The Shih Tzu is a companion dog breed native to China. This breed was traditionally the exclusive property of the Chinese nobility, and was quite popular with a number of Chinese Emperors. Although the Shih Tzu did not arrive in the United States until the 1950’s, it has rapidly grown in popularity to the point that the Shih Tzu is now one of the most popular dog breeds in America. The Shih Tzu is also known as the Lion Dog, the Chinese Lion Dog, and the Chrysanthemum Dog.
As is the case with most Asian companion dog breeds, the history of the Shih Tzu has been lost in time. The Shih Tzu is certainly a very old breed, but is also almost certainly not nearly as ancient as breeds such as the Lhasa Apso, Pekingese, or Pug. What little is known about the history of the Shih Tzu must be surmised from what evidence remains and what is known about the history of closely related breeds.
Since time immemorial, small, short-faced companion dogs have been popular among the Chinese royalty. Some of the first records of these dogs come from the writings of Confucius, generally dated from between 551 and 479 B.C.E. He described short-faced dogs that would ride in a chariot alongside their royal masters. The dogs of Confucius’ day are generally believed to be the Pekingese, the Pug, or perhaps both. There is some dispute as to which variety was developed first, but modern genetic evidence has suggested that the Pekingese was the ancestral breed. Regardless, both dogs are among the oldest of all breeds. These dogs were so treasured by the Chinese Emperors that it became illegal for anyone without noble blood to possess them. It was also illegal for these dogs to be sold; they could only be given as royal gifts. The punishment for stealing one of these dogs was death. These dogs were assigned armed guards and a number of eunuchs to care for them. These royal companions were held in such high regard that anyone without noble blood had to kneel before them.
There is a substantial debate as to where these royal companions originated, some claim that the dogs were developed in China, others Tibet, and still others that they were created in China, further developed in Tibet, and then reintroduced to China. However these dogs first originated, they have been present in Tibetan monasteries and Chinese palaces for at least 2500 years, and perhaps considerably longer. Although the Chinese dogs came in a variety of colors and patterns, there were two traditional types, the short haired Pug and the Pekingese, which at the time closely resembled the Japanese Chin. These dog types predominated in royal circles and artwork for many centuries. In addition to these Chinese breeds, Tibetan Monks developed their own unique companion dog, the Lhasa Apso. The very long hair of this breed protected it from the icy air of the Tibetan plateau.
Buddhism was first introduced to China sometime between 300 and 200 B.C.E. by Tibetan monks. Buddhism originated in India, a land which at one point was home to a very large lion population. Lions became one of the most powerful symbols of the Buddhist tradition, and as a result became one of the most important symbols in Chinese culture despite the fact that lions are not native to China. At some point the connection was made that the short-faced companion dogs resembled the lion, and ever since these breeds were developed to look like the lion.
China has gone through a number of periods of Imperial expansion and contraction, and at one point or another almost every neighboring nation has been a tributary of the Chinese Empire. Such tribute could be paid in a number of ways. It is believed that in the late 1500’s or early 1600’s Tibetan Lamas paid some of their tribute to the Chinese Emperor in the form of Lhasa Apsos. The most common theories placed their arrival between 1644 and 1662 A.D. It is generally accepted that the Chinese crossed these dogs with their existing Pugs and Pekingese to create a third type of Chinese palace dog, the Shih Tzu. The name Shih Tzu roughly translates to lion. Some scholars have suggested that a few European breeds such as the Maltese may have been added to the ancestry of the Shih Tzu as well. However, there is absolutely no evidence that such dogs ever traveled from Europe to China, and as contact between the two civilizations was incredibly limited at that point this is extremely unlikely if not impossible. Imperial painters began to depict a third type of companion dog in addition to the Pug and the Pekingese, the Shih Tzu.
Although the Shih Tzu, Pug, Pekingese, and other royal companion dogs collectively known as Happa Dogs were supposed to be pure bred, in fact all were regularly cross-bred throughout the centuries. In particular, the eunuchs who were primarily tasked with caring for these dogs regularly interbred them to spread desirable characteristics and colors. Although these dogs remained the jealously guarded possessions of the Chinese nobility, a few began to make it out of China. Dutch traders brought the first Pugs to Europe in the 1600’s, and the Pekingese and a few additional Pugs were brought to England after the Chinese Imperial Palace was sacked in 1860. A small number of Pugs and Pekingese continued to be exported from China into the 20th Century. The Shih Tzu remained exclusively in China, and did not make it out of that country until the 1930’s. Standards were created for the breeding of these dogs, but they were not written. Rather paintings were made of the most desirable dogs and breeders attempted to breed dogs which most closely resembled the paintings.
