Let's talk Shih Tzus

With a name that means ‘little lion’ in Mandarin, there can be few dogs more aptly named than the Shih Tzu. As well as their magnificent mane of long lustrous locks, they also have a proud, almost regal-like bearing that befits their origins as the pets of Chinese emperors. But the similarity ends there. Bred to be companion animals, Shih Tzus are gentle house dogs who form strong attachments to their owners. Rather than a palace, all they really need is a loving home.

Official name: Shih Tzu

Other names: Shittsu, Tibetan Lion Dog, Chinese Lion Dog, Chrysanthemum

Origins: Tibet/China

Side-view of Shih Tzu with bow clip in its fur
 Drooling tendencies

Very low

 Warm weather Very low
 Grooming needs High
 Cold weather Low
 Shedding level Medium
 Suited to apartment living?  Very high
 Barking tendencies Medium
 Can stay alone?* Low
 Energy Level (high, low, medium)*  High  Family Pet?* High
 Compatibility with other pets High    

 * We advise against leaving pets alone for long stretches. Companionship can prevent emotional distress and destructive behaviour. Speak to your veterinarian for recommendations.

Every pet is different, even within a breed; this snapshot of this breed specifics should be taken as an indication.
 
For a happy healthy and well-behaved pet, we recommend educating and socializing your pet as well as covering their basic welfare needs (and their social and behavioral needs.
 
Pets should never be left unsupervised with a child.
 
Contact your breeder or veterinarian for further advice.
 
All domestic pets are sociable and prefer company.  However, they can be taught to cope with solitude from an early age.  Seek the advice of your veterinarian or trainer to help you do this.

 
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Illustration of Shih Tzu with red bow clip
Male
23 - 27 cm Height
4.5 - 8 kg Weight
Female
23 - 27 cm Height
4.5 - 8 kg Weight

 Baby age  Birth to 2 months
 Puppy age  2 to 10 months
 Adult age 10 months to 8 years
 Mature age  8 to 12 years
 Senior age  12 to 20 years

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Get to know the Shih Tzu

All you need to know about the breed

With their illustrious canine heritage, the Shih Tzu has always held a certain exoticism. Originating in the imperial palace of Chinese emperors, where the breed lived exclusively for several centuries, they were considered by many people to be sacred. As such, there has always been a kind of reverence around them.  

Certainly, this sprightly breed does have a special sort of charm. With a temperament that is loyal, affectionate and gentle, the Shih Tzu also has a natural intelligence. Then there are those gorgeous lion-like looks.

Famed for their long silky tresses, it’s true that the Shih Tzu’s coat requires a fair amount of grooming. But it’s all part of the pleasure that comes with having this breed. Also, as they require minimal exercise compared to many dogs, they are lower maintenance in other ways. With a top weight of 8kg (17.5lb), the compact size of the Shih Tzu means they will fit into most home set-ups, too.

They do know their own minds, so training the Shih Tzu can be a little challenging at first. But with a bit of gentle persuasion, and plenty of encouragement along the way, they grow into well-mannered adults. The Shih Tzu also has a good lifespan, too, with a top age of 20.

 

Given all this, it’s perhaps no surprise that they also seem to be popular with the celebrity community. Among the many well-known names to have owned a Shih Tzu are Mariah Carey, Beyoncé, Colin Farrell, Bill Gates and even Queen Elizabeth II. In summary then, this is a very rewarding breed of little dog – and one that is, indeed, fit for an emperor.

 
Shih Tzu standing on grass looking at camera

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2 facts about Shih Tzus

1. What’s in a name?

Wondering how to say the name ‘Shih Tzu’? Well, in the west, it’s pronounced “sheed-zoo” or “sheet-su”– with not a swear word in sight. However, in China, the word is pronounced as “sher-zer”.

2. A dog with flower power  

Another interesting fact about the Shih Tzu is that they are sometimes known as ‘Chrysanthemum’ dogs. This is partly because of their resemblance to the flower but also because chrysanthemums are an important cultural symbol in China. 

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History of the breed

As a breed that is more than 1,000 years old, the Shih Tzu has a long and illustrious history – and an impressive heritage. For many centuries, they were owned exclusively by the emperors of China, with no one outside the palace allowed to have one. 

Going back even further, the Shih Tzu is thought to have its origins in neighbouring Tibet. The story goes that these elegant toy-breed dogs were developed by Tibetan Monks who probably offered them as gifts to the Chinese emperors. In any event, the Shih Tzu appears to be a cross between two Sino-Tibetan breeds, the Lhaso Apso and the Pekingese, and another Tibetan variety.

Cherished by successive emperors, the Shih Tzu lived the high life at the palace for hundreds of years, but were little known outside the imperial court. In fact, the breed all but vanished by the early 1900’s. Brought back from the brink, however, the Shih Tzu finally came to the attention of the outside world in the 1930’s, and hasn’t looked back since.

Initially, breed clubs were formed in Peking and, later on, in England where the breed was refined still further. By the 1940’s and 50’s, their popularity had spread to the US and they were recognised by the American Kennel Club in 1969. Today, they are among the most popular toy-breed dogs in the world.


