Bred to adorn the laps of the Chinese sovereigns during the Shang dynasty (roughly 1600–1100 B.C.), in East China, Pugs were originally known as “Lo-Chiang-Sze,” or “Foo.” The breed’s popularity spread to Tibet, where they were mainly kept by monks at Buddhist monasteries, and then to Japan.

Pug - Wills Cigarette Card (1937)

Pugs were brought to Europe in the late 16th century by the merchants and crews of the Dutch East Indies Trading Company. (Their name may come from the Old English pugg, or “puge,” which were affectionate terms for a playful little devil or monkey.) In 1572 a Pug saved the life of William, Prince of Orange, by barking at an assassin, and the Pug later became the official dog of the House of Orange. A Pug traveled with William III and Mary II when they left the Netherlands to ascend to the throne of England in 1688. The 17th century also saw Pugs become a popular breed in other European countries, including Spain, where they were painted by Goya.

The Pug’s popularity continued to spread in France during the 18th century. Before her marriage at age 15 to Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette owned a Pug named Mops. Before her marriage to Napoleon Bonaparte, Joséphine de Beauharnais had her Pug, Fortune, carry messages hidden under his collar to her family while she was imprisoned at Les Carmes.

William Hogarth, the English painter, was devoted to Pugs. In 1745 he painted his self-portrait with Trump, one of his Pugs; it now hangs in London’s Tate Gallery.

In 19th-century England, Pugs flourished under the patronage of Queen Victoria. Her many Pugs, which she bred herself, included Olga, Pedro, Minka, Fatima, and Venus. Her involvement with Pugs helped to establish the Kennel Club, which was formed in 1873. Victoria favored apricot and fawn Pugs, while the aristocrat Lady Brassey is credited with making black Pugs fashionable after she brought some back from China in 1886.

Pugs arrived in the United States in the 19th century. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1885.