How did pugs lose their snouts? It certainly wasn’t through Darwinian natural selection. I can’t think of a single advantage for a dog that comes with not having a snout, other than – and I realize that this may be debatable – having an absolutely adorable face.
(I dare you to say that Sarah’s face is not adorable!)
On the other hand, there are distinct advantages that come with having a protruding snout. Our pug Sarah certainly could use that narrow, somewhat cone-shaped facial extension to help her reach a morsel of food that has rolled under the couch, to scratch a just-out-of-reach itch with her teeth, and to perform a number of other actions in her daily dogly life.
As you can see below, Sarah can hide her entire “snout” (as well as the rest of her head) in her food bowl, which is 4 ½ inches in diameter and 2 inches deep. This is one of the few uses she has for her truncated snout.
So, why are Sarah and her kin so deficient in such an important anatomical area?
The reason, I learned, rests with the history of the pug breed, which involved overturning the natural evolution that had resulted in dogs having protruding muzzles, or snouts. Over 2,000 years ago, dog breeders in Tibet, then a province of China, developed the pug as a companion for kings and queens, concubines and courtiers. They wanted a dog with the size and appeal of a human infant, one the royal ladies would enjoy carrying around in their arms; and they wanted a dog with the temperament to enjoy being carried around by t them.
So then, what accounts for the pug’s regal history? Well, before modern times, who other than the royalty could afford to house and feed a dog that couldn’t pay for its keep? Other dog breeds were developed to help their human masters accomplish specific and necessary tasks. For example, collies were bred to herd sheep; bloodhounds, to track game; and terriers, to dispatch varmints. Not so for pugs. A pug’s job is simply to allow itself to be coddled and cuddled and carried about, as in bygone days, only aristocrats had the time to do.
Above, I benefit from the sweet temperament bred into pugs by Tibetan monks. Sarah is on the left, Harley in the middle, and Duchess on the right.
To make that fetchingly flat face with those large front-facing eyes, so like a human infant’s, the Chinese selectively bred dogs who had short snouts with others who shared this characteristic. They did this for generations of dogs. The snout got shorter with each generation; and voila! The pug was created. Then, after centuries of being cherished canine companions of the Chinese nobility, pugs were introduced to the castles and courts of Europe, where they were received with open arms – which, of course, is exactly where pugs like to be.
Nonetheless, the snouts of early pugs were not as short as those of modern ones. In paintings from the 1700s and 1800s, pugs had snouts – shorter than most dogs’ snouts, I’ll grant you, but their snouts definitely protruded more than they do on today’s pugs.
This painting by Caspar Von Reth, above, shows a pug circa 1890. This pug definitely had a visible (and presumably functional) snout.
As pugs trotted along through the 1900s and into the 2000s, their snouts continued to shrink, getting still shorter. Pug fanciers and dog show judges appeared to prefer dogs with even flatter faces, so breeders complied by again using sequential breeding to squash pugs’ snouts (genetically, not mechanically!) even farther backward toward the skull.
And this is what resulted for Sarah, born in 2002.