Background: It is quite common for the Pug to be described as a ”clown” and even as if it is not a dog, but an angel or that it unites different animals in one, such as a frog, cat, pig and monkey. It is also common for the Pug to be humanized by dressing in human clothes, and being photographed in contexts where one expects to see a human being, such as at the computer, at the wheel of the car, etc. Because of all this, I find it important to begin with establishing that the Pug is a DOG.
As a dog, the Pug’s mentality is based upon its species, and it has needs like the species dog. The Pug has basic dog needs and behaviors just like all other dogs. All dogs are genetically coded for such things as searching for, hunting and catching food, for sleeping, resting and bedding, for grooming and cleaning themselves, guarding territories, reproducing and engaging in social interaction as a dog (Selin 2016). All of these mentioned behaviors are those that the dog needs as a dog and that cannot be “removed” from the dog. What you can do instead is to channel the different needs into behaviors that are suitable for humans. For example, different parts of the hunting drive can be channeled through such activities as tug-of-war or game trails. The dog’s coding to monitor territory can be shaped and controlled e.g. through gossip training, so that the dog instead of intense barking comes to his/her humans and tells that someone is outside the house.
As for Standard Pugs, they are usually so compact in the body that they cannot clean their private parts. Thus, their bodies do not enable them to fulfill a basic need for which they are genetically coded. The need for cleaning is difficult to channel in any other way; what the Pug often does is to constantly licks its paws, etc. (The licking can also have other causes.) Not being able to carry out a basic need creates discomfort in the dog.
A common perception among Pug owners is that the Pug has no hunting instincts. However, this view is incorrect. If the Pug is a dog, it has hunting instincts, just like all other dogs. The hunting instinct can vary between breeds due to the fact that long-term breeding has been carried out in some breeds to refine certain parts of the dog’s hunting instinct. At the same time, it should be considered that hunting behaviors have low heritability, i.e. a very good hunting dog inherits hunting behavior to a fairly low degree to its offspring, and conversely, a poorer hunting dog can have puppies that become very good hunting dogs (see Schmutz and Schmutz 1998).
That the Pug’s hunting instinct is not insignificant, but is on par with other dogs, is seen in the fact that many Pugs’ hunting mechanisms start when a bicycle or a vehicle whizzes by. The movement of the vehicle creates the same reaction as if e.g. a hare would run past. Why is it then so unusual that Standard Pugs hunt e.g. hares, birds and other game? In my opinion, it depends on the Standard Pug’s constitution, with short legs and a badly angled front and rear. The Pug moves too slowly to be able to have a chance against e.g. a hare; because the Pug is so slow, the stimulus for hunting quickly disappears from the Pug’s field of vision and smell, and thus the hunting instinct decreases. (Cf. Irene Sommerfeld-Stur, who writes about the corresponding absence of hunting desire in square-built Spitz breeds (2016: 134).) I use to say that we have to give the Pug a normal dog body before we can say what its mentality is. My husband and I own a standard Pug and an Old German Pug that illustrate this in terms of hunting instinct; the Standard Pug takes a few steps, and then the hare is gone. Our Old German Pug has a completely different anatomy and can chase the hare for a while before it disappears, so for her the desire to hunt remains much longer.
A quote from Hundsport special no. 4 2020 reflects that all dogs have hunting instincts:
“It is not surprising that herding dogs and hunting dogs of various kinds hunt, but what about other dogs like companion dogs, they do not hunt, do they? Yes, they do, more or less. If you have bought a dog, you have bought a hunter whether you have thought of it or not. If you do not want a hunter, you should get a guinea pig instead. ” (Tapper 2020: 39, my translation from Swedish)
What is it then that makes the Pug special as a breed, what characterizes it? In my opinion, it is above all one thing that is special about the Pug’s mentality, namely that it wants to be close to its people and co-pets. For the Pug, it is very important to always be close, and they often even sit on their people and co-pets.
The driving force to be close also means that the Pug is usually not prone to escape, that it does not mind being tied up when walking without a leash outdoors and that it does not carry out hunting operations far from its people. Compared to hunting dogs that need to be independent to be able to work more or less far away from their handler, the Pug is quite dependent. The Pug does not want to be far away from his handler. This is something you often read in Pug groups and hear in encounters with Pug owners; their Pug follows them like a shadow, they are not even allowed to enter the toilet themselves.
Another aspect regarding the Pug’s mentality is its energy level. It is not uncommon for Pugs to have very high energy levels and to be very active and intense. They can be difficult to handle because they are barking, pull towards other dogs, want to play very intensively, etc. There are also Pugs that are quite calm and inactive (some of them probably because of BOAS), as well as those who are in between and have a more even and “normal” energy level.
