Shih Tzus are playful and loving lap dogs with a personality that’s hard to resist. They can get along with almost every person. But because they’re toy dogs that love to lounge around, owners may question just how smart Shih Tzus are.
Shih Tzus are not the smartest dogs. According to canine psychologist, Stanley Coren, the Shih Tzu has the lowest degree of “obedience & working intelligence.” In fact, they’re the 128th smartest dog breed out of 138 breeds. But while they aren’t the best with obedience training, what makes a Shih Tzu truly smart is their ability to adapt to the environment and understand human emotions.
It’s not a secret: Shih Tzus may not be the most obedient dogs – or even the quickest learners. But there is more to dog intelligence than just learning obedience commands. Read on to learn why Shih Tzus are a lot smarter than you think.
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Measuring the Shih Tzu’s Intelligence
The current method of measuring canine intelligence doesn’t gauge the true intelligence of a dog. As a result, dog breeds such as the Shih Tzu are unfairly labeled as “dumb.” But how did the Shih Tzu receive this dumb dog label in the first place?
The current list of smartest dog breeds was developed by canine psychologist and pHD, Stanley Coren. And the criteria he used to rank these dogs measured “obedience and working intelligence” – a coin he had termed.
In summary, O&W intelligence measures two things: how quickly a dog can learn something and how well the dog is able to retain the learning.
Coren’s Dog Intelligence Criteria
In 1994, he asked the help of all North American obedience trial judges to help with his research. About 199 obedience trial judges responded with huge interest in helping. At the time, this was about half of the judges in North America.
Given Coren’s dog intelligence criteria, the trial judges evaluated and ranked as many dog breeds as they could. Here’s what his criteria was based on:
- The number of repetitions needed for a dog breed to learn a new command. Dogs that required fewer repetitions ranked higher for dog intelligence.
- The success rate that a dog breed will obey a known command on the first try. As you may have guessed, more intelligent dog breeds had a higher success rate.
Not all dog breeds made the final cut. Firstly, only dog breeds that were recognized by the American or Canadian Kennel Club participated in the intelligence trials. Fortunately, the Shih Tzu is recognized by both kennel clubs.
In addition, only dog breeds that received at least 100 responses qualified for the final dog intelligence rankings. That said, the rarer breeds didn’t make the final cut. But as a highly popular breed, Shih Tzus had no problem qualifying for the final ranking.
How the Shih Tzu Performed
You probably already know that the Shih Tzu didn’t do very well in Coren’s trials. In fact, only 10 breeds performed worse, leaving Shih Tzus just outside the top 10 among the “least intelligent dogs.”
As a result, they were classed in the group with the lowest degree of dog intelligence. Who are these dog breeds in this class? This class includes the Beagle, Basset Hound, Pekingese, Mastiff, Bulldog and the Bloodhound.
But what does this actually mean? On average, Shih Tzus needed between 80 and 100 repetitions to learn a new command. It could take well over a day to teach them a command. They’re not the quickest at learning, at least when it comes to obedience training.
What’s more, a Shih Tzu is likely to obey a known command on the first attempt with a 25% or worse success rate. Shih Tzus aren’t the most obedient dogs either, though, it’s possible this had something to do with the handler.
Shih Tzus vs. The Smartest Dogs
On the other side of the spectrum, the top 10 smartest dog breeds are in a class of their own. We don’t think learning obedience commands is everything, but their performances were impressive.
So how did the most intelligent dog? The smartest dogs need fewer than 5 repetitions to learn a new command! This means that the smartest dogs are at least 40 times faster at learning basic commands when compared to the Shih Tzu.
These quick-learning dogs are also the most obedient in the canine kingdom. They’ll obey a known command (on the first attempt) with a staggering 95% or better success rate. They’re much, much more obedient than Shih Tzus.
So who are these “smartest dogs?” Dogs in this intelligence class include the Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, Doberman Pinscher, Rottweiler, Border Collie, Poodle and more. Even America’s most popular Labrador made the cut!
Why Do Shih Tzus Rank Low For Dog Intelligence?
Most Shih Tzu owners would be surprised to hear how low their dogs scored on these intelligence trials. However, there are reasons that can explain the poor results.
Make no mistake, Shih Tzus are very stubborn dogs. They don’t always listen. And it’s not because they don’t love or respect you. Rather, Shih Tzus are just strong-willed dogs that are determined to have it their way.
But just because they don’t listen doesn’t mean they don’t understand. Often times, they do understand, but it doesn’t align with their “goals” or “wants.” Thus, training a Shih Tzu will require more patience and consistency than with other breeds.
One owner makes an argument, saying:
They’re not dumb, but very stubborn. They were carried around on pillows in the past. Now we expect them to give us a paw, then the other paw, then speak, before getting a treat.– Taylor Lynn (Shih Tzu Owner)
If you didn’t already know, Shih Tzus were originally bred to be companions of the Chinese elitist. It’s why owners often describe them dignified or proud dogs. As such, it’s possible that the stubbornness comes from their old ways of being treated as royalty.
