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What the Books Didn't Tell You About Pugs

Updated: Jan 14, 2021

You've wanted one for years. You hopefully have done some research and think this is the breed for you. Well, read on. There are some things about pugs that aren't in all the books and that may make a pug a bad fit for you.

Let me preface this by saying that no two pugs are alike. Don't assume that because your neighbour's pug is a slug that yours will be. It's a HUGE mistake to judge all pugs by your experience with one or two. They can vary quite a bit in energy, intelligence and temperament, ranging from go-with-the-flow to MeMeMe.

Gross Generalizations that tend to be true:

  • Blacks tend to be busier and have more attitude than fawns.

  • Females tend to be pushier and more in your face than males.

  • Males tend to be more laid back and easy going than females.

  • There are exceptions to all of the above.

Pug Puppies:

No doubt, you've read about how pugs are sweet, affectionate, cuddly and low energy. So you will be rightfully horrified when you find that your puppy is a whirling dervish of energy who snuggles for 30 seconds and then is off again to race around the house, leaving destruction in his or her path.

Pug puppies are no different from any other puppy. Expect nipping, chewing, gnawing, jumping, pulling on your pant legs, shoe destroying, and general mayhem.

Here's the reality. NO puppy is a couch potato. They are all lunatics. Some more than others. You likely won't have a couch potato pug until at least the age of two and your pug may NEVER be a couch potato.

Pugs from reputable breeders are more likely to have the pug temperament eventually, but even they will be devils as a puppy. If your puppy is from the internet, a pet store, a newspaper ad, then it's up for grabs what kind of temperament you may end up with. You might luck out and get a pug that has the solid and stable temperament that is the signature of the breed, but you might also end up with a high drive, high energy pug that won't settle down for several years, if ever.

One of the best ways to wear a puppy out (or any busy dog) is to engage them in activities that make them work and think. This is why obedience classes are so great—it may only be an hour, but that's a hard hour of learning and really takes the 'edge' off of a busy dog.

Pugs are and were bred to be companion animals. They need people. If you are going to be gone for long periods of time and/or be too tired to engage with your pug when you get home from work, then a pug likely isn't the dog for you. And pug puppies will need you to engage with them. They will demand it (as will most adults). Just like children, puppy brains need stimulation and activity to develop. A puppy left crated for eight to ten hours will be absolutely manic by the time you get home and will need you to devote the remainder of the evening to them. They are often referred to as a Velcro dog so if you don't want a dog that is going to be wherever you are all the time (including in the bathroom!), then rethink getting a pug.

House training:

Pugs will not be house trained in a month or two months or even six months. Some pick it up quickly, but most take a year or longer and may still not be 100% reliable. And most pugs won't ask to go out. You might be able to train them to ask (ring a bell), but in my experience, most pugs don't learn this or if they do learn it, they figure out that ring the bell equals a treat (assuming you treat your dog after pottying outside). You may end up with a pug that rings for food as opposed to letting you know they want to go out.

Pugs generally will not just go outside and do their business while you sit nice and warm in the kitchen and have a coffee. If they are outside, you'd better be outside, too. Most will not excrete outside without your company and encouragement. Many will also try to fake you out by pretending to pee. Maddening? You bet, but these quirks are part of the charm of the breed.

While some pugs can last all day while you're at work, most can't and none should be expected to. When was the last time you had to hold your bowels or bladder for eight to ten hours at a stretch? So if you are contemplating a pug (or small breed dog) then be sure that you can afford to have someone come in and let the dog out or make arrangements for the dog to excrete in an 'approved' spot.

Punishing a pug for an accident is not an effective method of house training. Praise for appropriate pottying will win the day—eventually—but scolding, yelling, hitting, rubbing the dog's nose in the mess will not house train the dog and will likely create a dog that will become a sneaky excreter. There are many good books and articles on house training.

Be prepared that if you have a pug puppy, you may well have to get up at night—two, three or four times a night—until they are six months or older.

Pug Quirks:

Pugs have a variety of quirks that drive some people nuts. They are nosy, inquisitive, and often right under foot. Many are tremendously food driven and will consume things that you don't consider edible. I'm not kidding. They will eat sticks, rocks, coins, screws, plastic caps off of bottles. You name it, they will eat it. They figure out quickly that the command "drop it" means you're going to take it away so many will swallow the forbidden object rather than give it up. It is your job to pug proof your home to avoid tragedy. Many have serious Kleenex and toilet paper addictions that they have all their lives. Several of my pugs think eating used tissue is a true delight and will go out of their way to access it. I never trust any pug around any food source, garbage or even cabinets that they can open.

Quite a few will "table surf". If they can get onto your dining room or kitchen table, they will. And they will consume whatever is up there.

Pugs are often quite tactile. Many are obsessive lickers—of themselves, you, the other dogs or cats, the kids, the carpet, your pillow. It's a pug thing (but can also be a sign of gastric problems or pain). Many use their paws more like hands than paws. Quite a few are "swatters" and will use their paws to whack you or other animals—generally to play or get attention.

Pugs can be quite vocal and can be barkers, howlers, moaners and grumblers. I have had several that were vocal in the extreme and would carry on protracted conversations with me. As a breed, they have the widest assortment of noises I've ever heard. And some snore like buzz saws.

Pugs are tough little dogs that have no clue how small they are. Most will not initiate a fight, but many will vigorously defend themselves or others if a fight starts. Most are hopelessly outclassed in the fighting department and can get seriously hurt.