The modern day Shih Tzu owes its existence almost entirely to the Empress Dowager Cixi. She kept kennels of Pugs, Pekingese, and Shih Tzu, and gave gifts of all three breeds to favored Westerners. After the Empress’ death in 1908, her kennels were dispersed and most of her dogs were euthanized. A small number of Chinese breeders continued to breed Shih Tzu, although not nearly as carefully as the Empress had done. The Communist revolutionaries led by Mao Zedong hated the little dogs as they were symbols of royal power. It is widely believed that the last Shih Tzu in China were killed shortly after the revolution seized power.
Before the Communist takeover, only thirteen Shih Tzu had been exported from China. The entire modern Shih Tzu gene pool is comprised of these seven females and six males, along with one male Pekingese. The first Shih Tzu to leave China were a trio acquired by Lady Brownrigg of England in about 1930. These dogs became the foundation of the Taishan Kennel. Three additional Shih Tzu were imported to Norway in 1932 by Mrs. Henrick Kauffman, including the only female bred in the Imperial Palace to make it to the West. English fanciers were able to import an additional 7 or 8 dogs between 1932 and 1959. It was during these early years that a breed novice introduced a male Pekingese into Shih Tzu breeding lines. This was considered highly undesirable when it was discovered but has likely helped the genetic health of the breed since. In 1930, the Kennel Club classified the Shih Tzu as an Apso. This was a result of the breed’s similarity to the Lhasa Apso, well-known in England since the 1800’s. In 1935, English fanciers had created the first European standard for the Shih Tzu, which was given its modern name at that time. From England and Norway, the Shih Tzu began to spread across Europe, although World War II greatly slowed this process down.
A number of American soldiers spent a significant amount of time in England and Scandinavia during World War II and the early stages of the Cold War. While over there, many became enchanted by the Shih Tzu and decided to take them home with them. These dogs became the first Shih Tzu in America, and began to arrive in the 1940’s and 1950’s. The first known breeders of Shih Tzu in America were Maureen Murdock and her nephew Philip Price. Price returned to America from England in 1954 with their first Shih Tzu, Golden S. Wen of Chasmu. The two acquired Ho Lai Shum of Yram a year later, also from England. Along with a number of other early breeders, these two began to keep detailed records of their breeding program. In 1955, the American Kennel Club (AKC) registered the Shih Tzu in the Miscellaneous Class, a stepping stone towards full AKC recognition. In 1957, the Shih Tzu Club of America was founded to keep breeding records. At around the same time the Texas Shih Tzu Society and the American Shih Tzu Association in Florida were founded as well. By 1961, there were over 100 registered Shih Tzu in America, both imported and bred here. Some of the most important early Shih Tzu fanciers in America were Ingrid Colwell, who imported several Shih Tzu from England and America in the 1960’s including the first Champion Shih Tzu to reach this country, and her good friend Yvette Duval, who imported the first male Champion. By the end of 1962, there were over 300 Shih Tzu registered with the AKC.
In 1963, the Shih Tzu Club of America and the Texas Shih Tzu Society merged to form the American Shih Tzu Club (ASTC), which eventually became the breed’s parent club with the AKC. Early breeders worked tirelessly to promote their breed, which was catching the eye of many fanciers. Once exposed to this new and rare breed, many quickly became devoted to this happy and beautiful companion animal. In 1966, the United Kennel Club (UKC) granted full recognition to the Shih Tzu. In 1969, the AKC granted full recognition to the Shih Tzu as a member of the toy group. At this point a few changes were made to the British standard and the breeding records of the ASTC were handed over to the AKC. At the time of recognition, there were over 3,000 Shih Tzu registered with the AKC, a tenfold increase from six years before.
Since formal recognition by the AKC and UKC, Shih Tzu populations have exploded. Perhaps no other dog breed has seen such a rapid rise to the top of the AKC registration charts. Unlike many breeds which are popularized through a movie or television appearance, the Shih Tzu has largely increased in popularity due to word of mouth and personal contact. By the end of the 1990’s, the Shih Tzu was firmly entrenched as one of the most popular breeds in America, regularly ranking between 6 and 15 in terms of AKC registration numbers. Although most breeds go through population cycles, the Shih Tzu has remained largely immune to these changes. The Shih Tzu is no longer trendy so much as it is popular. At this point it is probably safe to say that the Shih Tzu has reached a status only held by a select few breeds such as the Poodle, Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd Dog, and Beagle, where the actual numerical rank will vary from year to year, but the breed perpetually remains near the top. The Shih Tzu is likely to be among the most popular of all American family companions for years to come.
