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 this is the right breed for you.
- Origin: China
- Weight: 9-16 pounds
- Activity level:
- Barking/howling level:
- Good with dogs: yes
- Good with kids: yes
- Good with cats:
- Grooming level:
- Training level:
Shih Tzu Appearance
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 Personality
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. Their 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 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 them happy.
Shih Tzus also make excellent family dogs. However, because of their 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.
Ideal Environment for a Shih Tzu
The ideal environment for a Shih Tzu is wherever their favorite people are! Truly, as long as you provide a safe home and a lap to sit in, your Shih Tzu will be happy. The AKC points out that Shih Tzus were originally bred “to spend most of their day inside royal palaces,” so they’re perfectly content living in an apartment without a yard. They do need exercise, which they can get from a walk and one or two lively play sessions per day.
Shih Tzus are known for getting along well with kids, and they make great family dogs. They’re small but sturdy, people-oriented and playful, and they love to be the center of attention. Just make sure children in the family learn how to respectfully interact with a dog.
Ideal Human for a Shih Tzu
Shih Tzus were originally bred to be companions for emperors in China, but you don’t have to be royal to call one your own. The ideal human for this breed is somebody who wants a true lap dog: a cute, soft, cuddly friend who will stick by your side while you watch TV. Couch potatoes welcome; marathon runners need not apply unless you want to push your Shih Tzu in a stroller.
Because of their long coat and short nose, Shih Tzus don’t do well in heat or humidity. If you live in a climate with severe heat, it will be important to have air conditioning to keep your dog cool.
Shih Tzu Training
Training a Shih Tzu can be both amusing and frustrating. We can’t tell you whether a dog like these 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 this breed needs to be enticed to good behavior.
When you approach dog 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 Grooming
Will you need to brush your Shih Tzu? Yes, you will. They have a marvelous double coat of hair, which means that if your Shih Tzus’ 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 their 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.
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 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. Many pet parents opt for pet health insurance, just in case.
A Wildly Ancient History
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 back with them.
Getting a Shih Tzu
Finding a Shih Tzu puppy or adult dog can be as easy as an internet search, but be careful of puppy mills and internet scams. Adoption is always an option, as Shih Tzus frequently turn up in shelters and rescue groups. And adopting an adult dog can often be just as rewarding–and less stressful–than getting a puppy. If you’re set on finding a Shih Tzu puppy, it’s important to seek out a responsible breeder.
Shih Tzu Rescues
Shih Tzus often turn up in rescue when people are no longer able to care for them. The AKC explains that most breed-specific rescue dogs come from individual owner surrender, with the most common reasons being a change in lifestyle or the breed not being right for the owner. Owner-surrendered Shih Tzus often come already potty trained with some basic obedience training and socialization, and may have detailed health and behavior histories that will help inform their care. A quick Petfinder search shows hundreds of Shih Tzus available from rescue, and your local Shih Tzu enthusiast clubs may have rescue referrals as well.
Shih Tzu Breeders
You can use the American Kennel Club (AKC) search tool to find a responsible Shih Tzu breeder near you. It’s important to research and check references in order to avoid puppy mills and online scams. When you find a breeder you like, ask lots of questions, and make arrangements to meet the parent dogs or mother in person. When you visit, ask about any known health issues in the dog’s bloodline. Remember to follow your gut and move on if anything seems strange. There’s no shortage of Shih Tzus, and you’ll find the right match eventually!
More on Shih Tzus
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