Dog Training Smartest Dogs

Are Shih Tzus Smart? – Here’s Why They Rank Low for Dog Intelligence

Shih Tzus are not smart when it comes to obedience and working intelligence.
Written by Richard Jeng

Shih Tzus are the lively lap dogs that we’ve grown to love and adore. They’re playful and affectionate with an outgoing personality that’s hard to resist. But are Shih Tzus smart? How smart are they?

According to Stanley Coren, the Shih Tzu has the lowest degree of obedience and working intelligence. Out of 138 dog breeds, they’re ranked the 128th smartest dog. However, they’re intelligent in other ways, namely in adaptive intelligence. 

They may not be the most obedient dogs, or the best / quickest learners. Still, there’s more to canine intelligence than just obedience and working intelligence. Let’s examine why Shih Tzus are smarter than you think. 

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Measuring a Shih Tzu’s Intelligence

The way we measure 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.”

The current list of smartest dog breeds was developed by canine psychologist and pHD, Stanley Coren. In 1994, he asked the help of all North American obedience trial judges to help with his research.

The response was shocking. About 199 obedience trial judges responded with huge interest in helping with Coren’s mission to rank the intelligence of dog breeds. 

Coren’s Dog Intelligence Criteria

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: 

  1. The number of repetitions needed for a dog breed to learn a new command. Dogs that required fewer repetitions ranked higher for dog intelligence.
  2. 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 cut. First of all, only dog breeds that were officially recognized by the American or Canadian Kennel Club participated. The Shih Tzu is recognized by both.

Also, only dog breeds that received at least 100 responses were qualified for the final dog intelligence rankings. Given the popularity of the Shih Tzu, they fortunately qualified. 

How the Shih Tzu Performed

If you’re reading this, you probably already know that the Shih Tzu did not do very well in Coren’s trials. As a matter of fact, only 10 dog breeds performed worse – leaving them just outside the top 10 “least intelligent.”

They were placed in the lowest degree of dog intelligence category. For reference, other breeds in this group include the Beagle, Basset Hound, Pekingese, Bulldog, Bloodhound and the Mastiff. 

With that said, Shih Tzus typically need between 80 and 100 repetitions to learn a new command. They’re certainly not the quickest learners.

Furthermore, a Shih Tzu is likely to obey a known command on the first try with a 25% or worse success rate. They’re not the most obedient dogs either. 

Shih Tzus vs. The Smartest Dogs

On the other side of the spectrum, the 10 smartest dog breeds are in a class of their own. We don’t think obedience is everything, but it’s impressive how they performed.

The smartest dogs need fewer than 5 repetitions to learn a new command! They’re at least 40 times faster at learning new commands compared to the Shih Tzu. 

Plus, the smartest dogs will obey a known command (on the first attempt) at a staggering 95% or better success rate. They’re much, much more obedient than Shih Tzus.

So who are these “smartest dogs?” Dog breeds in this class include the Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, Dobermann, Rottweiler, Border Collie, Poodle and the Labrador.

Owners: Is Your Shih Tzu Smart?

According to Stanley Coren, Shih Tzus aren’t “smart” dogs. But he wasn’t a Shih Tzu owner. We think the best way of gauging a breed’s intelligence is by asking the owners themselves. 

So we surveyed the popular Shih Tzu Subreddit and various forums to ask owners this question. Here’s what they had to say about their Shih Tzus:

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 a little 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.”

Why Shih Tzus Rank Low For Intelligence

Like with most dogs, there are owners that believe their dog isn’t the brightest. However, there are a good amount of Shih Tzu owners that believe their dog is intelligent.

With so many owners saying otherwise, how did the Shih Tzu end up ranked so low for dog intelligence? 

Make no mistake, Shih Tzus are very stubborn dogs. They don’t always listen. But just because they don’t listen doesn’t mean they don’t understand.

One owner makes an argument, saying:

They’re not dumb, they’re extremely stubborn. In Ancient China, they were revered and carried around on pillows. Now we expect them to give us a paw, then the other paw, then speak, before we give them a treat.

In all seriousness, Shih Tzus were originally bred to be companions of the Chinese elitist. Perhaps, 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. They’re not dogs who live to please their owners.

According to that owner, Shih Tzus won’t do your bidding for the sake of it. It’s not to say they aren’t loyal, because they actually are. They’re just independent dogs. 

With that said, it’s easy to see why Shih Tzus performed so poorly on what’s essentially an obedience test. 

Why Shih Tzus Can be Smart

When it comes to measuring a dog’s true IQ, obedience and working intelligence isn’t everything. This type of intelligence was used because it’s the most objective to measure

As a matter of fact, there are three dimensions to canine intelligence. The other two are adaptive and instinctive intelligence. Both of which, are probably more important for measuring true IQ.

Instinctive Intelligence

Instinctive intelligence refers to the innate ability or skill that the dog was bred for. Whether it be herding, hunting, pointing, retrieving or companionship – all dogs were bred for a reason.

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 (search and rescue).

That is their instinctive intelligence. This ability to track a scent without human training and intervention is a hidden intelligence that’s difficult to measure.

Likewise, Shih Tzus were bred to be companions and lap dogs. In addition, they were given as gifts to Chinese royalty back in the day.

With that said, people may argue that the Shih Tzu has little to no instinctive intelligence. However, this is highly debatable. 

Shih Tzu’s Adaptive Intelligence

Shih Tzus are more intelligent than you think. According to real owners, these dogs have high adaptive intelligence – and we tend to agree!

Adaptive intelligence refers to the ability of your Shih Tzu to learn for him or herself. Is the dog good at learning from previous experiences or good at problem solving? 

All Shih Tzus will have roughly the same instinctive intelligence. However, adaptive intelligence can vary quite a bit in these dogs. 

One owner tells us a story about his Shih Tzu:

My Shih Tzu is GREAT at communicating with us. Like if the water bowl is empty, he’ll come bother us (bark, paw) until we follow him. He’ll run to his empty water bowl and sit there.

Being able to communicate what the dog wants is certainly a sign of high adaptive intelligence. This Shih Tzu was able to find a way to gain the owners’ attention and lead them to the problem that needed to be solved.

Another owner’s story exhibits just how adaptive these dogs can be:

Despite what people say, my dog took house training very well. In the crate, she learned quickly that there’s only few opportunities to potty every day. So she had very few accidents!

Learning from previous experiences is another sure sign of high 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.

These are just a few examples. If you ask around, you’ll certainly find many more stories of Shih Tzus displaying high adaptive intelligence.

Is a Shih Tzu for Me?

The Shih Tzu is a wonderful dog. They’re fun-loving lap dogs that are great with children and can show a lot of affection. Shih Tzus are great dogs for almost anyone.

Never pick a dog breed based on how “smart” they are. Rather, you want to pick a dog breed based on their personalities, temperaments and whether they fit your situation.

A 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.

And if you’re allergic to dogs, Shih Tzus will be great for your sinuses. They’re hypoallergenic dogs! See the full list here.

There are few toy dogs that are as entertaining as a Shih Tzu. Bring one home and you won’t regret it!

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About the author

Richard Jeng

Richard has been raising dogs his whole life, including a Poodle, Pomeranian, Corgi and Australian Shepherd. He's always working with animal shelters and dog rescues because of his passion for all dogs. Fun fact: his all time favorite breed is the German Shepherd. Read More.

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