only did pugs show their loyalty to the men of royal families, but they also helped the ladies. The famous lady Josephine who was Napoleon Bonaparte’s first wife was imprisoned. Guess how she chose to communicate with her family members? Through her pug dog, of course! Her dog named Fortune would carry her concealed letters to her family members while she was locked up.

Additionally, the aunt of Catherine the Great of Russia was so attached to her pug that she would take her pug to church with her. Her little bundle of joy would happily attend church regularly, showing their high degree of adaptability that the breed possesses. Hats off!

The stature of the pug was so high back then that famous artists grew fond of these little puppies too and began including them in their paintings. How can the popularity of any breed be deemed complete without them being included in a painting! Some famous artists who did this were Reinagle, Goya, and William Hogarth.

Pugs also saw a rise in popularity across America and Asia from the 16th century. Nevertheless, they did see a slight downfall by the end of the 1880s after the American Kennel Club recognized the breed for the first time. However, the dedication from their breeders was very strong, and have kept pugs as a popular breed consistently and up until today.

The pug dog club was founded in 1931, and since then, the pug has been admired and sought-after as much as ever. People love having these dogs around and are likely to rely on their pets a lot for affection. Today the pug occupies the 28th rank in terms of popularity. The rank is expected to rise higher in the coming decades due to the promising nature of pugs as companions.

How Different Do Pugs Look Now Compared To Their Ancestors?

As mentioned, pugs had more of a resemblance to a Pekingese back in ancient China. They were small to medium-sized dogs, with short legs and stubby little tails. They were fluffy dogs with thick coats and a well-defined head. Selective breeding has gradually changed its appearance over hundreds of years.

By the time pugs were brought over to Europe, they looked much closer to the pugs we all know and love today. However, they were slightly bigger in stature, and had a more noticeable snout. Their legs were also proportionally longer. These features are visible in William Hogarth’s 1745 painting called “The Painter and His Pug“.

By the early 1800s, Pugs had become a breed with two dominant lines in England. The “Morrison” line reportedly comes from Queen Charlotte; the other line, based on dogs imported from Russia or Hungary, was developed by Lord and Lady Willoughby d’Eresby. After the Chinese Imperial Palace was overrun by the British in 1860, pugs that had continued to be bred in China were brought back to England where they were bred with the Morrison/Willoughby lines. This mix produced the pug that we would recognize today.

The modern pug is a lot smaller than their European ancestors, with a more acutely curled tail, as well as a larger body fat percentage. Throughout history, the degree of exaggerated shortness of the Pug’s muzzle has evolved, and today the breed can be found with almost flat faces and very narrow nares.

Selective Breeding Determined The Pugs’ Physical Appearance

Because pugs were looked at as a fashion statement, breeders strived to create the most beautiful dog that they were capable of. This meant eliminating physical characteristics that they and their clientele didn’t like. This process of selective breeding had the goal of creating a dog that was aesthetically pleasing to look at and care for.

While this is deemed as unethical by modern standards, this ‘artistic’ approach is the reason why pugs look the way they do today. Their muzzles were compressed by attempting to limit the physical development of the pug’s skull. Their nasal cartilage were bred down as well, resulting in a short nose and a flat face.

Selective breeding and the modification of a breed is not a process that can be reversed overnight. This was engineered over centuries. Their attractive features are adored by many, and partly the reason why they’re still so popular today. Here are some of their most unique and defining physical qualities.

Small Size and Cute Tails

Pugs have curly tails and many owners liken them to a cinnamon roll because of the way they look. You’ll often catch an excited pug wiggling their tail and hips vigorously. Their small stature makes them great as indoor dogs, and have played a vital role in their popularity and cuteness.

Innocent Eyes

Are we forgetting the soulful eyes these puppies have? Not at all! Your pug has the cutest little eyes covered with wrinkles from its forehead. They will look at you with admiration through these tiny crystals whenever you talk to them or play with them. Nothing beats the depth and innocence of a pug’s eyes.

Flappy Ears are Adorable

Let’s talk about the floppy ears of the breed. They have sensitive ears that move at every sound that goes through them. The ears are so soft, thin, and black in color that folds forward. Slight variations come in the form of button ears and rose ears.

Wrinkly and Soft Skin

The skin of the pug is another one of their unique elements. The wrinkles and loose skin that cover the pug makes them look like a tiny, soft pillow that you can have beside you all the time. Honestly, pugs are like a real-life teddy bear that you can cuddle!

Short Snouts

When we talk about the features of a pug, we can never forget their most distinguishing feature, that is, their short snout. In turn giving them their flat-faces that everyone loves. Yes, pugs do not have a long lower jaw, and it does cause some health issues for the breed; however they are more than manageable.

