What Did Pugs Originally Look Like?

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Scientists are in near-unanimous agreement that all dogs descended from wolves. But as you stare at your adorable, wrinkly, flat-faced pug, we understand if you’re having trouble wrapping your head around how that happened.

what did pugs originally look like
Pug evolution!

So, what did pugs originally look like?

We’ll help you understand the evolution of pugs through the fascinating process of selection during breeding.

A Historical Look at the Pug

Pugs most likely originated in China around 400 B.C, and many historians believed that they were one of the first dog breeds in the world. They were viewed as a dog for the wealthy in China, serving as a companion—and a beautiful one at that.

Whether you’re looking at a modern-day pug or an older one, it’s hard to deny that pugs have a unique allure to them that would attract someone trying to show off their wealthy status back in the day.

At the time, people didn’t call the pug by this name. Instead, three dogs with small, squashed faces accompanied royals and monks alike in China. They included the following breeds:

  • Lion dog
  • Pekingese
  • Lo-size

Of these three, the Lo-size most closely resembles the modern-day pug and is the breed that breeders used to craft the pug we know and love today.

The marmoset monkey was a famous pet in China for the rich before they began breeding the pug. Interestingly enough, marmosets are a small monkey breed with squashed faces and wrinkles. 

As a result, some historians hypothesize that Chinese breeders used the marmoset to inspire how they crafted the pug’s facial features.

Pug champion “Kash” – circa 1891

The Evolution of the Pug

If you look at an old photo of a pug, you’ll likely notice that they have the following traits:

  • Longer snout
  • Eyes with less bulge
  • A stubby tail
  • Fewer wrinkles on their face

Before cameras existed, you likely would have also seen pugs without any wrinkles on their faces.

what did pugs originally look like
Source: Henry Bernard Chalon – A favorite pug (1802)

Today, most pug owners are aware that shorter snouts and eyes too big to blink are a disservice to the animal. However, at the time, the older pugs, who soon gained popularity from China to Russia and Europe, likely didn’t suffer from these common health issues—or at least not as severely.

On the contrary, wealthy pug owners in the 1700s loved that the pug didn’t need much exercise and was an ideal lapdog. Both of these traits remain true to most pugs today.

what did pugs originally look like
Source: William Hogarth – The Painter and his Pug (1745)

A feature that’s different from what pugs used to look like but that hasn’t had a detrimental impact on the breed’s health is its tail. Pugs used to have a short, stubby tail. Nowadays, a pug’s tail is still short, but primarily because of its curly nature.

When considering the question, “What did pugs originally look like?” it’s important to note that the pug has retained some features that it had from the start.

For example, the pug continues to be a relatively small, stocky breed. It also has similar color patterns.

Long story short? 

You’d likely be able to distinguish one of the original pugs as a pug. However, breeders have refined the pug to have even flatter, more wrinkled faces and more prominent, bulging eyes.

How a Pug’s Features Varied by Country

The Chinese loved breeding their pugs to have short legs and a medium to small body size.

However, once the pug arrived in Europe, the European tune changed. Europeans liked their pugs to run relatively taller. As a result, they bred pugs so their noses and legs would lengthen to remain in proportion with the dog’s body.

During this time, the pug had a fluffier coat and a more well-defined face than the pugs we know today.

Sadly for pugs, the European’s style of breeding them larger and with longer snouts didn’t stick in the breeding world.

what did pugs originally look like

The Issues With Modern-Day Pug Breeding

Pugs wouldn’t have developed the extra short noses they currently tout today if it were up to evolution. However, humans decided that the more squashed a pug’s face, the cuter it looked.

Furthermore, over the years, the bulging eye feature in pugs has become so prominent that some pugs can’t even close their eyes all the way to blink. Blinking is essential for clearing the eye of debris. So, bulging eyes can have a devastating impact on a pug’s vision.

We’re not about to deny the adorableness of a pug’s modern-day facial features. 

However, some breeders have bred pugs to have unnaturally bulging eyes and such short nostrils that the dogs often need to undergo corrective surgery to breathe better.

Another feature in pugs that’s changed throughout the years is their body fat percentage. Pugs notoriously have an issue with being overweight. Undoubtedly, some of that comes from loving owners who can’t resist giving their pug a treat for being such a good boy or girl.

But a part of a pug’s weight issue comes down to breeding.

Even before the Europeans got ahold of the pug and started breeding it to have longer features, the smaller Chinese pug didn’t have the big body fat percentage issue that pugs often struggle with today.

These items are something to consider if you plan on purchasing your pug from a breeder, as where you put your money is a powerful way to dictate how they continue—or change—their breeding habits.

So, by supporting breeders who breed their pugs with more defined snouts, less bulging eyes, and overall longer features, you’ll bring home a pet that’ll likely have fewer respiratory issues. In turn, you’ll help future pugs to be able to enjoy the same longer-snout lifestyle. 

Appreciating the Pug Breed

So, what did pugs originally look like? Certainly not like its original ancestor, the wolf. 

Instead, the pug underwent hundreds of years of refinement, using a combination of already flat-faced dog breeds and possibly even a monkey as inspiration for its features.

Due to breeders, dogs like the pug will continue undergoing tweaks and changes according to the tastes of the dog owners. Therefore, it’s your responsibility to choose your pug from a responsible breeder who finds a balance between managing pug features without sacrificing the animal’s health.

rachael barkzine

About the author

Rachael is the co-founder and editor at Pug Facts. Owner of one elderly Pug, she’s dedicated to helping other Pug owners create healthy, happy, lives with their furry best friends.

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PugFacts is a small team of devoted PUG owners – so we understand what it’s like to be obsessed with your pup! We consult with veterinarians and dog behavior experts to bring you the best advice for your furry companions.

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PugFactsGuide is a small team of devoted Pug owners – so we understand what it’s like to be obsessed with your Pug! We consult with veterinarians and dog behavior experts to bring you the best advice for your furry companions.