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Shih Tzu: Temperament, Origins & Care – A Guide to the Little Lion Dog

Think “adorable” in context of a dog, and it perfectly fits the Shih Tzu. When this little bundle of fur looks up at you with big round eyes, you cannot help but go “aww.” Mischief and laughter follows wherever the Shih Tzu goes, much to the delight of the owners.

Due to these traits, this dog breed revels in being ornamental rather than functional. Unlike other dogs, the Shih Tzu does not dig or hunt. Furthermore, these dogs feel content lounging around in their owner’s arms and entertaining everyone around.

‘Shih Tzu’ when translated from Mandarin Chinese to English means “lion dog.” However, nothing about this canine is even remotely ferocious. If anything, this dog breed is as affectionate as can be and loves to hang around with humans throughout the day.

Overall, the Shih Tzu believes in being happy and friendly with strangers and other animals. They are particularly fond of company, and make perfect pets for families comprising of youngsters or seniors.

On an average, a Shih Tzu weighs between 9 and 16 pounds. At most, they reach a height of 11 inches and can live up to 18 years. Despite being the smallest dog breeds in the world, Shih Tzus regard themselves as royalty around whom the world revolves.

This feeling renders them sweet, and does not translate into aggression or arrogance. So, when someone pays you a visit, don’t be surprised if your Shih Tzu acts as the host of honor.

If you need a lifelong and devoted companion who can make you smile through tears, then opt for a Shih Tzu. They’ll greet you joyously when you come back home from work.

For the rest of the evening, they will wag their tails and follow you around all over the house. When you settle down in front of the television, they will curl up on your lap. And when they act grumpy, you can easily resolve the tension.

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Shih Tzu Basic Profile

Friendliness: The Shih Tzu is one of the most friendly dog breeds you can find. They’re gentle and sweet by nature, but can be a little mischievous at times. Still, they get along great with small children and other pets of all size. For this reason, they’ve become some of the best companion and family dogs. There isn’t a single aggressive bone in a Shih Tzu.


Trainability: Despite their low dog intelligence rating, training a Shih Tzu is not too difficult. Sure, they may not be able to perform complex tasks for you. However, if you just want a loyal dog to do simple tricks for visiting friends and family, they are fully capable. Because of their friendly personality, even novice owners will be able to handle a Shih Tzu.


Grooming: These dogs require proper grooming to maintain their long coats. Without proper coat grooming, they can get debris stuck in their fur, which can lead to pain. All regular grooming necessities are highly recommended. If you can, think of your grooming time as valuable bonding time with your Shih Tzu.


Adaptability: They can live in an apartment or in a large  home. Due to their petite size, a Shih Tzu is highly adaptable to living conditions. Unlike many dogs, they don’t require a spacious back yard to get some exercise in.


Activity: Don’t expect a Shih Tzu to be begging you to take them on long walks. They prefer just lounging around and entertaining humans. However, it’s still important to get them out of the house and get some physical activity in. All dogs need some level of physical activity and the Shih Tzu is no exception.

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<strong>Shih Tzu - </strong><strong>Vital Stats</strong>
  • Height: 8 – 11 inches
  • Weight: 9 – 16 pounds
  • Life Expectancy: 10 – 16 years
  • Dog Breed Group: Toy Group

Shih Tzu Highlights

Most Shih Tzus displays the following traits –

  • With hair flowing out of their face in all directions, Shih Tzus look like chrysanthemums. This also explains why a Shih Tzu always carries a top knot above its forehead. These don’t just keep the long flowing hair out of the eyes, but also render the canine picture perfect and royally charming.
  • In a Shih Tzu, you would find a bit of everything – lion, rabbit, ballerina, domestic cat, monkey, and of course a dog of Chinese origin. That explains why this dog breed can be brave, adorable, prankish and graceful all at the same time.
  • Shih Tzu’s gorgeous double coat comes in a variety of colors. Usually it is combination of white and red, black or grey. Interested owners seek a Shih Tzu sporting a white forehead and a white-tipped tail.
  • When it comes to IQ among canines, this dog breed does not rank very high. Prepare yourself to see a blank stare every time you ask your dog to bring you a beer.
  • To housebreak a Shih Tzu, you need lots of time, patience and consistency. Adopt positive reinforcement, be firm and be consistent with rules to achieve great results. You must monitor the Shih Tzu 24/7 until it is completely trained. Also, try crate training for short durations.
  • Shih Tzu loves eating its own poop. While canines of other breeds also display this behavior, the Shih Tzu tends to beat them all at it. So, be prompt in cleaning up as soon as your Shih Tzu completes its ritual, since this is the only way you can discourage this unhealthy habit.
  • Whether you live in a tiny apartment or a sizable house, your Shih Tzu will be happy as long as you are around. Trouble starts when you put the Shih Tzu outdoor. This dog breed cannot survive away from humans and would also grieve from loneliness.

