The Shih Tzu is a lap dog that is thought to have been developed in Tibet, in China. They are a happy and playful breed, making friends with everyone they meet. Typically they will follow you around from room to room, and then curl up in your lap on the couch.
A true toy breed, adults reach a height of 8 to 11 inches and weigh 9 to 16 pounds at maturity.
The Shih Tzu was developed hundreds of years ago in China by breeders from the Emperor’s palace. They used Tibetan dogs, and it is thought that they come from the crossing of the Pekingese and Lhaso Apso. Their name means ‘lion dog’. There is a legend that Buddha Manjusri would travel with a small dog which would turn into a lion and carry him on his back. This might be where the name came from, or from the lion being traditionally the guardian of palaces and temples in China.
One Empress, the Dowager Empress Tzu Hzi, had a special love for this breed. Many were produced, and the breed was developed during her reign, although lots were also lost after her death. A couple of dogs were brought to the UK in 1928 and the breed was developed and refined from there. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1969.
Shih Tzus are very affectionate little dogs who love attention. They are lively and enthusiastic, but quite happy staying at home all day. Most likely from their Imperial breeding, they are also good watchdogs, since they are alert and bark when they hear a noise or when a visitor comes. The Shih Tzu can be stubborn though, so will need an early start with training. They are generally well behaved and good natured with everyone.
Shih Tzus are known for their ‘chrysanthemum’ face because their hair grows outwards and upwards from their nose. They have a flat, or ‘brachycephalic’ black nose and a beard and mustache. Their long coat can reach all the way to the floor, but many owners clip it to save expense and time. There are many different coat colors, including gold and white, solid black, liver and white, and black and white.
This breed is very versatile and can do well in a large or very small home. However it doesn’t tolerate hot weather very well and should be kept inside in an air-conditioned house when the weather is hot. They were bred in Tibet, so snow and cold weather shouldn’t be a problem. However if they have short hair then they should probably be given a sweater. And they should never be left outside, as they really are house dogs. Shih Tzus are good for novice owners, as they don’t need a great deal of training and make good family pets.
Shih Tzus are very friendly dogs and get along well with everyone. They are great with children, and pretty robust, but children should be taught how to treat them. Their eyes can be damaged easily, and they shouldn’t be allowed to jump from heights or they might hurt themselves. Often breeders will refuse to sell a Shih Tzu puppy to a family with small children, because they can easily be stepped on or tripped over. Children should be taught to hold them sitting down so that if they escape from their arms they won’t be injured. Visitors will get barked at, but will quickly find a new friend. This breed also gets on well with other dogs and animals.
Grooming can be a challenge with the Shih Tzu. Their long silky hair will quickly get matted and will need daily brushing and combing. You will also need to comb their mustache and top knot daily, and it is best to keep the hair at the top of their head tied up to avoid it irritating their eyes. If you want your dog to be lower maintenance then you might want to opt for keeping their hair clipped shorter in a puppy cut. You may want to find a professional groomer to cut or trim their hair, as it can be challenging when you don’t know how. Their faces and eyes should be wiped daily, and a bath given every three weeks.
Training a Shih Tzu is not bad if you have some treats in store, but they can be stubborn and like to have their own way. You will just need consistency and patience, and an ability to withstand their charming manipulation. They do have a tendency to bark a lot, so it’s best to include a ‘stop barking’ command in their training if you don’t want to get too irritated further down the line. Housebreaking can take months, but crate training can help, and you can also opt for having your breeder housebreak your puppy before you bring him home.
Shih Tzus don’t need a tremendous amount of exercise. Playing in the yard or going for a short walk is usually ample. They are also fine without a yard, as romping around the house uses up a lot of their energy. Bred to be companion dogs, they are not hunters and probably won’t play fetch, but in recent times Shih Tzus have been enrolled in various competitions such as agility.
Make sure that a good quality source of protein is high on the list of ingredients in the food you give your Shih Tzu. Avoid too many fillers and by-products, as they don’t usually have as much nutritional value.
Since they are a small breed, Shih Tzus are prone to developing hypoglycaemia if their blood sugar drops too low as puppies. Therefore it’s often recommended to let them freed freely while they are young, to help prevent this from happening. However you will still want to replace the food in their dish a few times a day so that it is fresh. Once they are 3 months old they should be fed three times a day. As adults, some can manage fine on two meals a day, but others do better with three. If you are going to be gone during the day but they need three meals, then you can leave them with a toy that slowly releases food for their midday meal.
Be careful not to feed your Shih Tzu a diet that includes too many additives, such as chemical preservatives and colors. These can result in itching and skin issues, or an upset stomach if there is a sensitivity or intolerance. Soy, corn and wheat may also cause problems. Shih Tzus often like wet food better, but dry food is good for their teeth, so it’s usually best to either stick to dry food or give your dog a mix of both.
Recommended daily feeding amount: ½ to 1 cup of high quality dry food divided into two meals a day.
Shih Tzus can be picky eaters, or try and gain more attention by making you feed their food to them. If this happens, don’t switch to a different food unless it’s a health issue. They will usually eat it in the end because they need food. You can also try them with more exercise to see if that helps. If they are very active then they might need a higher calorie food, or more of it.
Common Health Concerns
Hip Dysplasia and Patellar Luxation can be a concern with Shih Tzus. With Hip Dysplasia, the thigh bone doesn’t fit snugly into the hip socket and can cause lameness or pain. With Patellar Luxation, the kneecap slips in and out which again usually causes pain and may be crippling.
Common eye conditions in this breed include Cataracts, Progressive Retinal Atrophy, and Retinal Detachment. Because of their eyelids not closing properly, they can also get dryness and inflammation of the cornea. Their eyes can also easily become scratched because they are so large.
Hypothyroidism can be a problem, where the thyroid gland stops producing correctly. Symptoms of this include lethargy and weight gain, but it can be managed through daily medication. Breathing problems can result from the Shih Tzu’s flat, or brachycephalic, nose. Reverse sneezing can occur if they get too excited or are allergic to something. The best way to stop this is to pinch their nose closed so that they have to breathe through their mouths.
Shih Tzus are often purchased without any clear understanding of what goes into owning one. There are many Shih Tzus in need of adoption and or fostering. There are a number of rescues that we have not listed. If you don’t see a rescue listed for your area, contact the national breed club or a local breed club and they can point you toward a Shih Tzu rescue.