What Were Pugs Bred For?

By John Martin - September 13, 2021

Pug sitting on couch

Charming, mischievous and very distinct looking, rare are the hearts that haven’t fallen for the wrinkly, flat faced, super cute allure of a pug.

However, though the end result has won many hearts over the world for centuries now (yes, centuries!), what are the origins of the pug’s distinct features and the breed itself?

Here’s all you need to know about why pugs were bred and what the role of this cute-yet-controversial breed is today.

Pug Origins: Where Does the Pug Come From?

‘Carlin Italy’ in French, ‘Mops’ and ‘Mopsi’ in Finland and Germany, ‘Doguillo’ in Spain, and ‘Dutch Pugs’ in England, pugs are known by many names but can be traced back to one common spot.

It may come as a surprise to many but pugs are believed to have originated from China (though some parties maintain that they have European origins).

However, for the most part, evidence and studies exist that trace pugs back to China. Paintings and artwork from China depict pugs guarding the entrance to the Imperial Palace (though it may have also been Foo dogs or ‘Lo-Sze’, ancestors to the pug, in the paintings).

Believed to be a cross between Bulldogs and Pekingese, pugs are highly similar to Happa dogs, also Chinese, and were prized lapdogs, making them a breed reserved for the royals.

While some pretty indisputable evidence exists on their place of origin, not enough exists on their time of origin.

Some researchers believe that pugs made an appearance in 200 BC (for reference, Ptolemy was still building the world’s first lighthouse at this point.), during the Han dynasty.

However, others trace pugs back even earlier to 1046 BC (we don’t even know what was happening in the world at this point.) to the Zhou dynasty.

If that blows your mind, just wait till you hear that some people believe pugs come from as long ago as the 17th century BC—when the Indus Valley Civilization was just coming to an end.

The basis for this belief is that Confucius may have written about a “short-mouthed dog” in his book The Wisdom of Confucius, published in 551 BC.

Needless to say, many people believe the short-mouthed dog in question is the pug, though with other short-mouthed Chinese dogs such as Shih Tzus and Pekingese in the question too, there’s no way to be 100% sure—at least, not yet.

Related: Are Pugs Hyper?

Journey to the Rest of the World

How did pugs make it from the Far East to the rest of the world? After having remained in China for around 2,000 years, pugs journeyed to Europe thanks to Dutch traders and the Dutch East India Company, who imported Foo dogs into the continent.

These dogs were mainly imported to England, where they quickly became the new rage. This gave rise to a spate of breeding programs in the 1800s, resulting in the evolution of Foo dogs into the pugs as we know and love them, today.

In fact, pugs were so endearing that they became a symbol that the Royal Dutch Family was recognized by, with tales of a savior pug who is believed to have saved the life of a Dutch prince.

From there, pugs spread to the rest of Europe between the 16th and 17th centuries, where they conquered the houses (and hearts) of the upper echelons of European society.

In France, Napoleon’s wife, Josephine, used her pug to smuggle messages to her husband while she was incarcerated in the Les Carmes prison, in 1790.

Legend even has it that William the Silent’s midnight invasion of England happened with his trusty pug by his side.

It was in the 1700s that the term ‘pug’ came into existence, believed to come from the Latin word “pugnus”, meaning fist, owing to the dog’s fist-like head. Some believe that pugs are named after marmoset pug monkeys, owing to their facial similarities.

However, though pugs remained highly popular throughout the 18th century, their popularity took a beating in the 19th century. It took the import of a new pug species, featuring shorter legs and the signature pug-nose for their popularity to rise again.

The fact that this new species earned Queen Victoria’s patronage also worked wonders for the breed—Her Highness’ Pedro, Minka, Fatima and Olga earned places in the hearts of the British populace and even inspired the Queen to start the Kennel Club in 1873.

This love for pugs carried forward in the British bloodline—Kings George V and Edward VII are also known to have had many pugs as companions during their rule.

Related: Do Pugs Shed?

Making It to America

Pugs were introduced to American as recently as the post-American Civil War period, thanks to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s adorable pug, who accompanied the nobles to all social events and had his own personal chef (who went everywhere the pug went).

The American Kennel Club recognized pugs as a breed in 1931, when their popularity as pets and show dogs started growing. After a brief loss of popularity, pugs came back stronger than before thanks to Frank the Alien in Men in Black.

Why Were Pugs Bred?

Though it’s super-easy to believe that pugs adhere to an ‘eat-sleep-cuddle-repeat’ routine quite religiously, with no other aim in life, these dogs were bred for a purpose—to be royal companions.

Royal Companions

Throughout their history, pugs have been nothing short of royal dogs, from their origin in China to their later years in Europe.

These dogs were prized lapdogs and companions to Chinese royals and aristocrats and treated to the utmost luxury. Their ability to spend long hours within the courts of the Imperial Palace, sitting and watching, cemented their place over other flat-faced breeds beside Chinese emperors.

Additionally, they served as royal foot warmers to the Chinese emperors in their cold castles. Many people also believe that the “W” shape caused by the wrinkles on their foreheads also contributed to their popularity; the shape resembles the Chinese word for “prince”—if only all wrinkles brought this much luck.

This popularity resulted in widespread breeding of the pug, along with its other flat-faced cousins—the Pekingese and the Shih Tzu.


Not only were pugs esteemed lapdogs to Chinese royalty, but gifting a pug was also considered to be a gesture of utmost respect, privilege and honor, and only those deemed completely “deserving” were gifted them.

This also arose from the fact that pugs were sacred dogs reserved only for royalty and could not be sold or owned by anyone not belonging to the royal family.

Pugs were also extremely popular as gifts to monarchs of foreign countries due to their celebrity status—their value was immense.


Pugs were an especially popular option for watchdogs in Holland. As mentioned earlier, a brave pug is believed to have saved the life of a Dutch prince and became the mascot of the royal house.

Pompey, William the Silent’s pet pug, saved the prince from an assassin who broke into the prince’s bedroom during the 1570s, when the prince was on his visit to France. The pug supposedly alerted the prince of the intruder’s presence, thereby saving his life and earning his position as the mascot of the House of Orange.

While this may sound too good to be true, pugs do make for good watchdogs even today, though they wouldn’t be the obvious first option if security is what you’re looking for.

Having said that, these dogs are extremely alert and motivated by loyalty, which makes them quick to alert owners of any unwanted presence and pick up on new sights and smells.

Pugs Today

Unsurprisingly, the role of pugs doesn’t seem to have changed all that much from their initial years in the history of the world.

These dogs are still extremely popular lapdogs, the only difference being that they’re no longer reserved just for the royals—they’re companions to everyone and make for especially great family dogs, also thanks to their devotion and loyalty.

In fact, pugs are such good companions that they are also used widely as therapy dogs. Their cuddle-loving, attention-seeking nature is endearing, helping reduce anxiety, stress, depression and loneliness, while also encouraging owners to exercise and play.

Pugs are also known to develop powerful connections with owners, providing love, comfort and emotional support. Their small size makes Pugs a great fit for apartment dwellers.

Apart from great companions and therapy dogs, pugs also seem to be the next big thing in Hollywood and show biz after J-Law. For a while, pugs featured in a ton of Hollywood flicks such as The Nut Job and Patrick, after making waves in Men in Black.

Pugs are natural entertainers thanks to their cuteness, sense of humor and adorable, mischievous personalities. They love being the center of attention and this has led to them not only being in movies and commercials but also being by the side of famous movie stars and celebrities, ranging from Billy Joel to Gerard Butler.

Another role that pugs are absolutely killing is that of show dogs. In fact, a pug has even won the famous Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

Lastly, pugs make great pets—they’re easy to train and low-maintenance, though they make up for this with the amount of attention they ask for. These dogs bond easily and will make your lap their home, if you let them.

They also get along super well with children and other animals. They love being groomed and don’t bark unnecessarily.

See Also: 18 Most Popular Flat-Faced Dog Breeds

The Bottom Line

Safe to say, pugs are one of the most adorable dog breeds out there, with their large, beseeching eyes, endearing wrinkles and lovable nature.

Bred to be lapdogs to the Chinese royalty, the purpose of these dogs remains unchanged through the centuries and these dogs are still loyal lapdogs today to millions of families around the world.

However, it should be noted that pugs are prone to major health problems, a lot of which arises from their breeding. The demand for their distinct features also makes them subject to a range of breeding illnesses, deformities and cruelties, so always ensure you’re getting your pug from a source that’s trusted; even better, adopt, don’t shop.

Whether for the royals or for the common folk, it is glaringly obvious that pugs were bred for one purpose—to be great companions—and they fulfill this to the best of their ability and beyond.