The Shih Tzu is a classy-looking and affectionate small dog that will be your devoted companion forever. It has a long flowing and silky double coat that is usually groomed to perfection and its hair is usually pulled back from its face and tied into an elegant topknot, with a little bow.
Sometimes referred to as a:
- Toy Shih Tzu,
- Teddy Bear Shih Tzu,
- Teacup Shih Tzu,
- Imperial Shih Tzu,
- Miniature Shih Tzu,
- Chinese Lion dog,
- Little Lion dog,
- American Shih,
- Chrysanthemum dog.
The Shih Tzu is a purebred dog breed and one of the 14 oldest known dog breeds; traceable back to 618 A.D. in China.
This little dog is happy and friendly and with its small size, it would make a great lapdog or house pet for any level of dog owner, in any size of living space.
A Shih Tzu puppy has a cute little face.
A brief history of the Shih Tzu dog
So where did the Shih Tzu breed come from, was it Tibet or China?
The exact origin of the Shih Tzu dog breed is uncertain, and whether it was Tibetan or Chinese or maybe a bit of both?
It is believed that it could originally have been a cross between a Tibetan Lhasa Apso dog, and a Chinese Pekingese dog.
Some stories say the breed was actually developed by Tibetan Monks and gifted to the Chinese Royal dynasties to be companion dogs.
However they appeared, the Shih Tzu was adored by Chinese Royalty as loyal little companions over many centuries, especially during the Tang dynasty, 618-907 A.D.
During the Ming dynasty, 1368-1644 A.D., little Shih Tzu companion dogs also became popular with commoners not only the possessions of Chinese Royalty.
In the Chinese Revolution, the breed was almost wiped out and only 7 males and 7 females survived. It is from these 14 Shih Tzu dogs, sometimes referred to as Apso dogs that the breed survived.
In the early 1900s, the Shih Tzu breed made it to mainland Europe and to England, UK and by 1935 it became recognized by various Kennel Clubs; the breed standard was agreed in 1938.
After World War II, when the American Veterans returned home to the United States they took the loveable little Shih Tzu dog with them. They quickly gained in popularity and were finally recognized as a Toy breed in 1969, by the American Kennel Club (AKC).
The Legend – Kissed by a Buddha
The legend behind the naming of The Shih Tzu dog is as follows:
In ancient times, Buddha was accompanied on his spiritual travels by a little dog. One day robbers approached them and his small dog turned into a fierce lion and chased them away, saving Buddha’s life.
After they fled, the lion then turned back into the little dog.
Buddha kissed the little dog on its head to show his gratitude and named him ‘little lion’ (translated as Shih Tzu).
The white spot seen on the head of Shih Tzu dogs today is believed to have been the spot where Buddha kissed the ‘little lion’ dog.
What does a Shih Tzu dog look like?
The Shih Tzu is a sturdy little dog with a long flowing double coat. It has a slightly arrogant appearance and it holds itself elegantly.
The long coat of a Shih Tzu dog usually grows so long it can reach the ground and the hair around its face has to be tied up into a little topknot to keep it off its face; the topknot style is a requirement for competing as a show dog.
It is sometimes called ‘The Chrysanthemum Dog’ because the hair on its face grows in all directions and it looks like a Chrysanthemum flower, with a black nose as the center of the flower.
Officially recognized coat colors:
Shih Tzu dogs come in a variety of coat colors: a single color, two colors or a combination of three colors from –
Black, White, Black Mash Gold, Black and White, Gold and White, Red and White, Grey and White, Liver and White, Blue and White, Silver and White, or Brindle and White.
It’s rare to find a pure black colored Shih Tzu dog.
They usually have the white patch on the forehead (the kiss from the Buddha) and sometimes a white tip on the tail; a white tip on the tail is highly desirable.
The American Kennel Club, (AKC) also permits Shih Tzu dogs to be registered based on the pigment of their skin rather than their coat color!
Any mix of color is an officially accepted coat color for Shih Tzu purebred recognition by the AKC, and any color is permitted in dog shows.
They have a brown eye color and a loving expression on their tiny face, but they do need to have their faces wiped like a toddler several times a day as they will get dirty after eating, and they sometimes get tear marks that need daily cleaning too.
What are the main characteristics of a Shih Tzu dog?
The Shih Tzu has expressive brown eyes, a black nose, and its coat is long and flowing: its topknot makes it look like a pampered little pooch.
The Imperial Shih Tzu, the Tiny Toy Shih Tzu, and the Miniature Shih Tzu are just named for marketing purposes; they are not different breeds of Shih Tzu.
Loyalty and companionship:
They were bred in Asia many centuries ago as royal companion dogs. This compact purebred pooch is your ideal hanging-out buddy and affectionate lap dog.
It is a gentle house pet, loves attention, and is a totally devoted companion that needs company; enjoying human or canine company. This purebred little dog will form an extremely strong bond with its master.