Another owner tells us about his stubborn Shih Tzu:
I don’t mean this in a negative way, but they’re really stubborn. So you have to really work on them before they listen.
According to that owner, Shih Tzus won’t do your bidding for the sake of listening or work. That’s not to say they aren’t loyal dogs, because they actually are. And while they are definitely lap dogs, they’re more independent than others.
So given the independence, strong-will and stubbornness of the Shih Tzu, it’s easy to see why they performed so poorly on an obedience test. Nevertheless, there are reasons to believe these dogs are more intelligent than you think!
2 Reasons Why Shih Tzus Are Actually Smart
When it comes to measuring a dog’s true intelligence, obedience and working intelligence isn’t all there is – not even close. This specific aspect of canine intelligence was used because it’s the most objective to measure.
As a matter of fact, there are actually three dimensions to dog intelligence and even Stanley Coren will admit this. The other two are adaptive and instinctive intelligence, which are both just as important for measuring true dog IQ.
1. Shih Tzus are great at understanding human emotions
Instinctive intelligence refers to the innate ability or skill that the dog was developed for. Whether it be herding, hunting, pointing, retrieving or even companionship, all dogs were bred for a reason. The Shih Tzu is no exception.
For example, the Basset Hound is a scent hound that was originally bred to track hare on hunting trips. They’re in the same intelligence class as Shih Tzus, but they excel at tracking scents or odors (it’s why they’re popular search and rescue dogs).
This ability to track a scent requires this special type of intelligence. Not only does the hound need to find the scent, but they also need to separate the odor from other odors. In addition, they’ll also need to accurate follow a scent given the weather conditions.
Similarly, Shih Tzus were bred to be companions and lap dogs. But companionship isn’t simply sitting on your lap. The best companion dogs have an eerie way of understanding human emotions and reacting appropriately.
My Shih Tzu seems to bark more at strangers in the house when I’m present. Could this be protective barking?– Jackson (Positively)
The best companion dogs always have their owners back. Though Shih Tzus may be small, they are alert and ready to notify their owners at the slightest sign of intruders. These little dogs were watchdogs for the Chinese emperors, after all.
Make no mistake, barking at outside noises and strangers is not acceptable behavior in the home. But next time it happens, try to understand that this is the Shih Tzu’s instincts kicking in. They’re just looking out for you!
2. The Shih Tzu is great at communicating with humans
The Shih Tzus is smarter than you think, especially when it comes to adaptive intelligence – the final and most important dimension of dog intelligence. This refers to the ability of your dog to learn for itself or from past experiences.
When analyzing adaptive intelligence in a dog, one may ask: is the dog a good problem solver? Does the dog learn from mistakes? All Shih Tzus are equipped with roughly the same instinctive intelligence, but adaptive intelligence will vary by individual dog.
One owner tells us a story about his Shih Tzu:
My Shih Tzu is great at communicating. Like if the water bowl is empty, he’ll come bother us until we follow him. He’ll run to his empty water bowl and sit there.– Simbathetzu (Dog Forums)
Being able to communicate what he wants is a clear sign of high adaptive intelligence. But because Shih Tzus were originally bred for companionship, we would expect them to be great at communicating.
As such, most companion dogs naturally have high adaptive intelligence since their intended purpose is to provide amusement, affection and comfort to humans. To be able to do this with little effort, dogs will need high adaptive intelligence.
Another owner’s story exhibits just how adaptable these dogs can be:
I’m surprised so many owners had a hard time potty training. My Tzu took house training very well. In the crate, quickly learned that there’s only few opportunities to potty every day!– Tiffany M. (Shih Tzu Owner)
Learning from previous experiences is another clear sign of adaptive intelligence! This Shih Tzu didn’t want to soil her crate, so she learned that it’s best to save her business for later in the day. What’s more, she learned it quickly!
Of course, these are just a few examples. The sample size is small. However, if you asked around, you’ll certainly find many more stories of Shih Tzus just like these.
Is Your Shih Tzu Smart?
According to Stanley Coren, Shih Tzus aren’t smart dogs, but he never raised a Shih Tzu. Rather, we think the best way of gauging a breed’s intelligence is by asking real owners themselves.
So we surveyed the popular Shih Tzu Subreddit and various dog forums to ask owners this question. Here’s what they had to say about their Shih Tzus:
Real Owner Answers:
1. Yhbrandon says Yes: “I have a beautiful 3-month old Shih Tzu puppy named Mazi. He is amazingly smart, as he is already potty trained and knows a lot of commands as well.”
2. Theearlsystm says Mixed: “There are moments when I think…he’s a genius! …and then there are other times he repeatedly runs into the glass sliding door.”
3. Peanutswithcream says Mixed: “Shih Tzus are a little on the dumb and stubborn side but it was really easy training mine! She’s super well behaved, but it just takes patience.”
4. Nmmon95 says No: “He’s very snugly. On the down side, he’s not the brightest bulb in the pack, but we love him anyway.”
5. Applelollipop says Yes: “Our Shih Tzu is pretty smart. He will tell us when he wants something. For example, he stands by door and barks to go out, or stands by water bowl and barks when it’s empty.”
6. Aimeedyan says No: “Shih Tzus are not smart dogs… he’s actually as dumb as rocks, I’m convinced. Makes him lovable but also very hard to train.”
7. Christiane says Yes: “I’m surprised so many people feel their Shih Tzus aren’t smart because our girl is very smart. She is loving, gentle and goofy all at once. Probably a bit bossy in that respect, too.”
8. Pandjlocke says Yes: “Being a dog groomer, I’ve seen quite a few smart Shih Tzus. Brandon’s older sister is an exceptionally smart dog. She’s sixteen and has shown little sign of deteriorating.”
9. Jimmerfn7 says Yes: “My Shih tzu has his moments. He’s definitely much smarter than many people make them out to be. Stubborn, but definitely a smart dog.”
10. 98acura says Yes: “They also seem ‘stupid’ but they are actually very intelligent, just REALLY stubborn. As far as house breaking goes, you will be frustrated.”
Is a Shih Tzu for Me?
The Shih Tzu is a wonderful dog that many owners would enjoy. They’re fun-loving lap dogs that are great with children and can show them with love. Plus, Shih Tzus are adaptable and can make it work in any environment.
That being said, never pick a dog breed based on how smart they are. Rather, you want to pick a dog breed based on their temperaments. You’ll also want to consider how the dog will fit in your situation.
The Shih Tzu will likely be harder to train on average. They require a lot of patience and positive reinforcement. If you can provide the time and patience to do so, then these dogs will be perfect.
Another huge plus – they’re hypoallergenic dogs! If you’re allergic to dogs, Shih Tzus will be great for your sinuses. There are few toy dogs that are as entertaining as a Shih Tzu. If you bring one home, you won’t regret it!
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Thursday 1st of September 2022
I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article. Besides our 21 year old Lab, our 13 year old Shih Tzu has been the best dog we have ever had. Sure, he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to intelligence, but when it comes to love, loyalty, and devotion Chester comes in first place by far. Yeah he’s as stubborn as a mule, but when it comes right down to it, we’ll take stubbornness and love any day of the week!
Wednesday 6th of July 2022
I’m in my 70’s and have always had dogs. My ShihTzu Duke just turned 8. He is very smart. He has a huge vocabulary. If I say circle, he excitedly runs to his leash for his walk. If I say mail, he runs to his stroller. If I say I’m going to the store-he looks at me to see if he can go- if I tell him he’ll have to stay- he’ll go directly to his ramp to go to bed. If I give him a treat and say all gone, he immediately lies down. If he sneezes, he looks at me until I ask him if he’s ok. Likewise, if I sneeze, he’ll look to me until I assure him I’m ok. We rescued him when he was 2 months old. We had a 2 year old Old English Sheepdog at the time. She potty trained him herself. Since I am now widowed, Duke and I live in a Senior Community and he his loved by all. He has never had an accident in the house. He is my world-and I am his❤️
Wednesday 22nd of June 2022
My Shih Tzu was very, very easy to potty train, and once that was done, it was done for life. He also, was a little stubborn, for instance he hated rain, therefore would refuse to go outside in rain for any reason, and would not mess the house. He also hated doggy clothing mostly hooded clothing. He didn’t mind fireworks, thunderstorms or other loud noises. He knew that he was not a watch dog, and therefore, he didn’t care if there was a loud noise, it simply didn’t affect him. He also loved all strangers or visitors to the house, he knew he wasn’t a watchdog, so he could be charming and loving to one and all. So, was he smart, or was he just a Shih Tzu? I tend to think, he knew who he was and he really, really liked being who he was and to any who disagreed be damned to you. I marvel at this wonderful breed.
Wednesday 18th of August 2021
I have a shih tzu mix puppy. He is incredibly intelligent, but he is very stubborn. He will choose a hill and he is willing to die on it and drag as many others as he can down with him. He is a natural lap dog. I can go through the whole grooming process with his head in my lap. He also watches YouTube videos with me with his head on my lap. He is not hard to train and only requires minimal correction. He is very proud of his lil puppy topknot.
Tuesday 4th of May 2021
Shih Tzu is one of the dumbest breeds? When Jasperelli wants something he will stand perfectly still and stare at me. I'll say a single word without any inflection in my voice. He will remain motionless until I say the right word then his tail twitches a couple times. I know he's praising me for passing his pop quiz.
Once in a while I'll wink at him and he will wink back. Apparently he's so stupid he can only wink once because when I wink a second time he sighs and walks off.
He barks a lot but when I come home from work he lets out a single hound dog howl, no bark. He never howls for any other reason. He's got me doing it now.
I feed him moist dog food. When his bowl is empty I pick up eight or nine pieces of carrot that he meticulously placed on the floor outside his dish.
He's so witless that when he gets a treat he'll lose it under something and wait for another. Somehow he always finds the first treat right after eating the second one.
Sit, speak and roll over just may insult the intelligence of these dogs. Treat me like an imbecile and I won't roll over either.