In recent years, the Shih Tzu has become one of the most popular, and likely most popular after the Poodle, breeds to use in the creation of so-called “designer dogs.” Such dogs are crosses between two purebred dogs. The vast majority of these crosses will be one time mixes, but it is widely believed that several will eventually develop into distinct breeds of their own with unique standards. Among the most popular of such crosses are the Shih-Poo (Shih Tzu/Poodle), the Mal-Shi (Shih Tzu/Maltese), and the Shih Apso (Shih Tzu/ Lhasa Apso).
Unfortunately, the Shih Tzu’s popularity has come at a high price. A large number of disreputable breeders breed Shih Tzu’s solely for profit, without any regard to health, temperament, and conformation. Many of these operations have absolutely horrible conditions for the dogs which live there. Such puppy mills have created Shih Tzu’s with poor health, unstable temperaments, and which conform poorly to breed standards. Because of the Shih Tzu’s great popularity and easily managed size, this breed is one of the most commonly found breeds in puppy mills, alongside Chihuahuas, Poodles, Yorkshire Terriers, and Pugs. As a result, prospective owners should carefully select a breeder or rescue organization, both to ensure that they acquire a high quality dog and to discourage such reprehensible practices.
The Shih Tzu and its ancestors have been exclusively companion animals for many centuries, and possibly millennia. As a result, companionship is the task to which Shih Tzu are most suited, although in recent years this dog has also lit up the show ring and surprised many by its talents in obedience and agility competitions. The Shih Tzu has also excelled as a therapy dog, and some have even been used as aids for the disabled. Despite these newfound uses, the vast majority of Shih Tzu in the world remain companion dogs, which is almost certainly what this breed would prefer.
The Shih Tzu is often considered to be one of the most beautiful and elegant of all dog breeds. Because of their great popularity in the United States, most Americans will recognize this breed, although it is commonly mistaken for the Lhasa Apso. The Shih Tzu is a toy breed, but is considerably larger than most members of that group. Shih Tzu are quite low to the ground, and ideal dogs are between 8 and 11 inches tall at the shoulder. Although some breeders have created extra small Shih Tzu in recent years that weight between 5 and 7 pounds, these dogs are not desirable for conformation and health reasons. Instead the ideal Shih Tzu weighs between 9 and 16 pounds, depending on the body size of the dog. The Shih Tzu has a long body and short legs, although not as extreme as those of a Dachshund or Basset Hound. The Shih Tzu is a very sturdy dog, and should never appear frail or fragile. However, this breed is neither stocky nor overly muscular. Most fanciers will never get a good look at the true outline of a Shih Tzu’s body, as this breed is almost entirely covered with long hair. The tail of a Shih Tzu is relatively short, and carried in an upright curve over the back. Ideally, a Shih Tzu’s tail will be level with its head, giving the impression of balance.
As is the case with most East Asian companion dogs, the Shih Tzu has a brachycephalic (pushed-in) face. The head of the Shih Tzu is large and round, and sits on a neck which is significantly longer than that of most similar breeds. The muzzle of the Shih Tzu is square, flat, and short. The degree to which the Shih Tzu’s muzzle is shortened depends on the individual dog. Many experts believe that the more “normal-looking” a Shih Tzu’s muzzle is, the healthier the dog will be. Unlike most brachycephalic breeds, the Shih Tzu does not have a wrinkly face. Rather, this breed should appear smooth and elegant. Many Shih Tzu have a pronounced under bite, although the teeth of this breed should not be visible when its mouth is closed. The Shih Tzu has very large and expressive eyes, giving the dog a friendly and happy expression. These eyes should not protrude very far. The ears of the Shih Tzu are relatively large, and hang low close to the head.
What most admirers first notice about the Shih Tzu is the breed’s long, flowing coat. The Shih Tzu is a double-coated breed, with a dense, soft undercoat and a long outer coat. Shih Tzu have a generally straight coat, although a slight wave is permissible. When a Shih Tzu in full show coat moves, the coat should flow elegantly around the dog’s body. This coat should be as thick as possible. Many Shih Tzu owners choose to put a topknot of the dog’s hair in a rubber band. The ears, tail, and legs of a Shih Tzu are all heavily-coated. For show ring purposes, the Shih Tzu’s hair must be kept in as natural a condition as possible with only slight trimming around the feet and anus. Most owners of pet Shih Tzu keep their dogs trimmed in a puppy cut. For centuries, Shih Tzu admirers have been delighted by the great array of colors of these dogs. Any color and pattern is equally acceptable in the Shih Tzu. In practice, most dogs are white with brown, tan, or black markings.
