Pug

Pugs are known for their squishy faces and their charming demeanor. A bit mischievous but beloved by owners, this breed is ideal for laid-back homes and those who like to dote on their pet. Here’s what you need to know about living with pugs.
By Katie Mills Giorgio
August 24, 2020
Pug
Breed Group
Dog Size
Other Traits
Temperament
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Pug

height
  • 10 to 13 inches
weight
  • 14 to 18 pounds
life span
  • 13 to 15 years
breed size
  • small (0-25 lbs.)
good with
  • children
  • seniors
  • dogs
  • cats
  • families
temperament
  • friendly
  • outgoing
  • playful
intelligence
  • high
shedding amount
  • frequent
exercise needs
  • medium
energy level
  • active
barking level
  • infrequent
drool amount
  • low
breed group
  • toy
coat length/texture
  • short
colors
  • fawn
  • black
patterns
  • sable
other traits
  • easy to train
  • easy to groom
  • good watch dog
  • prone to health issues
  • high potential for weight gain
  • apartment-friendly
  • good for first-time pet owners
  • strong loyalty tendencies

Bred as perhaps the original lap dog, pugs thrive on companionship; they’re happiest when they can be near their owner. A bit goofy and rambunctious, pugs have also earned a reputation as a canine class clown.“They believe that they please you just by being alive and breathing your oxygen,” says Pam Nichols, DVM, President-elect of the American Animal Hospital Association

Pugs are ideal house dogs thanks to their stable temperament and loving disposition. Although you’ll need a quality vacuum, as they shed profusely! Playful but not requiring lots of activity, pugs are content to do whatever their owner wants to do, whether that be watching a movie or going for a walk around the block. Very intelligent, and at times willful, pugs are happy and affectionate pups who remain very loyal to their owners. 

Pugs are an ancient breed with a royal lineage; they've been companions to Chinese emperors, French Empress Josephine Bonaparte, and Queen Victoria. Photo: buchsammy/Getty

Appearance

It’s often said that the pug’s motto is “multum in parvo” (a lot in a little) because these relatively small dogs pack in a lot of muscle onto their square frame, all while weighing in at 14–18 pounds, according to the American Kennel Club. Pugs come in two standard colors with a few tonal variations: fawn with a black mask or all black. The fawn or tan coat color can range from a warm apricot to a cool and rarely seen silver. Their heads are large and feature their signature short, flat, black muzzle covered with deep wrinkles. Their prominent eyes dominate their comical, wrinkly face and showcase a range of emotions, from surprise and happiness to curiosity. They sport moles on their cheeks, called “beauty spots” and a clearly defined “thumb mark” on their forehead. 

Their short coat is actually a double coat, and they shed like crazy, especially during the summer months. “I’d call them monster shedders,” says Nichols, noting that you should be prepared to have your clothing covered in fur. According to the AKC standard, the perfect pug tail has a double curl. 

Small, brachycephalic (aka smooshed-faced) dogs, like pugs, have a few genetic challenges. Among them: Their tongues may quite literally be too large for their mouths, causing them to hang outside their mouths and giving them a constantly funny face.
Photo: GCShutter/Getty

Temperament

A pug’s favorite place to be is right by your side. Bred to be companions, they are completely content snuggling up on your lap and lounging the day away and aren’t afraid to hop right into bed with you. But be forewarned: Pugs wheeze, snort, and snore so you may want to invest in some ear plugs. They will be quite unhappy—and will let you know it—if you don’t shower them with affection or if you leave them alone for long periods of time

You shouldn’t expect a pug to hunt, guard, or retrieve. A pug will have nothing to do with such activities. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t up for a little romping and playing, the Pug Dog Club of America (PDCA) says. A funny little dog, pugs often find ways to create their own silly entertainment—but please for their sake pay attention to the show they are putting on—while maintaining a dignified manner when necessary.

Living Needs

Left: Bred to be companions, pugs love to snuggle and lounge the day away. They're patient and playful with kids, too, making them a favorite amongst the under-18 set. Photo: Johner Images/Getty
Right: Pugs can be a bit fearful of loud noises or unfamiliar places and people. Keep them close by and reassure them they're going to be OK! Photo: Winai Kaewklub/EyeEm/Getty

Kids love pugs, and pugs love kids. While they are a toy breed, pugs are a bit tougher than other similar-sized pups and are up for playtime. Avoid disappointment and make sure the kids know pugs aren’t likely to play fetch or chase a soccer ball though. Pugs are pretty amenable to getting along with anyone, including other dogs, cats, rabbits, and other animals. 

Pugs also make great companions for those living in apartments and older individuals because they don’t require too much indoor space for activity. We're not necessarily saying pugs are lazy, but they are known to sleep up to 14 hours per day! They also don’t bark much because breathing is a bit difficult for them. Their breathing challenges combined with their short legs make them uneager swimmers, too. Although they’d likely benefit from a dip in the pool on hot summer days, as they don’t tolerate heat—or the cold—well. 

Left: Like most dogs, pugs do love a good dig in the dirt, but they aren't predisposed to excessive digging. Watch their snouts though: That dirt can clog their already-restricted nasal passages. Photo: patrickbraun/Getty
Center: Like other brachycephalic breeds such as shih tzus, bulldogs, and French bulldogs, pugs often have underbites. But don't think that means you need to fork out money for braces. Underbites are only corrected if they're causing pain or problems with chewing, not for cosmetic reasons. Photo: Alex Sotelo/Getty
Right: While the fawn-and-black combo is the most prevalent coat color for pugs, black is the only other officially recognized coat color. All-black pugs are just that; there will be no other hint of color in their coats. (Other than graying as they age, of course!) Photo: Samantha French / EyeEm / Getty

Care

As much as your pug loves you, they might love to eat even more, the PDCA writes. So be diligent in helping manage their intake—limit their treats and don’t feed them table scraps no matter how cute and pleading their stare may be—because their small stature makes them likely to gain weight quickly. You should also encourage exercise, although they don’t need much in a day. They find creative ways to burn off energy on their own. 

