- Average Height: 8 - 11 inches
- Average Weight: 9 - 16 pounds
- Coat Type: Double coat
- Dog Breed Group: Toy
- Average Lifespan: 10 - 16 years
Key Personality Traits:
The compact Shih Tzu is the ideal canine companion. Originally bred for royalty in China, this little guy still considers himself a prince among dogs. A true sweetheart, his purpose in life is to love and be loved. Playful and mischievous, he will steal your shoes.
Once the prized lap dog of Chinese emperors, the Shih Tzu doesn’t see any reason to accept the slightest reduction in status. But his assumption that the world revolves around him rarely comes with arrogance or aggressiveness. The Shih Tzu is, somewhat inexplicably given his willingness to be spoiled, one of the sweeter of toy breeds and one of the more popular, too.
Shih Tzus do not guard, hunt, or tunnel into the earth, although they may retrieve balls for you to throw again. They are bred to do one thing, and they do it well: They are companion dogs who give love to the world and soak it back in. They’re an in-your-lap kind of dog.
Intelligent dogs, Shih Tzu like learning. They are good in obedience classes and can do great at agility and obedience competitions. They may take a little more time during training, and housebreaking can be a problem that requires perception and consistency on your end.
A Shih Tzu should get a short walk daily, but if you can’t, most will be content with using the furniture as a track course.
Colors in the breed are gold and white, red and white, black mask gold, solid red, black and white, solid black, solid liver, liver and white, blue and white, brindle and white, and silver and white.
A terrific apartment dog who does equally well in mansions and farms, he will adapt to whatever living arrangement you provide.
Other Quick Facts
- Shih Tzus are often called chrysanthemum dogs because of the way their hair grows up from the nose and around the face in all directions.
- The Shih Tzu may have originated in Tibet, bred by Tibetan lamas to be a tiny replica of a lion, which is associated with Buddhist mythology.
- The Shih Tzu is prized for his small size, sweet nature, flowing coat, and intelligent mind.
- The name is pronounced SHEED-zoo.
The History of Shih Tzus
Little is known about the origins of the Shih Tzu, but genetic testing tells us that he is one of the more ancient breeds in existence. It’s thought that he originated in Tibet, bred by Tibetan lamas to be a tiny replica of a lion, which is associated with Buddhist mythology. The smallest of the Tibetan breeds, he is noted for his heavy coat and tail that curves over the back. The Shih Tzu served as companions and watchdogs to the monks in the lamaseries.
The happy and entertaining little dogs were surrounded by myths. One belief held that they were incarnations of mischievous household gods; another that they carried the souls of lamas who had not yet achieved nirvana, the transcendence of human desire.
The lamas presented the dogs as tribute to Chinese rulers, and it was at the Chinese imperial court that they received the name Shih Tzu, meaning “little lion” or “lion dog.” The Chinese also gave the Shih Tzu another name — chrysanthemum dog — because the hair on the face grows in all directions like the petals of the flower.
In China, the Shih Tzu was bred to have a stylized appearance. A fanciful “recipe” for the breed’s creation reads “a dash of lion, several teaspoons of rabbit, a couple of ounces of domestic cat, one part court jester, a dash of ballerina, a pinch of old man (Chinese), a bit of beggar, a tablespoon of monkey, one part baby seal, a dash of teddy bear, and the rest dogs of Tibetan and Chinese origin.”
After the end of imperial rule in China, the little dogs might have disappeared, spurned as a reminder of bygone days, but fortunately some of them had been presented to foreigners, in particular General Douglas and Lady Brownrigg. They and others took some of the dogs to England. All modern Shih Tzu descend from only fourteen dogs.
World War II interrupted the breed’s development in England, but it survived and then thrived in the 1950s and 1960s. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1969. Today the Shih Tzu is popular for his loyal, gentle, cheerful attitude. He ranks 10th among the breeds registered by the AKC, a position that has held steady for a decade.
Shih Tzu Temperament and Personality
Whatever you do, a Shih Tzu is willing to be there with you. He’s up for anything and isn’t demanding. He’s not high strung, either, and can make a great companion for a senior. If you’re doing something mundane like cleaning the refrigerator, he will sit by and watch in solidarity. If you’re watching TV, he’ll watch too. If you’re up for play, the Shih Tzu is too. If you’re tired, he’ll take a snooze along with you. He doesn’t care what you do as long as he’s doing it with you. Left with toys to play with, he can entertain himself and doesn’t mind if you work all day as long as you come home to him and give him some love.
Shih Tzus tend to like dogs and children. They enjoy play dates and can make great therapy dogs. Some like cats and some don’t — it seems to be entirely an individual preference rather than a breed trait.
