The Shih Tzu: An Outgoing, Playful, and Low-Maintenance Companion


Also known as the “Chrysanthemum Dog” and the Tibetan Lion Dog, the Shih Tzu is an affectionate dog that is far more outgoing than its size might suggest. Friendly and adaptable, the Shih Tzu is a great dog for novice owners looking for an attention-seeking companion.

Highlights

  • Apartment-Friendly
  • Good for inexperienced owners
  • Friendly
  • Difficult to housetrain
  • Low exercise needs
  • Prone to respiratory problems, dental problems, and overheating

The History of the Shih Tzu

One of the fourteen oldest dog breeds known to man, the Shih Tzu has a long history as a companion dog. Legend tells that this small “lion dog” was developed by Tibetan monks and gifted to Chinese royalty as long ago as 8,000 BC.

History is rife with mention of these small dogs including Marco Polo’s mention of Emperor Kubla Khan keeping them as companion dogs to calm his trained hunting lions. Khan isn’t the only emperor who found use in these chrysanthemum-faced dogs, Chinese royalty frequently kept their own “lion dogs”. It was Empress T’zu Hsi of China that championed one of the largest Shih Tzu breeding programs.

Although popular in Asia, it wasn’t until 1928 when the Shih Tzu began to travel across the globe. The first pair of Shih Tzu’s were brought to England in 1928 by the wife of the North China command quartermaster general. This marked the beginning of the Shih Tzu’s global popularity and in 1969 the toy breed was officially recognized by the AKC.

Appearance and Vital Stats

Breed Group

The Shih Tzu is a member of the “Toy Group”. A grouping reserved for the smallest dogs, the toy group is comprised mostly of pet or companion breeds.

A beautifully long-haired dog, the small Shih Tzu is content to live in an apartment and has few demands as far as exercise is concerned. Like many other toy groups, however, the Shih Tzu can be particularly stubborn when it comes to housebreaking.

Size

Shih Tzu size

The Shih Tzu stands between 9 and 10” at the shoulder and weighs between 9 to 16lbs. Although some breeders classify their dogs as “tiny teacup Shih Tzu’s” or “Imperial Shih Tzu’s” these classifications are not officially recognized. Unfortunately, these unofficial labels are used most often by unscrupulous breeders in an attempt to sell more puppies.

Unlike many other breeds where the male is larger than the female, the male and female Shih Tzu don’t tend to differ much in size.

Lifespan

The average lifespan of this small friendly dog is between 10 and 16 years. This significant range is usually due to health concerns that result from poor breeding practices. The poorly bred Shih Tzu may struggle with a variety of health conditions, most notably breathing difficulties.

Coat Colors

Shih Tzu Coat colors

The Shih Tzu has a long double coat that is dense but free-flowing. Although the coat may have a slight wave to it, it should never be curled. Owners frequently trim the feet, bottom, and base of the coat for hygiene and tie hair on the top of the head to provide unhindered vision.

The Shih Tzu coat comes in a wide array of standard colors including black, black and white, blue, blue and white, brindle, brindle and white, gold, gold and white, liver, liver and white, red, red and white, silver, and silver and white. Standard coat markings include black, black mask, and tan markings.

Tail

The Shih Tzu tail is plumed and sits high and curves over the back.

Ears

The Shih Tzu has large ears that are as heavily coated as the rest of the body. The ears sit just below the crown.

Personality

Trainability

An intelligent breed that is often underestimated, the Shih Tzu can be stubborn making training a challenge. Housetraining is particularly difficult and when you add in their proclivity for eating feces, patience is definitely required!

There are some positives when it comes to training this royal dog, however. Low energy levels make puppyhood much more bearable and low exercise demand means less acting out due to boredom.

Playfulness

A playful dog, the Shih Tzu isn’t afraid to approach strangers or family for a game or two. Be sure to keep your fingers far away from this pup’s mouth, however, because he is known for being very mouthy!

Apartment Living

Small spaces and apartment living don’t faze the Shih Tzu. He is as happy in an apartment as he is in a mansion so long as he has “his people” nearby. Apartment neighbors surely won’t mind this pint-sized pup either since he isn’t much of a barker.

Compatibility with Children and Pets

Shih Tzu Compatibility with Children and Pets

The Shih Tzu is a sociable and friendly breed that will approach strangers and family alike. Sometimes selective over canine friends, this little dog does well with most other dogs but should be monitored with smaller pets due to a high prey drive.

Although family-centered, the Shih Tzu is not best suited to families with toddlers or young children because they are mouthy dogs. Elementary school-aged children and above are perfect companions for this playful dog.

Care

Feeding

A low energy breed with a low tolerance for exercise, the Shih Tzu is prone to obesity and diet should be monitored closely. On average, this people-centric pup will eat between ½ to 1 cup of high-quality dry food daily.

Grooming

The long silky coat of the Shih Tzu is deceiving and weekly brushing and occasionally trimming is enough to keep this pup looking healthy. Daily brushing to remove debris or mats may be necessary if daily outings at the park are a fixture in your schedule.

Ears and eyes should be checked daily and cleaned regularly, however, since the Shih Tzu is prone to tear stains and ear infections.

Exercise

Shih Tzu Exercise

The Shih Tzu isn’t a very energetic dog and a couple of short walks daily are enough to keep him happy. Despite being low energy, it’s important to maintain a regular exercise schedule with this small dog to avoid obesity.

Caution should be used when exercising the Shih Tzu during late spring and summer due to their short muzzle. Short muzzled breeds are prone to overheating and respiratory difficulties that are worsened by hot temperatures.

Health

The Shih Tzu is a healthy breed when bred from healthy stock. There is a prevalence of backyard breeders diluting the healthy Shih Tzu population, however. This has contributed to a particularly unhealthy segment of the Shih Tzu population.

Allergies

Shih Tzu’s can be affected by contact allergies, food allergies, or inhalant allergies all of which result in reduced quality of life. Treatment depends on the type of allergy and generally consists of dietary restrictions, environmental changes, or medication.

Juvenile Renal Dysplasia

A genetic defect of the kidneys, JRD causes young dogs to lose weight, urinate frequently, drink often, seem lethargic, and vomit. Testing for JRD is particularly invasive and not 100% reliable which makes it a serious concern.

Bladder Stones and Infections

Although there are many possible causes for bladder stones and bladder infections, the Shih Tzu seems to be prone to both.

Poor Eye Health

The anatomy of the Shih Tzu eye makes them susceptible to a number of eye conditions including proptosis where the eyeball becomes dislodged from the socket, keratitis where the cornea becomes inflamed, and progressive retinal atrophy where the retinal cells degenerate.

Retained Baby Teeth

It is quite common for Shih Tzu’s to retain their baby teeth which sometimes requires veterinary intervention to extract baby teeth to give room for adult teeth.

Similar Breeds

Lhasa Apso

Lhasa Apso

Unlike the Shih Tzu, the Lhasa Apso is classified as a non-sporting breed and stands between 10” and 11” rather than 8” and 11” tall. The Lhasa Apso also tends to be slightly heavier, falling between 13 and 15 lbs. where the Shih Tzu can be anywhere from 9 to 16 lbs. Of the two breeds, the Lhasa Apso is better suited to children but does bark more frequently than the Shih Tzu.

Havanese

Havanese

Compared to the Shih Tzu, the Havanese is a slightly taller but lighter and longer living breed. Of the two, the Havanese is a more sensitive breed but tends to do better with children than the Shih Tzu.

Maltese

Maltese

The Maltese has a single layer coat that isn’t as dense as the double coat of the Shih Tzu. Although the average height of the two breeds is similar, the Maltese is much lighter than the Shih Tzu and has a slightly longer life expectancy. Despite being more sensitive than the Shih Tzu, the Maltese is better suited to households with younger children.

Coton De Tulear

Coton De Tulear

Rather than the toy breed grouping, the Coton De Tulear is a non-sporting breed. Compared to the Shih Tzu, his coat is not as silky nor is it a double coat. Of the two breeds, the Coton De Tulear is the larger and heavier breed, but it also has a longer lifespan. The Coton is also the better of the two breeds for households with children.

Bichon Frise

Bichon Frise

Although the dog lover can usually tell the Bichon Frise from the Shih Tzu, these two breeds are still confused frequently by novices. While both breeds have dense coats, the Shih Tzu has a long coat that is silky in appearance where the Bichon has a short-curled fur. The Bichon is another non-sporting breed unlike the toy Shih Tzu and despite being larger it has a slightly longer lifespan.

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