Also known as a little lion or a lion dog, the Shih Tzu is a unique and well-loved toy dog breed. With their small, sturdy physique, floppy ears, and long (sometimes expertly styled) hair, it’s easy to see why a Shih Tzu would be a companion dog fit for a Chinese emperor.
Read on to learn more about this special little dog, beyond its striking good looks, and find out whether the Shih Tzu is the right breed for you.
History of the Shih Tzu
The first Shih Tzu dogs were bred long ago, possibly from a combination of Pekingese and Lhasa Apso lines. Although a Shih Tzu is sometimes called a Tibetan lion dog, historians disagree about whether the Shih Tzu breed originated in China or Tibet. No one is sure exactly how the Shih Tzu made its way to China, but there’s evidence that Shih Tzu dogs were there as early as 8,000 B.C. By 1400 A.D., the Shih Tzu was the royal palace pet of the Ming Dynasty.
After nearly going extinct at the beginning of the 1900s, several Shih Tzu were brought to England in the 1930s. Shih Tzu first made their way to the States after World War I, when soldiers returning from Europe and Australia brought a few of back with them.
Shih Tzu Size and Color
According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), adult Shih Tzus can grow to be nine to 10.5 inches in height and can weigh between nine and 16 pounds, with an average lifespan of 10 to 16 years.
Shih Tzu coats can vary widely, with most being white, gray, black, brown, gold, or multicolored.
Shih Tzu Temperament
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The Shih Tzu was bred for centuries not just for their beautiful silky coats, but to be phenomenal companions. Don’t want to play ball? No problem. A Shih Tzu’s idea of a great night is relaxing together on the couch. After all, they don’t hunt birds, herd cattle, or pull sleds. They’re just built to love their families.
The Shih Tzu dog breed has everything you’d want in a dog friend. They’re known for being intelligent, lively, friendly, trusting, and affectionate. And unlike other toy breeds, the Shih Tzu doesn’t yap or demand much, except for plenty of affection. It’s no wonder that Shih Tzu owners develop such strong bonds to these dogs.
You could say that Shih Tzus are well suited for anyone with a lap. Their personality and energy level make them a great fit whether you have a small or large space (again, as long as it has a lap). A simple daily walk and plenty of snuggles will keep a Shih Tzu happy.
Shih Tzus also make excellent family dogs. However, because of the Shih Tzu’s small size, they aren’t always the best fit for families with small children, who can accidentally hurt them with rough play. Better to wait until the kids are a little older and can be careful around small dogs.
Training Your Shih Tzu
Training a Shih Tzu can be both amusing and frustrating. We can’t tell you whether a Shih Tzu is inherently stubborn, or just gets away with it because they’re cute. But either way, stick with your training, be consistent, and remember that praise works better than punishment with the people-pleasing Shih Tzu. Food treats also don’t hurt.
Shih Tzus, for all their endearing qualities, are notoriously difficult to housebreak. It might be hard for humans to understand their “what’s in it for me?” attitude toward toileting, but dogs are different than people, and a Shih Tzu needs to be enticed to good behavior.
When you approach training, stay positive at the very least, and consider making things a bit more rewarding with treats, affection, or extra playtime whenever your puppy uses the right spot. Do not punish your Shih Tzu for toileting mistakes. As soon as they start feeling like the training is no fun, they’ll do their best to ignore it.
Shih Tzu Health
Like any dog breed, a Shih Tzu is prone to particular health issues. Shih Tzus are more likely to experience hypothyroidism, intervertebral disk disease (IVDD), and eye issues. Because of their compact face shape, Shih Tzus are also more prone to breathing problems, such as brachycephalic airway obstructive syndrome.
One quick note: just because you can hear your Shih Tzu breathing, doesn’t mean there’s a breathing problem. Let your vet be the judge, and meanwhile, you can enjoy the snuffles.
As always, if you are purchasing Shih Tzu puppies from a breeder, be sure to ask about any particular health conditions, and build a relationship with a good veterinarian who knows how to monitor and treat Shih Tzus.
Shih Tzu Grooming
Will you need to brush your Shih Tzu? Yes, you will. Shih Tzus have a marvelous double coat of hair, which means that if your Shih Tzu’s hair is clipped short, you will need to brush often to avoid shedding. A long coat might look like a lot of work, but it can keep shedding under control, because the outer coat will catch much of the undercoat’s shedding until you’re ready to brush. Just be aware that a Shih Tzu’s hair is fast growing. You’ll need to invest in a pair of clippers, or visit a groomer when your dog’s hair gets a little too long.
If you really like that show dog look, or you’re curious about the many ways to groom and style your Shih Tzu, see our list of popular Shih Tzu hairstyles. Then dress them up with some Shih Tzu sized clothes and accessories.