What Did Pugs Look Like Before Selective Breeding?

The pug is a truly special breed of dog that has been selectively bred for centuries. The unique and undeniably adorable features of the breed have made them incredibly popular around the world. The pug has evolved over a long period of time due to the slow process of selective breeding – but what did they look like before?

In ancient China, pugs looked more like a pekingese. 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. European pugs were slightly bigger in stature, with their nose and legs being proportionally longer.

The pug’s refined traits in their appearance and temperament were gradually developed over centuries by breeders. Unfortunately, the extensive inbreeding has resulted in the breed now facing a variety of health problems. Owning a pug has its challenges, but there are ways in which you can manage their well-being to ensure they live a long and happy life.

The Origins Of The Pug

The pug is thought to be one of the oldest breeds of dog, appearing in artwork and literature from the Roman Empire and China as far back as the sixth century. Although the exact origins of the breed are uncertain, it is generally believed to have originated in China.

Among the earliest records of pug-type dogs, and the most likely origin of the modern breed, are records of an oriental breed called the Lo-Chiang dog, first seen in records from before A.D. 1,000. The Chinese had a tendency to call the dogs by different names in different regions across the country. For instance, there are also references to the Happa/Lo-sze dog, appearing from around the mid 17th Century.

So It is likely that the “Lo-Chiang” is also known as the Fu, Pai, Happa, and Lo-Chiang-Sze. In ancient China, pugs were bred as companions for ruling families. China’s emperors valued pet pugs highly, and their royal dogs were kept in luxurious conditions and even protected by soldiers! It wasn’t until the sixteenth century that Chinese pugs were first introduced to Europe.

Pugs Today Look A Lot Different From Their Ancestors

Of course, the original pug looked very different from today’s modern breed. Selective breeding has gradually changed its appearance over hundreds of years. Back in ancient China, pugs had more of a resemblance to a pekingese. 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.

By the 16th century, pugs were brought over to Europe when the Chinese started trading with the Dutch. By this period, pugs looked closer to the modern day pugs that we all now know. 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 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 & The Impact On Pugs

Over the centuries, pug breeders have selectively bred these dogs to enhance certain traits. One of the most important characteristic changes that came about during this time was their nose.

During the 1500s in China, different pugs had different noses, reflecting their owners’ preferences. For example, the longer the nose, the higher a dog was in rank. However, this physical feature has now been bred out and pugs have shorter noses than ever before.

The modern pug’s body shape has also been developed through selective breeding. The breed was a small dog, but they were muscular and had a barrel chest. Today’s pugs are very slight in build, though they have the same broad chest as their ancestors.

Why Pugs Look The Way They Do Today

In order to breed the most beautiful pugs, breeders have tried to eliminate any physical characteristics that they didn’t like. In a similar way, human-made products are often created with the goal of being attractive and aesthetically pleasing to the eye. For example, modern vehicles are specifically designed to look good from a distance, even if they don’t meet the needs of the drivers.

In pug breeding, this ‘artistic’ approach to selective breeding has been a contributing factor to the pug’s differences in size and shape. In an effort to breed a more compressed muzzle, pug breeders have attempted to limit the physical development of the skull. In order to do this, the Pug’s nasal cartilage has been bred down. The result is a much smaller muzzle than that of their ancestor.

However, this has lead to the breed being more delicate and fragile, as well as much more susceptible to health problems. Overtime, breeders have also elected to remove and retain specific behavioral traits in hopes that pugs will be less aggressive and more obedient.

Small Changes Can Have A Big Impact

Some other characteristics of the modern pug have changed as a result of selective breeding. The eyebrows of the pug, for example, have been modified compared to those of their ancestors. There are also many variations among today’s pugs, which is a result of selective breeding and the desire of humans to create ‘perfect’ dogs.

Many of these variations are not considered desirable by breeders. Often, there is debate within the pug community about what should be considered an attractive pug and what should be considered a ‘deviation’. While we like the idea of being able to breed the ‘perfect’ pug, it’s also important to understand that the very smallest of changes within a dog’s DNA can have a huge impact on their overall health.

This is especially true for pugs, as breeders often strive to produce dogs with a drastically short muzzle. However, a pug with this certain physical feature is prone to breathing problems and respiratory disease. Their body shape is also a problem, as it makes them more susceptible to spine and joint issues.

Do Pugs Have Breathing Issues?

The adorable pug face is one of the breed’s trademark features, but that same face is at the centre of another debate. In 2017, a study was published connecting Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS) to pugs.

The study found that pugs tended to have an elongated soft palate, which is caused by an elongated flat face (aka the classic pug nose). As a result, this breed can suffer from heart and breathing issues. However, they are not the only dogs with short noses that are prone to breathing issues. Other brachycephalic breeds like the French bulldog and English bulldog also face the same issues.

What Are Pugs Like As Pets?