What Makes The Pug Such Great Companion Dogs?

Many of you might be wondering what qualities have made the pug such great companion dogs over so many centuries. And why aren’t they known as a watch or guard dog instead? Well, being small isn’t the sole reason behind it. Pugs have a lot more to offer to humans other than size and aggression. For potential pug owners, below is a breakdown of some key aspects that makes up their general personality.

Good Temper

Pugs do not have an aggressive temperament. They might be stubborn but are very loveable. They can identify sudden mood swings and offer compassion to their owner. You will notice a pug clinging onto its owner when sad. Your furry friend will likely show gestures and sounds as a way to cheer you up. What more would we want from our pet than to understand our predicament and give us a shoulder to cry on?

You can even talk to your pug and not feel like you’re losing it because they will respond with expressions and without judgement. You will not have to struggle with separation anxiety or unanswered calls from human companions make when life gets in the way. Your pug will always be by your side.

Playful and Active

The breed is extremely playful. Pugs can entertain a crowd but still act dignified when needed. They are attention seekers and can draw an audience towards them through their tricks and cute activities. They are little balls of energy that can keep everyone engaged and give you a good laugh. Imagine having such an entertainer in your house; the positivity and laughter levels will rise to the roof.

They also have a great sense of humour, and are often labelled clowns of the canine world. If you’re someone who wants a funny pet with lots of personality, then pugs are a perfect choice. They will make strange, funny noises and respond with comedic gestures, and you will often catch yourself laughing like crazy!

Protective and Caring

Even though they are attention seekers, they never lose sight of danger. They will always protect their owner and family from any sense of threat. You cant possibly harm a pug’s owner when they are around. They are protective and territorial dogs who will stop at nothing to protect their family from strangers or any harm.

On one occasion, I was relaxing in my room at night with my pug Finn next to me. Something in the bathroom fell of the shelves, and without hesitation, he would bark and run towards danger in order to protect me. This was a moment that made me feel loved and a turning point in solidifying our relationship with one another. It made me appreciate him so much more!

Love Children and are Family Dogs

Pugs will act as the glue in your family. They love children and are specifically suitable for babies. You never have to worry about your pug nipping at your newborn. They are gentle and passive. Even when they are tired and need rest, they will continue to entertainment and respond to a child’s giggles and cry for attention. What great company for children, right?

Your pug is a people pleaser and loves being a part of human gatherings. If you isolate a pug, it’s like taking half of its life away. You need to keep in mind that the nature of a pug depends upon the nature you exhibit. They are adaptable and will copy every action and behavior you show. So be happy and playful around your pug, so they mimic the same. It can also be your way of training them from an early age.

If you have other pets in the house and feel like getting a dog would mean upsetting the household balance, then look towards the pug! This breed is highly amicable and polite to other pets in the house. The family-friendly breed is going to amaze you through its tolerance with cats, their supposed natural enemies. You won’t experience any tom and spike type of rivalry in your home.

Longer Average Life Span

A pug will be around for 15 to 16 years, meaning they will be around for longer on average when compared to some other breeds. For example, Great Danes are only known to live for 8-10 years. Like many pug owners, there is no doubt about the tightknit relationship that you’ll build and have with your pooch. Experiencing it for as long as possible, and having your companion alongside you to tackle life together is something that money simply cannot buy.

Now that you’re aware of the Chinese origin of the breed, along with their needs and personality, don’t delays bringing your pug puppy home any further! Let the charm of your new doggo light your house up and make your family happy!

Related Questions

Why were pugs bred as lap dogs? The breed is non-aggressive and tiny enough to be kept inside homes and has a playful personality. They are passive and loveable towards children and adults, making the breed a great life companion.

How did the pug breed get its name? The term pug comes from an older English language dialect and means a playful devil or monkey. Since pugs are active and playful, yet stubborn enough to get their way around things, they got the name in the early 1600s.

Is the popularity of the breed a reason why so many households prefer them? No, the reason for the love and fame is their origin and the interest of royalty in the breed. Many households prefer pugs because they are passive and harmless to newborns and have high adaptability compared to other dogs.


American Kennel Club, 2021. Pug History: Origins of the Ancient, Wrinkly Companion Dog.

Pikes Peak Pugs, n.d. The History of Pugs.

Pug Dog Club Of America, n.d. Pug History.

My Pugs Home, n.d. The Pug in Ancient Orient.

National Purebred Dog Day, 2020. Willoughby and Morrison Pugs.

Recent Posts