History of the Shih Tzu

Prior to lounging in the lap of luxury, the Shih Tzu dogs lived with the Tibetan monks. As far back as 1100 years ago, the Shih Tzu, meaning lion dogs, originated in Tibet and were presented as gifts to the Chinese royals.

Mention of other ancient Chinese breeds like Lhasa Apso and Pekingese suggests that these might have been the Shih Tzu’s ancestors. Some part of its genes comes from the wolf too, thus explaining the adamant and ferocious streak in these otherwise amiable canines.

Royal Dogs

Between the 14th and 17th century AD, the Shih Tzu enjoyed royal patronage like no other dog breed. Ancient Chinese paintings, art work and writings indicate that the Shih Tzu was a valued member of the royal household.

Not only did the members of the royal household treat this dog breed as constant companions, but also refused to release them beyond the royal ramparts. Shih Tzus further experienced an elevation in status during the reign of Empress T’zu Hsi.

The queen set up elaborate and strict breeding programs for this breed and even issued a royal decree that anyone mistreating them could face a death sentence.

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International Fame

1929 marked the first time the Shih Tzu travelled beyond the shores of China. The dog breed first arrived in England in 1928, followed by Ireland in 1933. Soon, they proceeded to the US and eventually received the prestigious recognition of the AKC in 1969.

Since then, the Shih Tzu has enjoyed widespread popularity as a companion that would never fail to make you smile.  

Shih Tzu Temperament

Shih Tzus know their role in the household, namely as a companion. So, don’t expect members of this dog breed to hunt wild game, guard your livestock, or retrieve items.

When you ask them to fetch your newspaper, the Shih Tzu will look at you with big round eyes, and not move an inch. However, when you go grab your newspaper on your own, the Shih Tzu will trot along next to you and extend as much moral support as possible.

Training a Shih Tzu

Generally, dogs follow commands as a rule, but don’t expect this of a Shih Tzu. When researchers tested various dog breeds for IQ, the Shih Tzu ended up in the bottom half of the list. On being given a particular command, some dog breeds see an obedience rate of 95%.

However, the Shih Tzu scored just 25%. This is partly due to the royal legacy of the breed. But stubborn attitude also plays a substantial role here.

That being said, you can indeed train a Shih Tzu despite these behavioral issues. Be persistent and firm with rules and monitor them as much as possible, at least during the first few weeks.

Training a Shih Tzu may take longer as compared to other dog breeds. However, once the canine accepts the rules, they’ll become valuable companions.

Praise and reward works best with a Shih Tzu. Every time your canine misbehaves, rebuke gently and firmly, and never lose your temper. Then when it corrects itself, shower it with praise and affection.


Usually, a Shih Tzu does not waste its energy in barking incessantly. They know better. However, if bored or not paid much attention to, Shih Tzus can chew everything in sight and exhibit some truly obnoxious habits.

To avoid this situation, start training your Shih Tzu from an early age, and shower it with lots of love and attention. Failure to do so can mean having to replace that new couch of yours.

With Other Dogs and Children

Shih Tzus get along well with other dogs, and even with cats. A Shih Tzu that grows up in a multi-pet family feels equally affectionate towards the other animals as it does towards humans. But you must exercise caution when bigger dogs/cats are involved, since a Shih Tzu can be mischievous too.

While interacting, a Shih Tzu might playfully run away with the bigger dog/cat’s toy or any other prized possession, and expect to be chased. You, as the pack leader, must ensure that the bigger dog/cat does not feel offended and attack the Shih Tzu.

A Shih Tzu makes a great playmate for children in the family. However, for the relationship to be mutually enjoyable, the child should be old enough to play with the Shih Tzu without inadvertently causing injury.

For this reason, families with very small children must avoid keeping a Shih Tzu as a pet. Being a small dog breed, they are somewhat delicate and prone to suffer from rough play or improper handling.

Caring for a Shih Tzu

What you definitely do not want is a bored Shih Tzu. This dog breed has moderate exercise needs, and going out for a daily walk would suffice. While indoors, engage your Shih Tzu with fun and games, so that it remains physically active and mentally stimulated.


One of the best things about the Shih Tzu is they’re hypoallergenic dogs. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t groom their coats. Caring for a Shih Tzu also entails regular grooming, courtesy of its long silky flowing coat. For daily brushing needs, invest in a good-quality brush comprising of wire bristles and flexible pins.

While brushing, segregate the flowing locks into layers, so that you can run the brush from the root to the tips. Do make it a point to brush its mustache and top-knot daily. Also, you’ll want to position the top-knot in a way so the fur remains clear of the Shih Tzu’s eyes. Brush the Shih Tzu’s teeth daily to avoid dental issues and ensure healthy teeth and gums.

Bathe your Shih Tzu about once every 3 to 4 weeks and clean their eyes with a damp cloth. Trim the nails regularly and check the ears every couple of days. Once in a while, get the fur trimmed by a professional groomer to complete the adorable look. 

Diet Guide

Serve one cup of high-quality dry dog food to your Shih Tzu to fulfill his dietary requirements. Alternatively serve home-made food prepared as per your vet’s instructions.

Irrespective of the source, you must ensure that the food served is appropriate for the Shih Tzu’s age and activity level. You might have to adjust the quantity to suit the build, level of physical activity and metabolism rate of the Shih Tzu.

Buy premium dog food so that your Shih Tzu remains well-nourished. Treats can be given, but only as a reward in moderation. Avoid dishing out treats frequently as it could cause your Shih Tzu to become obese.

Expect a Shih Tzu to lunge for a bite of your cake or a pizza and be firm in refusing. These don’t just fill the canine with empty calories but also spoil its dietary habits, which in turn could lead to health problems.

Shih Tzu Health

Overall, Shih Tzus enjoy good health. However, as they grow older, some health problems that you might encounter are –

Allergy – Allergies in a Shih Tzu could take the form of food allergy, contact allergy or inhalant allergy. In each case, you will need to identify the source of the problem and eliminate it completely. Given the hereditary nature of this condition, what you can do is confirm with the breeder at the time of adopting a Shih Tzu. Feel free to ask for documentation of the puppy’s parents.

Eye-related problems – Shih Tzus have relatively large eyes relative to their small bodies. Furthermore, their eyes bulge and are extremely sensitive. Common problems that could occur are inflammation of the cornea, abnormal growth of eyelashes, degeneration of the retina and dryness. All of these cause excessive watering and can lead to blindness, if ignored.

Ear infection – A Shih Tzu’s ears can become infected due to hair growth within the ear canal. To prevent the contagions from spreading, check and clean your dog’s ear regularly. Seek medical advice at the first sign of redness or inflammation of any kind.

Teething issues – Unlike other canines, the Shih Tzu’s baby teeth may not fall off despite the pup having grown up. When their adult teeth emerge, the crowding in the gums can lead to several dental issues. Usually, vets extract the baby teeth and straighten the alignment. However, you must brush your Shih Tzu’s teeth every day and keep a look-out for any loose teeth.

Reverse sneezing – When a Shih Tzu tries to gulp down food or gets very excited, reverse sneezing can occur. The Shih Tzu begins to wheeze when this happens and experiences discomfort. In such a situation, you can calm down the pooch by talking to him in soft and endearing tones. You can even try clamping its nose gently so that the dog breathes through its mouth.

Hernia – This condition exists typically more in Shih Tzus than any other dog breed.  Hernia develops because the abdominal midline takes longer to close. A small hernia closes on its own as the pup grows older. In case it does not, surgery is the most effective solution.

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We just love our little Tucker he's going on 3yrs he's affectionate, loving, and very sociable. He loves everybody he meets. He doesn't bark much except if the doorbell rings and it's one bark. He often goes outside to the backyard to essentially tell the neighbor's dog to stop barking with one loud bark he pumps out his chest raises himself on his back legs and lets it rip. Then he comes inside to essentially say I told the other dog to shut up. He loves his raw dehydrated food he's not good with Chicken; we have to keep an eye on him as he loves to eat and loves treats. Overall he's a loving adorable little guy who always seems to be smiling. He's a happy little guy by nature.

Highly recommend but with all dogs ensure they are socialized early on, exposed to loud noises, meet lots of people, and exposed to lots of things like car rides, going out and meeting people, walking around outdoor malls, going in the shopping carts if store permits this. The more socialization the better and more adjusted your dog will be. Don't make a big deal when you go out, use a crate early on. Tucker doesn't have separation anxiety when we go out, he's happy to see us when we return, and we never leave him alone for hours on end 6 hours at most. We always leave him with his coveted squeaky toys. Shih Tze do need daily social interaction it's important. Oh, he loves loves squeaky toys and other Shih Tze owners I've heard the same thing.

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