The Pug is one of the oldest surviving dog breeds, thought to have originated in China around 700 BC, although records suggest that dogs of a similar appearance to the breed we know today existed as early as 500 BC. Queen Victoria loved pugs and played a significant role in establishing the breed in Europe, placing the little wrinkled dogs firmly in the hearts of Victorian dog enthusiasts. Pugs belonging to royalty were treated as such and would be seen riding at the front of the carriage in clothes matching those of their masters.
However, not everyone shared the Queen’s passion for pugs. The author Taplin wrote that they were “applicable to no sport” and “appropriated to no useful purpose”. The name ‘pug’ itself was defined as a nickname for ‘monkey’ in the 1700s, a time when keeping marmosets as pets was not uncommon. Although it is still perfectly legal to own a primate in the UK, our now extensive knowledge and understanding of animal welfare means that our attitude towards animals has changed dramatically. With the obvious implications of keeping such an animal in the unsuitable, alien environment that is our homes, most of us wouldn’t think twice about owning a monkey. So why are pugs, one of the unhealthiest dog breeds, still as popular as they were under Queen Victoria’s rule?
It is not difficult to answer this question. Pug faces adorn endless lines of cushions, bags, T-shirts, pyjamas, onesies and phone cases. The pug craze is highlighted in the media, with photographs of various celebrities holding their pets splashed across newspapers. On the internet, sites such as tumblr’s ‘Pugs in Clothes’ support the attitude that it is acceptable to treat pugs as an accessory rather than a living, (just about) breathing creature. Pugs are cute, and the current trend and apparent necessity for all things pug is a far cry from the days when the breed could only be owned by emperors, with illegal ownership punishable by death!
A pug in a Starbucks outfit taken from the site ‘Pugs Dressed as Things’.
Instead of addressing the health issues within the breed, such as the obvious breathing difficulties and proptosis (a medical emergency involving the eye popping out of its socket, usually caused by holding the neck too tightly but can also be the result of play), unscrupulous breeders continue to produce litter after litter of pugs. Breeding dogs in order to meet public demand is nothing new; following the release of the 101 Dalmatians movie in 1996, people with little knowledge of the high-energy and often demanding breed were able to ‘cash in’ on the Dalmatian’s popularity, with many dogs unsuitable for life as a family pet produced as a result. Sites such as Pets for Homes and Gumtree are an ideal outlet for such breeders, making it easier than ever for anyone to purchase an animal without any real consideration. Indeed, if live meerkats were as readily available as their fluffy toy counterparts, it is likely that we would be overrun with them too.
If pugs are ‘on trend’ in the eyes of the public, it is true that Staffordshire Bull Terriers and other such breeds are also ‘fashionable’ amongst certain members of society. You only have to look at the music charts and there is the artist ‘Pitbull’, who chose his stage name based solely upon the breed’s notoriety. If Labradors were to become the ‘devil dogs’ of 2014, would we suddenly see an increase in youths parading down the street and lurking on street corners with ‘Marley’? It is true that breeds such as the Akita and Dogue De Bordeaux have seen an increase in popularity in the last few years, while the German Shepherd and Rottweiler, once favourite targets for the media’s dangerous dog campaigns in the 80s and 90s, have appeared to return to more responsible owners.
If gang members require a dog that will intimidate others, it has to be a breed that has the ability to strike fear into the hearts of the public – one that they have seen in the news. Would they be less inclined to choose the Akita, complete with its fluffy coat and curly tail, for use as a status dog without attacks featuring the breed shown in the media?
Just as pugs are widely available, Staffordshire Bull Terriers and Staffie crosses can be found in every classified ad section and are often sold via a ‘mate of a mate’, and, in comparison to other breeds mentioned, are usually highly affordable. Those who want a dog bred for aggressive tendencies are unlikely to approach a Kennel Club registered breeder, and they have no reason to do so. Statistics shown in the February 2014 issue of Your Dog magazine show that Staffordshire Bull Terriers are the most stolen dog breed in Britain, and many pet charities are currently working to raise awareness of the dangers of leaving a dog tied up outside a shop. From a financial perspective, there is no point in producing dogs that nobody wants, and with these statistics proving exactly what sort of people are after a Stafford, the market for ‘weapon dogs’ is as large as ever. Unfortunately it is always the dog that pays the price for becoming either ‘useless’ or unfashionable, a statement that any rescue centre full of poorly-socialised and neglected Staffords would support.
Until the image of the Stafford is changed, the future for the breed remains the same. The great work of the East Anglian Staffordshire Bull Terrier Display Team, who perform in the main arena at Crufts, is just one example of how media stories can be weakened and opinions changed by showing a breed in a positive light.
As for the Pug, it is likely that in a year or so the novelty items embellished with a pug face will be met with the same exasperated sighs that the once admirable and now arguably overused ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ merchandise generates. In an ideal world, Staffords would become the new pug and, instead of an increase in breeding, the thousands in rescue would be adopted as a result.
At least Staffords can be played with without the risk of proptosis.