Bathing (about once monthly) and regular brushing (with a medium-bristle brush, a rubber grooming mitt, or a hound glove) help manage significant pug shedding. And those sweet facial wrinkles need extra attention because they are a breeding ground for infection if they are damp and dirty. Dry your pug’s wrinkles thoroughly after bathing and wipe them out in between baths—a dry cotton ball will do the trick. Pugs also need their nails trimmed regularly, as they don’t naturally wear by spending lots of time outdoors. Regular teeth brushing is a must as pugs are susceptible to gum disease. 

Training can be a challenge, Nichols says. “These kids are harder to train and not super interested in your opinion.” Their feelings can be easily hurt so avoid harsh training methods. Remember their ultimate goal is simply to spend time with you.  

Because their squished faces make breathing a struggle, pugs wheeze, snort, and snore, so you may want to invest in some ear plugs if yours is going to be sleeping nearby. Photo: fongleon356/Getty

Health

Nichols cautioned that pugs tend to be expensive in the first year of life. “They often need nose resections to enlarge their nostrils and surgery to shorten the soft palate. If those surgeries are not done, expect a lifelong loud snoring dog.” 

Pugs can face a fair amount of other health issues, including back problems, epilepsy, allergies, hemi-vertebrae (or misshapen vertebrae), hip dysplasia, patellar luxation, and nerve degeneration later in life. A variety of skin conditions may affect pugs, including yeast infections, staph infections, or demodectic mange

One affliction unique to pugs is Pug Dog Encephalitis, a fatal inflammatory brain disease. There is no known cause or test for it unfortunately. It causes a pug to seize, circle, become blind, then fall into a coma and die. Research is ongoing. 

While their big, dark eyes are adorable, they are especially vulnerable. Pugs sometimes face corneal ulcers, proptosis, and dry eye, among other ailments. And as with all flat-faced breeds, pugs can have breathing problems. They do not do well in hot, sunny, humid weather. Skin conditions such as walking dandruff—caused by a small mite—need to be treated by your veterinarian. 

Pugs have been around for centuries and have long been represented in art and advertising. They were very popular during the Victorian era, and were often featured on postcards, in paintings, and as figurines.
Photo: Swim Ink 2, LLC/CORBIS/Corbis/Getty Images

History

Pugs are an ancient breed—perhaps the oldest dog breed, in fact—that originated in China. Going back some 2,000 years, flat-faced, or short-nosed toy dogs like the pug were popular with Chinese emperors and lived lavish lives because of it, the AKC says. They were only given to those outside the Far East as gifts. But in the 1500s and early 1600s, Dutch traders arrived in Europe with the breed and thanks to popularity with royal households they quickly gained popularity across Europe.

Their long history reveals a number of different names for the breed including lo-sze (Chinese), mopsi (Finnish), doguillo (Spanish), and mophonds (Dutch), among others. The name pug is supposedly derived from the Latin word “pugnus”—which means “fist”—to reflect the fact that a pug’s face looks like a clenched fist, the AKC writes. 

Pugs were also very popular during the Victorian era, featured on postcards, in paintings, and as figurines. For years they remained largely pets of the aristocracy. Queen Victoria had many pugs and bred them, and Marie Antoinette also had a Pug named Mops. They were standardized as a breed in the early 1800s. Upon taking over the Chinese Imperial Palace in 1860, the English discovered several pugs and began breeding them back in England to improve the breed.

It wasn’t until after the Civil War that pugs came to the United States. The breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1885. Initially very popular, pug ownership and breeding waned until the 1930s when the, the Pug Dog Club of America was created and recognized by the AKC. 

Top: Pug owners love a costume! Here, a pug dressed as Yoda from the movie Star Wars walks the runway at the 9th Annual Pug Parade on Feb. 25, 2006, in Bradenton, Florida. Photo: Phillippe Diederich/Getty
Bottom: Frank, the talking pug-like alien in the Men in Black film and TV series, was portrayed in the first two films by a trained pug named Mushu. He is shown here at the Mann's Village and Bruin Theaters in Los Angeles, Calif., for the premiere of Men In Black 2. Photo: Jeff Rayner/PA Images/Getty

Fun Facts

  • One legend says the pug became the mascot of Holland’s royal House of Orange after a pug barked a warning to save the life of the Prince of Orange before an attack by Spanish troops, the AKC writes
  • Another legend holds that some pugs were prized in Chinese culture because their wrinkles resembled good luck symbols in the Chinese language. 
  • A group of pugs is called a grumble. 
  • Not surprisingly, pugs’ cute mugs have graced the big screen. There’s Otis, from The Adventures of Milo and Otis;  Frank, from Men in Black; and Percy, from Pocahontas. In recent years, many pugs have become insta-famous on Instagram as well. Doug the Pug is undeniably the most popular of the bunch. With more than 13 million social followers, the celebrity pup rubs noses with stars like Joe Jonas and Shakira. In 2019 Doug was awarded a People's Choice Award for Animal Star.
  • Pug owners and enthusiasts are just as quirky and loveable as the breed, often dressing up their pups and hosting get-togethers and pug parades.