Shih Tzu

Table of Contents

shih tzu dog portrait
Introducing the Shih Tzu, a dog breed that's equal parts adorable and regal! These tiny, lion-hearted pups boast luxurious coats, endearing expressions, and a captivating charm that's hard to resist. As both regal lapdogs and spunky companions, Shih Tzus are adored by dog lovers for their delightful mix of elegance and playfulness.

Join us in this comprehensive guide as we explore everything you need to know about this breed, including their appearance, temperament, ideal environment, grooming, exercise requirements, training tips, dietary needs, health concerns, history, and more.

Best For

Shih Tzus are perfect for those seeking a small, affectionate companion. They’re great for apartment dwellers, retirees, or families with older kids. With their royal heritage, they fit perfectly on a lap or a throne!

Overview

OFFICIAL NAMEShih Tzu
OTHER NAMESChrysanthemum Dog, Lion Dog
ORIGINTibet
BREED GROUPToy Group
BREED SIZESmall
HEIGHT9-10.5 inches
WEIGHT9-16 lbs
LIFESPAN10-18 years
LIVING SPACESmall
SENSITIVITY TO COLD WEATHERModerate
SENSITIVITY TO WARM WEATHERHigh
GROOMING NEEDSHigh
EXERCISE NEEDSLow
TRAINABILITYModerate
BARKING TENDENCYModerate
BITING TENDENCYLow
DROOLING TENDENCYLow
SHEDDING LEVELModerate
POPULARITY RANK20th
shih tzu sitting on the park
Photo: Kurt Pas/Getty Images

Appearance

The Shih Tzu is a small yet sturdy dog breed with distinctive physical characteristics that make it both adorable and regal. This charming little canine typically stands between 9 to 10.5 inches tall at the shoulder, weighing in at a petite 9 to 16 pounds. Despite their small size, Shih Tzus have a solid body structure, giving them an air of confidence and strength.

Shih Tzu’s head, which is round and broad, is adorned with a short muzzle and a slightly undershot bite. Their large, dark eyes are set wide apart, exuding an air of warmth and intelligence, while their friendly expression adds to their irresistible charm. The drop ears of a Shih Tzu are covered in an abundance of long, flowing hair, giving them a truly elegant appearance.

The body of a Shih Tzu is compact and well-proportioned, with a level topline and a strong, muscular neck. These little canines have a unique tail that is set high and curls over their back, often adorned with a plume of luxurious fur. Their legs are short but sturdy, providing ample support for their small frame and allowing them to move with grace and agility.

One of the most distinctive features of the Shih Tzu breed is its magnificent coat. This double-layered coat consists of a dense, soft undercoat and a long, flowing outercoat that drapes gracefully over the body. Shih Tzus come in a variety of colors and markings, including solid shades like black, white, gold, silver, red, and liver, as well as multi-colored and patterned variations.

Shih Tzus are often groomed in two distinct styles: the traditional “show cut” or the more manageable “puppy cut.”

The show cut features a long, floor-length coat that requires daily brushing and maintenance to keep it tangle-free and looking its best. The puppy cut, on the other hand, involves trimming the coat to a shorter, more practical length, making it easier to care for and perfect for those who prefer a low-maintenance grooming routine.

shih tzu's face close up
Photo: Caio/Pexels

Temperament

Ah, the Shih Tzu. With a name that’s almost as fun to say as they are to have around, these little guys are basically the life of the party on four legs. They’re small, but don’t let that fool you. They’ve got enough personality packed into that pint-sized frame to fill a room.

Imagine your best friend: always there for you, always ready to hang out, and never says no to a cozy night in. That’s a Shih Tzu. They love nothing more than to be by your side, whether you’re cooking dinner, watching TV, or just lounging around. It’s like having a tiny, furry shadow that occasionally barks at its own reflection.

Shih Tzus are some of the friendliest dogs you’ll ever meet. They greet everyone like a long-lost friend and have a way of making you feel like the most important person in the world. They are the epitome of a “people dog,” thriving on human company and interaction. They’ve been bred for centuries to be companions, and boy, do they take that job seriously!

But don’t mistake their size and loving nature for lack of intelligence. These dogs are smart, often using their charm and good looks to get what they want (usually more snuggles or treats). They have an uncanny ability to understand human emotions and will often act as a comforting presence when you’re feeling down.

One of the most endearing traits of Shih Tzus is their playful nature. They have a zest for life and a sense of curiosity that makes every day an adventure. Whether it’s chasing a leaf blowing in the wind or playing with a squeaky toy, they approach everything with enthusiasm and joy.

