Don't let his worried, wrinkled little face fool you: The Pug is laughing inside. He's laughing at you and with you -- and he's also trying to make you laugh. These dogs live for fun, which is the secret to their enduring popularity. Bred as companions for Chinese nobility, today they're fulfilling their ancient function as beloved house pets. To their many admirers there is simply nothing like a Pug.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

These are undeniably lovable dogs, bred for centuries for their wonderful dispositions. He's never happier than when spending time with his human family, often following them from room to room. He is welcome wherever he goes, with a handsome, smooth coated frame in shades of tan, gray, and black and with a black mask accenting his sweetly wrinkled face.

Pugs are usually good with other dogs, cats and children. Bigger and hardier than many small dog breeds, they can even withstand a bit more in the way of rough play, as long as it's supervised and doesn't get out of hand. Because of their relatively large size and easy-going temperament, they're wonderful with children and perfect for an on-the-go family, as long as you realize they're not designed to be a jogging companion or a beach bunny.

Compact and well-muscled with an endearing little ring of tail, a pug should ideally weigh no more than 20 pounds. Many pugs weigh more, owing to their skill at begging for their owners' meals. This trait too often leads to obesity, which can add to the already significant health burden these solid little dogs are born with.

Lively, love-bug dispositions aside, the Pug has been bred to be much less healthy by the show-breeder's focus on features such as a smaller size, flatter face and an overabundance of wrinkles. Heat-intolerance comes with the territory: Even temperatures as low as 80 degrees can be dangerous to these breathing-challenged dogs, which means a Pug must live indoors and have air-conditioning available in all but the mildest summers. This is not a breed that can live outdoors.

If you're careful to mind his special needs, the Pug is an easy-care pet. Their short coats shed, but their grooming needs are modest. They don't need a great deal of exercise -- nor can they tolerate it -- but it's important to keep them lean, fit and mentally challenged, especially when they're young. Because of their great love for their people, care should be taken to accustom your Pug to being alone so he doesn't develop excessive anxiety when by himself.

Health Issues Common to Pugs

Like many small dogs, Pugs can have the hip deformity known as Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, which reduces the blood supply to the head of the rear leg bone causing it to shrink. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association in 2002, Pugs are 65.6 times more likely to be at risk for Legg-Calve-Perthes disease compared to all other dogs. The first sign of the disease, limping, usually appears when the puppy is 4 to 6 months old. It can be treated with surgery to remove the head of the leg bone, after which the puppy will have a relatively normal life other than an increased likelihood of arthritis.

Pug kneecaps often easily slip out of place, a condition known as luxating patellas, which may require surgery to correct. Also, they frequently have serious dental problems because their teeth are crowded into their flattened face.

Pugs have a high incidence of a liver defect known as "portosystemic shunt," which can only be treated with expensive surgery. According to a study published in JAVMA in 2003, with a 1.3% prevalence rate, Pugs are 26.2 times more likely than all other breeds to be at risk for portosystemic shunts.

Pugs can also suffer from a number of neurological problems including epilepsy, but the most frightening of all diseases that can strike the breed is the one known as "Pug Dog Encephalitis," or PDE. This is an inflammation of the brain that causes seizures and death. There is no cure and no way to prevent this condition. The Pug Dog Club of America is aggressively supporting research into the cause of PDE, and it's currently believed to be a genetic disease.

There are no genetic screening tests available at this time for hemivertebrae or PDE, but a good breeder will tell all prospective puppy buyers about any affected dogs in your puppy's ancestry.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Portosystemic Shunts High $2,000-$6,000
Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease High $1,000-$3,000
Entropion High $300-$1,500
Arachnoid Cysts High $4,500-$10,000
Fold Dermatitis High $300-$2,500
Necrotizing Meningo-Encephalitis High $1,500-$4,000

Flat-Face Health Issues

Many small dogs have trouble with their airways, but this problem is much worse in the flat-faced -- or shall we say "Pug-nosed? -- Pug. Breathing difficulties are extremely common, especially in hot and humid climes, and most pugs snuffle, snort and sneeze constantly. They also snore. Pugs with severe breathing problems will need corrective surgery.

His flat face also means the Pug has many different kinds of eye problems, so regular veterinary eye exams and staying alert for signs of vision problems or scratched corneas is simply part of good Pug ownership. So is constant attention to keeping his wrinkles and folds clean, as Pugs tend to get a lot of skin, ear and nose infections caused by bacteria and yeast growing in the folds. Their tendency to allergies makes this problem worse.

Their flat faces cause more than skin, eye and ear problems, unfortunately. They are also associated with a condition known as hemivertebrae, where the vertebrae -- the bones of the spine -- are deformed. Affected dogs start showing signs at around 4 to 6 months of age, with limping, staggering and a lack of coordination. Some puppies become paralyzed. Surgery can be helpful, but each case is unique and requires expert evaluation by an orthopedic specialist.

To protect yourself from the expensive vet bills associated with these conditions, you'll want to purchase pet insurance for your Pug before they show symptoms or are diagnosed.

8 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Pug Puppy

Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store or Internet site that offers all breeds and popular mixes, shipped with no questions asked. If you buy a puppy from these sources, you'll be more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.

Start your search at the website of the Pug Dog Club of America, whose Code of Ethics specifies that its members must never sell their puppies to or through pet stores, and also maintains a breeder referral service and tips on finding a healthy, well-bred puppy.

Look for a breeder who is active in her national breed club, and a local club, too, if possible. She should regularly participate with her dogs in some form of organized canine activities, such as showing, obedience or therapy dog programs. She should sell her puppies with a written contract guaranteeing she'll take the dog back if at any time during his life you cannot keep him.

Ask your breeder to provide you with documentation that your prospective puppy's parents were cleared for hip and elbow dysplasia by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and for eye problems by the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). Hip clearance by the University of Pennsylvania (PennHip) is also acceptable.

Don't fall for the lies of bad breeders, who might insist such tests aren't necessary because their dogs are "vet-checked" or their lines are free of these and other problems. The minute you hear anything like that, get up and walk out. No lines are free of those diseases, and no one wants to buy a puppy from a breeder who is ignorant, careless, or dishonest. Written documentation of health testing is not optional in this breed. The stakes are simply too high.

Consider adopting an adult Pug from a rescue or shelter, but make sure the dog passes your veterinarian's thorough health check and has a stable temperament and behavior issues you can work with before you fall in love. Many genetic problems that can't be predicted in puppies can be spotted in mature adult dogs, and you may additionally luck out with a dog who has already has some manners and is house-trained.

Puppy or adult, take your Pug to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues. In particular, ask for information on preventing skin and ear infections, and how to monitor your Pug for signs of orthopedic or neurological diseases.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Pet Insurance for Pugs

Pet insurance for Pugs costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Pugs are more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Pugs are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Pug is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.