About This Breed
An ancient Tibetan breed, the Shih Tzu is one of the top preferred family companion dogs and lapdogs. While the name of the breed translates as “little lion” in Chinese, there is nothing ferocious about it.
In fact, they were preferred as companions and even foot-warming dogs by the royals of the Ming Dynasty.
These cute little pups are great with families and kids and can adapt quickly to living in all conditions, even in small apartments in the city. As long as they are showered with love and cuddles, they will gladly return the same to their humans.
They are up to 11 inches tall at the shoulders and weigh up to 16 lbs., but they are quite sturdy pups for their size.
Their most recognizable features are their gorgeous coats. Another nickname for these cute dogs is “chrysanthemum pups” because of their charming flower-like, hairy faces.
But grooming these furbabies can be pretty time- and energy-consuming and expensive.
These lively and friendly toy-sized pups lack any kind of prey, herding, or guarding instincts, so it is easy to train or socialize them, even if you are a first-time owner.
Shih Tzus are friendly with strange people and dogs and are intensely devoted to their human families. In fact, they can quickly turn into “Velcro dogs” and never leave your side, no matter where you go.
Highlights/In a brief
- Temperament: affectionate, outgoing, devoted, playful
- Height at the shoulder: 8-11 inches
- Weight: 9-16 lbs.
- Life expectancy: 10-18 years
- Breed Group: Toy Group
Males and females stand at nine to ten and a half inches tall and weigh nine to 16 pounds. They are classified as part of the toy dog group.
The Shih Tzu has a gorgeous silky and long coat that can come in different colors and color combinations, including black, white and black, white and gray, or white and red.
The dogs of this ancient breed, which have a white blaze on their foreheads and white tips on their tails, are especially highly prized.
According to the legend, this white spot is there because Buddha once kissed a Shih Tzu pup on the head after it saved him from robbers.
But beneath the flowing silky hair, these pups have a warm short coat as well, which, along with their short noses, makes them prone to overheating in very hot weather.
Shih Tzus have been bred as companion dogs. As such, they are excellent, loveable, and friendly companions without herding, hunting, or guarding instincts.
The dogs of this breed are very affectionate and devoted to their humans, and they are gentle with children when treated kindly and if introduced to young children from an early age.
They can be playful and almost clown-like, as well as relaxed and mild lapdogs at the end of the day.
The Shih Tzu will expect to be showered with attention and, if so, will gladly return the favor.
Good For Novice Owners?
Yes, they are intelligent and get along with other dogs and people. But they may be prone to barking if the issue is not addressed as early and correctly as possible.
Family, Children, And Other Pets
They have become one of the most popular family pets because Shih Tzus are playful and friendly and get along with adults, children, and other pets alike.
But children should be taught to handle and approach the pup from day one to prevent injuries on each side.
The Shih Tzu is pretty tiny and has sensitive, prominent eyes, and thus can be easily injured by highly energetic play with children or larger dogs.
The Shih Tzu is easy to train with positive reinforcement and patience. Housetraining your puppy should be done by setting a consistent schedule for its walks, sleep, eating, and play times.
Get your puppy used to daily brushing and grooming and to urinating and pooing outdoors as early as possible, and if it tends to bark a lot without reason, try to curb this behavior in time. This will save you a lot of frustration in the future, but do not punish your dog or apply harsh treatments. Instead, ignore the unwanted behavior and reinforce it with praises and treats when it displays the desired behavior.
As with any other pup, the Shih Tzu should be socialized as early as possible. Meet it with different people and with well-behaved, gentle dogs, and take it on car rides or in various settings so it gets used to them.
Yes, Shih Tzus have gorgeous faces and coats, but these long, silky coats require daily brushing with a wire brush that has flexible pins. Make sure to groom the fur from the skin to the end to prevent it from matting and to keep it in pristine condition.
The long hair that covers its eyes should either be trimmed or tied in a topknot to protect the pup’s eyes.
Don’t forget to comb or brush your furbaby’s adorable topknot and mustache too.
You can take it to a professional groomer and get a puppy trim.
Your furbaby should get used to tolerating brushing, trimming, and nail clipping, as well as tooth brushing, ear and eye cleaning, and other grooming, from an early age. This will make your life much easier later on.
If you don’t have the time or desire to spend so much time brushing and combing your pup, you can keep its coat trimmed short. This means cutting it yourself or setting up appointments at the groomers every 6–8 weeks.
These small dogs adapt easily to apartment and house living. In fact, they are highly adaptable to any home, as long as they are with their humans and are not left alone for long hours every day.