Pugs are a very affectionate breed. This is a dog that loves to be close to his or her family, and they are happiest when they have regular human contact. You’ll also find pugs to have an easy-going temperament, which makes them a great companion. However, they can be noisy as pugs are known to snore, wheeze and snort loudly.

Of course, pug’s have long been revered by royalty. Even before going through the process of selective breeding, they had historical links to Chinese emperors and the British royal family. Some pug owners would even argue that pugs are still aware of their elevated hereditary status!

Pugs are generally happy, loving, loyal, charming, and have a playful personality. Their intelligence is exceptional, but they can be stubborn, making training challenging at times. There are some behaviors that pugs simply can’t control – for example, some pugs will steal food from other dogs, which is a trait they learn as puppies. Not to mention, they are very motivated by food and will eat until there is no more.

While some pugs act like a hamster on a wheel, others are more laid back. But, in either case, these dogs are extremely loyal and are happy to be by your side. As a truly multi-faceted dog, the pug is able to adapt to a variety of different lifestyles. Pugs do well in homes with other animals, children, and even cats. They are sociable dogs that don’t mind being close to other animals or sharing their owners’ time and attention.

How Much Grooming Does A Pug Need?

Even before selective breeding began in earnest, when the dogs were, perhaps a bit more pekingese-like, it is likely that these types of short-hair dogs had similar grooming requirements to modern-day pugs.

Pugs are short-haired but they do shed a lot. It’s a good idea to brush them on a regular basis to remove any loose hair or avoid tangles. Pugs are also a good candidate for frequent baths. But, you’ll want to make sure you don’t bathe them too often, as bathing removes the natural oils that keep the pug’s skin healthy.

Pugs have a rather distinctive face, which means they are even more prone to getting dirty. Add in the fact that they tend to drool, and you may be compelled to groom them more often. As a result, pugs are considered to be fairly high maintenance dogs when it comes to grooming and keeping them clean.

Do Pugs Bite?

Pugs are not regarded as aggressive dogs, but like any other breed, it is important to train your pug when they’re young. Making sure your pug gets socialized early in life is crucial for them to develop a strong sense of confidence around other animals and people. This will make them less likely to bite, even if they are provoked.

If your pug does bite someone, keep in mind that it is a natural reaction from their side and do not blame them for it. As mentioned before, the breed is not aggressive, so it’s unlikely to happen unless they feel threatened. Pugs before selective breeding were most likely of the same temperament, hence why they were favorites among aristocrats and the wealthy.

How Much Exercise Do Pugs Need?

If you give a pug a good daily walk, the dog will be much happier. As long as you pay attention to its limits, the pug will be fine on extended walks. But, the pug is a rather stocky dog that can get tired easily. It’s important to be aware of this to avoid overdoing it.

It is not clear what impact selective breeding has had on a pug’s stamina, but their legs are now shorter than they once were. Their shorter noses would probably have some impact on their breathing capacity. Nonetheless, the most important thing with pugs is to keep an eye on them. Pugs are prone to overheating, which can happen very quickly.

Pugs love to chase things, so you have to be careful not to let them run too far ahead of you. It’s also a good idea not to let them dash up and down hills. It’s easy for them to get tired, and you want to make sure the little guy gets back home safe and sound.

Pug Puppies Are Incredibly Cute!

Selective breeding of pugs may have evolved the way they look over hundreds of years but, let’s face it, pug puppies are one of the cutest breeds on the planet! Tiny and furry, they have a unique appearance that makes them look like stuffed toys. Their short legs, big head, and the curly tail are the perfect combination of cuteness and energy. The little pug puppy comes in a variety of colors and markings.

If you’re thinking about getting a pug puppy, be sure to get them from a reputable breeder. The pug is one of the most popular breeds out there, and you can read more about how to care for them as puppies here. In particular, you can get a lot of information about adopting or buying one by reading our guide as well. They are truly wonderful dogs to have around you and their beauty lies in their personality.

Related Questions

Are pugs selectively bred? Yes, pugs have evolved over a long period of time due to the slow process of selective breeding. Breeders focused on keeping and removing specific physical and behavioral characteristics over hundreds of years.

What was the original purpose for which Pugs were bred? Pugs were bred to be loyal companions and lap dogs. Pugs were a sign of wealth as they were only owned by royals and people of importance. 

Do pug dogs have down syndrome? Not exactly. Humans have 23 sets of chromosomes while dogs have 39 sets. This genetic distinction means dogs can’t technically be diagnosed with down syndrome. However, dogs can experience genetic abnormalities that manifest in symptoms and physical traits that are similar to down syndrome in humans.


Liu, N.-C. L.et al., 2017. Conformational risk factors of brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS) in pugs, French bulldogs, and bulldogs.

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

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

Pug Dog Passion, n.d. Happa/Lo-sze/Chinese Pugs – the Chinese origin.

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