Shih Tzu with long hair sitting in black and white

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From head to tail

Physical characteristics of Shih Tzus

1. Head

Head is broad and round, with a domed skull, in proportion with overall body size.

2. Face

Eyes are set well apart, the muzzle is short and square, with drop ears.

3. Body

Compact, solid body has a level topline and a broad, deep chest.

4. Tail

Tail is heavily plumed, set high and carried in a curve over the back.

5. Coat

Coat is long and dense and can vary in colour, but many have a white flash on their forehead.

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Things to look out for

From specific breed traits to a general health overview, here are some interesting facts about your Shih Tzu
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Keep a close check for any eye problems

While their bright brown eyes are one of their distinguishing features, Shih Tzus can suffer from a few potential issues in this area. These include cataracts, retinal detachment, corneal dryness, general inflammation and a degenerative condition called progressive retinal atrophy. Also, because of their protruding shape, their eyes can be easily scratched or injured. The best advice? Check daily for anything out of the ordinary and, on the first sign of anything unusual, contact your vet. It’s important to keep their hair out of their eyes by tying it up in a topknot or keeping it cut short. 

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They can be prone to respiratory issues

Because of the way their heads, faces and airways are shaped, the Shih Tzu is known as a ‘brachycephalic’ breed. This means they can be susceptible to breathing difficulties – and, in some cases, fainting spells. For this reason, over-exercising Shih Tzus should always be avoided. It also means they have a poor ability to tolerate heat. Coupled with their thick coat, the Shih Tzu simply doesn’t cope well in hot weather. As a result, walks in the summer should be taken either first thing in the morning or at the end of the day when the temperature is cooler. To ensure you have the healthiest dog possible, always seek out a responsible and trusted breeder, and seek counsel from your vet if needed.

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And watch out for any allergies in your dog

One other thing to be aware of is that the Shih Tzu is among the breeds predisposed to atopic dermatitis: a hypersensitivity to environmental allergens such as pollen and dust mites etc. Also, the itch (pruritus) induced can then be complicated by secondary infections. It is recommended, therefore, to keep a close eye on your Shih Tzu’s skin health. Licking the paws, rubbing the face and recurring ear infections are the most common signs of allergies. If they display any of these signs, it’s best to consult your vet. Unfortunately, dealing with an allergic dog is not easy, but medicated shampoos, a bespoke diet or specific treatments can help to improve the situation. 

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Caring for your Shih Tzu 

Grooming, training and exercise tips

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The Shih Tzu has a luxurious double coat and the amount of grooming required will depend on the length. If you choose to keep their coat long, it will require a fair bit of maintenance. Ideally, your Shih Tzu will need a good brushing every day. To prevent matting, be sure to reach gently to the skin. As mentioned earlier, the hair on the top of the head should also be tied in a topknot or cut short to protect their eyes. Medium-length coats should be fine with some attention every two days and short coats every three. Shedding in the Shih Tzu is no more than average and can be less. A monthly bath is recommended, and brushing teeth, trimming nails and cleaning ears should all be part of the regular routine too.

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While it’s true that they’re pretty smart, Shih Tzus can also have a stubborn streak, which can make training a bit of a challenge at times. Puppy classes are therefore a good idea. As they can sometimes struggle with housetraining, too, this can take slightly longer than average. However, with a little patience and plenty of positive reinforcement, they’ll soon get the hang of things. When you’re as small as a Shih Tzu, the world can seem like a big place, so early socialisation with new people, pets and places is also recommended. 

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Although they were bred to be a house companion, meaning they require less exercise than most, the Shih Tzu is still quite an active little dog. They are also quite social animals. As such, the Shih Tzu will benefit from short walks, a couple of times a day, to keep them fit and healthy and support their mental well-being. Just watch out for other larger dogs who can be more boisterous than they intend. For your Shih Tzu’s own protection, the dog park is best avoided. As this is a breed that does not do well in extremes of hot or cold weather, the Shih Tzu’s exercise should be organised accordingly. Outdoor adventures should be supported with indoor games to satisfy the Shih Tzu’s naturally playful personality. 

All about Shih Tzus

It’s true that the Shih Tzu can be a breed that’s prone to barking. But that’s only because they like to communicate what’s going on. As Shih Tzus will often bark at people or dogs passing the window, investing in some curtains or shutters may help. On the bright side, it does mean these little lap dogs also make good watchdogs.

The answer is yes, absolutely. As the Shih Tzu was bred to be a companion animal, and that has been the case for centuries, they form close bonds with their human families. The Shih Tzu also has a friendly and affectionate temperament and will thrive on attention from their owners.

Other breeds that might interest you.

Sources

1 - Veterinary Centers of America https://vcahospitals.com/ 

2 - Royal Canin Dog Encyclopaedia. Ed 2010 and 2020

3 - Banfield Pet Hospital https://www.banfield.com/

4 - Royal Canin BHN Product Book

5 - American Kennel Club https://www.akc.org/