Yet, amidst all this energy and excitement, Shih Tzus have a soft, gentle side too. They love to cuddle up next to you, their warm little body pressed against yours, their soft snores filling the room. It’s in these quiet moments that you truly appreciate their loyal and affectionate nature.

So, if you’re looking for a companion who will bring joy, laughter, and a whole lot of love into your life, look no further than a Shih Tzu. They’re not just pets. They’re part of the family, a best friend, a confidante, and a source of endless entertainment. And trust me, life is never dull with a Shih Tzu around!

shih tzu standing on the street
Photo: formatoriginalphotos

Ideal Environment

The Shih Tzu breed is highly adaptable and thrives in a variety of living environments, making them suitable for a wide range of pet parents.

Physical Environment

As small dogs with low to moderate energy levels, they can comfortably adjust to apartment living, as long as their exercise and mental stimulation needs are met. They are also well-suited to larger homes with or without yards, provided they have a safe and secure space to explore and play.

Climate Adaptability

In terms of climate adaptability, Shih Tzus are sensitive to both extreme heat and cold. Their thick, double-layered coat provides some insulation against colder temperatures but does not make them suitable for extended periods outdoors in freezing conditions. It’s important to provide them with a warm, cozy space indoors during the winter months to keep them comfortable and safe.

On the other hand, Shih Tzus can be prone to overheating in hot weather due to their short muzzle, which can make breathing more difficult in high temperatures. You should take precautions to keep your Shih Tzu cool during the warmer months, such as providing plenty of water, avoiding outdoor activities during the hottest parts of the day, and using air conditioning or fans to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature.

Ideal Owner

Shih Tzus are ideal companions for individuals and families alike, including singles, couples, families with children, and seniors.

Their affectionate and sociable nature means they form strong bonds with their human family members and enjoy being an integral part of daily life. They’re especially suited for those who prefer spending time indoors, as they love cuddling up with their favorite people and engaging in indoor play sessions.

Other Pets

When it comes to other pets, Shih Tzus generally adapt well to multi-pet households, getting along with both dogs and cats, particularly when introduced and socialized properly from a young age. Their friendly and easygoing temperament enables them to coexist harmoniously with other animals, making them a great addition to a home with existing furry friends.

two shih tzus playing in the park
Photo: animalinfo/Getty Images

Grooming

Proper grooming is essential for maintaining the health and well-being of a Shih Tzu, as well as keeping their luxurious coat looking its best. These dogs have unique grooming needs due to their long, flowing hair and distinctive features.

Coat Care

Shih Tzus have a double-layered coat that consists of a dense, soft undercoat and a long, flowing outercoat. They come in various colors and markings, and their coat can be styled in different ways depending on the owner’s preference and the dog’s lifestyle.

There are two common grooming styles for Shih Tzus: the traditional “show cut” and the more practical “puppy cut.” The show cut, which features a long, floor-length coat, requires daily brushing with a pin brush or slicker brush to prevent tangles and matting.

It’s crucial to brush your Shih Tzu gently, working from the ends of the hair towards the skin to avoid causing discomfort. A comb can also be used to remove any remaining tangles and ensure the coat is smooth and knot-free.

The puppy cut, which involves trimming the coat to a shorter, more manageable length, is a popular choice for pet owners who prefer a low-maintenance grooming routine. This style still requires regular brushing, but the frequency may be reduced to every other day or a few times a week, depending on the coat length.

In addition to brushing, Shih Tzus should be bathed every three to four weeks using a mild dog shampoo and conditioner. Be sure to rinse thoroughly to remove all soap residue, as this can cause skin irritation. It’s also essential to keep the hair around the eyes clean and trimmed to prevent eye infections and maintain clear vision.

Dental Care

Dental hygiene is a crucial aspect of Shih Tzu grooming, as these dogs are prone to dental issues like plaque buildup and gum disease. To maintain good oral health, it’s recommended to brush your Shih Tzu’s teeth daily using a soft-bristled toothbrush and dog-specific toothpaste. Regular teeth cleanings by a veterinarian are also essential for maintaining optimal dental health.

Nail Trimming

Shih Tzus require regular nail trimming to prevent overgrowth, which can lead to discomfort and difficulty walking.

It’s advisable to trim their nails every three to four weeks using a guillotine-style nail clipper or a grinder specifically designed for dogs. Be cautious not to cut the quick, the blood vessel inside the nail, as this can cause pain and bleeding.

