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Where Do Pugs Originally Come From

Introduction

Are you wondering where pugs originally come from? It's a worthwhile question to ask, particularly if you're thinking about adding a pug to your family, or just hoping to be armed with some knowledge for an upcoming night of canine trivia!

To sniff the scent of where pugs were first bred, it probably requires "unlearning" any prior assumptions or guesses as far as the origins of pugs. Unlike more recent breeds such as German Shepherds, Dachshunds, Corgis, or Golden Retrievers, most of whom were bred in the past several hundred years, the timeline of pugs dates back possibly as much as 20,000 years ago! Far from being commonplace, pugs were the Ferrari of pets, signifying gargantuan wealth, and serving as royal footwarmers to emperors of Ancient China.

To rewind the tape and review the history, these proceeding paragraphs will comb through the surprising rise of pugs around the world.

Roots in Ancient China

Flipping back through the pages of history, imagine that your future self won't be born for another 2 millenia. As you pace about through the land of the Orient, the Shang Dynasty rules as far as the eye can see. In the Ancient Chinese capital, the palace of the emperor lies in the distance.

Imagining the inner workings of that palace, you visualize teems of servants, rushing to and fro to fulfill the will of their masters. Perched atop a bespectled throne, the Emperor himself sits, the carnal embodiment of God himself. Beside him lie sloth-like creatures, flipping to their sides like pancakes, and snoozing the days away. Those royal creatures are in fact pugs!

Believe it or not, in these halls of the royal palace, these slumbering symbols of power have ranks of power and servants! In fact, if a lowly serf is ever to attack one of the Emperor's sacred pugs, they'd be "eliminated".

As a momentary fact-check from this tale of the pug, this is no lie! Emperor Ling To gave his female pugs the same rank as his wives. It was indeed a very different time of human civilization. To mention some historical precaution, it's valuable to acknowledge that pugs could have originated with any of these dynasties of the Chinese Court

  • Shang Dynasty (1600 BCE to 1046 BCE)
  • Zhou Dynasty (1046 BCE)
  • Chou Dynasty (827 to 782 BCE)
  • Shang Dynasty (400 BCE)
  • Tang Dynasty (150 BCE)

Perhaps the mystery of when pugs first exactly came into being just adds to their royal mystique. Remember that, unlike any other dog breed in existence, pugs were (seriously) bred to have no purpose other than sleeping the day away, symbolizing true status — since no working class creature could ever afford to live so sumptuously and relaxingly if they weren’t almost sacred in status; Emperors of the Orient were indeed regarded as god-like and their pugs were symbolic extensions themselves. 

The Genealogy of Pugs

Considering how ancient this breed is, it's remarkable that their genealogy is understood even to a small extent. Its royal cousins included the Shih Tzu and Pekingese. All these dogs are actually thought to have had a common patriarchal ancestor called the Happa (also known as "Hapa") breed. Sharing common blood, they were also all treasured by the Court as prestigious animals.

Physically, an interesting trait shared by all four of these breeds is their snout, bred to be almost completely flattened. One hypothesis for these animals' flat snouts was perhaps similar to the Ancient Chinese tradition of foot bindings. Perhaps the snout flattening symbolized a "taming of nature", illustrating the sacred-status of the Chinese civilization, perched above the barbarism of the natural environment.

Getting Their Name

Of course, the name “pug” is a Westernized label for this breed, which came about after Renaissance Europe began trading with China in the 1400s and 1500s. Unsurprisingly given the era, the name given to this breed seems to have come from Latin. “Pugnus” in Latin, means fist. Making a fist, you’ll notice that the dark lines and wrinkles formed on the underbelly of your palm somewhat resemble the appearance of this breed; it’s no surprise why their name today is “pug” in English!

Speaking of language and names relating to this breed, did you know that if a pug’s forehead wrinkles resembled the Chinese character for “Prince” they’d be valued even more? Generally speaking, the more wrinkles on a pug's face, the more luck which pugs were thought to bring; perhaps that's something you can keep in mind if you're currently thinking of adopting a pug into your family!

Proliferating Out of China

Before venturing into the origins of pugs in Europe, it’s worth noting that the region of Tibet kept pugs in their monasteries. In the East, philosophies on luck and good fortune are extremely weaved into the fabric of society, just like John Wayne in the American West. It’s no wonder then why Tibetan monks valued the proximity of these royal beasts in their quarters.

Recall that pugs, being royal creatures, part and parcel of the Emperor himself, were nearly god-like status symbols in Imperial China. Only royalty could ever own these nappy beasts, and they were rarely (if ever) sold on the open market. In fact, illegal breeding is believed to have been a criminal offense during certain eras of China’s vast history. Given that fact, it’s an obvious question of how pugs eventually proliferated around the world over these more recent thousands of years.

Pugs were rarely given away from the Chinese Court. Typically, as a gesture of goodwill in ancient Chinese foreign policy, the Imperial leadership would gift a litter of pugs to their counterparties, for example Imperial Japan or Russia for peace offerings or perhaps trade agreements. Over the course of hundreds of years, however, pugs began to steadily make their way outside of China.

Spreading to Europe

A marked shift was made in the 1600s. Before the American and British Empires, there was the Dutch Empire. As historians often note, with the revolutionary ships of the Dutch, which were the first that could circumnavigate the world (probably like flying cars of the time), that technological advance allowed the Dutch to create vast amounts of wealth by trading worldwide, inaugurate the first global reserve currency, and develop the first modern capital markets. Frothing with vigor, Dutch economic activity reached the doorstep of the Orient, which meant that, alongside spices and fabric, one chunky dog breed was also included in the trading.

From about the 1500s and onwards, but especially from the 1600s and onwards due to the Dutch East India Company's productive trading, this fist-like dog breed began to embed itself into the history books. 

Unlike “blue-collar” working breeds like Collies of Scotland and Shepherds of Germany, pugs kept their aristocratic air for many hundreds of years. From saving William the Silent, when his pug named Pompey alerted the slumbering Dutch prince of an assassin nearby, to Queen Victoria, whose family bred pugs and inspired her to form the English Kennel Club in 1873, pugs have spent many more centuries in palaces and castles than in today’s apartments and living rooms.

Conclusion

The next time you wonder how these thick dogs can sleep so soundly on your porch for hours on end, remember that your pug’s ancestors originally come from a royal line, whose state-sanctioned status was above most humans of the day! Those snorting nasal sounds are actually the fruit of its sought-after short-snouted face, symbolizing beauty in Imperial China. Now you fully understand why these dogs were truly the footwarmers of royals, with no purpose in life other than to relax and bring good fortune to their owners.

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