It is difficult to discuss the true temperament of the Shih Tzu as irresponsible breeding has done some damage to the breed. Dogs bred by breeders in poor conditions who care for nothing other than profit have created dogs with unstable temperaments, which are often, fearful, shy, and even aggressive. None of these traits are in any way common to well-bred Shih Tzu. The description of the Shih Tzu temperament described here is for dogs from responsible breeders or rescue organizations.
The Shih Tzu and its ancestors have been bred as companion dogs for thousands of years. This dog is a companion animal through and through, and has the temperament one would expect of such a breed. Shih Tzu form close bonds with their owners, and often shower them with affection. This is certainly not a one person dog, and will become close friends with everyone in a family. Unlike most toy breeds, Shih Tzu tend to be friendly and welcoming of strangers, or at the very least polite. This breed is known to make friends quickly. This breed will accept almost any affection and attention which it can find. Shih Tzu make excellent watchdogs, and will alert their owner of the approach of someone to the door. This breed would make an extremely poor guard dog as once the door is open they are more likely to greet a stranger warmly than they are to show aggression. That being said, the Shih Tzu has a generally soft temperament, and will be considerably less demanding of its people than most toys.
The Shih Tzu is a fairly sturdy dog, and is also much less snappy than most similar breeds. As a result, adult Shih Tzu are one of the best toy breeds around children. In fact, many Shih Tzu very much enjoy the company of children, provided that they do not pull the dog’s hair. It may not be advisable to have Shih Tzu puppies with very young children, as they are quite fragile. Shih Tzu also make excellent companions for senior citizens, as they are very gentle. If you are looking for a toy breed that is much more accepting of a variety of social situations than most, a Shih Tzu may be an excellent choice. When properly trained and socialized, most well-bred Shih Tzu will gladly accompany owners to social gatherings and soccer games, provided they are given the opportunity to make new friends. The Shih Tzu is not a dominant or difficult breed, and would likely be an acceptable choice for a novice dog owner.
Just as the Shih Tzu enjoys the company of humans, it also enjoys the company of other animals. When properly socialized, Shih Tzu tend to get along very well with other dogs. This breed is known for having few dominance or dog aggression issues. Shih Tzu that have formed very close bonds with their families may react to a new dog entering the household with jealousy. Additionally, the Shih Tzu does not crave canine companionship, and probably prefers human company. The Shih Tzu is sturdy enough to be housed with larger dogs, but probably would prefer canine companions of a similar size. While all dogs which have not been socialized around other animals have a natural predatory instinct, the Shih Tzu tends to have a very low prey drive. Once trained, a Shih Tzu will likely leave most household pets alone. In particular, the Shih Tzu will be more tolerant of cats than many breeds.
The Shih Tzu is one of the most easily trained of the toy breeds, and is capable of learning a number of tricks. These dogs have performed surprisingly well at dog obedience and agility trials. This breed takes to manners training especially well. However, Shih Tzu’s do tend to have a stubborn streak and are far from the easiest breed to train. This breed’s stubbornness is fairly gentle, more a result of them not wanting to do something than them wanting to refuse you. These dogs often choose to do their own thing, and there are a number of behaviors which they have no interest in doing. Shih Tzu respond the best when you make it worth their while, and respond quite well to regular treating and positive reinforcement. There are some times when no amount of reward will convince a Shih Tzu it is worth their while to perform a task. While considerably more trainable than most toy breeds, the high end of Shih Tzu training is not anywhere near the high end of a breed such as a Poodle, German Shepherd Dog, or Labrador Retriever. If you want a dog that will learn very complex behaviors and obey you regardless of the circumstances, a Shih Tzu may not be the best choice for you. If you only care about manners, basic obedience, and possibly a number of tricks, you will likely have few difficulties with a Shih Tzu.
The one training area where the Shih Tzu provides by far the most difficulties is with housebreaking. As is the case with most small dogs, Shih Tzu have small bladders which take additional time to develop. Simply put, these dogs cannot hold it in for very long. Shih Tzu puppies, and even adults, are also small enough that they can urinate behind a sofa, underneath a bed, or other hidden places. Such urine spots often go unnoticed, leaving the dog uncorrected. Shih Tzu can be housebroken, but it will take extra time, effort, and vigilance.