Ear Care

Shih Tzus have drop ears covered in long hair, making them prone to ear infections. To keep their ears clean and healthy, check them weekly for signs of redness, odor, or discharge, and gently clean the outer ear with a cotton ball dampened with an ear-cleaning solution recommended by your veterinarian. Avoid using cotton swabs, as they may push debris further into the ear canal.

shih tzu lying on the floor
Photo: chaoss/Getty Images

Exercise

Shih Tzus are small dogs with moderate exercise needs, making them well-suited for various living situations, including apartment living and homes with limited outdoor space. While they may not require extensive physical activity, it’s essential to provide your Shih Tzu with regular exercise to maintain their overall health, prevent obesity, and stimulate their minds.

Exercise Amount & Types

Daily walks are an excellent form of exercise for Shih Tzus, as they not only provide physical activity but also offer mental stimulation through exposure to new sights, sounds, and smells. Aim for two 15-20 minute walks per day, adjusting the duration and intensity based on your dog’s age, health, and fitness level.

In addition to walks, Shih Tzus enjoy engaging in play sessions with their owners, both indoors and outdoors. Interactive games like fetch, hide-and-seek, or tug-of-war can provide valuable mental and physical stimulation while strengthening the bond between you and your dog.

Puzzle toys and treat-dispensing toys can also be useful tools for keeping your Shih Tzu entertained and mentally challenged when you’re unable to engage in active play.

Dog Sports

Shih Tzus may not be natural athletes, but they can still participate in various dog sports and competitions, such as obedience, agility, and rally. These activities offer an excellent opportunity for Shih Tzus to showcase their intelligence, trainability, and social skills while providing both mental and physical stimulation.

Training for these events should be approached with patience, consistency, and positive reinforcement to ensure a successful and enjoyable experience for both you and your dog.

Exercise Precautions

Be mindful of extreme weather conditions, such as hot and cold temperatures, which can affect your Shih Tzu’s ability to exercise comfortably due to their sensitivity to temperature fluctuations and short muzzle.

shih tzu on agility course
Photo: s5iztok/Getty Images

Training

What to Expect

Training a Shih Tzu can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience, but it’s essential to approach the process with patience, consistency, and an understanding of their unique temperament. Shih Tzus are intelligent dogs with a strong desire to please their owners, which can make them highly trainable when provided with the right motivation and guidance.

One aspect of Shih Tzu training that may pose a challenge is their occasional stubbornness or independent streak. These dogs may sometimes be more interested in exploring their environment or engaging in self-directed activities than focusing on training exercises.

It’s important not to become frustrated during these moments; instead, maintain a positive attitude and use praise, treats, and other rewards to motivate your Shih Tzu and keep them engaged in the training process.

Consistency in Training

Consistency is crucial when training a Shih Tzu, as it helps to reinforce desired behaviors and create clear expectations. Be sure to establish a regular training schedule, and aim for short, frequent sessions to prevent your dog from becoming bored or overwhelmed.

Keep in mind that Shih Tzus have a relatively short attention span, so limiting training sessions to 10-15 minutes at a time will help maintain their interest and focus.

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is the most effective training method for Shih Tzus, as it encourages them to repeat desired behaviors by associating them with rewards like treats, praise, or play. Avoid using harsh or punitive methods, as these can damage the bond between you and your dog and potentially lead to fear or aggression.

Socialization

Socialization is another vital aspect of training for Shih Tzus, as it helps to ensure they grow up to be well-rounded, confident, and well-mannered adults. Expose your Shih Tzu to a variety of people, animals, environments, and situations from a young age to help them develop positive associations and learn appropriate behaviors in various contexts.

white shih tzu walking on the grass
Photo: Alexander Nadrilyanski/Pexels

Diet & Nutrition 

A well-balanced diet and proper nutrition are essential for maintaining the overall health and well-being of a Shih Tzu. Owners should pay close attention to their dog’s dietary needs as they can vary depending on factors like age, weight, activity level, and any specific health concerns.

What to Feed & How Much

When selecting food for your Shih Tzu, it’s recommended to choose high-quality dry, wet, or raw food that follows the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) guidelines. These guidelines ensure that the food meets the necessary nutritional requirements for a healthy, balanced diet.

Look for products with high-quality protein sources, such as chicken, turkey, fish, or lamb, as the primary ingredient, along with wholesome grains or grain-free alternatives, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats.

The amount of food your Shih Tzu requires will depend on their age, weight, and activity level. Puppies generally need more frequent meals to support their growth and development, typically three to four small meals per day. As your Shih Tzu reaches adulthood, you can reduce feeding frequency to two meals per day, adjusting the portion sizes based on their individual needs.

To determine the appropriate amount of food for your Shih Tzu, consult the feeding guidelines provided by the food manufacturer, and monitor your dog’s weight and body condition closely. Be prepared to adjust the portions as needed, and consult your veterinarian if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight or dietary needs.

Treats

Treats can be an excellent tool for training and rewarding your Shih Tzu but should be given in moderation to prevent overfeeding and potential weight gain. Opt for healthy, low-calorie treats, and keep in mind that treats should not make up more than 10% of your dog’s daily calorie intake.

Water

Fresh water should always be readily available for your Shih Tzu, ensuring they stay well-hydrated throughout the day. Regularly clean their water bowl and refill it with fresh, clean water to encourage proper hydration.

shih tzu standing in the snow
Photo: chaoss/Getty Images

Health

Shih Tzus are generally a healthy breed with a life expectancy of 10 to 18 years. However, like all dog breeds, they can be predisposed to certain health issues. Regular veterinary check-ups and preventative care can help ensure your Shih Tzu stays in good health throughout their life.

Here are common health issues associated with the breed:

Brachycephalic Syndrome: Due to their short muzzle and flat face, Shih Tzus are classified as a brachycephalic breed. This characteristic can lead to respiratory difficulties, such as snoring, noisy breathing, and increased sensitivity to heat and humidity. In some cases, surgical intervention may be necessary to alleviate severe symptoms.

Hip Dysplasia: Hip dysplasia is a genetic condition in which the hip joint doesn’t develop properly, leading to arthritis and pain. Although more common in larger dog breeds, Shih Tzus can also be affected. Maintaining a healthy weight and providing appropriate exercise can help manage this condition.

Eye Issues: Shih Tzus are prone to various eye problems, including cataracts, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), and keratoconjunctivitis sicca (dry eye). Regular eye exams and prompt treatment can help minimize the impact of these conditions on your dog’s vision and overall quality of life.

Dental Problems: Shih Tzus have small mouths with crowded teeth, making them susceptible to dental issues such as plaque buildup, gum disease, and tooth loss. Regular dental care, including daily tooth brushing and professional cleanings, is essential for maintaining your dog’s oral health.

Allergies: Shih Tzus can suffer from allergies, which can manifest as skin irritation, itching, or gastrointestinal issues. Identifying the allergen, whether it’s food, environmental, or contact-based, is crucial for managing this condition. Treatment may include dietary changes, medication, or allergy shots.

It’s important to work closely with your veterinarian to monitor your dog’s health and address any concerns promptly. Providing a healthy diet, regular exercise, and proper grooming can also contribute to your Shih Tzu’s overall well-being and longevity.

three shih tzus on the park
Photo: Kurt Pas/Getty Images

History

The Shih Tzu, also known as the “Lion Dog” or “Chrysanthemum Dog,” is an ancient breed with a rich and fascinating history. Believed to have originated in Tibet around the 7th century, the Shih Tzu is one of the oldest dog breeds, with roots dating back more than a thousand years.

The breed’s development can be traced to the Tibetan Plateau, where they were bred by Tibetan monks as companions and watchdogs for their monasteries. These small dogs were highly valued for their intelligence, loyalty, and affectionate nature. It’s believed that the monks offered these prized dogs as gifts to Chinese emperors, who were captivated by their beauty and charm.

Once in China, the Shih Tzu breed was further refined by Chinese royalty, particularly during the Ming and Manchu Dynasties.

They were often crossbred with other small, long-haired dogs, such as the Pekingese and Lhasa Apso, to create the distinctive appearance we associate with the modern Shih Tzu. These dogs were cherished members of the Chinese imperial court, enjoying lives of luxury and pampering. They were even sometimes carried in the oversized sleeves of Chinese nobles as a symbol of status and wealth.

For centuries, the Shih Tzu remained exclusive to Chinese royalty, and the breed was virtually unknown outside of China. It wasn’t until the early 20th century, following the fall of the Chinese Empire, that Shih Tzus started to make their way to the Western world. The first Shih Tzus arrived in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, where they quickly gained popularity among dog enthusiasts and breeders.

The breed’s journey to the United States began in the late 1940s when American soldiers stationed in Europe brought Shih Tzus back home with them. The American Kennel Club (AKC) first recognized the Shih Tzu as a distinct breed in 1969, and the breed has since become a beloved companion and show dog across the country.

In popular culture, the Shih Tzu has made a name for itself as a fashionable and glamorous pet. The breed’s distinctive appearance and charming personality have captured the hearts of many, including celebrities and public figures who have proudly owned Shih Tzus as their loyal companions. Some famous Shih Tzu owners include Elizabeth Taylor, Mariah Carey, and Beyoncé.

The breed has also made appearances in various films and television shows, often as the adorable sidekick or pampered pet. Notable examples include the movie “Seven Psychopaths,” where a Shih Tzu named Bonny plays a central role, and the television series “The Nanny,” which features a Shih Tzu named Chester as a recurring character.

Today, the Shih Tzu continues to be a popular choice among dog lovers for its affectionate nature, adaptability, and striking appearance. Whether gracing the show ring, accompanying celebrities on the red carpet, or simply enjoying life as a loving family pet, the Shih Tzu remains a cherished and enduring symbol of elegance and companionship throughout the world.

Parent Club

The official parent club for the Shih Tzu in the United States is the American Shih Tzu Club (ASTC). Founded in 1963, the ASTC is dedicated to promoting the responsible breeding and ownership of Shih Tzus, as well as protecting and advancing the interests of the breed.

The club provides valuable resources and information for Shih Tzu enthusiasts, breeders, and owners. You can visit their website to learn more about the club and its activities.

Breed Standard

A breed standard is a set of guidelines established by breed clubs or kennel organizations, defining the ideal appearance, temperament, and physical traits of a specific breed. 

It serves as a reference for breeders, judges, and enthusiasts to evaluate and maintain a breed’s unique qualities. Covering aspects like size, appearance, and temperament, breed standards are used in dog shows and competitions to assess individual dogs against the ideal representation of their breed.

Check out the Shih Tzu’s breed standard as set by the American Kennel Club (AKC).

shih tzu puppy lying on the floor
Photo: golfloi17/Getty Images

Acquiring

Choosing to bring a Shih Tzu into your life is an exciting adventure! First, prepare a cozy space, get high-quality food, toys, grooming supplies, and schedule a vet visit. If you decide to buy, choose a reputable breeder to ensure your pup’s health and well-being.

However, consider adopting instead of buying. There are many adorable Shih Tzus waiting for loving homes in rescue centers. The American Kennel Club and the Shih Tzu Club of America can provide resources and assistance in rescuing these charming companions.

Remember, whether you adopt or purchase, you’re bringing home more than a pet. A Shih Tzu is a bundle of joy, an endless source of love, and a loyal friend who’ll make your days brighter.

FAQs

Are Shih Tzus a good pet for families?

Yes, Shih Tzus make excellent family pets due to their affectionate and friendly nature. They are known for being good with children and generally get along well with other pets. However, it’s essential to supervise interactions between young children and Shih Tzus to ensure safe and positive experiences for both the child and the dog.

Why are Shih Tzus expensive?

Shih Tzus can be expensive due to factors such as breeding costs, the rarity of certain colors or patterns, and the care provided by reputable breeders. Ethical breeders invest time, effort, and resources into ensuring the health, temperament, and quality of their puppies, which can contribute to the higher price.

How long do Shih Tzus typically live?

Shih Tzus have a life expectancy of 10 to 18 years, making them one of the longer-lived small dog breeds. With proper care, including a balanced diet, regular exercise, and routine veterinary check-ups, Shih Tzus can enjoy a long and healthy life.

Are Shih Tzus hypoallergenic?

While no dog is truly hypoallergenic, Shih Tzus are considered a low-shedding breed and produce less dander than many other breeds. This characteristic makes them a better option for individuals with allergies. However, it’s important to spend time around Shih Tzus before committing to ownership to ensure your allergies can tolerate the breed.

Do Shih Tzus require a lot of grooming?

Shih Tzus have long, silky coats that require regular grooming to maintain their appearance and prevent matting. Daily brushing and combing are recommended, along with professional grooming every 6-8 weeks. Some owners opt to keep their Shih Tzus in a shorter “puppy cut” for easier maintenance.

Are Shih Tzus easy to train?

Shih Tzus are intelligent and eager to please, which can make them relatively easy to train with patience and consistency. However, they can also be stubborn or independent at times. Using positive reinforcement techniques and maintaining a regular training schedule can help ensure success in training your Shih Tzu.

Do Shih Tzus bark a lot?

Shih Tzus can be vocal dogs, but they do not typically bark excessively. They may bark when they are excited, seeking attention, or alerting their owners to something unusual. Consistent training and proper socialization can help minimize excessive barking and ensure your Shih Tzu is well-mannered.

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