He is playful and, on occasion, mischievous. He will steal your shoes. He may want you to chase him after he steals them. On the other hand, if he really wants them, he just might bury them. He’s not above taking toys from other dogs.
Toy breeds can easily become picky eaters, but that problem is often unintentionally created by people. Don’t let your Shih Tzu get away with it. Give him time to adapt to what he is supposed to eat, as opposed to lunging for your cheesecake.
A Shih Tzu can be stubborn, but it’s hardly the hallmark of the breed. He may not give training the same priority that you do, and it may require some patience and extra time on your part to fully housebreak him. He can be terrific at agility, so he can certainly learn to follow commands. This vivacious little clown is confident and may have a bit too much self-importance, but that’s only to be expected given his imperial background.
Some Shih Tzus can chew too much stuff, nip a bit too often, jump on people, and lick enough to lose fur. The Shih Tzu feels that he is large and in charge, and he can growl to protect his food and toys if he isn’t taught to play nicely and share.
Any dog, no matter how sweet or small, can develop obnoxious levels of barking, chewing, and other undesirable behaviors if he is bored, untrained, or unsupervised. Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. He is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him.
What You Need to Know About Shih Tzu Health
The Shih Tzu suffers from many of the health problems common to tiny dogs and has a few particular health problems of his own. Shih Tzus can have teeth that are misaligned or missing. Because their small mouths contribute to tooth crowding, they’re also prone to periodontal disease and require regular veterinary dental care. They can also be born with a cleft lip and/or palate.
Like many small dogs, their kneecaps can pop out of position easily — the common condition known as luxating patella. Their eyes protrude and can be easily scratched or injured, and their breathing can be full of snuffles and wheezes that sometimes turn into major respiratory problems.
Then there’s renal dysplasia, an inherited condition in which the dog’s kidneys don’t develop normally. This is something a puppy inherits from his parents, so buy puppies only from breeders who test all their dogs for renal dysplasia. You’ll want to see documentation that both parents’ kidney function is normal. Unfortunately, not even normal kidney biopsies in both parents can guarantee puppies won’t develop renal dysplasia. Shih Tzu owners need to watch their puppies carefully for excessive thirst, failure to gain weight, or signs that they’re not thriving.
The Shih Tzu is prone to several inherited eye diseases, including cataracts and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). A cataract is an opaque cloudiness that affects the eye lens. Vision is affected and the effects can range from slight impairment to blindness. Cataracts can be treated surgically. Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is an inherited disease that leads to blindness. Shih Tzus are also prone to dry eye, or keratoconjunctivitis sicca — a condition in which inadequate tear production leads to corneal dryness, pain, corneal ulcers, and other complications.
Dogs with bulging eyes, such as the Shih Tzu, are more likely to have an injury to the eyeball that causes the eyeball to bulge out of the orbit, called proptosis. When proptosis occurs, blood flow is cut off, and the lack of oxygen can result in blindness. It is a medical emergency.
Ingrown eyelashes, known as distichiasis, scrape and irritate the eye and can even scar it. Sometimes eyelash hairs burst through the eyelid (ectopic cilia). Both of these conditions can create corneal ulcers.
Like other brachycephalic (short-headed) breeds, Shih Tzus can have respiratory issues because of the shape of their head, face, and airways. Some brachycephalic dogs have an obstruction in their upper airways that makes it hard for the dogs to breathe. This by no means indicates that every flat-faced dog will have these issues. Severe problems can be treated surgically.
The Shih Tzu’s teeth come in a bit later than other breeds’, and they often fall out earlier. Shih Tzus can have underbites (or “undershot jaw”) in which the lower jaw extends past the upper jaw, resulting in trauma to the gums and malocclusion of the teeth. They are also prone to periodontal disease and should have their teeth brushed daily.
The breeder should show you written documentation that both the puppy’s parents have had Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) patella (kneecap) evaluations, as well as eye clearances from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF).
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live high-quality lives if they develop genetic disease.
The Basics of Shih Tzu Grooming
Is it the Shih Tzu’s flowing locks of gold and white that made you fall in love with him? The Chinese emperors probably had an entire army of servants who did nothing but comb their dogs, because even one day without grooming and that coat can become a tangled mess.
Keeping your Shih Tzu beautiful and free of mats and skin problems often requires regular professional grooming as well as daily combing at home. Tools you’ll need include a wire pin brush and a stainless steel comb with fine and coarse teeth.
Many Shih Tzu puppies who are approaching a year old tend to change coat. During this period they shed so profusely that you wouldn’t think it possible if you didn’t see it. Keep brushing daily, if not more often, through the change. Thankfully this is a short-term condition that lasts only about 3 weeks.