The Shih Tzu has relatively low exercise requirements. This breed needs a thorough daily walk, and absolutely loves the chance to run around outdoors in a secure area. That will generally satisfy these dogs, who are perfectly happy spending most of their days in comfort snuggling on pillows. However, this breed does need to have its exercise needs met, otherwise they are likely to develop behavioral issues such as excessive barking, shyness, and extreme excitability. Many Shih Tzu enjoy having a relaxed job, such as running through an agility course. Most breed members are completely fine having undisciplined play, and would in fact prefer that. The amount of play which the Shih Tzu enjoys depends on the individual dog. Some Shih Tzu love to play fetch and similar games, while other Shih Tzu respond to a bouncing ball with nothing more than a head turn.
Shih Tzu have a tendency to become picky about almost everything. This is a breed which has distinct likes and dislikes. It is definitely inadvisable to feed a Shih Tzu from the table as this breed may refuse dog food once it has tasted people food. Many Shih Tzu develop a favorite place to relax, and refuse to go to the next couch cushion over. Otherwise, the Shih Tzu tends to be a relatively easy-going breed, and is capable of adapting to changing circumstances. In particular, the Shih Tzu is known for being much less vocal than most toy breeds. When it has been properly trained and its needs are met, a Shih Tzu is definitely not a yappy breed.
As is the case with all toy breeds, Shih Tzu are susceptible to developing a behavioral condition frequently referred to as Small Dog Syndrome. Small Dog Syndrome is caused by owners who do not discipline their small dogs in the same way that they would a large dog. It may seem cute or funny when a five pound Shih Tzu puppy angrily defends its food bowl, but it will be much less cute when a sixteen pound adult defends its food in the same way. Owners must remember that their pet is still a dog, albeit a small one, and must be trained and corrected in the same manner as any other.
One look at the coat of a Shih Tzu should be enough to alert any potential owner that this breed requires a great deal of coat care. Shih Tzu in full-show coat have exhausting coat care requirements, needing several hours of work each week. Shih Tzu must be groomed and brushed daily, to prevent matting or other coat damage. Many owners choose to put some of the dog’s hair in rubber bands to make it easier for these dogs to see and to avoid getting the coat dirty.
The skin of a Shih Tzu must be carefully checked on a regular basis as the breed’s long hair easily obscures parasites, injuries, and skin irritations. The ears of a Shih Tzu must be cleaned regularly to prevent infections. Bathing and drying Shih Tzu takes extra time and effort. Hair around a Shih Tzu’s face and anus must be cleaned quite regularly to prevent staining, unpleasant odors, and infection. Most owners of pet Shih Tzu choose to have their dogs professionally groomed every two or three months. They often choose to have their dogs cut into a puppy coat, which is considerably shorter and lower maintenance.
Owners will be rewarded for this extra coat care by a dog which sheds very little. Although the Shih Tzu is definitely not hypoallergenic and does shed, you will have much less cleanup. A Shih Tzu will occasionally leave hair on your carpets, furniture, and clothes, but will certainly not cover them.
It is very difficult to generalize about the health of Shih Tzu. As is the case with temperament, irresponsible breeding has created Shih Tzu with a number of health problems. Such breeders rarely keep any records of their dogs after they sell them, and are very unlikely to participate in health surveys. Additionally, the large number of Shih Tzu makes it difficult to determine how common individual problems are in the breed, as 1000 Shih Tzu with a certain condition would be a far lower percentage of total breed population than 10 dogs with that same condition in a rare breed.
In general, well-bred Shih Tzu are long-lived dogs. Studies conducted in the United Kingdom indicate that the average life expectancy for a Shih Tzu is 13 years, although this breed routinely reaches ages of 15 or 16. Although long-lived, many Shih Tzu experience health problems for a number of their later years.
The brachycephalic face of the Shih Tzu causes the breed a number of breathing difficulties. The respiratory system of a Shih Tzu is not nearly as strong as that of a breed with a normal face. This breed tends to wheeze and snort, although not nearly as much as a breed such as a Pug or an English Bulldog. Shih Tzu cannot exercise for extended periods, as they have difficulty getting enough air into their systems. The Shih Tzu also tends to be intolerant of heat, as they cannot get enough air to cool their bodies.
Other Shih Tzu problems are the result of the breed’s unique body type. The long back and short legs of the Shih Tzu are somewhat unnatural for a dog. This breed is very susceptible to a number of joint and back problems, most notably Intervertebral Disc Disease. Intervertebral Disc Disease can result in extreme pain, movement difficulties, and even paralysis.
A full list of health problems which have been encountered in the Shih Tzu would include: