Shih Tzu: The Best Dog For First-Time Owners

The Shih Tzu is probably one of the most recognizable dogs to come out of China.

Although the breed was developed in China, it originated in Tibet thousands of years ago.

They are popular among owners for their long coat and majestic appearance, and are regularly shown in competitions.

Shih Tzus have been kept in the Western world for hundreds of years and are recognized by all major kennel clubs.

The name Shih Tzu comes from the Chinese word “lion”, as it’s believed that the dogs look like the ancient Chinese lion guardians.

In English, it was also known as the Chrysanthemum Dog, but this name died out as the more “traditional” name became popular.

It’s also sometimes referred to as a Tibetan Lion Dog, but this name is somewhat controversial because there is debate about whether it originated in China or Tibet.

Shih Tzu Video

Shih Tzus are reasonably small dogs with short muzzles and large eyes.

Unlike many other smaller dogs, they don’t have any face wrinkles, which is an easy way to tell them apart from other breeds.

They typically have an underbite, which is actually a breed requirement for many kennel clubs. They have drop ears that are very furry, and are typically around 10.5 inches tall.

They usually weigh between 10 and 16lbs, although this might vary depending on kennel standards.

A Shih Tzu is easily identified by the texture and length of its coat, which is usually short and curly.

They can come in a wide range of colors, but white and gray is the most common combination. Their tails are very furry, and should curl over the back.

However, Shih Tzus are also known to have long and silky coats, which is the more traditional makeup.

If a Shih Tzu has a long coat, it requires regular grooming to keep it in good condition.

It also grows very fast, and can reach the floor in no time.

For this reason, the grooming can become very expensive because they’ll need to be taken every few weeks.

The long, silky coat is the type preferred in shows, and it’s not allowed to be trimmed too much, and is left as natural as possible.

It’s very easy to identify which type of coat a Shih Tzu puppy has, because even though it’s not very long when they’re young, the difference is mainly in the texture.

Shorter coats are usually wavy or curly, which is quite obvious, whereas long-haired Shih Tzus will have incredibly straight coats.

Bear in mind that long-haired coats require much more maintenance, so think about this if you’re looking to get hold of a puppy.

The Shih Tzu temperament is one of the best features about the breed.

Obviously it’ll be different between dogs, but as standard the breed is known for being very affectionate and loyal.

They can be very outgoing too, and are often the leader in a group of dogs.

They are very alert, and are known to be very active, which does mean that they also need regular exercise.

Many of these characteristics are leftovers from their profession as watchdogs.

However, as friendly as Shih Tzus are, they do need to be socialized with other dogs from a young age.

If this isn’t done, they can become quite aggressive round other dogs.

If you look to adopt an older Shih Tzu and already have pets, you might want to look into its history around other animals.

If you get a Shih Tzu puppy however, you should work with them to make them friendly around other dogs.

The Shih Tzu temperament also makes them good family pets.

They’re fine to have around children, but again should be introduced to them from a young age, otherwise they might become aggressive.

Shih Tzus are easy to train, but can also be very independent, so you might find training to be more difficult if you adopt an older dog.

Shih tzu dog infographic

Shih Tzu Health

One thing that potential Shih Tzu owners should be aware of is the health complications that are often associated with the breed.

Health problems are unfortunately all too common among purebred dogs, mainly due to human interference in genetics, and a desire for the breed to look a certain way.

The most common health problems are listed below:

Breathing Issues

Shih Tzus are considered brachycephalic dogs, which means they have squished noses and shortened breathing tracts.

This is also true of breeds such as pugs, and English and French bulldogs.

This issue leads to Shih Tzu having difficulty in hotter weather because they’re unable to cool themselves in the traditional way.

Modern advances mean that there is now surgery available to fix this issue, but it’s very expensive and actually doesn’t make too much difference.

Shih Tzu owners should be conscious of when they walk their dog, and how much exercise they give it.

Intervertebral Disk Problems

This issue leads to back problems, mobility issues, pain, and a lack of coordination.

It’s very common among toy breeds, and is untreatable, but can be managed with medication.

It typically affects older dogs, but can occur at any time.

The medication needed to manage this issue can become very expensive, and could also result in surgery later in life.

Other Problems

Shih Tzus are also known to suffer from hip dysplasia and epilepsy, although these are less common issues.

A good breeder will have all relevant health checks done on their puppies and will be able to supply you with this information.

However, if you’re looking to adopt an older dog, it’s worth taking them for a checkup before committing to the adoption so that you can decide whether this is something  you’re willing to manage.

Shih Tzu Facts & Figures:

Did You Know?

As the breed has been around for a long time, plenty is known about them, so here are some Shih Tzu facts.

  • The breed almost died out. In the early 20th century, the breed was almost wiped out when Empress Tzy Hsi died. She was the supervisor of the worldwide breeding program of several breeds, including the Shih Tzu, and after her death the program fell apart.
  • After the breed was nearly wiped out, it was actually saved by only 7 males and 7 females, from which all modern Shih Tzus are descended.
  • Shih Tzus were first brought to England from China, and from there were taken to the USA by soldiers after World War 2.
  • Shih Tzus do very well in agility competitions, although they’re more commonly thought of as show dogs. However, they’re actually quite active, and can do very well in agility rounds.
  • The breed is over 1,000 years old, but this is only the first record of the Shih Tzu. There’s every chance that they’re actually much older, and considering its origin is debated, this could be very likely.
  • Shih Tzus were considered holy dogs because they look like lions, which is a holy animal in Buddhism. They have also been a popular breed with Dalai Lamas in the past.
  • Shih Tzus are considered to be an “ancient breed.” This means that they’re more closely related to wolves than many other breeds, even though it might not look like it. This fact is actually true of a number of Asian breeds, which underwent significantly less variation than Western breeds.
  • They were a very popular breed among Chinese royalty, and often kept as lapdogs.

Related Questions

How can you tell if a puppy is a Shih Tzu or a Lhasa Apso?

Shih Tzus and Lhasa Apsos are very similar breeds and descend from the same ancestors, but there are some differences you can use to identify them.

The biggest indicator is the nose of the puppy, which will have a swirl of hair around it if it’s a Shih Tzu, and this will be missing on a Lhasa Apso.

Another good difference is that Shih Tzus are usually smaller than Lhasa Apsos, but beware of using this as your main indicator.

A Shih Tzu also has a rounder head, whereas a Lhasa Apso has a straighter muzzle.

Both have squashed faces, but the difference is in the shape.

This is less obvious in puppies, but you should be able to tell the difference by the length and shape of the muzzle.

Also, Lhasa Apsos will always have straight hair, but a Shih Tzu will sometimes have wavy hair. While this isn’t the best thing to use as an indicator of difference, it can be the deciding factor if you’re unsure.

Are Shih Tzus cuddly dogs?

The short answer to this question is yes, when they want to be.

The breed can be known as independent, but they definitely love a cuddle with their owner.

They’re a very affectionate breed, but the challenge can be winning their affection.

Providing you treat the dog well, it’ll be more than willing to have a nice cuddle with you.

Considering they were bred to be companion dogs, it’s in their nature to be happy, friendly, and cuddly with their owners.

Pablo About The Author: Pablo Pascua created because of his interest in all the different breeds, and his desire to learn more. His inspiration comes from the many dogs he has owned throughout his life.