What Were Pugs Bred For? The History of the Pug Breed

What were pugs bred for? These wrinkled wonders were more than just adorable lap dogs. In this article, we’ll delve into the captivating history of pugs, from their prestigious position in ancient Chinese palaces to their unexpected role as expert vermin hunters. Get ready to discover the surprising talents and charming allure that make pugs truly one-of-a-kind!

Unveiling the Origins of Pugs

The Curious Origins of the Pug Breed

Pugs, those delightful little dogs with wrinkled faces and expressive eyes, have captured the hearts of dog lovers around the world. But have you ever wondered what these adorable canines were originally bred for? To uncover the secrets of their lineage, we must journey back in time to explore the fascinating history behind the creation of the pug breed.

The Ancient Origins

Our story begins in ancient China, where pugs were revered as royal companions and treasured pets. Believed to have existed as early as 200 BCE, these small dogs were highly favored by Chinese emperors of the Shang dynasty. Pugs were cherished for their charming personalities, gentle nature, and their ability to bring joy to those around them.

A Symbol of Nobility

During the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE), pugs continued to be held in high esteem. They were cherished by members of the imperial court, and their status as favored pets only grew. Pugs were symbols of nobility, often adorned with lavish garments and treated like esteemed members of the family.

The Journey to the West

Pugs in European Courts

In the 16th century, pugs embarked on a grand adventure that would take them from the Far East to the courts of Europe. The Dutch East India Company played a pivotal role in this journey, as they brought pugs back from China as gifts for European aristocracy.

A Royal Favorite

In Europe, pugs quickly won the hearts of noble families, including those in the Netherlands and England. Queen Victoria of England, a devoted dog lover, was particularly fond of pugs and owned a significant number of them. Their small size, affectionate nature, and charming appearance made them an ideal choice as loyal companions for the elite.

The Purpose of Pugs in Europe

While pugs were no longer exclusively bred for their royal connections, they still served a purpose beyond mere companionship. These little dogs were highly efficient ratters, known for their exceptional skill in catching vermin. Pugs would fearlessly chase away rats and other pests from homes and palaces, thus contributing to a cleaner and more hygienic environment.

Pugs as Symbolic Figures

Pugs in Art and Culture

Throughout history, pugs have played significant roles as symbolic figures in various forms of art and culture. Their distinctive appearance, characterized by a flat face, bulging eyes, and wrinkled skin, has made them instantly recognizable and widely depicted.

Portraits of Pugs

Renowned painters such as William Hogarth and Francisco Goya included pugs in their artwork, immortalizing them in oil paintings that still grace the walls of galleries today. Pugs became symbols of wealth, elegance, and refinement, often depicted alongside noble figures or as subjects in their own right.

Hogarth, William; The Painter and his Pug – Source Art UK

Pugs in Film and Media

The charm and charisma of pugs have also made them popular in the world of film and media. Like Frank the pug in “Men in Black”, pugs have captured the imaginations of audiences worldwide. Their expressive faces and lovable personalities translate well onto the big screen, making them memorable characters in popular culture.


Pugs have come a long way from their origins as treasured companions of Chinese emperors. While their purpose may have shifted over time, their charm and charisma remain as strong as ever. These little dogs continue to bring joy to the lives of their owners, whether as cherished family pets or as stars in the entertainment industry.

So, the next time you find yourself gazing into the eyes of a pug, remember their rich history and the love they have inspired throughout the ages. These small but mighty canines have left an indelible mark on the world, reminding us of the power of companionship, loyalty, and the enduring bond between humans and their furry friends.

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