Shih Tzu dogs are friendly and playful but docile. They were bred as tiny companion dogs so their nature will be gentle and adaptable to any living environment, pet owner, or family.
They do not hunt, prey, herd, or guard anything!
Instead, they look like they should be placed on a silk pillow and served like Royalty.
They make a great family pet too as they are not a fierce dog breed and get on well with most types of people. They are delicate but do not realize this and are known to jump high and launch themselves off the sofa onto a chair, regardless of the consequences.
They are playful and get on well with children but their size means that they could get hurt easily if handled roughly or play is too rough. They should therefore not be left alone with very young or boisterous children.
It’s quite a popular small dog, that’s gentle and loving but its grooming requirements are high. Shih Tzu purebred dogs currently ranks as the 20th most popular dog in the US, by the AKC.
Shih Tzu dogs were bred as indoor companion pets. They’re intelligent and adaptable to city apartment living or a country house with a yard.
They should not be kennelled outside; they will want to be inside where it is safe.
They can be stubborn but fairly easy to train to follow instructions.
They are at risk of getting hurt easily because of their small size and shape, the Shih Tzu will need to be trained and socialized early. They are determined little dogs that as well as being your companion they will want to protect in their way.
Now, this breed doesn’t look fierce, but they’ll bark at anything they don’t understand and want to protect its territory or property.
They like food so training should use be fairly easy if positive reinforcement and small food-based treats are used. Early leash training is recommended in the Puppy years for this fragile small sized dog.
Power and intelligence:
The Shih Tzu is a determined and sometimes stubborn house pet. They’re not powerful and are not ranked in the most intelligent dog breed lists but they like to please their owner and family and will follow them around.
The Shih Tzu size has a compact and solid build and they carry their weight evenly over their small legs.
They aim to please! They are super lap dogs that will just follow you around or sit with you to keep you company. That’s it!
As with any breed of dog known for being stubborn and strong-willed, the Toy breed Shih Tzu will need early socialization and discipline training.
This breed is fragile and does not think of itself as a small dog so it may attempt activities that could end up in injury. So, they will need to learn how to keep calm and exercise control in new exciting, playful situations and around new people or other animals.
Shih Tzu dogs are not known to be aggressive but they are curious and there need to learn the dangers around and the boundaries. They will benefit from early leash training to keep them safe in crowded public places, dog parks, and if taking their daily walk near traffic.
This is a happy and sometimes lively and alert little dog in a variety of situations and environments. They are a good judge of character and will have a good grasp of what could potentially be a threatening situation, or not; one of the many reasons they may bark.
They are more loving than challenging. They will behave well in their home environment, providing they are properly socialized and obedience trained early.
They are not the easiest puppy to potty train and this may be hit and miss until they learn control and the rules. The rules need to be reinforced with this breed as they are known to eat their own poo on a fairly regular basis until trained off this bad habit!
They are good around all ages but they like to bark. They need company and will bark if bored or become destructive if they don’t get enough stimulation.
They are attention seekers so keep them close and they will make friends easily.
Physical Characteristics of a Shih Tzu dog
The Shih Tzu is a Toy-sized purebred dog. It’s longer than it is tall, with large expressive eyes and hanging pendent-shaped ears. It has a broad rounded skull and a short square muzzle with an undershot bite.
You can expect a Shih Tzu to grow to a height of 8-11” (20-28cm) and a weight up to 9-16lb (4-7kg) for both male and female dogs. An average age span would be 10-14 years for this type of dog, and you can expect a litter size of 1-5 puppies per litter.
Coat: Long and flowing, silky, dense double coat, generally straight hair. All double coats and especially this long coat are known to shed and are not hypoallergenic.
Color: Tricolor, Bi-Color, or even but less so single color from Black, White, or white mixed with any of the following colors – Gold, Red, Gray, Liver, Blue, or a Brindle coat.
Temperament: The Shih Tzu dog is a determined and sturdy little dog. It is wary of strangers and sometimes stubborn, but it is generally friendly and sociable with children and other animals.
It makes a good companion or lap dog and is protective of its loved ones so it is known to bark a lot when faced with a threatening or unfamiliar situation or person. Early training can limit its desire to bark.
How should you train a Shih Tzu puppy?
A Shih Tzu puppy should be trained early.
They will form a strong bond with their owner and may suffer separation anxiety if left alone so they should practice being away from their owner but knowing they are still close, to ease the feeling of isolation.
They are sturdy under all that hair but not so strong. They have a moderate level of energy but they think they can fly!. So don’t be surprised if your Shih Tzu dog just decides to launch itself off a chair or jump off the sofa for kicks. This is obviously dangerous for this little dog as they can get hurt easily through overexertion, play, or rough handling.
This puppy will need ongoing positive reinforcement during training. Praise for good behavior and gentle reprimands for not behaving will work with this smart dog. It will need to be able to go out in public and needs to know how to follow orders – for its safety and socialization.
There are various types of recommended training: obedience, discipline, agility, and socialization.
So, if you are not going to use a professional dog trainer:
1) Develop your basic command words: Find keywords such as Stop, Sit, Wait etc. and be consistent each time you use them. Use small food based-treats as a reward for good behavior in early training (but limit them as this little dog must not become overweight, or that will create certain health problems)
2) Crate – Buy a crate and get the puppy used to going into it. This will eventually become its nest and it will sleep there. You will have to lock the cage in the early days so it knows it has to sleep there and useful experience for bladder control and when transporting your pet.
3) Potty training – This may be hit and miss for a new puppy who gets easily excited and lacks control, however products are available, such as mats and odor sprays to attract puppy go to the same spot each time
4) Walking on a leash – Voice commands and road awareness is important for a Shih Tzu puppy’s safety, as they can get lively when excited and tug on the leash when walking.
Health problems and health issues
Any purebred dog breed, like the Shih Tzu dog, can inherit certain genetic health problems.
Some of these health issues are due to the small size and body shape of the Shih Tzu dog and can cause skeletal deformities; Chondrodysplasia and Brachycephalia. The physical build of the Shih Tzu is neither healthy nor natural.
Brachycephalic Syndrome – the Shih Tzu has a rounded head and a squashed face, like a Pug dog; features that can cause a variety of breathing problems and the ability for it to keep cool through breathing like other dogs.
FACT: The word ‘Brachycephalic’ comes from the Greek language – ‘Brachy’ meaning short and ‘Cephalic’ meaning head; A shortened head that pushes up the nose, resulting in a ‘faulty carriage’ that compromises breathing.
Nose issues – Snuffles can occur during the early teething months as they have tiny mouths and swollen gums push up the pug-nose further affecting breathing. The breathing noises range from snorting, sniffing, snoring, and even reverse sneezing where nasal secretions drop down into the throat and can temporarily choke the dog.
Hip Dysplasia – an abnormality where the ball and socket of the hip joint are not a neat fit. Excessive movement can lead to further damage to the limbs, extreme pain possible bone disease such as arthritis. Obesity or dogs with very short legs can also suffer problems with their hips.
Patellar Luxation – this is a dislocation of the kneecap, again from the Greek language Patella (kneecap) and luxation (dislocation). The hind legs can be affected with dislocation of the joint several times in the lifetime of the dog.
Various Eye problems: possibly due to their eyes being very large and bulging, can include Keratitis – inflammation of the cornea, Proptosis – where the eyeball can dislodge, distichiasis – growth on eyelids and other allergen irritations.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy – a degenerative disease of the retinal visual cells that can progress to blindness unless treated
Other health issues include kidneys and bladder problems and ear infections due to large floppy ears hiding dirt.
Caring for your Shih Tzu – what’s needed?
They are not overly active and will be happy with a daily walk, some playtime, and other activities to keep them occupied.
This tiny dog breed suffers from extremes of cold or heat quickly and this must be catered for. They are not suited to living outside or in extreme heat as they may have difficulty breathing
Feed as a small dog, 1 to 1.5 cups of high-quality Kibble per day. They must not be allowed to get overweight as their legs are vulnerable to certain health issues.
This breed is fairly high maintenance when it comes to grooming. It’s long-haired, double-coat that will matt easily and shed on a regular basis. It should be brushed daily. This breed is not hypoallergenic.
A professional groomer could trim the hair which would make grooming easier but still require brushing 2-3 times a week.
Fact: If the hair of a Shih Tzu is cut shorter it sheds more and if long it sheds less!
Bathe when needed, weekly, but not too often as their coats contain natural oil, which can be stripped with over-bathing. Certain dog formulated shampoos have a double effect of cleaning the dog coat and protecting it against fleas and insect bites.
Cleaning teeth, nails, and ears
Check teeth to prevent a build-up of plaque and avoid gum disease. Nails need to be trimmed regularly and its drooping ears checked for dirt build-up that can lead to infection.
Positives and Negatives of ownership
- A happy and loyal companion
- Adaptable and affectionate
- Likes to be close to its owner
- Good with children and other pets when trained properly
- A barker
- Grooming intensive
- Mischievous and destructive if bored or left alone
- Stubborn and strong-willed,
- Fragile body
- Gains weight easily
- They drool and snore
Commonly Asked Questions:
Q. How much does a Shih Tzu puppy cost?
A. It can be $500- $1500, from a reputable breeder ( more if a top pedigree)
Q. What are the other costs?
A. A good quality dry dog food will cost around $15-$20 per month, plus Vet’s fees, vaccinations, medications and accessories and toys, collar, leash, grooming equipment.