When it comes to the relationship with other pets, dogs, humans, both adults and children, the Pug is usually friendly to all. Pugs generally are happy with everyone. However, there is a tendency for some Pugs to become jealous in regarding a person who is important to them and they can also monitor so that another dog in the household does not receive more treats or food than they themselves receive. It is therefore not uncommon for Pugs to monitor resources (food, people, etc.) and they can even fight over these. Pugs are usually very fond of food, which can result in them getting too much food from their people, and that there is competition for food with their fellow Pugs.
My experience is that Pugs are also often stubborn and therefore they are not always easy to handle. They need stimulation in their everyday lives to thrive, feel good and behave in a way that works in interaction with their people. The Pug has a lot of power, desire and will, and it is important that we through breeding give it a body in which it can channel this.
Retro Pugs are genetically Pugs to about 75 – 95%. They have such a small proportion rom the donor breed that their mentality is like that of a Pug. This is witnessed by countless Retro Pug owners; even those who have a dog that is 50% Pug and thus 50% from a donor breed testify to a dog that is more or less like a Pug. The donor breed contributes with improved anatomy, and thereby the Pug’s repertoire is broadened so that it can be more dog, but since the Pug share of the Retro Pug is 75% or more, it has a Pug mentality.
A breeder who has extensive experience of crossbreeding of Pugs with different donor breeds is Meranda Sterk in the Netherlands. She testifies that both the F1 and F2 generations (50% and 75% Pug respectively) are cuddly, want to be close and like to sit on the lap, just like the Pug. She explains that when the Shiba (a Japanese ancient dog) is used as donor breed, F1s and F2s show more instinctive behaviors but they never run away from her when being in the forest, and they show no hunting tendencies towards game (Meranda Sterk 2019, personal communication). Meranda Sterk also writes on her website about the F1 Pelle, whose father is a Patterdale Terrier and the mother thus a Pug, that Pelle does not show any hunting behavior. At home on the farm, hares often run past, but Pelle does not react to them with hunting behavior, but only looks surprised when he sees them (Meranda Sterk’s website).
Nina Tissen, Retromopszucht von den Herzenshunden, owns both an F1 and an F2 of whom the donor breed is Parson Russell Terrier. She does not feel that they have any hunting behavior beyond what you can sometimes see in Pugs, and has no problem having them loose in the nature. Both are very cuddly and like to sit on the lap and cuddle. The big difference from a purebred Pug is that both have completely free airways and an anatomy that enables them to be a dog fully (Nina Tissen 2020, personal communication). Renée Johansson has the same experience, as she also owns an F1 and an F2, likewise with Parson Russell Terrier as donor breed. Both are very cuddly and show no interest in hunting, and she can have them loose in the wild. Both also have completely free airways and a top anatomy (Renée Johansson 2020, personal communication).
Goal: The Pug shall have an anatomy that enables it to express all its needs as a dog. It shall maintain its need to be close to its people and co-pets, taking into account that it should not be overly attached to someone with jealousy and guarding as a result. The Pug should feel safe even if it is left alone for an hour. It is desirable that Pugs do not have a very high or low energy level, but an even energy level should be sought, where the Pug can be concentrated and alert during activity and also take it easy and rest from time to time.
Strategy: By breeding as Pug Dog Passion recommends, the Pug will have a body that allows it to be fully dog. I have not looked at any study regarding heritability in terms of energy level or jealousy and surveillance as well as insecurity, but one can imagine that these traits are to some extent heritable. Therefore, we recommend that very energetic Pugs be mated with Pugs that are less energetic and that Pugs that are vigilant, jealous and insecure be mated with Pugs that are stable and confident.
Sources and further reading:
Schmutz, S. M. and J. K. Schmutz. 1998. “Heritability Estimates of Behaviors Associated With Hunting in Dogs”. The American Genetic Association 89, 233–237.
Selin, David. 2016. “HUND 360 grader”. Course at Hundutbildningsgruppen.
Sommerfeld-Stur, Irene. 2016. Rassehundezucht: Genetik für Züchter und Halter. Stuttgart: Müller Rüschlikon Verlag.
Sterk, Meranda. Dexterous Rascals.
Tapper, Ingrid. 2020. “Om hundar & jakt”. Hundsport special 4, 38–40.
Chapters in Strategies for the breeding of Healthy Pugs
- Hips, Elbows and Patella
- Hemivertebrae and other vertebral anomalies
- Spinal Arachnoid Diverticulum (SAD)
- Pug Myelopathy (PM)
- Degenerative Myelopathy (DM)
- PDE/NME and other non-viral induced encephalitides
- Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrom (BOAS)
- Dentition and mouth health in the Pug
- Eyes (Brachycephalic Ocular Syndrome)
- Mating and Fertility
- Genetic diversity