Shih Tzus

At a glance
shih tzuThe Shih Tzu is a breed of dog that came from China. Experts say the Shih Tzu is the oldest and smallest of the Tibetan holy dogs (i.e. the Lhasa Apsos and the Tibetan Spaniels).


  • Names – Chinese Lion Dog or Chrysanthemum Dog
  • Group – AKC: Toy Group; KC: Utility
  • Size – small
  • Life expectancy – average of 12; range of 9 to 15
  • Cost of ownership – low
  • Ease of ownership – medium
  • Aggressive tendency – low
  • Amount of Exercise – low
  • Amount of Grooming – high
  • Ease of Training – medium
  • Obedience level – medium
  • Suitable for Children – medium
  • Amount of Care Required – high
  • Susceptibility to Health Problems – medium

A Shih Tzu is a small dog with a short muzzle and large bulging eyes, giving them an overall impish expression. Their drop ears have long fur and the heavily furred tail is carried curled over the back. They have a long, double coat and the coat may be of any color. The Shih Tzu stands no more than 10 ½ inches, with an ideal weight of 4.5 to 7.3 kg. The ideal bearing of a Shih Tzu is self-assured and confident.


  • Bitch: 4 – 8kg (9 to 18 pounds)
  • Dog: 4 – 8kg (9 to 18 pounds)


  • Bitch: 23 – 27cm (9 – 11 inches)
  • Dog: 26 – 27cm (10 – 11 inches)


  • Color – any color or mixture, many Shih Tzu are white with colored markings.
  • Coat – long, dense double coat. The silky outer coat may have a slight wave and if not clipped short will sweep the ground. The under coat is a soft wooly texture.
  • Shedding – low
  • Allergies – medium
  • Causes Allergies – low

The Shih Tzu is sturdy and intelligent. They have a noble and proud personality which stems back to their aristocratic roots. Their eyes are very warm and welcoming. The Shih Tzu is the least delicate of the toy breeds.

  • Separation Anxiety – high
  • Barking tendency – medium
  • Aggressive tendency – low
  • Compatibility with other animals – high
  • Suitable for children – medium
  • Watchdog suitability – high

The Shih Tzu is outgoing and sociable and loves to be the center of attention. Although he likes people, he is often jealous of babies and toddlers and will whimper to be carried and cuddled too. This breed is also known for having little patience for bothersome kids and will nip if provoked. Nevertheless, he will be better appreciated by older children, particularly those who can provide him with the affection he yearns for.

Shih Tzu are on the alert all the time, checking to see who arrives and who leaves their territory. Unbecoming traits this dog can develop if not properly trained and socialized are excitability, excessive barking and snapping.

Shih Tzu are sharp and can effectively be trained to participate in obedience competitions and for good manners in the home. However, even though they can be hard-headed at times, they can be won over through persistence and consistency. Punishment and aggressive commands and corrections make this dog withdraw; therefore, training needs to be low-key and motivational.

  • Obedience – medium

Exercise required
The Shih Tzu needs a daily walk. Although play will also help them channel their energy in a positive direction, dogs that go on daily walks are much less likely to display behavior problems.

  • Energy – low
  • Amount required – 10 to 15 minutes a day

One of the most important care concerns of this breed is in regard to their profuse coat. A well-groomed Shih Tzu will be prone to fewer skin problems. A poorly-groomed Shih Tzu, on the other hand, will suffer from tangles, annoying mats, hot spots, skin infections and even maggot infestations.

Some people think that toy breeds like the Shih Tzu need to only have soft foods. This is not a wise decision because soft food can prevent their teeth from maturing appropriately. A good idea is to give the dog premium dry dog kibble or a food mix that is ideal for their age and weight. Upon obtaining the food package, a careful dog owner should check the list of ingredients for unwanted elements (I.E. chicken by-products, such as beaks, legs, intestines). Keep in mind, the terminology matters too, since “meal” is more preferable than “meat.” Chicken is specifically not as good as chicken meal since the “chicken” may have high water content that results in fewer nutrients from the same amount. Chicken meal is better since it is compressed chicken meat.

Table food, such as chocolate, onions, garlic and grapes, among others, are dangerous to the dog and should be off limts..

The care and grooming of the clipped Shih Tzu and the full coat dog have some useful similarities. A clipped coat makes grooming easier and faster. To keep a Shih Tzu content with a short, clipped coat, a dog owner needs to introduce and familiarize the puppy with grooming as early as possible. Specifically, it is crucial in the first few months for the owner to get the puppy used to a 15-minute daily brushing. A good time of the day to do this is when your puppy is finished eating and playing and when you have the time to patiently tend to the dog.

Grooming can be done on a table with a firm non-slip surface, as this will help the puppy to become familiar with the table should he ever need to be taken to the grooming parlor for clippings. Tables are also useful for at-home grooming because it prevents you from crouching and from other physical discomforts.

A bath is really only required once per month, especially in the case of non-showing family pets. Baths given on a more frequent basis can strip the natural oils from the dogs coat and cause skin irritation and problems

  • Ease of grooming – medium
  • Amount of grooming – medium

Breeders need to be vigilant about screening out potential hereditary and health problems in the future litter. Unfortunately, there is no genetic testing available for some Shih Tzu illnesses, such as umbilical hernia, inguinal hernia, portal systemic shunt (PSS) and autoimmune hemolytic anemia. However, all available tests must be done prior to breeding for a Shih Tzu to even be considered as a breeding prospect. Close collaboration with your veterinarian is also important.

Examples of tests that can be performed are VonWillibrands (blood test), thyroid disorders (blood test) and bile acid test. In the case of the eyes, tests need to be conducted yearly for progressive retinal atrophy, juvenile cataracts and entropion.

Most importantly, perhaps, are concerns with regard to the kidneys of the breed; however, these issues are actually a problem among all toy breeds, not just the Shih Tzu. Examples of these tests are Urine Specific Gravity (diagnostic only for severely affected dogs), Urine concentration (diagnostic only for severely affected dogs), BUN (diagnostic only for severely affected dogs), Creatinine (diagnostic only for severely affected dogs) and JRD Mutation Testing (for breeding stock).

  • Average Litter Size – 5
  • Puppy cost – average of $500; range from $300 to $700 for pets,or $900 to $2,500 in the case of puppies with champion blood

The Shih Tzu is basically a healthy breed; nevertheless, he is prone to certain ailments. His slightly protruding eyes need to be protected from injury, and his short muzzle often produces slight wheezing problems. A few exceptional bloodlines are subject to ear, eye and respiratory problems. Spinal disc disease can also develop due to the dog’s long back and short legs. Their relatively delicate teeth need more regular veterinary attention compared to other breeds. These dogs can also gain weight easily if fed without regulation.

  • Life expectancy – average of 12; range of 9 to 15
  • Susceptibility to illness – low
  • Common health problems – renal dysplasia (a kidney disorder) and slipped stifles or kneecaps

The Shih Tzu is good for those looking for a small dog that has a beautiful coat, requires plenty of human attention, has a dignified manner yet a playful attitude, is not too sporty, is a minimal barker and is reserved with strangers. Aside from these qualities, this canine is intelligent and a dedicated watchdog.

However, the dog may be inappropriate for an owner who is not ready to deal with a dog that can suffer from separation anxiety, is too independent-minded and stubborn, high-maintenance when it comes to grooming and requires a lot of time to housebreak.

  • Living conditions – The Shih Tzu adapts well to apartment life and is comfortable playing indoors. This breed needs to be kept inside on hot days as he is sensitive to heat.
  • Good with Children – This attention-loving dog can develop jealousy, causing him to resent babies and toddlers in the family home. He will also avoid bothersome kids and will give the odd nip if provoked. However, he enjoys the company of older children that respect and appreciate his company.

Documents and paintings dating from as early as the sixteenth century indicate that Tibet was probably Shih-Tzu country (given the recurring image of a lion-like small dog). In the seventeenth century, dogs were sent from Tibet as gifts to some royal household members of the Forbidden City of Peking. These in turn were bred with the Tibetan Lhasa Apso and the native Pekingese. The Shih-Tzu became popular in the Imperial Chinese court. The breed was so treasured and highly prized that even after many years of Chinese trade with the West, the Chinese still refused to sell, or even give away, any of the little dogs. In 1930, the first pair of the breed was brought to England. The Shih-Tzu was recognized in Britain in 1946 and by the AKC in the United States in 1969. Today the breed is a favorite show champion and among those looking for a special companion dog.

  • County or origin – China
  • Group – Toy (AKC), Utility (KC)

Did you know…

  • Famous owners of Shih Tzu include:
    • Singers Isaac, Taylor, and Zac Hanson – Wicket
    • Actress Rebecca Mader – Bella
    • Actress Nicole Richie – Honeychild
    • Comedian Susie Essman – Sumo
    • Singer Geri Halliwell – Harry
    • Actress Betty Buckley – Bridget, Gemma and Jessie
    • Fashion designer Oleg Cassini – Mr. Flinton
    • Queen Elizabeth – Choo Choo
    • Actress Zsa Zsa Gabor – Moulin Rouge
    • Comedian Phyllis Diller – Fang
    • Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and one of the wealthiest men in the world – Ballmer
    • Singer Mariah Carey – Bing and Bong
  • The Chinese Dowager Empress from the early 1900s preferred her favorite Shih Tzu to be honey gold with the “Buddhist white splash” on the forehead.
  • Winsor Pilates

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