Pugs have charmed people for centuries with their woeful faces and their affectionate and loyal dispositions. The breed's history begins in ancient China, where monks raised them in monasteries and emperors held court with the dogs resting on their laps. Pugs went west along the silk road and became a prized pet among European royalty including Josephine Bonaparte, Queen Victoria and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Pugs have been to battle, have witnessed history and have been a friend and inspiration to the arts.
William and Pompey
William of Orange led the Dutch rebellion against Spain during the 1570s and won battle after battle with the help of the Sea Beggars, an army of ferocious pirates. But in September 1572, when Spanish troops ambushed William's camp in the middle of the night, it was not the Sea Beggars who saved him. William's pug, Pompey, heard the enemy troops and barked out a warning. William escaped the attack and, thanks to his pug, went on to lay the foundation for the
Order of the Pug
During the 18th century, the Catholic Church banned Freemasonry. In response, Catholics in Bavaria launched the Order of the Pug, an underground Freemason's lodge named in honor of the breed's loyalty. Members or "pugs" wore collars and scratched on the door rather than knock. They initiated new pugs by leading them in circles, while the group barked and called out the Freemason motto, "Momento Mori" or "Remember, you are going to die." The Bavarian government outlawed the order in 1748, but not before members commissioned Joachim Kaendler, a celebrated porcelain model maker, to create a line of pug statues and snuff boxes that the group used as secret emblems.
Pugs and Art
Pugs inspired generations of Chinese sculptors, who created foo dogs, mischievous lion-like creatures that guarded the entrances to temples and palaces. In the 18th century, pugs started sitting with their owners for portraits by artists such as Nicolas de Largilliere and Francisco Goya. One of the best-known pieces of pug art, William Hogarth's self-portrait, "The Painter and his Pug," shows the artist with his pug, Trump, sitting prominently in the foreground. Hogarth often joked that he and Trump shared a distinct resemblance. During the 1960s, pugs joined the crowd at Andy Warhol's famous New York City studio, the Factory, where they romped alongside Lou Reed, Truman Capote and Mick Jagger.
During the late 19th century, pug breeders began selectively mating dogs. Although pugs have always been described as "short-faced," breeders wanted to develop a rounder, flatter face that pug aficionados sometimes compare to a monkey or a human infant. Michael Valenzuela, a neuroscientist at the University of New South Wales, has studied the effects of selective breeding and found that, over time, the brains of pugs and other short-snouted dogs have rotated and the olfactory lobe, responsible for a sense of smell, has shifted to the bottom of the skull. Valenzuela suggests selective breeding may have cost pugs the all-important canine trait of a sharp-smelling nose.
By Laura Scott
American Kennel Club: Pug
Third Millennium Library: William the Silent
"Freemasons for Dummies"; The Order of the Pug; Christopher Hodapp; November 2008
The Pugs of Color Club: History of Colors
Tate Gallery: Introducing Hogarth
"New York Social Diary"; Brigid Berlin; Lesley Hauge et al.
"Scientific American"; Has Selective Breeding Restructured Some Dog Brains? Ferris Jabr; August 2010
About the Author
Laura Scott has been reporting for Gatehouse Media New England, Essex County Newspapers and other regional publishers since 1997. She won several New England Press Association awards for her coverage of the fishing industry and coastal communities. Scott is a graduate of Vassar College and has a master's degree in American studies from Boston College. She also attended art school in Italy.