[Lady Bertram] was a woman who spent her days in sitting, nicely dressed, on a sofa, doing some long piece of needlework, of little use and no beauty, thinking more of her pug than her children, but very indulgent to the latter when it did not put herself to inconvenience… (Mansfield Park, Ch. 2)
Ah, Lady Bertram and her beloved lapdog upon whom she cannot even find the brainwave to bestow a proper name. Pug is mentioned a few times in Mansfield Park and nearly always shares the screen with her lazy owner in the two most recent film adaptations (1999 [bleh!] & 2007).
According the AKC, China is the likeliest place of origin for the Pug, who probably served as a pet in the Tibetan monasteries; “the breed next appeared in Japan and then in Europe, where it became the favorite for various royal courts.” According to legend, the Pug really gained royal favor when William I of Orange’s Pug alerted him to the approach of the Spanish army at Hermingny in 1572, saving the prince’s life as well. From then on the Pug was the official dog of the House of Orange, and when William II came to the throne of England in 1689 with his wife Mary II, he brought many Pugs withhim, the ones belonging exclusively to the Royal Family bearing orange collars. Another Pug named “Fortune” also nobly served a royal, Josephine Bonaparte, by carrying secret letters in his collar to Napoleon during her imprisonment; before Josephine, Marie Antoinette herself owned a pug named “Mops”, as shown in Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film. George III of England and his family owned many Pugs, so Jane Austen would have certainly been familiar with the breed, just as we are familiar with Elizabeth II’s love of Corgis. Pugs, like Chihuahuas today, were the ideal accessory for any fashionable lady.
Naturally, the filmmakers can be excused for obtaining a modern Pug for the production, as only a very poorly-bred specimen would resemble the Pugs of the late 18th/early 19th centuries. From art of the time, we can see that Pugs of that era had more prominent muzzles, still retained a brow bone, were more leggy, and had tails with various curling. Their ears were often cropped to enhance the expression, though this sometimes resulted in a deaf dog if the wounds became infected. The black mask on a short, shiny Fawn coat was the most desired coloring, though black specimens did appear in litters on occasion only to be killed or abandoned. Queen Victoria however owned some Black Pugs, and an influx of them from China in the late 19th Century, coinciding with the rise of dog shows, increased their popularity. William Hogarth had a Pug named “Trump”, and Pugs feature prominently in his art (though his dog looks more like a bully terrier, such as a Staffordshire, than a Pug).
Eventually, the Pug lost out to the Pomeranian and Pekingese for the top lapdog spot —- and of course the ubiquitous English bulldog won over the country in later decades, especially amongst the Y-chromosome set —- though it remains one of the most popular breeds to this day.
For a literary analysis of the Pug, check out “Slipping the Leash: Lady Bertram’s Lapdog" in JASNA’s Persuasions.