Unfortunately, they have a barking tendency, which can become a problem for you and your neighbors if it is not managed in a timely and proper manner.
Use response words, reinforce desired behavior, or use distractions to teach your pup to stop barking incessantly. But do not punish it for barking.
These pups will be happy with two or more short walks daily and some playtime. During the rest of the time, your Shih Tzu will much rather spend time snoozing or cuddling with you.
You should limit the time your furry friend spends outdoors when it is very hot because Shih Tzus are prone to heat strokes. During these days, make sure that your pup is in an air-conditioned or cool room instead.
If you have high furniture, make sure to use ramps or steps to make jumping on and off safer for your fragile little pup.
As with all dogs, Shih Tzus need to eat a complete and balanced nutritional diet. The dog food needs to be suitable for their weight, age, activity level, and any underlying health issues.
Since they are so charming and cute, it is very easy for a Shih Tzu to train you to feed it treats more often than you should.
This can lead to your dog becoming overweight or obese, which can lead to severe health and mobility issues and shorten its lifespan.
So, make sure to control the caloric intake and portion sizes of your dog at all times.
If you are feeding your pup high-quality, life-stage, and breed-appropriate dog food, then, unless recommended by the veterinarian, you don’t need to add any supplements to its diet.
These lapdogs can do well with a few brief walks around the block per day. During the rest of the time, they prefer cuddling and playing with their humans indoors.
This makes them perfect pets for people who are not very active, seniors, or people with mobility issues.
Training a dog that is as charming and smart as a Shih Tzu can be both fun and frustrating. It tends to charm its owner and have its own way. This can lead to problems with housebreaking, grooming, and overfeeding later on.
So, be patient and kind, and use positive reinforcement to reward desired behavior. Never use harsh treatment, even if it is misbehaving. The right thing to do is to ignore it until it stops the undesirable behavior and then reward it with praise or a treat.
Remember to be firm and consistent if you want a well-behaved and well-rounded pup that won’t cause problems with peeing on the carpet or biting the groomer in the future.
You should also start socializing your four-legged companion early on if you want a properly mannered and adjusted dog.
The Shih Tzu dogs are pretty healthy overall and have long lifespans of 10 to 18 years.
But due to their specific short faces and thick and heavy double coats, they can easily overheat and suffer heat strokes in hot weather. They are not good swimmers either, for the same reasons.
When planning on adding a dog to your family, make sure to choose a reputable breeder who has healthy dogs and cares for the continuation of the breed rather than buying a puppy from a pet store or a puppy mill.
Here are some of the health problems that are most common among Shih Tzu dogs.
Just like us, canines can suffer from various allergies, including contact, inhalant, and food allergies.
If your pup is showing symptoms of an allergy, such as itchiness, swelling, difficulty breathing, hot spots, hives, or others, speak to your veterinarian for advice.
If your dog is diagnosed with an allergy, the easiest way to keep it well is to keep it away from allergens. But since this is not always possible, your vet may recommend specific medication and dietary and environmental changes.
Canine hip dysplasia
This condition is usually hereditary and is a painful problem causing instability and a loose fit of the hip joint, which can cause lameness, hip dysfunction, and other mobility issues.
Juvenile renal dysplasia
This is another inherited condition that is found in young puppies. The symptoms are frequent urination and excessive thirst. Pups with JRD can also vomit, lose weight, and have no vigor.
Unfortunately, the only test for this genetic kidney disease is a dangerous and invasive biopsy of the kidney.
This condition, in which the dog’s kneecap gets dislocated occasionally or permanently from the knee joint, is pretty common among toy and small-sized dogs.
Bladder stones and bladder infections
The infections and stones in the dog’s bladder are usually caused by too much protein, phosphorus, or magnesium in its diet. Or it can happen if there are long periods of time between urinating.
They can also be caused by different bacterial or viral infections.
If your pup is peeing more frequently than usual, has blood in its urine, or has lost its appetite, it is a good idea to take it for a checkup at the vet clinic.
Shih Tzu dogs, like other dogs with bulging eyes, are more prone to proptosis, where the eyeball pops out of the orbit, and to eye injuries.
Unfortunately, these pups are also prone to other problems with the eyes, such as progressive retinal atrophy, cataracts, dry eye, corneal ulcers, ingrown eyelashes, and others.
Make sure to take your four-legged companion for regular prophylactic checkups and monitor it for any signs that something may be wrong with its eyes or eyesight.
Like other pups that have drop ears, the Shih Tzus are also more likely to suffer from ear infections. The reason is that the ear flap creates a dark, warm, and moist environment for different bacteria to grow and thrive.
This is a common issue with Shih Tzu puppies and is due to an incomplete or delayed full closure of the dog’s abdominal midline. Small hernias usually close up by themselves, but larger ones may require surgery. This can be done when the veterinarian spays or neuters the puppy.
Tooth and gum problems
Shih Tzus often suffer from dental problems due to the fact that they are flat-faced (brachycephalic) with protruding lower jaws and also because they have small mouths, which can cause overcrowding and misalignment of their teeth.
Sometimes, their baby teeth will not fall off by themselves as the permanent teeth grow, so they will need to be extracted by a veterinarian.
Due to the high risk of dental and gum problems, it is recommended that you brush your pup’s teeth and also take it to checkups at the vet regularly.
The name Shih Tzu means “little lion” and is based on the Chinese word for lion, “shishi.”
It is believed that this breed was first developed by Buddhist monks in Tibet in the 17th century. Buddhists have a high regard for lions, which are considered guardians of their temples.
The monks most probably tried to create a dog that had the beauty, regality, and strength of a lion.
There are documents from the 13th century by Marco Polo describing small lion dogs kept by the Mongolian Emperor Kublai Khan together with his trained lions for hunting to keep them calm.
Later on, in the late 18th century, the breed was popularized and further developed by the Dowager Empress Cixi of the Qing Dynasty. Shih Tzu became the royal dogs and have been depicted in Chinese art from the Tang Dynasty much earlier, in 618–907 AD, with the topknots that are still the official style for these pups. There are documents mentioning these small dogs from the Ming Dynasty of 1368–1644, referring to them as “chrysanthemum-faced dogs.”
Empress Dowager Cixi was very devoted to breeding and continuing this breed, and the eunuchs who served her reportedly secretly interbred her dogs with Pugs and Pekingese dogs in order to achieve the most distinct and beautiful dogs for their Empress.
Reportedly, the Dowager Empress first became interested in the breed after the Dalai Lama gifted her with a couple of Shih Tzu dogs.
They were not only the preferred companion dogs in the palace but were also guard dogs that barked at strangers, a behavior that is still evident in today’s Shih Tzus.
When the Empress died, the breed almost disappeared. These dogs were often displayed as other breeds, such as Lhasa Terriers and Tibetan Poodles.
In 1935, the breed was presented as a Lhasa Lion Dog and started gaining popularity outside of China.
The first pair of Shih Tzus were brought to England in 1928 by Lady Brownrigg. In 1933, Mrs. Hutchins brought another dog of the breed to Scotland. These three dogs were the originators of Lady Brownrigg’s Kennel.
It was then that the Shih Tzu breed was separated from the Lhasa Apso by fanciers in England. The smaller pups with wider skulls and shorter noses were shown as Shi Tzus.
The breed started gaining popularity in the USA in the 1960s, and the AKC recognized the Shih Tzu breed in 1969 as a member of the American Kennel Club’s Toy Dog group. The first dogs of this breed were imported to the USA by Maureen Murdock and Philip Price.
Related: 17 Chinese Dog Breeds: Ancient & Unique Dogs (with Pictures)
- The first mentions and art depicting the small lion dog date back to 618–907 AD in China.
- Buddhist monks originally developed the breed in Tibet in an attempt to replicate the beauty and strength of lions, which were considered guardians of their temples.
- They are also known as “small lion dogs” and “chrysanthemum dogs.”
- Shih Tzus were the official royal dogs of the Ming Dynasty.
- They were used as companions and guards, as well as heat aids for the feet of the Chinese royals.
- The Dowager Empress Cixi is considered one of the main contributors to the development and preservation of the breed.
- When they almost became extinct, it was 14 dogs that saved the Shih Tzu breed, so each pup from this breed today can be traced back to one of these 14 dogs.
- The oldest recorded Shih Tzu, named Smokey, died at the age of 23 in Florida.
- Many celebrities have owned or still own dogs of this breed. Some of them are Mariah Carey, Bill Gates, Collin Farrell, Nicole Richie, Beyoncé, and the late Queen Elizabeth II.
- They are considered hypoallergenic dogs, suitable for owners with dog allergies. This is due to their long, hair-link coats, minimal shedding, and lack of dander.
- Shih Tzu pups have appeared in movies, including Best in Show, The Secret Life of Pets 2, and Seven Psychopaths.