If you’re thinking of bringing a Shih Tzu into your family, you probably have some questions about things like the Shih Tzu temperament, grooming requirements, and trainability. We got you! In this article, you’ll find all of the information you need to decide if this is the right breed for you.
If you already know you love Shih Tzu dogs, you’re in good company! In addition to having one of the most fun names to say, the Shih Tzu is one of the most beloved small breeds in existence.
According to the AKC, these adorable little dogs are in the top 20 most popular dog breeds.1 And they seem to be a celebrity favorite – Shih Tzu dogs can be seen on the laps of celebrities like Beyonce, Katherine Heigl, and Bill Gates.2
What Are the Shih Tzu Breed’s Origins?
The Shih Tzu is an ancient breed. Nobody knows exactly how old, although they’ve been spotted in paintings that date all the way back to 624 CE!3 As with most ancient breeds, it’s tough to pinpoint exactly how they originated, but there are some theories.
The Tibetan Monk Theory
One popular theory states that the breed originated with Buddhist monks in Tibet. The Tibetan lamas bred dogs to look like tiny replicas of lions, an important symbol in Buddhist mythology. These various “lion dogs” served as companions for the monks.4
It is said that the Dalai Lama traveled to China in the early 20th century and gave the Chinese empress Tzu-hsi several of these Tibetan lion dogs. She fondly referred to them as her “Shih Tzu Kou” or “lion dogs” in Chinese.
After this introduction, only members of the Chinese imperial family could own Shih Tzu dogs. Special gardens and pavilions were created in the palace to give them a place to play. While Pugs, Pekingese, and Shih Tzus all lived in the palace, only Shih Tzus were allowed to wander in certain sacred territories.5
When Chinese imperial rule came to an end, the breed almost disappeared completely. At one point in history, only 14 Shih Tzus survived. All of today’s Shih Tzus can be traced back to these 14 dogs.6
What are the Traits of a Shih Tzu’s Personality?
True to their royal roots, this small breed can act like the world revolves around them. Contrary to how that might sound, Shih Tzus are rarely pushy. They just love being loved and expect that you’ll always want them by your side. And look at their little faces, they aren’t wrong, right?
Shih Tzus are “companion dogs” through and through. They don’t have a tendency to guard, hunt, or dig, like working dogs. And they weren’t bred to be watchdogs, so they typically aren’t suspicious or yappy like some small breeds (like the Yorkshire Terrier, Lhasa Apso, or Chihuahua mix).7
Like any good companion, Shih Tzus love to hang out and do whatever you’re doing. If you’re putting away groceries, your Shih Tzu puppy is happy to sit and watch. If you’re bingeing on Netflix, your Shih Tzu will quietly cuddle up next to you.8
Also, because of their calm, easy-going demeanor, they make great service dogs.
Common Personality Traits
Here are a few common positive personality traits of Shih Tzu dogs:
- Likes to cuddle and be held
- Outgoing and friendly with strangers
- Devoted, loyal companions who like to stay close to their owners
- Able to bond with multiple people
- Usually good with children and other dogs
- Feisty and fun! 9-11
And here are a few not-so glamorous traits:
- A stubborn, “What’s in it for me?” attitude
- Notoriously hard to housebreak
- Can be stubborn and occasionally hard to train12,13
While this breed is typically delightful, any dog can become pushy, aggressive, or destructive without proper training.
Make sure you start a routine of socialization and positive reinforcement training as soon as you bring home your Shih Tzu puppy or rescue dog.
Are Shih Tzus Good Family Dogs?
The Shih Tzu is a wonderful family pet with lovable personality traits. They readily bond with all family members. They rarely have an aggressive side.
But while Shih Tzus are sturdy little dogs, their small size may not make them a great option for homes with toddlers. It’s always a good idea to supervise young children with small dogs to make sure they don’t pick them up and drop them.
Physical Traits of Shih Tzus
The Shih Tzu is a sturdy, spirited, small breed with a long, silky double coat, a short, upturned nose, and short legs. True to its royal roots, the Shih Tzu has a proud, sometimes arrogant look. They often carry themselves with their heads held high and tails curled over their backs.14
Shih Tzus are sometimes called chrysanthemum dogs because of the way their hair grows up from the nose and around the face in all directions, like a flower.15
Shih Tzu Care
Shih Tzus are highly adaptable dogs – they’ll be equally happy in an apartment or a mansion as long as their beloved humans are close by.
But this is no outdoor dog. This breed is too small, heat sensitive, and human-oriented to live outside.16 They need affection and mental stimulation. Shih Tzus belong inside on the laps of the people they love.
Shih Tzus have fiery little personalities and love to play, but a good romp around the backyard is usually quite enough! This breed needs a moderate amount of exercise.17 Short, daily walks are great. Long hikes? They’ll probably pass.
Your Shih Tzu should be fed a high quality, all natural dog food that has all of the nutrients they need for proper health. Look for a dog food that has whole, raw ingredients like salmon, flax, and beef liver. You’ll also want to make sure your food contains pre and probiotics for intestinal health.
Choosing the right dog food will give your dog a happier, healthier life. Proper nutrition can help with everything from behavior problems to skin and coat health.
These little dogs require a lot of grooming! Shih Tzus have long, double coats that can get tangled if they aren’t properly taken care of. Daily brushing is recommended to help with shedding. Take them to a professional groomer every month or so. Brush their teeth regularly to prevent dental issues.
Many Shih Tzu lovers ask their groomer for a low maintenance puppy cut or kennel cut, where your puppy’s hair will be cut the same length all over.18 The hair is usually clipped to about 2 inches, which makes it easy to brush and keep clean between grooming sessions.
Bonus: this cut also makes Shih Tzus look like little teddy bears, which is just adorable.
Shih Tzu Health Problems
Shih Tzus are a typically healthy breed with a long lifespan of 12-16 years.19 Understand the common health issues that may arise so you can notice them and call your vet right away:
Eye Issues – some Shih Tzus may suffer from cataracts; inadequate tear production; progressive retinal atrophy, which can cause blindness; and proptosis, where an eyeball temporarily pops out of the socket.20
Hip Dysplasia – If a dog’s hip joint isn’t configured properly, it can cause pain and limited mobility. Shih Tzus love to jump around, and hip injuries may develop into hip dysplasia later in life. Call your vet if your Shih Tzu is having difficulty walking.21
Respiratory Issues – Like all short-nosed, or brachycephalic breeds, Shih Tzus may experience breathing problems.22
Liver Problems – Shih Tzus are more likely than other breeds to be born with, or develop, a liver disorder called portosystemic shunt (PSS). If your dog has “stunted growth” or often seems disoriented, this may be an issue. Call your vet.23
Renal Dysplasia – Some Shih Tzus may inherit genetic kidney issues24
Trainability of the Shih Tzu Breed
Training a Shih Tzu can be an amusing and sometimes frustrating experience. One thing to remember is that Shih Tzus are people-oriented dogs, so positive reinforcement training tends to work well. Many Shih Tzus will happily learn commands in exchange for an enthusiastic word of praise or an affectionate snuggle.
- Shih Tzu puppies should be enrolled in a socialization course and puppy kindergarten as soon as possible. This breed has a tendency to be bold and could grow to be bossy if this is unchecked.
- Set yourself up as the leader of the household – ask them to sit before meals, and make them wait whenever you open a door – to prevent potential behavior issues.
- Potty training a Shih Tzu can be notoriously hard. Be patient. Consistently reward your pup for going in the right place with positive reinforcement. They’ll catch on.25
How To Find a Responsible Breeder
Before you seek out a Shih Tzu breeder, first consider checking your local animal shelter or a rescue organization that specializes in Shih Tzus. This is an especially great breed to rescue – Shih Tzus love companionship and are quick to bond with new owners.
Reach out to shelters and rescue organizations, introduce yourself, and tell them you are hoping to rescue a Shih Tzu.
They may be able to notify you when they find the perfect match. Be patient and check in regularly.
If all else fails, you may want to seek out a responsible breeder. Do your due diligence to make sure your breeder follows responsible breeding practices. The American Kennel Club keeps a directory of recommended breeders.26
Here are a few tips when you’re looking for a breeder:
- Don’t rely on the phone or email. Visit the breeder in person so you can observe the puppies’ living conditions. Is it clean and odor free? Do all of the puppies look healthy?
- Ask for references. Be wary of breeders who claim to have “designer dogs” that are really just mixed breeds.
- Ask to meet at least one of the Shih Tzu puppy’s parents. This will give you a sense of your dog’s breeding, and their temperament, size, and personality.
- Ask about the health of your puppy and the parents. Your breeder should be able to provide you with a full medical history.
- Watch the breeder interact with the puppies, and don’t be afraid to ask questions! 27
Shih Tzus are loyal, feisty, fun-loving pups that are sure to put a smile on your face. As with any dog breed, make sure you have the time to exercise, groom, and love up on your pup before you bring one home. You may have a lot of other things going on, but to your Shih Tzu, you are their entire world.
Going to a responsible breeder – and never a puppy mill – will help support the humane treatment of this beloved breed. And rescuing a Shih Tzu from a shelter or rescue organization is a great option! Shih Tzus are quick to bond with new owners and they will love you forever if you save their life.
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