The coat is easier to care for after it changes. How much you need to brush or comb a Shih Tzu depends greatly on the texture of his particular coat. Some require daily care, and some need it only once a week. A softer coat gets matted more quickly — even more so if it is thick. A dirty coat will also mat quickly.
Bathe your Shih Tzu as often as you like, but be sure to comb out any tangles before you bathe him. They will tighten up when they get wet. Blow-dry the coat thoroughly to keep your Shih Tzu from getting chilled.
Comb the moustache and topknot daily. A puppy will have enough hair for a topknot when he is about 5 months old. Use a latex band sold at dog shows or good pet supply stores to tie the topknot. Rubber bands will break the hair.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually every week or two. Clean the inner corners of the eyes daily with a damp washcloth to minimize staining. To keep the hind end clean, trim the fur around the anus. Brush the teeth with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath.
Choosing a Shih Tzu Breeder
Finding a good breeder is a great way to find the right Shih Tzu puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy and conduct all the health certifications necessary to screen out potential gentic problems.
Look for a Shih Tzu breeder who understands the history and temperament of these dogs. They should be able to answer you questions and choose a puppy that is right for your lifestyle. In return, a high-quality breeder will ask you questions in return to ensure you can provide a good life for the dog and care for them in the long term.
The American Shih Tzu Club is a good place to start your search for a responsible breeder. Look for a breeder who abides by the club’s code of ethics, which does not permit the sale of puppies through brokers, auctions, or commercial dealers such as pet stores. Breeders should sell puppies with written contracts guaranteeing they’ll take back the dogs at any time during their lives if the owners become unable to keep them, and with written documentation that both their puppies’ parents (and if possible, his other close relatives) have at a minimum had their knees and eyes examined and certified by the appropriate health organizations.
A Shih Tzu should weigh between 9 and 16 pounds, but some breeders produce even smaller dogs. Teacup or Imperial Shih Tzus are simply dogs below the minimum healthy size for the breed. They’re marketed as something special, but are plagued with health problems and often live very short lives. The code of ethics of the ASTC specifically bars its members from breeding undersize dogs or using those terms to describe their puppies.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Shih Tzu might better suit your needs and lifestyle. An adult Shih Tzu may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive, and demanding than a puppy.
Adopting a Shih Tzu From a Rescue or Shelter
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a Shih Tzu from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is some advice.
Use online resources and apps. Sites and apps like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can quickly have you searching for a Shih Tzu in your area. You can use filters to find your ideal dog and set a geographic radius that makes sense. AnimalShelter.org can help you find rescue groups in your area.
Social media is another great way to potentially find a Shih Tzu for adoption. Dig into Facebook adoption groups or breed groups to connect with Shih Tzu lovers. Post on your Facebook page, Instagram account, or TikTok that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can keep an eye out.
Consult local pet businesses. It’s not a bad idea to mention to vets, dog walkers, dog daycares, or groomers that you want to adopt a Shih Tzu dog. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations, so these experts may have leads before a dog winds up in a shelter or rescue.
Search breed-specific rescues. There are rescue groups devoted to specific breeds. So, if you’re looking to adopt a Shih Tzu, see if there are any breed-based groups in your area. The American Shih Tzu Club can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Shih Tzu rescues in your area.
Ask key questions. When adopting a Shih Tzu from a shelter or area rescue, it’s important to ask questions about the dog’s energy level, temperament, background, and health status. You should also inquire whether the dog is good with other pets and kids. Make sure you do your research and ask lots of questions before putting in an adoption application to ensure the best fit for your family.
Puppy or adult, a breeder purchase or a rescue, take your Shih Tzu to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
Shih Tzu FAQs
Do Shih Tzus shed?
Yes, Shih Tzu dogs dog shed, but not as much as some other breeds. Even long-haired Shih Tzus are minimal shedders. However, Shih Tzu puppies go through a coat change around 1-year old and will shed quite a lot during this time period, which usually lasts about 3 weeks.
How long do Shih Tzus live?
Shih Tzu dogs have a life expectancy ranging from 10 to 16 years, with the average age being 13 years. Genetics, lifestyle, nutrition, activity level, and preventative care can all impact a dog’s longevity.
How much does a Shih Tzu weigh?
These dogs typically weigh between 9 and 16 pounds. Some breeders will breed “teacup” Shih Tzus that weigh less, but these dogs tend to have health problems and may be more difficult to care for.
Are Shih Tzus hypoallergenic?
Shih Tzu dogs are considered a hypoallergenic dog breed because they shed less than other breeds and do not produce a lot of pet dander. However, no dog is 100 percent hypoallergenic and dog owners with severe allergies should talk to their doctor before bringing home a new dog.
Shih Tzu Pictures
Browse through our gallery of Shih Tzu pictures to get a sense of this fun, spunky, and lovable toy breed: