The Pug is an increasingly popular small breed. It generally weighs between 14 and 18 pounds, growing up to 30 cm at the shoulder.
These dogs are known for their flattened faces. But this appearance has been bred into the Pug and comes with some serious health issues.
This include breathing issues, eye problems, overheating, and more. These health issues are really important to learn about if you’re considering a Pug.
Read on to find out more about this breed.
What’s In This Guide
We give you a complete guide to temperament, characteristics, health, care and special requirements.
And help you to make an informed decision about whether this charming little dog is the right one to bring into your life.
Our readers’ most popular and frequently asked questions about this breed.
Breed At A Glance
- Popularity: According to the American Kennel Club’s list of the most popular dogs, the Pug dog ranks 20th of 192 listed breeds.
- Purpose: Pugs have always been bred as companion dogs. They don’t have any history as working or service dogs.
- Weight: Both male and female Pugs should weigh between 6 and 8 kilos (14-18 pounds).
- Temperament: Generally charming and affectionate, Pugs are loyal to their owners and a lively addition to a household.
Pug Breed Review: Contents
- History of the Pug
- Fun facts about the Pug
- Pug appearance
- Pug temperament
- Training and exercising
- Pug health and care
- Do Pugs make good family pets
- Rescuing a Pug
- Finding a Pug puppy
- Raising a Pug puppy
- Popular Pug breed mixes
- Products and accessories
History and original purpose of the Pug
The Pug is a fairly ancient breed thought to be of oriental origin. They were first recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1865 but were being imported from China as early as the 16th century.
The passion for Pugs in celebrity circles is nothing new.
Pugs were specifically bred to be companions rather than for any practical purpose. And were popular with royalty and other historical celebrities.
Prince William of Orange credited his Pug Pompey with saving his life after the dog alerted him to the approach of the Spaniards. And Josephine Bonaparte reputedly owned a Pug named Fortune.
Queen Victoria owned several Pugs, as did famous English Painter William Hogarth.
Early Pugs were rather different in appearance than today’s, though. Have a look at the painting of William Hogarth and his Pug below left.
How Have Pugs Changed?
The extreme facial shortening we see today has been achieved by selective breeding over the last hundred years or so.
And the modern pug looks rather different, as you can see from the profile of the puppy at the top of the page.
Sadly, there has been selectively breeding for flatter and flatter faces. Not to mention for the characteristic ‘screw’ tail that the Pug shares with several other flat faced (brachycephalic) breeds. This has had serious consequences for these lovely little dogs, which we will discuss in the health section of this article.
Fun facts about the Pug
Where Pugs of the past graced the courts of royal families, modern versions seem to be quite popular among the celebrity set. Here are just some of the celebs with their own Pug.
- Jessica Alba
- Hugh Laurie
- Robin Williams
- Amber Rose
- Paris Hilton
- Billy Joel
- Hugh Laurie
- Kelly Osbourne
- Andy Warhol
- George Clooney
A male should stand 30cms on average, where a female stands 25cms.
Both males and females of this breed should weigh between 6 and 8 kilos (14-18 pounds)
Shape & Structure
These dogs are compact and sturdy. Their bodies are quite hard. A Pug’s head should be large but not apple-shaped. The breed standard describes their structure as ‘multum in parvo’ which means ‘a great deal in a small space’!
The Pug skull as we know it is the result of generations of breeding for the particular features we recognize them for. Aside from the brachycephaly we know this breed to suffer, their smaller skull also means that they have shallow eye sockets. This is what causes their eyes to bulge.
In addition, the breed standard requires that the skull has no indentations.
A Pug’s coat should be short and glossy, made up of fine hairs. It shouldn’t be coarse or woolly.
These little dogs come in fawn and black. In the case of fawn Pugs, there should be a strong contrast between the fawn sections of its coat and the black of its muzzle.
According to the AKC’s breed standard, any other color disqualifies a dog from being considered purebred.
However, there are variations in color accepted by other kennel clubs. For example, the Canadian Kennel Club accepts apricot and silver colored Pugs.
The black Pug and the white Pug are two variations. Although the black Pug is much more common.
The black Pug has all of the same characteristics as fawn Pugs. On the other hand, the white Pug is extremely rare. White Pugs, like many other white variations of dogs, may be prone to deafness.
Mini Pugs might look adorable but we can’t recommend them as a breed. They weigh a tiny 3-10 pounds.
The Pug already has enough health problems at its standard size. Miniature versions of breeds come with a whole other range of health defects. Not to mention the problems that may arise from having an even smaller skull.
Pugs are well known for their charm and personality. In fact, they are hard to fault in terms of temperament.
They generally have delightful natures. This breed are friendly little dogs, good with children and adults alike.
They are also compact creatures, fitting neatly into any sized home, and not requiring a great deal of outside space either.
The breed is known for being deeply affectionate and loyal. This is a dog that loves spending time with his family. This makes him a great indoor companion.
Pugs are also fairly easy to train with basic household manners. They are intelligent dogs who are interested in interacting with people and usually happy to accept treats and affection in equal measure!
It is these characteristics, together with their striking, flattened, almost human like face, and huge eyes, which have contributed to the breed’s rapidly growing popularity.
Training and exercising your Pug
Unfortunately, because these dogs suffer quite badly from being brachycephaly, there are some things you need to consider when it comes to exercise.
Brachycephaly restricts a dog’s flow of oxygen. Pugs are one of the breeds worst affected by this condition. Therefore, exercising is very difficult for them.
Although Pugs cannot exert much energy, they are usually responsive to training. They can be a little stubborn, so make sure your training is interesting for them!
You might like to take a look at some of our training guides:
Pug health and care
It saddens me greatly to have to start this section on a very negative note, and to let you know that Pugs are unfortunately not healthy dogs.
For example the fact that the breed are low energy dogs is not because they don’t want to run around all day as much as other dogs. It is because they are simply not able to.
Overheating is the first of several problems that many Pugs and their owners have to face. And it’s a serious concern, which you will need to consider if you decide to buy a Pug puppy.
The muzzle of a healthy dog is long in proportion to it’s skull for a reason. It has two very important roles.
The muzzle houses the complex system of ‘turbinates’ which bestow upon dogs the amazing ability to smell tiny traces of substances completely undetectable to man.
More importantly, this muzzle provides a dog with an extremely efficient cooling system.
Removing the muzzle from a dog seriously impairs that dog’s ability to regulate his own body temperature. Which means that Pugs can rapidly overheat in warm conditions. You can find out more about this in Brachycephalic Puppies
Practical Steps to Deal with Overheating
If you have a Pug puppy, you can help by ensuring that he or she is never over exercised, or allowed to become too hot. Avoid going for walks in the hot weather, and make sure that you bring some water and have access to shade whenever you take him out.
Never leave your Pug alone in the car on a warm day, the usual risk of overheating in cars which normal dog owners work to avoid is increased considerably with your Pug.
Be constantly aware of the risks of your Pug puppy overheating and you should be able to counter its potentially life threatening effects.
Breathing Problems in Pugs
One of the things people find charming about these dogs is the endearing noises that they make, including a propensity to snore like a train! However, the cause of this noise is sadly anything but adorable.
When we were busy breeding Pugs with shorter facial bones, we sadly failed to reduce the soft tissues of the Pug’s face in proportion to his new smaller muzzle. This left the breed with a lot of spare flesh. Both inside and outside of his mouth.
On the outside this tissue forms deep skin folds, which can cause problems too, but it is the inside of the breed’s mouth we are concerned with here.
Inside the pug’s mouth, his soft palate has nowhere to go except into his airway. And this breed often have severely compromised respiratory systems. In more ways than one.
These problems together are termed brachycephalic airway syndrome.
There are surgical options which can help some Pugs to breathe more easily in the long term, but considering whether to bring a puppy home who you know will be constantly short of breath is a decision only you can make.
It’s important that you read this information if you are considering buying a Pug puppy as brachycephalic airway syndrome is a significant risk and it will affect your wallet as much as it affects your heart.
Pug Eye Problems
Being a Pug does not just mean coping without a muzzle. It also means coping with abnormally shallow eye sockets.
This is related to the shape of the breed’s skull, and happens in other brachycephalic breeds too.
Shallow sockets means protruding eyes. And protruding eyes get scraped and scratched a lot more than they should.
They are also prone to ulcers and infections because the dog’s eyelids struggle to close properly over an eye that is sticking out further than it should.
There are other problems with brachycephalic eyes too, and you can read about them in this article brachycephalic ocular syndrome.
You can help your puppy to reduce these risks by being vigilant with their eye health. Inspect them every day for signs of discomfort, including rubbing, redness and discharge. Take your dog to the vet immediately if you have any concerns.
Pugs Screw Tails
You probably know that this dog has a cute little corkscrew tail that curls over his bottom. It looks very sweet, but the screw tail can be trouble for these dogs and their owners.
The feature that makes the tail lie in a spiral, instead of hanging down behind the dog, is a result of a deformity of the tail bones.
A corkscrew tail is caused by an unusual bone shape which forces the spine to form a spiral. If the deformity affects more than just the tail, and occurs higher up the spine, it can cause very painful and severe neurological problems
You can read all about these in this article – screw tails and hemivertebrae
Screw tails can also be hard for your pup to keep clean. If you bring a Pug puppy home you will need to inspect and clean his tail daily, wiping off any grime that may have got caught up there. This will reduce the risk of him picking up an infection or getting too grubby.
Dental Problems in Pugs
The pug has just as many teeth as nature intended. Unfortunately he has nowhere to put them. This is a common problem to several Toy dog breeds and by no means exclusive to this dog. And it is something you need to be aware of as an owner.
The number of teeth in a Pug’s mouth can cause overcrowding. The close proximity of the teeth means that food is more likely to get caught between them, leading to gum disease and tooth decay. Which in turn can cause problems eating.
If you own one of these breeds, you need to take extra care of his teeth.
Brush them daily, try out dental dog chews too. Frequent checks will allow you to see whether you are helping to keep them clean. You will also need to make sure he has regular check ups with your Veterinarian, who will be able to let you know how you are getting along.
Other Health Problems in Pugs
The main health problems we have discussed so far are those related to conformation. How the breed has been bred to be shaped.
These problems are not exclusive to Pugs, but they are more severe in this breed than most. And they do not just lead to health problems, they can cause these adorable pups to be in constant discomfort.
It is worth bearing in mind that although all dogs have health problems of some kind or another, these structural ones are pretty serious and must be taken into account when you are deciding which breed to adopt into your family.
They also suffer from other diseases, just like any other pedigree dog. These include
- Pug dog encephalitis
- Hip dysplasia
- Aortic Stenosis – a heart problem
- Leg-Perthes disease – a painful leg bone disease
- Atrial septal defect – a heart problem
- Alopecia (hair loss)
What is important, is that these conditions, some of which occur in other breeds too, are in addition to the 5 structural problems listed above.
Problems with Pug structure
Pugs are not alone in suffering from defects in conformation that affect their health. Several breeds of dog have problems specifically associated with their structure.
This does not mean that these problems are unavoidable. Breed standards are, after all, written by human beings, and they can be re-written, if there is a will to do so.
We don’t actually need to keep breeding dogs in the same way that we have been doing for the last few decades. It is a matter of choice, though not of course, for the dogs.
The five problems outlined above are problems of brachycephaly.
They are not unique to this breed, they are also suffered to a greater or lesser extent by other brachycephalic dogs. It’s just that we seem to have taken brachycephaly to dizzy heights with this particular breed.
All of these health problems contribute to the high price of the breed.
Despite the wide range of issues that they’re faced with, their life span is fairly average.
This study of the mortality rates of purebred dogs found that Pugs, on average, live until they are 11 years old.
Caring for a Pug puppy
If you go ahead and buy a purebred Pug puppy, you need to read up on all of their health problems and learn how to help to manage them. You will find links to further relevant information at the bottom of this article.
Be aware that the noises some Pugs make whilst they are breathing are not ‘normal’. They are a sign of respiratory distress and a sign that your dog needs veterinary attention.
Don’t wait until your dog starts fainting or collapsing to get help. Early treatment saves lives and is more likely to be effective.
Keep your dog out of the hot sun. Never over-exercise him. Check his eyes, teeth, face folds and tail at least once thoroughly every day for signs of ill health.
What does it mean to be a low energy dog breed?
You’ll have guessed by now that this breed are limited in the activities that they can participate in, due to their compromised physiology.
But bear in mind that inside every Pug lies the soul of a healthy dog. Your Pug doesn’t know he is disabled.
Many dogs will limit themselves with regard to exercise due to quickly tiring, but some do not pace themselves sufficiently and cause themselves problems.
Your Pug may not be willing to restrict his own exercise enough to prevent fainting or collapse, nor be able to judge when he is running short of oxygen, or becoming overheated.
So you need to make sure that he doesn’t over-reach himself and to make these decisions for him.
How can you help Pugs to get healthier?
It is possible, with a careful breeding program, using only dogs with straighter tails, longer muzzles and better set eyes, that over generations you could potentially claw back a healthy structure for this popular breed of dog.
But this is probably not a reality. Particularly as some breeders do not recognize that they created a problem.
There are two realistic ways to help these dogs become healthier.
The first is to outcross them with a more structurally sound breed or breeds. Allowing them to have a healthier structure but retain some of their charm and delightful character.
The other options is for people to stop buying them altogether. Which is a sad thought, because of course some of those that love Pugs would hate to see a world without them. And owning one may indeed be rewarding in a number of ways for the owner.
The future for Pugs
Despite the lack of information on the pug health page on it’s website, the Kennel Club does acknowledge the problems caused by the conformation of these little dogs.
It has set up a breed watch scheme and lists a number of high profile breeds on it, including pugs.
You can follow this link to find out more about breedwatch, but it is thought unlikely that we can expect any radical changes in the pug’s conformation as a result.
I hope that pug breeders will soon begin selecting for much longer muzzles. This is crucial to the pug’s welfare. Some judicial outcrossing to restore the muzzle to this breed as a matter of urgency, would be ideal. However, I sense that is not going to be sanctioned by the Kennel Club any time soon.
Do Pugs make good family pets
This breed is friendly and affectionate.
A Pug should mix well with a family.
However, given all of the health reasons outlined above, it might not be a great idea to buy a pug puppy.
Rescuing a Pug
If you cannot bear the thought of life without a purebred Pug, perhaps you would consider rescuing one?
Either from a breed-specific rescue or from a general dogs home.
Although they do not come through the doors that often, I have seen Pugs on Battersea Dogs Home’s website for example a few times.
Register your interest with local rescues and be prepared to wait for the right dog to come along.
Finding a Pug puppy
There are a few things to keep in mind when you’re looking for your new furry friend. Firstly, it’s important to avoid pet stores and puppy mills.
Puppy mills are places where people breed dogs en masse to sell them for profit. The dogs in this farms are usually not treated well. This goes for the mothers as well as the pups.
The reason pet stores should be avoided is that they tend to source their dogs from puppy mills.
Perhaps one of the best thing you could do if you’re looking for a Pug is to find a reputable breeder or rescue center that has a mix breed. Mixing with a typically healthier breed should be a dog with a better chance of leading a good life.
Feel free to consult our complete guide to finding the perfect puppy.
Buying a Pug Puppy
If you are set on buying a Pug puppy, then I highly recommend getting a cross bred pup. Go to a breeder who is committed to improving the health of these adorable dogs by outcrossing them to one with a better structure.
Remember, some people breeding ‘designer crosses’ with names such as ‘puggles’, are just trying to cash in on a fashion. So you need to choose a breeder with care.
Ask a lot of questions of your breeder, such as why they chose to cross breed, what health tests they carry out and what characteristics they breed for.
This will help you to ascertain whether the mixed mating was one driven by a love of the Pug type and a wish to breed a healthier dog, or for financial reasons alone.
Raising a Pug puppy
Caring for a vulnerable puppy is a big responsibility. Here are some great guides to help you with all aspects of puppy care and training.
- Puppy Training Guides
- 12 Great Places to Socialize Your Puppy
- Puppy Care
- 5 Simple Rules for Feeding Your Puppy
- Puppy Training Stages
Popular Pug breed mixes
Comparing the Pug with other breeds
Here are some other dog breeds you might want to consider
Here are some suggestions for alternative, healthier, small breed dogs with the average lifespan of the breed in brackets.
- Cairn Terrier (14 years)
- Toy poodle (14.6 years)
- Border Terrier (14 years)
- Miniature poodle (13.9 years)
Lifespan is not a guarantee of freedom from suffering of course. This breed’s life span isn’t bad, for example. But, in general terms terriers and poodles are lively small dogs with no major abnormalities of the skull and skeleton. These dogs are able to run, jump and breath freely. And their lives are happier for it.
Pros And Cons of Getting A Pug
- Most Pugs will suffer from some degree of health impairment simply as a result of being deprived of a muzzle.
- These dogs won’t be able to lead an active lifestyle so they won’t join you for a hike or a jog in the park
- These dogs are usually good tempered and will get on fine with humans and other dogs
- Might be suitable to smaller homes because they can’t do much exercise. (I’m very reluctant to call this a pro!)
Pug products and accessories
Pug Life Harness
One way to help ease your dog’s breathing is to use a harness. Harnesses don’t restrict oxygen like a regular collared lead would.
This may be one of the most important purchases you can make as a Pug owner. We could go as far as to say a harness is a neccessity!
Pug Breed Rescues
- National Pug Rescue Groups
- Pug Rescue Network
- Pug Dog Club of America
- Mid Atlantic Pug Rescue
- Pug Nation Rescue of Los Angeles
- Pug Hearts (Houston)
- Bluegrass Pug Rescue (Kentucky)
- Pug Rescue (Florida)
- Pugalug Pug Rescue
- West Coast Canada Pug Rescue
- Boston Terrier and Pug Rescue (Manitoba)
- Homeward Bound Rescue
- Manitoba Pug Rescue
- Under My Wing Rescue
Do you have a Pug? How do you feel about this breed? Let us know in the comments below.
This article has been extensively revised in 2019.
References And Resources
- Gough A, Thomas A, O’Neill D. 2018 Breed Predispositions to Disease In Dogs and Cats. Wiley Blackwell
- O’Neill et al. 2013. Longevity and Mortality of Dogs Owned In England. The Veterinary Journal
- Schalamon et al. 2006. Analysis of Dog Bites In Children Who Are Younger Than 17 Years. Pediatrics
- Duffy D et al. Breed differences in canine aggression. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 2008
- Strain G. Deafness prevalence and pigmentation and gender associations in dog breeds at risk. The Veterinary Journal 2004
- Packer et al. 2015. Impact of Facial Conformation On Canine Health. PlosOne
- Adams VJ, et al. 2010. Results of a Survey of UK Purebred Dogs. Journal of Small Animal Practice.
Roedler et al, 2013, How does severe brachycephaly affect dog’s lives? Results of a structured preoperative owner questionnaire. The Veterinary Journal
- The Pug Dog Club
- Pug gets a facelift
- Wikipedia on pugs
- RSPCA on pugs
- Pug health problems (news article)
- Breed longevity
- Pug Village
- American Kennel Club