The Pug

Playful, charming, and dignified--- A lot of dog in a little package


The mysterious Orient has given the Western World a multitude of dog breeds from rare Tibetan Mastiffs to popular Chow Chows, from silky Lhasa Apsos and Shih Tzus to loyal and courageous Akitas and Shiba Inus. The most endearing of these favors from the Far East may be the Pug Dog, a small, monkey-faced companion with the heart and soul of a canine many times its size.

Like most gifts from the Orient, the origin of the Pug is lost in the mists of ancient civilization. The breed is probably more than 1000 years old and was developed as a beloved companion of royalty from the same stock that produced the Pekingese.

Emperors of China's various dynasties from the Shang Dynasty 3000 years ago bred a variety of small dogs as companions. These dogs shared in the special attention accorded their courtly masters; they had their own attendants and rode in specially built carriages.

Apart from a stretch from 1368-1644 when cat breeding was the rage, the small dogs were favorites. By the end of the 17th Century, breeders produced "sleeve dogs," dwarf specimens small enough to hitch a ride in the huge sleeves of royal garments. By this time, the Pug was distinctly different from the Pekingese and the Lion Dog. As Chinese ports opened to European traders, dogs were among the commodities offered. The Dutch East India Company probably brought the Pug to Holland, and from there the breed went to England.

When William III landed in England in 1688 to assume the throne, he had several Pug Dogs with him that sported orange ribbons, symbol of Holland's House of Orange. The British took these spunky little dogs into their hearts; about 100 years later, they were favorites of Queen Victoria and of France's Josephine. The English Queen ended the practice of ear cropping for Pugs when she called a halt to the practice for all breeds in the country. Ear cropping remains against the law in England.

Today's Pug

The British called the first Pugs in their country "Dutch Mastiffs," undoubtedly a compliment to the substantial little dogs. The standard for the breed describes the dog as multum in parvo--"much in a small package"--a sturdy, compact, muscular, well-balanced dog weighing about 14-18 pounds. Plump Pugs are as undesirable as thin ones.

The head and tail are the breed's most distinctive features. The Pug has a muzzle that is foreshortened but not laid back as in the Bulldog or Brussels Griffon. The roguish face is marvelously wrinkled, giving the dog an expression of great wisdom or great sorrow. The skull is flat between the ears and looks square from the front; the jaw cannot be weak or pinched, as it will spoil the Pug look. The ears are folded over; the tips brush the sides of the face.

The tail is tightly curled over the hip.

The Pug's skin is loose, but without wrinkle except on the head. He has a short, double coat with a fine undercoat and fine glossy outer coat. The colors are black, silver fawn, and apricot fawn. The silver fawn is a clear fawn or grayish silver; apricot fawn ranges from cream to deep apricot. Both have a black mask, black ears, and a fine black line (trace) from the back of the skull (occiput) to the tail. A black diamond on the forehead or black mole mark on the cheek is permissible, but muddy color is not. Such blurring of colors may be caused by breeding black Pugs to fawn-colored Pugs, a match never done by responsible breeders.

The Pug should be a picture of strength with hard muscles, straight legs and topline, and purposeful gait with a slight roll.

The Pug has a stable, even temperament and a playful, outgoing disposition. He is a favorite with children and with adults who have no children. He is a low activity, low maintenance dog, well-suited for apartment or condominium life. He's moderately easy to train, and is generally good with outsiders, but will warn his owners when strangers approach. (The breed became the symbol of Holland's House of Orange after a Pug warned the household of Prince William that invading Spaniards were approaching. The Prince avoided capture, and the Pug was revered throughout the kingdom.)

Care and feeding

However, the breed is not without problems, and many are directly related to its structure. The shortened muzzle can cause breathing problems and air-gulping, which can give him gas and cause problems in hot, humid climates. Air conditioning in summer months in the south is essential. His eyes bulge somewhat and can get scratched, and he can have eyelid or eyelash abnormalities.

Signs of heat prostration are common in brachiocephalic (short-muzzled) dogs and include difficulty in breathing, wheezing, and heavy panting. Pugs in heat distress should be cooled with cold water and taken to a veterinarian as soon as possible. A cold water enema may be necessary to bring the internal body temperature back to normal. Some pug owners keep a child's throat ice collar--an ice bag for a small neck--on hand in case of heat emergency.

Tooth and gum problems are also possible with this breed because of the slightly undershot jaw. Owners should examine the mouth of a growing pup to make sure baby teeth are not retained and to watch for mouth tumors. Brushing the teeth is strongly recommended to prevent gum disease.

Other potential problems in the breed include patella luxation (dislocating kneecap), hip dysplasia (degeneration or malformation of the hip joint), Legg-Perthes (breakdown of the femoral head, the "ball" of the ball-and-socket hip joint), and a form of encephalitis apparently unique to the breed.

Purchasing a Pug from a responsible breeder is crucial to getting a puppy who is free of these problems. Although there are no guarantees, good breeders eliminate dogs with genetic abnormalities from their breeding programs and provide a warranty and emotional support if the pup should develop a problem as it grows.

Pugs have small litters, so good breeders often have a waiting list. Don't give up in frustration and buy a Pug in a pet shop--the possibility of getting a puppy that will develop one or more of these problems is high as the source of pet shop puppies is more interested in volume than quality.

If you buy a Pug with the idea of breeding her later, it is doubly important to buy from a responsible breeder. The relatively massive head of this breed can cause birthing problems, particularly if one rather large puppy is carried. A veterinarian must be aware that whelping is near and be available for a Cesarean section if necessary.

Breeding toy dogs is a poor way to make any money, so owners should not breed with the intention of getting back some of their investment in the dog. Toy breeds generally have very small litters, and people tend to think that small dogs should cost less than large ones. However, the expenses of breeding a small dog are comparable to those of breeding a large dog if the proper genetic testing, nutritional program, and prenatal care are given the bitch. If extraordinary measures are needed to whelp the litter or care for the puppies, the loss on the litter could be hundreds of dollars. Better the owner should spay the bitch and cherish her as a companion, then buy another puppy if one Pug isn't enough.

More on pugs is available at the Pug Dog Club of America home page


[More on finding a dog]

Norma Bennett Woolf

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