As a deeply food driven breed, you may have issues with food aggression and resource guarding. Make sure that you do research on working with these issues. I do encounter pugs that will resource guard their owner’s attention and their laps.

Many pugs are not fans of inclement weather and will resist excreting outside in the cold, rain or wind. Some are fine, but in my experience, many will refuse (or try to refuse) to excrete outdoors. Some will simply use your floors, some will hold their bowels and bladder for frighteningly long periods of time.

Dogs don’t actually feel “remorse” or regret so if they’ve had an accident in the house, they may look sheepish, but most of the time that look is about offering appeasing behaviour….they may know that a bad thing happened, but may not be aware of what the bad thing was or that they were the ones who did it.

No dog can be trained to be "traffic smart". And don't fool yourself that you can do this or that your neighbourhood is safe. Pugs (any dog, in my opinion) should not be off leash in any environment where they can get away from you and end up on the road or lost. They can be remarkably fast and it only takes a second for a dog to be hit by a car.

They have a remarkable capacity for bodily excretions. Expect to get snot blown in your face regularly, eye boogers to be wiped on your new white blouse/pillow/pants and to find the foul smell of anal gland excretions on your furniture or lap.

Pug Smarts:

Pugs are often erroneously tagged as dumb dogs. Most aren't. In fact, most are smart enough to figure out how to get what they want or how to outlast you. Positive training, setting rules and boundaries are crucial with this breed if you don't want to end up with a thug. Since they are often very food driven, treats are very effective in training pugs.

And they are dogs. Let's remember that. They aren't little people, much as we like to think of them that way. They need to do dog things—go on walks, engage in the world, play and have fun. Just as you wouldn't raise a human child in isolation with no rules, it isn't good for a pug to be raised in isolation where there are no rules or boundaries. Pugs are very adept at figuring out what you will and will not tolerate and will do what has worked for them. You don't need to be a dictator, but all dogs like to know what the routine is and like a predictable world.

Pug Energy:

While they aren't sporting dogs, all pugs need exercise. Yes, quite a few would prefer to laze on the sofa all day, but that isn't good for them. There are pugs that excel at agility, at Rally-O, at obedience. They don't have to be slugs and most importantly, they shouldn't get FAT. This can be a real struggle as they always act like they haven't eaten in a week, have pitiful, soulful eyes and for some reason some of them just seem to think of food and put on weight. It really is important to remember that they need the right amount of food for the activity level of the dog. You don't do your dog any kindness by letting them get obese and you shorten their life significantly.

As mentioned earlier, they can be wildly busy puppies and many first time pug owners get very discouraged. They may slow down with time and age, but you need to be sure that your pug, regardless of energy level, gets exercise and mental stimulation.

Pug Health:

This, more than any other issue, is often the undoing of a pug owner. Like all pure bred dogs, pugs have some health issues that may crop up and they are often expensive health issues. DO YOUR RESEARCH on the breed and especially on where you are getting your pug. Rescues generally have a good idea of the health issues facing a given dog—don't assume that a rescued pug is going to be a health nightmare. You do put yourself at risk for expensive health issues with pugs from pet stores, internet ads and the newspaper. Most reputable breeders will have genetic testing going back generations. It's no guarantee that your pug won't have an issue, but does decrease the odds.

Pugs are prone to issues specific to brachycephalic (flat faced) breeds (breathing, eyes, folds of skin) and are prone to issues of the toy breeds generally (luxating patella, dental problems, trachea). And then there is Pug Dog Encephalitis (PDE) and Pug Degenerative Myelopathy (PDM) that is pug specific.

Pugs have a very high rate of allergies—food being a big one. Pugs need a high quality diet. Grocery store kibble may not cut it and you can avoid a host of future problems if you start off feeding your pug a good diet.

Pugs have a high rate of vaccine and conservative in your vaccination protocol.

Think seriously about insurance for your pug. It can be a life saver, literally. If you don't or won't get insurance, then have a plan for what you will do when the first $2,500 vet bill crops up. It can happen. An eye injury in a pug can go from simple scratch to serious ulcer in 24 hours and need a corneal graft—that will run you into some serious cash. Be prepared for this so that you aren't sitting at the vet's office trying to figure out what to do because you can't afford the vet care needed.

I tell people to just expect an eye issue at some point in their pug's life. That way you aren't surprised if it happens.

A High Maintenance Breed:

Don't get me wrong. I love my pugs, but they are, to my mind, a high maintenance breed. They need and want a lot of attention. They shed like maniacs. I'm not kidding about the shedding. It's downright astonishing.

They can be a hand full and aren’t just going to do things to please you. They require a fair bit of watching and managing in terms of safety, health and general training. They can and will get themselves into trouble—by dashing into the road (if off leash) to get a piece of smashed sandwich, chewing on your power cords, opening up your cabinet (which you thought was safe) and eating a pound bag of flour (yes, this has happened), jumping off of a height and snapping a leg bone.

They tend to need some pretty regular cleaning of nose folds, eye areas and are notoriously fussy about having their nails trimmed. You can see some real dramatic behaviour around nail clipping in particular. I've known several pugs to start screaming as if they were being killed before the nail trimming even started.....

They do a thing called Reverse Sneezing. Read up about it and save yourself a trip to the emergency vet. I ran my pom in to the ER, convinced she was choking and was politely told it was just a reverse sneeze and many poms do it. So do many pugs.

This is one of the most affectionate and overtly loving breeds I've ever owned. To me, they are worth the effort, expense and time that they require. They are clowns and comics and will provide hours of laughter and entertainment. But as a pug owner, you MUST be aware of the care involved in this breed.


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