Shih Tzu

Shih Tzu dog breed

Despite its small size, the Shih Tzu is an extraordinary dog that attracts a lot of attention. The long mane of this former temple guard hides a playful dog that knows its own mind and acts as a loyal companion to many dog lovers.

Small dog, abundant hair

When looking at a Shih Tzu, its fur proves particularly eye-catching – especially considering its small height of approx. 27cm. They weigh up to 7.5kg and have luxuriant long hair with plenty of undercoat. Shih Tzus come in all colours and the  top hair is often tied up on top of the head or cut to grant these lion dogs an unobstructed view. The lop ears are generally barely visible through the plush fur. This little dog’s tail bends slightly across the back. Descriptions of the breed standard regularly highlight the Shih Tzu’s “arrogant demeanour”.

From the monastery to the sofa

The Shih Tzu can look back on an eventful history. Monks at Tibetan monasteries considered their ancestors to be “Buddha’s little lions”. Legend has it that Buddha was surrounded by small dogs that could transform into lions at moments of danger. Tibetan monks bred these little canines as temple dogs to guard holy sites. When doing so, their outstanding sense of hearing – in comparison to other dogs too – was of real benefit to them. The Tibetan Terrier, Lhasa Apso and Pekinese emerged from this group of temple animals along with the Shih Tzu. Incidentally, the “Shih Tzu” and Lhasa Apso both have their background to thank for their illustrious names. When translated, both mean “lion dog”: „Shih Tzu“ is Chinese, whilst “Lhasa Apso” is Tibetan. These small temple dogs ended up in the Chinese emperor’s court presumably in the 17th century as tribute payments, and continued to be bred there as charismatic luxury dogs. China only allowed the export of these dogs at the start of the 20th century, leading to the first specimens reaching Europe and the US. In Britain, the Shih Tzu was recognised as its own breed in 1929. When Communism was enforced in China in 1949, many Shih Tzus suffered a tragic fate. They were considered “useless” and were slaughtered, which amounted to the end of efforts to breed in China. As a result, breeding commenced in the western world.

Playful and independent nature

These little lion dogs are characterised by their very lively temperament, but they barely suffer from nerves. These former temple dogs are open and friendly towards humans and animals, including other dogs. Despite their playfulness and open nature, Shih Tzus regularly give off a certain sense of independence that can sometimes be construed as arrogance. Here a bit of the “lion” effectively shines through in terms of character, because at some points Shih Tzus appear more like cats than dogs, since subservience of all forms is totally abhorrent to them. However, their sense of fun more than makes up for this supposed arrogance, and they almost always spread joy. With a bit of canine know-how, training isn’t a problem either.

Health: competent breeding is the best prevention

The most common health issues amongst Shih Tzus are the short nose and resulting respiratory and ocular problems. A trigger is brachycephaly, or skull deformation, brought about by selective breeding and resulting in the skull being too short and wide. This becomes obvious when you take a look at the wolf, the dog’s ancestors, in comparison to a Shih Tzu. For this reason, Shih Tzus regularly suffer from their upper airways narrowing, whilst the tear ducts are also more susceptible. It’s the responsibility of those who purchase Shih Tzu puppies to only choose breeders who have prioritised the health of the Shih Tzu breed standard when choosing the parent animals. The breed is no fan of intense heat purely due to its abundant fur. Hence,  you should schedule long walks for the early morning or late evening in summer. A Shih Tzu can live to be 16 years old.

Peak fitness with the right diet

Food consisting mainly of meat with no grain is ideal for the Shih Tzu. If you choose dry food, you should take particular care to ensure that your dog has sufficient water available and drinks enough of it. There is special dry food to meet the needs of small dogs and even some exclusively for Shih Tzus – for instance, the biscuit shape is adapted. Still, you should absolutely make sure that meat is at the top of the ingredients list. Since small dogs have a tendency to form tartar due to their narrowly positioned teeth, you should regularly give them dental hygiene snacks. Cleaning your dog’s teeth with special dog toothpaste and your finger is more than possible if you get it used to the process as a puppy. Equally, small chunks of beef are suitable for keeping the teeth clean.

Grooming the luxuriant coat

Looks aren’t deceptive when it comes to the Shih Tzu’s flowing fur: grooming is going to be a lot of work. Private dog owners who don’t attend exhibitions can make grooming much easier for themselves by regularly cutting their Shih Tzu’s fur short. This also makes it possible for the dog to frolic through forests and streams. On the contrary, this isn’t feasible for exhibition dogs because it could ruin their splendid coat. In any case, long hair should be regularly cut so it doesn’t drag along the ground. In addition, cutting the hair short or tying it up ensures that the little lion dog’s mane doesn’t obstruct its line of vision. Equally, hairs in the eyes can lead to eye irritations. Thorough brushing should take place once a week, whilst combing should also be on the grooming agenda to prevent the Shih Tzu’s fur from felting. For instance, the insides of the legs and the areas behind the ears are particularly susceptible to felting. You should start to get your dog used to this thorough grooming session as a puppy so that it allows you to cover each and every strand of hair. In order to reach some areas, it’s important that your Shih Tzu learns to patiently lie on its side for a while. Inspect your dog’s fur daily for branches or general dirt that may have got caught up in it. Parasite checks should also be a regular occurrence, especially since unwanted visitors such as ticks can go undetected under the plush fur coat for a long time. When you need to bath your Shih Tzu because the dirt it gathered outdoors can’t be brushed out, you’re best off using a special dog shampoo for long-haired dogs. A big advantage of the Shih Tzu’s luscious fur is that it barely sheds, if at all.

Training for clever little dogs

Shih Tzus are docile and playful, which makes training a great deal easier. However, their stubbornness can sometimes prove challenging, therefore loving consistency is fundamental for successful training. If you stray from the established rules, the smart but stubborn Shih Tzu will want to take advantage. Many members of the breed also know how to put their cute appearance to use and try to achieve their objectives through whimpering, nudging or putting on the puppy dog eyes. It’s best if you ignore  their act right from the puppy phase to make it clear to them that such methods will not lead to the desired result. You can offer your Shih Tzu great socialisation opportunities by regularly attending a dog school, where they learn to handle dogs of all sizes in a relaxed manner. Male Shih Tzus tend to be domineering if they do not undergo sufficient socialisation as puppies.

Activity for little all-rounders

Shih Tzus love to play and go on long walks, often right into old age. What’s more, these little lion dogs are frequently big fans of water, particularly dirty puddles that they just love to roll around in. Despite their size, they are generally no couch potatoes, but they certainly very much enjoy cosy afternoon cuddles. They just love exploring outdoors, but this proves difficult for exhibition dogs, since they get stuck in each bush that entices them. Trained Shih Tzus can also accompany horse lovers on short rides. If you like to take part in voluntary activities with your dog, there’s a whole new world of possibilities for these likeable dogs: Shih Tzus are generally ideally suited to be therapy dogs. Combined with their “cute” appearance, their calm and open character makes them excellent visiting dogs for hospitals, children’s or old people’s homes – providing that they have undergone appropriate training and character tests.

Is a Shih Tzu right for me?

Shih Tzus are a good fit for active families and singletons who like to get out and about with their dog. They are also suitable for beginners, as long as they research the time-consuming grooming process beforehand and are prepared to make a regular time commitment. Although Shih Tzus feel at ease in city apartments, they of course love enclosed gardens. In any case, you should seek written approval from your landlord for keeping a dog should you live in rented accommodation.

It is sometimes said that Shih Tzus are ideal dogs for allergy sufferers, because they do not shed hair. However, that isn’t necessarily true, because allergy sufferers don’t react to dog hair per se, but rather to dog saliva and skin flakes. Hence, you should make sure that nobody in your family is allergic before a Shih Tzu enters your home. On the subject of hair, you should definitely think long-term regarding grooming arrangements: A puppy may live to the age of 17 years and would require daily activity and grooming. You should also clarify in advance what to do should you fall ill or go on holiday. If your dog going on holiday with you is an option, you’re best off looking into suitable hotels and travel options from an early stage – bearing in mind that the Shih Tzu isn’t a big fan of hot weather. Along with basic equipment in the form of bowls, lead, car insurance, blanket and basket, as well as appropriate grooming tools such as brushes and combs – possibly clippers too – ongoing costs occasioned by species-appropriate dog food, toys and veterinary check-ups, potential grooming appointments and dog liability or taxes need to be considered. Should your pet fall ill, unexpected costs could be incurred.

How to find your dream Shih Tzu

If you have decided that a Shih Tzu is going to become your newest family member, you will generally find puppies relatively quickly, as it is a popular breed. Beware of black sheep breeders who mass breed Shih Tzus without a pedigree certificate or membership of an association and sell at a supposedly cheap price. They aren’t concerned about the wellbeing of the breed and animals in question and are just out to make money for themselves. A serious breeder is a member of an association and can give information on health tests on each of your dream puppy’s ancestors in order to minimise the risk of hereditary diseases, which is mandatory for Shih Tzus in particular. A breeder who cares about the wellbeing of their charges is happy to act as your point of contact beyond the initial purchase and will be glad to hear how your new family member is getting on. It’s a good sign if they grill you a bit on housing conditions so they can be sure that their puppy is in good hands. The puppy should be dewormed, and you should generally always receive the pedigree certificate, vaccination record stamped to indicate which vaccines have been administered and of course, the purchase contract. Most dogs are microchipped and on a registry, which is essential for travel within Europe.

If you would like to give an older dog a new home, you’re best searching online, where there are lots of dogs looking for just that. However, they are often mixed breeds and you should always remember that only Shih Tzus with a pedigree certificate are genuine. With adult dogs too it can make sense to look into their ancestors’ health records, especially when it comes hereditary diseases. Still, a Shih Tzu mixed breed from an animal welfare association can of course win you over and enrich your life. By undergoing discussion with the previous owner or foster home, you can find out whether the little lion dog is a good fit for you and your circumstances. An adult dog naturally has the advantage of generally having undergone basic training, which can be useful for beginners. Nevertheless, there are no guarantees that the training was successful, because Shih Tzus are also given away in some instances because the owner was over-fazed by training these clever little dogs. You will ideally have the opportunity to get to know your new family member better before it moves into your home and to gather appropriate knowledge.


We wish you and your unusual Shih Tzu a wonderful time together!

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