Retromops on the left. Conventional pug on the right. (Source).
Pugs have a lot of problems associated with their bizarre phenotype. This is a breed that is well known for its scrunched-up muzzle and head, which cause problems with oxygenation and with cooling. We’ve been through this enough times on this blog that I’m going to leave them alone on this post.
However, the question becomes how could we fix the problems that pugs have.
One answer to this question comes from Germany, where pugs have been crossed with “Parson Jack Russells” (long-legged JRTs) and then bred back into pugs. Longer-muzzled dogs were then selected from the back-breedings.
This is definitely a way of fixing the pug issues related to phenotype, but it does involve cross-breeding. And it also involves ignoring both the breed standard and what is actually winning in a particular breed.
Which are not easy to do.
This new type of pug is called “Retromops.” It is “retro” in that it resembles an older form of pug that had a longer muzzle, and the word “mops” is what pugs are are called in other Germanic languages besides English.
The dogs are pretty retro. This is a painting by the English artist Henry Bernard Chalon of a pug in 1802.
With the exception of the cropped ears, this dog strongly resembles the Retromops.
Of course, this dog lived before there was anything known as a kennel club, and the concept of a “purebred dog” was actually quite a bit up to interpretation. George Washington was breeding foxhounds and water spaniels just few decades earlier, and all he did was just make sure that dogs that looked and acted like foxhounds were bred to foxhounds and the dogs that looked and acted like water spaniels were bred to water spaniels.
But that’s very different from created a closed registry breed.
There were also no breed standards. That concept doesn’t come to the fore until many decades later.
And yes, it’s very likely that English pug breeders crossed their dogs with terriers. There couldn’t possibly be a vast supply of pugs in Europe during their first few centuries of being exported, so it would make sense that someone crossed a pug with a terrier every once in a while.
And perhaps more often than that.
Modern breeding systems and conformation showing created the conventional pug.
The conventional pug has lots of health issues, but even if it can be shown that Retromops have a much better quality of life, I doubt that there will ever be a demand for them.
People want pugs to look like the conventional pug. They don’t want something looks like a sort of border terrier/bulldog/spitz.
Even if the Retromops looks like the pug that was introduced in Europe originally, people are so attached to the current standard pug that I doubt they would accept the longer-muzzled type.
This breed has been branded to look a certain way, and because it has no function other than to be a companion, looks are a huge part of what makes a pug “fit for purpose.”
It’s a sad situation, but there is at least one way to make a better pug.
Unfortunately, it’s never going to be accepted or widespread.
But I certainly wish that it could succeed.
With pug popularity on the rise, it’s very unlikely that this model could ever take off.
Of course, someone will mention the puggle, but the puggle concept was always about creating a designer crossbreed. It was never about making a better pug.
So until there is a sea change with the public and within the established pug fancy, we’re pretty much stuck with the conventional pug.
But we should be going retro.
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